In light of recent public debate about Welcome to Country ceremonies, perhaps it is time to take a look at Sydney, and who we are acknowledging in these ceremonies: the land and the people who have lived (and continue to live) here.

Sydney is home to the Eora people of the Gadigal (Cadigal) Nation. North of the harbour are the Cammeraygal; to south-west around the Cooks and Georges Rivers are the Bidjigal; and to the south are the Gweagal. Suburbs in Sydney which are strongly identified as Aboriginal places include La Perouse and Redfern , although following the Second World War a number of Aboriginal people from regional NSW settled in the western suburbs.

Although  Governor Arthur Philip estimated that there were 1,500 Aboriginal people in Sydney when the First Fleet anchored at Port Jackson in 1788, this figure is far from reliable and is open to interpretation. What is not in dispute is that Sydney’s Aboriginal population was decimated within years of landfall, due to the outbreak of smallpox. But many Aboriginal people survived the smallpox, and their descendants continue to live in Sydney today.

Maria Lock was the daughter of the warrior Yellomundy (Yarrowmundi) and was born near Richmond, on the banks the Hawkesbury River. In 1815, she was taken to the Native Institution at Parramatta for schooling. When she was 16 years old, she married a convict, Robert Lock. They settled on land at Black Town, in close proximity to the newly re-located Native Institution. Maria Lock, as a free woman, was in the unique position of having her husband assigned to her. Also, as her new husband was still a convict, she was granted a parcel of land in her own right, an unusual turn of events for a woman at this time, let alone an Aboriginal woman.

Another significant Aboriginal woman living in Sydney in the 19th century was Sarah Wallace (aka Sarah Lewis, Sarah Ferdinand and Granny or Biddy Lewis). She was reputedly the daughter (or grand-daughter) of Bungaree and the sister of Bowen Bungaree. In 1846, she was married to convict John Ferdinand Lewis (although they had been together since at least 1822); in 1835, she was granted 4 acres of land near Berowra, probably because her husband was still under sentence. Their son Tommy was the caretaker at Milson Island in the late 19th century, while their daughter Catherine, who had married a Belgian Joseph Benn (aka Ambrol Josef Diercknecht) , was known as the Queen of Scotland Island (where the couple lived). 

The descendants of both Maria Lock and Sarah Wallace continue to live in Sydney today, around Blacktown and the Hawkesbury River respectively.

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