Les Bursill (1945-2019) was 'the knowledge holder on all things Dharawal'

Les Bursill OAM, a proud Dharawal elder whose knowledge of the culture of the original inhabitants of Sutherland Shire may have been second to none, has died at 74.

Mr Bursill was a respected historian, archaeologist, anthropologist and publisher, who was referred to in many Leader reports over decades as "the knowledge holder on all things Dharawal".

Sutherland Shire Council formally acknowledged Mr Bursill's "significant contribution to Sutherland Shire" following his death on February 16.

Cr Peter Scaysbrook said Mr Bursill was "the go to man" for shire councillors and MPs on Indigenous matters.

Cr Michael Forshaw, said he knew from his time as a senator how highly respected Mr Bursill was in federal government circles although he did not have the public profile of some other Indigenous leaders.

Mr Bursill, who was born at Hurstville and made his home in the shire,  chaired the council's Aboriginal Advisory Sub-Committee for many years and was a founding member of the Kurranulla Aboriginal Corporation.

He was a member of Sutherland Shire Historical Society for more than 30 years, serving as research officer, archivist and editor of the society's bulletin.

ANSTO said Mr Bursill was "a trusted adviser on Dharawal cultural heritage...and a great facilitator in reconciling Australians with indigenous peoples".

Visitors to Royal National Park benefited from Mr Bursill hosting tours of its historical treasures, which tell the Dreaming story of Aboriginal people who lived there thousands of years ago.

He recorded about 300 archaeological sites in Sutherland Shire and produced a catalogue of both archaeological and built-heritage items.

Mr Bursill's published works include The Story of the Dharawal speaking people of Southern Sydney, co-authored by Mary Jacobs,

Other publications ranged from a Dharawal language dictionary to pamphlets for Indigenous jail inmates struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

He was a lecturer in mental health and counselling at the University of Sydney and an adjunct lecturer at Charles Sturt University.

Another of his books, about Port Hacking, is titled, The Story of Deeban, The Bay of the Whales and Creation Serpent.

In March, 2018, Mr Bursill wrote to the Leader supporting a suggestion that an Orca statue be placed on the cliffs where whale-watchers gather at Cape Solander, Kurnell.

"Your readers may not be aware that the Orca, or commonly called Killer Whale, is a powerful Dharawal totem," he wrote.

"In fact it is my personal totem, having been born to the area nearby to Botany Bay and Port Hacking.

"I would encourage your paper to support, as I do, the concept of an Orsinus Orca casting to promote our people and their association with the areas mentioned.

"There are numerous carvings depicting Orsinus Orca all around the areas of Botany Bay and Port Hacking."

Mr Bursill was honoured with the Order of Australia Medal (OAM), the Centenary Medal, the NSW Police Commanders Award for excellence in teaching and a Premier's Heritage Volunteer Award.

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) chief executive Dr Adi Paterson said Mr Bursill was "an impassioned advocate for the recognition of indigenous cultural heritage" and "a key advisor to the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Taskforce".

"Les frequently performed the welcome to country address at our events, and advised us on special projects like the Dharawal mural at ANSTO, among many other things," he said.

Dr Paterson said Mr Bursill recommended the name "nandin", meaning meeting place, for the new facility ANSTO is developing.

"The new facility is now strengthening relationships between ANSTO and local industry," he said.

"Les was committed to capturing the history of Dharawal people in the Southern Sydney area and working with other indigenous custodians to record the cultural record in rock art and artefacts."

Bruce Wilson, a division head in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, said Mr Bursill "made an enormous contribution in the time that he worked with the radioactive waste management team".

"Les was a man of great tolerance, compassion and love for his people and culture," Mr Wilson said.

"He gave us the gifts of knowledge, understanding and insight, and will be sorely missed."

A funeral was held for Les on February 26 at Woronora Memorial Park.

Mr Bursill was a husband to Robyn and Barbara (deceased), father, stepfather and grandfather.

A funeral notice concluded with the words: "Dyi nga ni nura" - Here I see my country".