An extract from “Leichhardt: on the margins of the city” by Max Solling and Peter Reynolds, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1997:
The Cadigal clan occupied a territory that embraced Sydney Cove and stretched along the southern side of Port Jackson from South Head to about Petersham. The tract of land from Petersham westwards to Rosehill, embracing the present Leichhardt municipality, belonged to the Wangal clan; the boundary that separated them from the Cadigal seems to have been the Balmain peninsula.
Within eighteen months of the arrival of the First Fleet, smallpox, introduced by the Europeans, swept through the Sydney bands, killing over half the local indigenous population. Many were found dead in the rock shelters and bays of the harbour. The disease, named “gal-gal” by the Aborigines, spread so rapidly that many were dead before they had a chance to see the “gubbas” (white ghosts) who invaded the land. Captain Hunter, returning from the Cape of Good Hope in May 1789, was surprised to see no Aborigines or their canoes as his ship sailed up the harbour. In his journal Lieutenant Bradley wrote of the terror and panic that smallpox caused as it decimated the Aboriginal population.
Deprived of their lands, their traditional food supply seriously disrupted, and many of the Sydney bands destroyed by smallpox, small remnants of bands combined to form new groups. It brought a drastic change to Aboriginal social relations and occupation patterns, with remnants of the Sydney bands withdrawing from the settlement, suspicious of whites and executing “vengeance on unfortunate stragglers”. In 1790 the 50-strong Cadigal clan had been reduced to three members and it seems likely that the adjoining Wangal clan, so close to Sydney Cove, was also decimated.
The tribal life of the Aboriginal people of the Sydney region had also been effectively destroyed by 1820. Bishop Broughton later told a House of Commons Select Committee that by taking over the land and driving away the kangaroos and other game European settlement had made Aboriginal life in the traditional manner impossible. Survivors of the various clans around Port Jackson combined into a kind of “Sydney tribe” with their main camp on the north shore of the harbour; remnants of the clans on the southern side gathered on a campsite near the heads at Botany.
The Parramatta “feast” which attracted seven or eight tribes from as far away as Broken Bay, Jervis Bay, the Monaro and possibly Port Macquarie, could muster only 400 Aborigines in 1824. By 1838, of the 500 Aborigines estimated to be living in the Nineteen Counties most had come from outside the district.
Those Aborigines who survived in the Sydney region had to develop methods of existing within the totally dominant white culture. They lived as beggars and prostitutes, doing oddjobs and occasionally fishing. They lived in camps at the Government Boat Shed at Circular Quay, at Manly Beach, Lavender Bay, Botany Bay and La Perouse. Inland tribes were encountering whites as settlement spread and everywhere the frontier was the scene of bitter conflict between European settlers and Aboriginal occupants.
Thousands of engraving sites exist within 100 kiometrcs of Port Jackson; the most lasting examples of Sydney Aboriginal art are to be found on the soft Hawkesbury sandstone rock which surrounds the Cumberland Plain. In the rock shelters and overhangs there are representations of wallabies, fish and eels; there are also images or stencils of hands, boomerangs, hatchets and spears..
The only known Aboriginal sites within Leichhardt, eight altogether, are located in two areas: at Callan Point within the grounds of Rozelle Hospital, and at Yurulbin Point – parts of the municipality’s natural shoreline that have remained largely undisturbed. Evidence of whatever other sites existed has been destroyed by extensive reclamation of the shoreline and development. The five sites identified at Callan Point are shell middens in sheltered areas close to the water’s edge where groups camped or stopped for a meal. These middens which, like other sites in Port Jackson, contain rock oysters, cockles, mussels and Terrebralia shells, have been dated at about 4,500 years old. The three other sites have been identified on private land at Yurulbin Point. Two are midden sites located under rock overhangs, and the other is an art site with hand stencils and a charcoal outline of a shark.