Aboriginal place names around Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay

Apart from William Dawes, who we know gained much of his information about the language of coastal Sydney directly from Aboriginal people (in particular a woman named Patyegorang), Aboriginal sources are not given for the place names listed in most documents.

One of the earliest manuscripts, Vocabulary of the language of N. S. Wales in the neighbourhood of Sydney (Native and English)....; was written by Second Lieutenant William Dawes, a marine surveyor who came with the First Fleet in January 1788 and returned to England in December 1791.

Many of the place names listed here come from another document, Vocabulary of the language of N S Wales in the neighbourhood of Sydney (Native and English, but not alphabetical) 1790-1792....; which is attached to Dawes' manuscripts, and has recently been attributed to Governor Arthur Phillip, Judge-Advocate David Collins and Captain John Hunter.

Apart from William Dawes, who we know gained much of his information about the language of coastal Sydney directly from Aboriginal people (in particular a woman, Patyegorang), Aboriginal sources are not given for the place names listed in most documents. However, a comment by Captain Watkin Tench suggests that place names in Vocabulary 1790-1792 may have come from Arabanoo, a man who was originally called 'Manly' by the British.

By the 1820s few of the original inhabitants of the shores of lower Port Jackson remained in the area, and most people who camped around these shores from this time on appear to be from other areas. It is possible that some names recorded in documents written after 1820 were provided by people who did not speak the Port Jackson dialects, and who perhaps gave these places their own names.

The names recorded are principally those of the bays and headlands and other landscape features around the shorelines. There would have been Aboriginal names for places in all parts of the country. Those place names that were recorded may simply reflect the focus of interest for the first British surveyors and administrators as they were mapping the country.

The Aboriginal place names used on this site come from historical documents and publications dating from 1788 to1899.


Dr Val Attenbrow , Principal Research Scientist
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