Dharawal the first contact people: 250 years of black and white relations

First contact: Bruce Watts at the Sutherland Shire Historical Museum with his latest book.Picture John Veage
First contact: Bruce Watts at the Sutherland Shire Historical Museum with his latest book.Picture John Veage

Lieutenant Cook's brief eight day stop-over at Botany Bay in May 1770 heralded endless possibilities for the British Empire but it also marked the beginning of the disintegration of a culture that was thousands of years old.

The first encounter between the British and Aboriginal people occured in the traditional country of the Dharawal people which is the coastal land from Botany Bay south to the Shoalhaven.

Cronulla author Bruce Watts has detailed this journey from the Dreaming through to today in his latest book Dharawal the first contact people.

From the Dreaming to Cook and the present day it is a story with local, national and international significance and in some ways is a metaphor and parallel for all Aboriginal people across the continent.

"It is impossible to mention the local Dharawal speaking people without looking at the bigger Aboriginal population through the centuries," Mr Watt said.

"The Dharawal book is full of interesting and real stories, it's not just a textbook full of facts, it is a difficult story but it needs to be told. "

Mr Watt is a former teacher and is president of the Sutherland Shire Historical Society.

His latest book charts the culture and experiences of this Sydney  "tribe" that Captain James Cook first met at Botany Bay in 1770.

Over next 250 years it traces the Dharawal culture and practices and subsequent impacts of white settlement.

The Gweagal clan that Cook met were one of about 13 clans that made up the Dharawal language group and though effectively decimated as a fully functioning tribal group by the 1840's, their descendants continue to live in our community and keep traditions alive.

Quoting other teachers who have seen the book, Mr Watt said that until now nothing as informative, comprehensive and visually interesting was available.

"It really helps to understand our past," one reviewer said.

Heading South:Watercolour by Christine Hill

Heading South:Watercolour by Christine Hill

Lavishly illustrated and footnoted, the 170 page book contains 180 images and is both a coffee table book and a serious reference outlining distinct time periods which fills an important niche in our understanding of our shared past with the original inhabitants of our country.

The book is available from The Best Little Bookshop and Berkelouws in Cronulla and Harry Hartog in Westfield Miranda.

Signed copies from the author can be obtained by contacting 0405 493 187.

  • The launch of Dharawal the first contact people is on Saturday April 27 between 3pm and 5pm at the Sutherland Memorial School of Arts, 23 East Parade, Sutherland.