Indigenous history

Welcome to Wangal Country.

Indigenous history

Sydney Olympic Park is located on the traditional lands of the Wann clan, known as the Wann-gal. The lands of the Wann-gal stretched along the southern shore of the Parramatta River between Cockle Bay (Cadi-gal land) and Rose Hill (Burramatta-gal land). 

The Wann-gal and their ancestors have lived in the Homebush Bay area for thousands of years. Physical evidence of Aboriginal usage of the area includes stone artefacts and scarred trees, while shell middens (sites where shellfish and other foods were consumed) lined Homebush Bay and the Parramatta River before their destruction in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

The estuarine ecosystems provided Aboriginal communities with a range of critical resources, including a means of travelling throughout the region by water. Their use of the area persisted even after their lands were granted to Europeans. Several encounters and conflicts between Europeans and Aboriginal people in the Homebush Bay Area in the 1790s have been documented. 

In the early 20th century, many Aboriginal people migrated to Sydney from elsewhere in New South Wales in pursuit of work, or to join their families. Some settled close to Homebush Bay and worked in local industries, such as in abattoirs or at the Naval base. 

Indigenous timeline of Homebush Bay

More than 20,000 years ago
Aboriginal people were most likely living in the area now known as Homebush Bay by this time. Over the past 20,000 years, at least a thousand generations of Aboriginal people have continuously occupied the Sydney area. 

15,000 to 6,000 years ago
As the last Ice Age came to an end, rising seas submerged large areas of Sydney’s old coast and river valleys, creating the environment of Homebush Bay that Europeans would have encountered in 1788. Aboriginal people at Homebush Bay would have adapted to these changes.

6,000 years ago to early 1800s
Aboriginal people continued to live in and around Homebush Bay.

Homebush Bay is now Wangal land, which stretched along the southern side of the Parramatta River between Cockle Bay (now known as Darling Harbour) and Rose Hill.

The First Fleet arrives from Britain, with Homebush Bay first visited by Europeans in February. A European settlement is established on Burramatta-gal land at Rose Hill. Contact between the Wangal and the Europeans begins.

Smallpox claims the lives of many Aboriginal people in Sydney, which likely had a severe impact on the cultural practices of the Wangal. 

Aboriginal man Balloderry speared a convict at or near Homebush in retaliation for the destruction of his canoe and livelihood.  

The appropriation of Wangal lands at Homebush Bay begins with land grants of what is now Bicentennial Park. Despite many small land grants in the area during the 1790s, Homebush is likely to have had continued use by Aboriginal people.

Early 1800s
Aboriginal people are working for and trading fish with the Blaxland family at their Newington Estate on the Parramatta River.

Late 1800s
Although unconfirmed, historians believe it highly likely that Aboriginal eople continued to access and live in Homebush Bay during this period. 

Mid 1900s
Aboriginal people begin to number amongst the industrial workers at Homebush, such as in the abattoir, brickworks and naval base. 

Ahead of the remediation and development of Homebush, Aboriginal stone artefacts are discovered near the Newington Village site. 

Late 1990s
In advance of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Sydney Local Aboriginal Land Councils and Traditional Owner and Descendant groups begin researching Aboriginal usage of the Homebush Bay area.

Aboriginal culture and themes of reconciliation are woven throughout the 2000 Sydney Olympics, most notably in the opening ceremony. Meanwhile, Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400-metre race is an historic moment, making her the first Aboriginal person to win an individual Olympic gold medal. 

The Aboriginal History and Connections Program at Homebush is inaugurated, as well as the Sydney Dreaming Festival, an Aboriginal arts and cultural festival. 

Aboriginal stone artefacts and an axe-marked tree are found in Newington Nature Reserve, proving Aboriginal usage of the area both before and after the arrival of Europeans at Homebush Bay.

2003 and 2004
Sydney Olympic Park hosts the Sydney Dreaming Festival.

Sydney Olympic Park Authority commences an education project to enhance existing school environmental excursion programs with place-based Aboriginal history and culture. 

Building on its 2012 education project, Sydney Olympic Park Authority develops a teacher professional development workshop, ‘The Koori Classroom’. It achieves accreditation by the NSW Board of Studies for Teacher Professional Learning.

New Aboriginal place-based environmental excursion programs – ‘Let’s go Walkabout ‘, ‘Wangal Walkabout’ and ‘Bennelong and the Wangal’ – are developed and successfully delivered to primary school students.

Building on the success of its annual Youth Eco Summit (YES), Sydney Olympic Park Authority pioneers the development of an Indigenous youth summit, Murama.


Wangal Country

The Sydney Olympic Park Authority acknowledges the Traditional Owners, Knowledge-holders and Custodians of the land and pays respect to Elders past, and present.

We recognise First Nations Peoples’ unique cultural and spiritual relationships to place and the rich contribution made to society.

First Nations People take a holistic view of land, sky, water and culture and see them as one, not in isolation from each other. The Sydney Olympic Park Place Strategy is based on the premise upheld by Aboriginal people that if we care for Country, it will care for us.

The lands and waterways of the Wangal extended along the southern side of the Burramattagal waters, the Parramatta River from Gadigal country, Darling Harbour to Baramada today known as Parramatta.

The river continues to have a deep relationship with the Cadigal, Wangal, Toongagal, Wallumdegal, Wategora and the Burramattagal people. All enjoyed the river as an important source of cultural activities, food gathering, spiritual practice and trade over thousands of years. The salt marshes were shelter for the waterbirds. At high tide crabs would be caught and fish easily speared. Ducks inhabited the creeks that fed into the river.

According to the Lore of the Iyura, the people of this place, it is said Biiami was responsible for shaping the land. He created the rivers, creeks, mountains, the bush and forests. Biiami raised up his arms and sang everything into being. He looked about the land he had created and called it Bembul-ra. 

Then he created Iyura setting humans in his place of creation. Lores were put in place so people lived the right way for the continuation of life. Ceremonies and practices, song, dance and rules of behaviour brought balance and protected a way of life.

Gawi Mana.
Come gather to reimagine Sydney Olympic Park for the future.

Words by Susan Moylan-Coombs of the Gaimaragal Group.