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ABORIGINAL and Settler history in the Eurobodalla

By the end of the twentieth century, Aboriginal people of the Eurobodalla region of the New South Wales south coast were broadly incorporated into the expanding settler economy. With ongoing labour shortages providing a brake on economic development, Indigenous labour became critical to the success of the forestry and fishing industries and also to the emergence of a booming seasonal horticultural industry; bean and pea picking, that sort of thing.

These patterns of seasonal employment, with shortfalls in income being supplemented by the continuance of subsistence fishing, were characteristic of the hybrid or mixed economy of the Eurobodalla until the 1970s.

In about the 1970s, there was a collapse of these. Forced off their country, particularly by the expansion of small-scale land holdings, Yuin people moved variously between estuarine camps close to sources of employment and the government-administered station at Wallaga Lake.

In Australia, there is a considerable body of literature dealing with general themes of massacre, theft and reprisals. But there is not a lot of literature dealing with congeniality or exchange in these very first encounters.

Europeans and Aboriginal people initially came into physical contact in the Eurobodalla region in 1797. A ship, the Sydney Cove, foundered on a beach at Gippsland, Victoria, and the crew began a long journey by foot up the coast to the colony of Sydney. Of the 17 men that survived the wreck, only four made it back to the colony. And they encountered several so-called hostile groups of Aboriginal people along the way.

One of the survivors, Mr W Clark, recalled meeting with locals in the vicinity of the Tuross estuary [Eurobodalla region], who provided the travellers with mussels and then invited them to camp with them for the night. In return for this unexpected civility, Clark’s party reciprocated with presents, noting that the locals, and I quote, ‘possessed a liberality to which the others were strangers and freely gave us part of the little that they had.’

The next encounters were most likely with sealers, who had clearly been travelling along the south-eastern coastline by the turn of the century. And it was reported that they were commonly abducting Aboriginal women. In March 1806, Governor King reported that a number of Aboriginal people had been massacred by sealers at Twofold Bay, which is further south.

Two later articles appeared in the Sydney Gazette, referring to the terror experienced by European seamen encountering Aboriginal people at Batemans Bay. By way of the prominence of the two articles in Australia’s first newspaper, the reputation of the ferocity of Aboriginal people at Batemans Bay was broadly circulated in Sydney, reinforcing already pre-existent rumours of terror and cannibalism south of the colony.

In 1822, Charles Throsby’s overland exploration party ventured towards Batemans Bay but lost their nerve; the reasons given, because of the reputed hostility of the natives in this area.

In 1824 a lone missionary by the name of John Harper arrives at Batemans Bay. And he stays for two weeks without hostility, encountering a number of Aboriginal people in the area. Importantly, Harper initiated contact by offering the first people he met with blankets and biscuits, rather than muskets. And these were reciprocated in kind with several presents once he was led ashore.

Harper intended to return to Batemans Bay to establish a mission, but his request was denied by Governor Darling, who concluded that allowing the selection of land by the missionaries would have been prejudicial to the interests of the settlers.

So, Harper’s desire to Christianise Aboriginal people at Batemans Bay at a distance from the contaminating influence of settler society conversely led to the widespread settlement at the region. His genuine effort to create a mission, coupled with these reports of friendly, rather than hostile, savages, inspired confidence in the possibility of settlement to the south.

The first settler at Murramarang, a Mr William Morris, wrote a number of letters to the governor reporting the spearing of cattle and threatening of settlers by Aboriginal people, and requested for permission to be given to shoot those responsible and for soldiers to be sent to ensure the settlers’ safety. In response, Lieutenant McAllister was sent to the Batemans Bay area and concluded that it was Aboriginal people from the mountains and not the coastal groups that were responsible for the theft and the spearing.

McAllister proposed that the conflict was a result of the mountain people missing out on the blankets that were distributed by Morris on behalf of the colonial administration.

So in response, blankets were distributed both to mountain and coastal groups, and pretty much, the matter was settled once and for all. And, indeed, it does appear that, in general, the hostilities had ceased and the prevalence of livestock theft had been ameliorated by McAllister’s mediations.

The original settlement at Broulee was heavily reliant on provisions being shipped from Sydney. In the absence of supplies being delivered, the small community of settlers was saved from starvation on several occasions during the 1830s by Yuin people who provided them with seafood.

Later, in 1841, a heroic story emerges of Aboriginal people saving the survivors of a shipwreck at Broulee in a daring rescue operation. With the settlers being unable to swim out through the surf, several Aboriginal people risked their own lives to rescue the seamen.

The earliest written record identifying individual Yuin workers was provided by a fellow by the name of John Hawdon who, along with Francis Flanagan, had taken up land in the Moruya area by 1830. Presumably, Hawdon was exchanging rations for labour. And it is very clear that he was highly regarded by Aboriginal people in the region.

Broulee was also a hub for the distribution of blankets during a period in which the Yuin population was in rapid decline, most likely due to an influenza epidemic. And both Francis Flanagan and Captain Oldrey were responsible for distributing blankets and providing a census of the number of Aboriginal people in the district.

In Oldrey’s census it includes family groups and the names and ages of all members of the family. It also details the country in which families usually camped. The greatest number of families are clustered around the first settlement at Broulee.

The comprehensive detail in Oldrey’s blanket returns entails an intimate knowledge of the individual family groups that could only have been achieved through pretty close relationships over a number of years. In contrast, further north, Morris’ census provided only the number of people to which blankets were distributed and the names of the adult male family members.

So through the provisioning of blankets and establishing close relationships with Aboriginal people in the area, these handfuls of individual settlers can be credited with narrowing the social and spatial distance, where Aboriginal groups were orbiting at the periphery of white settlement, to coming in close to the broader community of settlers at Broulee.

Extracts from a paper by John White, Australian National University, 10 November 2009

Further Reading:

Launching Aboriginal Men & Womens Heritage: Eurobodalla

Aboriginal Heritage Assessment of Heritage Significance – public

The Mountains Call Us Home
This video by filmmaker Richard Snashall, presented and co-written by Yuin woman Nuala Trindall, traces the history of the hand back of Gulaga and Biamanga national parks to the Yuin people in 2006.

DISCOVER OUR HISTORY - take a step back in time

Eurobodalla has a heritage that traces back over 20,000 years.

The geology of the region is fascinating and the rich soils and abundant seas have sustained communities here for countless generations. A good place to start an appreciation of this country are through the stories of the earliest aboriginal custodians.

Our Aboriginal History
The Eurobodalla is located in Yuin country which stretches from the Shoalhaven River to the Victorian border. The Yuin area is made up of many language groups, including the Dharumba, Djirringanj, Dhawa and Dhurga. There were clans under the Yuin who lived by the coast or inland. The Brinja Yuin people occupied land from south of the Moruya River to the Wagonga Inlet.

There is significant evidence of a people who hunted, gathered seafood, traded and established strong spiritual bonds with this country and while number dwindled from the 1880's onwards and clans were directed to reserves this coastline continues to serve its aboriginal families via hard won traditional fishing rights. Mogo, Moruya and Bodalla are the three principle towns where our local Koori population live.


Gulaga (also known as Mount Dromedary) is a local mountain of HIGH aboriginal significance
Gulaga (Mount Dromedary) is located at the southern end of the Eurobodalla towering over the Tilba towns. The mountain has great spiritual significance to local Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women. The Gulaga National Park was handed back to its traditional Aboriginal owners in an historic agreement in 2006.
There is a popular, though solid 14km (up and back) walk from Pam's Store at Tilba Tilba to the top of Gulaga which takes 5 hours or so. The track is easy to follow traversing along an old gold mining road so the mountain also has white-fella history. There are pit toilets at the top and drinking water maintained by the park rangers.

Cheryl Davison, a local Koori artist tells the story of Gulaga and Gulaga's two sons, Barranguba and Najanuga here


Painting: Gulaga and her sons
Artist: Cheryl Davison
Size: 58x26cm
Medium: Acrylic on paper
Place: Gulaga (Mt Dromedary)


Hanging Rock in Batemans Bay was named as a location because of the rock that once occupied the road reserve of the now four laned Beach Road. 

“Hanging Rock itself was an ironstone pillar, said to have been as tall as a nearby power pole. The name evolved to describe how the rock towered or hung over the creek below. Once a she-oak tree grew out from around the rock, making the rock appear to hang out of the tree. Hanging Rock took on its own identity as a place of significance, primarily due to the social life that surrounded the site, which was widely recognised as a meeting place for Aboriginal people residing and passing through the area.

Hanging Rock was removed by the Eurobodalla Shire Council in 1997 / 1998 to make way for traffic lights.

The Aboriginal community has not emotionally recovered from the devastating effects caused when Hanging Rock was damaged.

Large sections of the rock lay on the road verge on the banks of Hanging Rock Creek.” (Donaldson, 2006, p. 46)

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