The Pittwater area of the Northern Beaches area is the land of the Garigal or Caregal people.


For many years it was incorrectly referred to as Guringai.

The Aboriginal Heritage Office issued a report in 2015 titled “Filling a Void”[1], a review of the historical context for the use of the word ‘Guringai’. The report states:

“It is unfortunate that the term Guringai has become widely known in northern Sydney and it is understandable that people wish to use it as it is convenient to have a single word to cover the language, tribe/nation, identity and culture of a region. However, it is based on a nineteenth century fiction and the AHO would argue that the use of the term Guringai or any of its various spellings such as Kuringai is not warranted given its origin and previous use.”

The Guringai or Gringai name is originally from further north and the traditional owners say:

The Guringai, Guringay or Gringai people are the traditional custodians of the land between the Hunter and Manning Rivers, from the ocean to and including the Great Dividing Range.[2]

The traditional owners of this area have requested their clan name not to be used by others.[3]

 In reference to the clan name Garigal or Caregal the AHO report goes on to say:

“In the absence of a convenient single term for the whole of northern Sydney, the AHO would recommend the use of clan names for local areas, with the understanding that these too have their limitations and problems, and the acceptance of the truth of the lack of certainty as a feature of how Aboriginal history and heritage is portrayed here.”

The Country around Broken Bay is Saltwater Country. The Garigal were recorded around this area and Boongaree (also Bungaree)[4], who became well known to the Europeans, was born at Patonga on the other side of the river. The First Fleet explored the Country of Broken Bay, Lion Island, Umina, Patonga, Woy Woy, Dangar Island and the Southern shore near Currawong Beach Cottages in their first expedition. They left stories of the people they met and the journey they took.

Take some time to look more deeply at what you see. The vegetation is an expression of the geology and passed burning regimes. Imagine the harbour teaming once with bird, shellfish and marine life.

Most visitors to Currawong today look around with awe. It is such a spectacular place and there is a feeling of isolation and stillness compared to the ravenous encroachment of Sydney just across the water. It must have seemed even further for those from the new colony at Sydney Cove and the distance, tides, weather and their relations with the Aboriginal people were significant issues.

Much of our history focusses on the exploration and struggle that the newcomers had in this new land. While we look at these firsthand accounts, we should always try and imagine what it was like for Aboriginal people who were already home, trying also to understand the strange ways of the Europeans.

American seaman, 26 year old, Joseph Nagle, frequently rowed Governor Phillip around the Harbour. The journey to Broken Bay began with a newly built long boat, flying a triangular sail set on a long spar and pulling 16 oars, as well as two, 6 oared cutters. These open oared cutters travelled from England and were rowed by pairs of men sitting side-by-side on benches. On March 2nd 1788, with provisions, the Governor and the seamen, pulling 16 oars and with no wind, rowed 16 miles to Palm Beach.  

“As we passed the Sandy Bay near the South Head of Broken Bay (Palm Beach) we were met by three canoes having one man and five women in them. They came alongside our boats quite familiarly, the Governor pushed over to the North Shore in the cutter. The tide set so strong to the southward that it was with difficulty the longboat could get around the south head.  When the cutter landed, they were met by a great number of natives, men, women and children. The men were all armed with spears, clubs, stone hatchets and wooden swords. They were all very friendly, and, when the longboat landed, were without arms. We passed the night in this Cove, on board the boats everybody.”[5]

Was this Pearl Beach, Umina Beach or Patonga? In the morning, after a night of heavy rain the expedition travelled northward exploring Brisbane Waters and Woy Woy. Here they saw the malgun operation[6] on the hands of some the women (Photos (Opens in a new window)of malgun). Returning to the first beach they found no people but a straw hat and beads, which had been given out at Port Jackson and Botany Bay. This shows that the people knew about the First Fleet and were not surprised at their arrival and new things were not necessary to people who had thrived for millennia with their own material culture. The expedition then rowed past the western side of Lions Island and spent the night three miles up the mouth of the Hawkesbury River or Derrabin.

The First Fleet explorers finally arrived at the Pittwater. Their story again is one of overcoming challenges. Wind, water, rain and the unknown. Meanwhile the Garigal people continued their usual occupations along with the new challenges of accommodating strangers and their alien customs and technologies.

Governor Phillip Wednesday 5th March 1788:

"Immediately round the headland that forms the southern entrance Into the bay there is a branch, which I think the finest piece of water I ever saw, and which I honoured with the name of Pitt Water.  When the southern branch of Broken Bay was first visited, the getting round the headland that separates the branches, was attended with some difficulty, on account of very heavy squalls of wind, accompanied with rain. An attempt was made to land, where there proved not to be sufficient water for the boat. During this transaction, an old man and a youth were standing on the rocks where the boat was trying to approach. Having seen how much our men had laboured to get under land, they were very solicitous to point out the deepest water. Afterwards they brought fire, and seemed willing to render any service in their power.  Two of the officers suffered themselves to be conducted by the old man to a cave at some distance, but declined going in, though he invited them by all the signs he could invent. This was rather unfortunate, as the rain was falling very violently, and the cave was found next day sufficiently large to have sheltered the whole party. The old man certainly took great pains to be understood, but the motive of his earnestness unluckily was mistaken, and his visitors suffered for their suspicions”. [7]





[5] Buried Alive, Sydney 1788 – 1792, Eyewitness Accounts of the Making of a Nation - Jack Egan 1999 Page 40

[6] Malgun is The Aboriginal custom of female finger- tip removal – “the finger is taken off by means of ligature (generally a sinew of a kangaroo) tied so tight as to stop the circulation of the blood, which induces mortification and the part drops off”
Watkin Tench 1788 page 248

John Turnbull wrote in 1800, that malgun was related to fishing.

“Whilst the female child is in its infancy, they deprive it of the two first joints of the little finger of the right hand; the operation being effected by obstructing the circulation by means of a tight ligature; the dismembered part is thrown into the sea, that the child may be hereafter fortunate in fishing.”
John Turnbull, A voyage round the world in the years 1800, 1801, 1802 and 1804: in which the author visited the principal islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the English settlements of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, printed for Richard Phillips by T Gillet, London, 1805, pp84–5.

[7] Governor Phillip - A Journey to NSW pp 33 – 35 Wednesday 5th March 1788