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When Pyrmont was Pirrama: History of the Cadigal Aborigines

cadigal people from marrickville council When Pyrmont was Pirrama: History of the Cadigal Aboriginesaboriginal culture When Pyrmont was Pirrama: History of the Cadigal Aboriginescadigal people marrickville council website When Pyrmont was Pirrama: History of the Cadigal Aborigines

Pyrmont’s history
has seen the suburb evolve through industrialisation to a modern day urban residence. But even before British colonisation of Sydney in 1788, the peninsula was no stranger to human occupation. With a wealth of resources, the peninsula that would one day be named Pyrmont was Pirrama, home of the Cadigal tribe.

The Cadigal tribe was one of 34 Australian Aborigine tribes, or bands, that inhabited the greater Sydney area. With territory that extended south of Port Jackson, encompassing from South Head to Petersham, the Cadigal lived along the coastal regions of the Pyrmont peninsula, then called Pirrama. How long the Cadigal have occupied the area is a subject of debate. Sites of domestic waste, called shell middens, have been popular in dating Aboriginal occupation. Whilst discovered Cadigal middens are dated 4,500 years old, geological evidence on the formation of the harbour suggests the Cadigal may have arrived up to 6,000 years ago.

For those generations the ownership of Pirrama was enjoyed by the Cadigal who took advantage of the coastal location for food such as shellfish. They lived in groups of up to 50 people, identified as families, which were further bound together in the band through territory, spirituality and their own language, ‘Dharug’. However, the land was seized from the Cadigal when the British invaded in 1788. Along with these ‘White Ghosts’ came disease, notably small pox, which decimated the Cadigal and other 33 tribes in the surrounding areas.

aboriginal art janesoceaniacom When Pyrmont was Pirrama: History of the Cadigal AboriginesSoon after arrival, Governor Arthur Philip estimated the tribe to be of 1,500 Cadigal people in a 10 mile radius of Port Jackson. Unfortunately his estimates cannot be held as being accurate due to a bounty on Aborigine heads, where white men would go so far as to dig up deceased Aborigines to receive their reward, doubling head counts. Other estimates range from 200 to 4,000. Whatever the figure, smallpox, or ‘gal-gal’, as called by the Aborigines, killed up to 90 per cent of the population and by 1791, faced with land dispossession and direct violence, only three Cadigal people remained. It is also believe by some experts that some Cadigal fled into the Concord area. With the disappearance of the Cadigal people was also their mark on the land, buried underneath the stone and steel of Pyrmont’s industrial landscape. By 1820, tribal life of Aborigines had been destroyed and many were forced to live as beggars or prostitutes.

Though many original sites and traditions have been destroyed, a close inspection of Sydney reveals preserved Cadigal influence. Cockle Bay’s name can be attributed to the large shell middens left behind by the Cadigal. Pirrama still exists as Pirrama Road in Pyrmont and many of Sydney’s main roads such as George Street and King Street follow ancient Aborigine tracks. Suburbs such as Glebe are also home to ancestors of the Cadigal people. With new discoveries of Cadigal sites still occurring, their past will be restored piece by piece.


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One Response to “When Pyrmont was Pirrama: History of the Cadigal Aborigines”

  1. Bec Says:

    This is interesting, because i went on an excursion for school to Pyrmont and we had a guide tell us the history but never once mentioned and Aboriginal or its past occupation.

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