Early Australian History - A new colony

This is the first in an occasional series of early Australian History by Nan Bosler.  Enjoy and let us know which historical stories and times interest you most.

If you are a history buff yourself, perhaps it will provide a forum for you to write about the local history of your area.

We start with a look the discovery of Pittwater..


A new colony 

Ad. Article continues below.

Just six weeks after the colony was founded in March 1788, Governor Phillip in a cutter, and Lieutenant Bradley in a longboat from the flag ship of the First Fleet, Sirius, set out to examine the ‘broken land’ described by Captain Cook.  It was nightfall before they reached a point north west of Lion Island.  They were afraid of attack by the Aboriginal people and so spent the first night aboard the boats.


By 5 March the group had turned back towards West Head to explore Pittwater itself, heading in the direction of Scotland Island.  The weather had considerably worsened and the two crews camped on the western foreshores of Pittwater, probably on Resolute Beach.  It was at Pearl Beach that Phillip made the first close contact with the Guringai people.


When Phillip made contact with the Guringai Tribe at Pearl Beach he was unaware that there would have been about 1500 Aborigines living between Botany Bay and Broken Bay.  That such a large number of people could live well and healthily from the bush and the waters adjoining the land (the type of land is typified by the Kuring-gai Chase National Park land), says much for their skill and knowledge of the bush, and even more for their environmental consciousness.

Ad. Article continues below.


The friendliness of the Aboriginals towards Phillip and his party was quite genuine.  An old man and a boy had shown Phillip a safe landing place and some women had brought the party a firestick and some fresh water.  In Pittwater, Phillip found Aboriginal people ‘in every cove’ and some of the women showed him how they made fish hooks and how to prepare some bush tucker.


The naming of Pitt Water

Phillip greatly admired the beauty of the area and in a letter to Lord Sydney said :

Ad. Article continues below.


It is the finest piece of water which I ever saw, and which I honoured with the name of Pitt Water … It is of sufficient extent to contain all the Navy of Great Britain, but it has only 18” at low water on a narrow bar which runs across the entrance.  There are some good situations where the land might be cultivated.  We found small springs of water in most of the coves and saw three cascades falling from a heigh which the rains then rendered inaccessible.


Pitt Water had been named in honour of William Pitt the Younger who was then Prime Minister of Britain.


Ad. Article continues below.

At the time of European settlement in 1788 the land enabled the Guringai people to maintain a high standard of living from the plentiful fish, shells, seals and marine life of the waters and well stocked hunting lands along the peninsulas and foreshores of the region.  Between April 1789 and 1790 most of the Guringai people died of a disease, probably small pox against which they had no immunity.


It has been argued that there is no evidence of Aboriginal habitation on the actual headland, where there was no permanent water and sparse game resources.  The headland, however, was used to spot fish and there were rock shelter sites at the base of the headland. Fish was usually speared from the rocks as their fragile canoes were not suitable for the heavy swells of Broken Bay.


Surveyor Govett (1836) described the bark canoes on Pitt Water as sitting so low in the water that the people appeared to be actually in the water.  The bark to fashion these canoes was peeled in its entirety (after being scorched by fire) from the Bangalay eucalypts (E. Boyryoides) which are still numerous in Palm Beach and on Barrenjoey headland.  These trees were also a food source for koalas.