How did Darling Point get its name?

The story traces a path following the footsteps of our city’s history.

Indigenous inhabitants: before European settlement

Before the First Fleet dropped anchor on our shores in 1788, the area we now call Sydney was home to around 29 clans of the Eora Nation. One of those clans was the Gadigal.

Sydney’s traditional owners called the area ‘Cadi’, meaning land. ‘Gal’ means people, so the term ‘Gadigal’ (also spelt Cadigal) means People of Cadi. Gadigal territory stretched from South Head across the CBD and right through to the inner west, taking in Darling Point.

The Gadigal people relied on the sea for much of their food. Gadigal women were particularly known as skilled fishers, divers and swimmers, and they collected shellfish from the harbourside rock platforms. This would prove essential for living at Darling Point, with its dense bushland and nutrient-poor soil.

Yarranabbe

Yarranabbe is the Indigenous name for Darling Point. The word first appeared in European documents in 1790, when it was listed by First Fleet linguist Lieutenant William Dawes in his language notebook.

The name is believed to honour Yeranibe Goruey, a chief from a clan living near present-day Parramatta who assimilated into the fledgling colony. However, why his name became associated with this area is unclear.

Sadly, the smallpox epidemic of 1789 killed around half the Indigenous population of the Sydney region, including many of those living at Darling Point. But there is evidence that some Indigenous people remained at Darling Point well into the nineteenth century.

The presence of the area’s original inhabitants is today remembered in the name of our famously steep street, Yarranabbe Road.

From Yarranabbe to Darling Point

Although Europeans had been present since 1788, it would be another 50 years until they settled at Darling Point as the steep, wooded slopes and unstable shoreline made access difficult. But one man would change this.

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Military officer Sir Ralph Darling was appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1824. While known for monetary and banking reforms during his governorship, Darling was also renowned for being headstrong and was hated by many for his authoritarian approach. Some even went so far as to call him a tyrant, with The Australian at the time openly criticising his notoriously iron-fisted rule.

Sir Ralph Darling – Photo from Australian Dictionary of Biography

Despite this, Darling seemed to have a sentimental side. Construction of New South Head Road in 1831 improved access to Yarranabbe. Initially, Governor Darling reserved the land for public purposes. However, in 1833 the land was included in a proposed allotment auction. The name of that land on the documents? Mrs Darling’s Point, in honour of Ralph’s wife Eliza.

After the timber cutters felled most of the trees and the land was subdivided ready for sale, the area’s name was simplified to Darling Point.

What’s in a name?

All that is left in Australia of Governor Ralph Darling is his name – Darling Harbour, the Darling River and Darlinghurst are all named after the fractious governor. Darling returned with his family to England, where he died in 1858.

John Darling – Photo from Australian Dictionary of Biography

So there is no connection to another well-known Darling family, who arrived in Australia just three years before the former governor’s death. Arriving from Edinburgh in 1855, John Darling and his family amassed a fortune as Australia’s biggest wheat exporters. And his descendants retain a prominent role in Sydney today.

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