In the Campbelltown region, the Dharawal people continue to be acknowledged as the Traditional Custodians. Dharawal people traditionally cared for and inhabited land from Botany Bay to the Shoalhaven River, Nowra and inland to Camden. The traditional totem of the area is recognised as the lyrebird.

When Europeans landed in Sydney a number of cattle strayed from the herdsman and were found in an area that became known as the Cowpastures. For the Dharawal people, the first contact with colonial settlers was through these strange animals, and this contact was recorded through the sketchings by the Dharawal people on a sandstone shelter near the Georges River, now known as “Bull Cave” in Kentlyn.

As the colonial settlement expanded out from Sydney and into the Cowpastures some Europeans developed a close rapport with the local Aboriginal communities and a number of explorers had Dharawal men accompany them on exploratory trips. Knowledge of their land and skills in tracking were valuable and they later played an integral part in solving the murder of Fred Fisher, who has become a local legend.

There were however growing hostilities between the Colonial settlers and the Dharawal, Dharug and Gandangara people across the south western region of Sydney, and in 1816 Governor Macquarie ordered the military to apprehend all Aboriginal people in the southern districts. Captain Wallis and his men set out from Leumeah in the middle of the night and headed towards what is now known as Cataract Dam in pursuit of Indigenous people of the area. What ensued was a brutal attack upon the Dharawal people, who were confronted with guns and rifles, and forced off a cliff face near what is now known as Broughton Pass. This became known as the Appin Massacre, which according to Captain Wallis resulted in the loss of at least 14 Indigenous people, however the true loss of lives will never be known. The massacre is remembered in April each year, when the Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group and the local Aboriginal community invite the broader community to meet together to remember the devastating loss of lives.

Today there are currently over 5000 Aboriginal people living in the region. Nations represented in Campbelltown include the Wiradjuri, Gamileroi, Yorta Yorta, Gumbainggyr, Yuin and Ngunnawal from the NSW region. There are also people from other states and the Torres Straits Islands. The Aboriginal community in Campbelltown and the Macarthur region is diverse, and combined with a unique knowledge and culture there are shared values of respect, family and community.

View our publication: Campbelltown’s Aboriginal History