Before Darling Point was the exquisite harbourfront enclave we know and love today, it was Yaranabe, the pristine and plentiful home of some of Australia’s First Peoples.

The first residents of Darling Point

Darling Point forms part of the country belonging to the Cadigal clan of the Eora people, whose territory covered the southern shores of Sydney Harbour.

Before Europeans arrived, the Cadigal people lived in sandstone caves and bark shelters and caught fish and shellfish in the teeming harbour. The arrival of the British in 1788 saw them lose land and harbour resources, and a devastating smallpox outbreak in 1789 left few survivors. But those who did survive drew upon extended family connections from further afield and formed new groups, and Aboriginal settlements remained in Darling Point and Rushcutters Bay until the late nineteenth century.

Yaranabe

Yaranabe (or Eurambie) has been cited as the Aboriginal name for Darling Point, while Rushcutters Bay was known as Kogerah by its original inhabitants. An Aboriginal man called Yaranabe, said to be the ‘chief’ of the Darling Point clan in the 1830s and 1840s, is behind the place name. He came from the Burramattagal clan from Parramatta. The information we have about Yaranabe today is patchy, but we do know that in 1801 he and his wife Worogan (sister of the famous Bennelong) sailed as advisors on a voyage to Jervis Bay and Victoria. They are the only known husband and wife Aboriginal voyagers of the time.

In 1835 when Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Mitchell bought two allotments at the north-western end of the Darling Point peninsula, he named his new property ‘Yaranabee’.

The Darling Point and Rushcutters Bay Aboriginal settlements

Rushcutters Bay, east view along New South Head Road with horse and cart at the tollgates. The Aboriginal settlement was behind the stone cottage centre left., 1870s (State Library of NSW – ON 4 Box 13 No 38 — Photo from Barani website

According to the fascinating information on the Sydney Barani website, Aboriginal settlements were common in most of Sydney’s eastern harbourside bays throughout the nineteenth century, and groups of families from different clans lived in camps in Darling Point and Rushcutters Bay until the late 1800s.

There was a well-known settlement in the bush near the South Head Road tollbar (near the junction of Neild Avenue and William Street today). European residents recalled ceremonies being held there until at least the 1870s, and Aboriginal men spearfishing from canoes in Rushcutters Bay while the women fished with hand lines.

In 1903, a woman called Elizabeth Phillip, then aged 96, recalled hundreds of Aboriginal people camping at Darling Point during her childhood. She said ‘[they were] as kind people as ever lived. Whenever they speared fish, they used to bring us some.’

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By the 1890s the settlement at Rushcutters Bay included several gunyahs (bark huts) made of wood, iron and other materials clustered around a campfire. Some of the camp’s residents sold boomerangs and shell ornaments in the city. There are also reports of Aboriginal people building gunyahs in the yard of St Mark’s Church in Darling Point in the mid-1890s.

The settlements in Darling Point and Rushcutters Bay were often visited by Aboriginal people from other areas, including La Perouse, Vaucluse, the Shoalhaven district and the mid-north coast. They brought birds and honey to exchange for fish.

By the mid-1890s the Darling Point and Rushcutters Bay settlements were drawing complaints from non-Indigenous residents. Following one such complaint in 1895, the police tried to move the Aboriginal people on, but they refused to go. The authorities had no power at the time to force them to move away, and the settlement remained.

An Aboriginal camp at Mona House

In the late 1800s Aboriginal people would camp at Darling Point’s Mona Estate. The estate’s stone coach house had been used to host church services before St Mark’s Church was built in 1860, and it was in this coach house-cum-chapel that the Aboriginal people camped. Architect Thomas Rowe was living in Mona House at the time, leasing it from the Smart family who had built the home in 1841.

Harriet Baker, a member of the evangelical Christian Endeavour movement, was working at Mona as a governess. The Christian Endeavor movement was also active at the Aboriginal settlement at La Perouse. It is believed that around 1900 that Baker, maybe with the help of Aboriginal people living at La Perouse, convinced the last of Darling Point and Rushcutters Bay’s Aboriginal residents to move to La Perouse. With this, one of Sydney Harbour’s last Aboriginal settlements came to an end.

Today the area’s Aboriginal heritage is commemorated by Yarranabbe Road and Yarranabbe Park.

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