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What Aboriginal clan do people in Beecroft and Cheltenham refer to

when acknowledging the country they are on?

Since at least the late 1960s there has been an increasing willingness for non-Aboriginal people to acknowledge that they are on the country of Aboriginal people. Country that the Aboriginal people never ceded, to which they remain connected and for which they are traditional custodians. Many people wish to respect this and, as part of their seeking reconciliation, wish to acknowledge which country they are on. This should not be a matter of form or rote but coming from a true sense of respect. Accordingly there appears to be a general acceptance that an acknowledgment of country should be made at the commencement of important meetings and not at the beginning of every single conversation.

Likewise local government has often erected signs saying that the land you are on has the name given by the Geographical Names Board but it is also the country of certain Aboriginal people or that Aboriginal people call the place by a different name. More recently people have extended this by announcing that they are at a particular place and that it is land associated with particular Aboriginal people.

This is done out of respect. It is not a political statement about land title. To think that it is about land title fails to understand what connection to country is all about.

Our discussion therefore needs to be grounded in respect. Part of that respect should acknowledge the intergenerational trauma suffered by Aboriginal people through the decimation of their people over centuries with a resulting loss of knowledge.

Whose country are people in Beecroft and Cheltenham on?

Firstly it is important to recognise as a background contextual point, that seeking to transpose another language into English or geographical/topographical names onto current land descriptions are not transpositions of explicit accuracy and never will be. That is why we respectfully seek to adapt our language or understanding but will not reach total agreement. By way of example, look at the spelling for the Dharug.

To answer the question posed, the Beecroft Cheltenham History Group back in the mid-1990s commissioned Dr Jim Kohen (an archaeologist working at Macquarie University and who did his doctorate on Aboriginal sites across Sydney) to write for its history of Beecroft and Cheltenham to 1914. A great book that is still available for purchase through the History Group web site or the Beecroft newsagency.  His considered view was that while there was clear evidence of Aboriginal occupation, no clear evidence identified which particular clan occupied this country. Instead his considered view was that as the land was in between the headwaters of the Lane Cove River and the hills overlooking the Parramatta River, that the clan on this particular country was most likely to be the Wallumedegal and the country Wallumetta.

When the history signs were erected at Beecroft Railway Station (as part of the Third Line Project) one sign was erected without discussion with the History Group. When questioned the History Group was advised that no consultation took place with the History Group because the History Group would have had no interest in Aboriginal history – which was pretty disrespectful in its presumptions! The sign says that the local people were Bediagal – that is, people whose country is around present day Castle Hill. Most non-Aboriginal writing said that the Bediagal occupied land to the west and north of the ridge line now traced by Pennant Hills Road to Thompson's Corner. The History Group knows of no evidence that these people lived around Devlin’s or Byle’s creeks.

Dr Val Attenbrow is probably the current pre-eminent scholar working on the archaeological and historical records concerning the Aboriginal people of Sydney. The second edition of her work, from 2010, Sydney’s Aboriginal Past, says that the people of Sydney were not tribes as understood in the current anthropological sense of the word but that they were local descent groups (clans) as well as groups of individuals who were seen fishing, hunting  or gathering together but who did not form part of a clan and instead were communities or bands.

Dr Attenbrow sets out the evidence for the Bediagal being around Castle Hill, the Darramurragal being at present day Turramurra at the headwaters of the Lane Cove River and the Wallumedegal on the opposite shore or northern banks of the Parramatta River (see pages 24-26).

As a matter of geography, Devlin’s and Byle’s creek feed into the Lane Cove River but are not part of what the colonists considered to be the River’s headwaters. Writers such as George Caley clearly felt that the ridges of Beecroft were different land to that of the river banks.

Dr Attenbrow’s work does not (unlike that of Dr Kohen) specifically address Beecroft and Cheltenham and does not have new evidence for these localities that needs to be taken into consideration. It therefore appears consistent with the earlier conclusions of Dr Kohen. What is also important is the qualification made by Dr Attenbrow that any discussion of this topic must ‘show why there are different interpretations and why it is not always possible, for example, to state the name of the group that was associated with a particular area of Sydney.” (page 27)

If we turn to the individual Aborigines who we know to be associated with our locality (people like Busha Muschetta, Moowattin, Bidgee Bidgee, all of whom have biographies on the History Group web site) it will be seen that their clan name is not always readily identified. If we turn to the writings of contemporary Aborigines, like Dennis Foley, again explicit information for this locality is not forthcoming. As stated at the beginning, with the people having been decimated by smallpox and dispossession it would not be respectful to expect the information that we hold to be anything but, where it currently stands. To say otherwise would be to deny their history.

While, of course, what Aborigines tell us, what archaeology and history reveal may always alter what we think, the History Group (at this point in time) sees no reason for it to move away from the earlier considered view of Dr Kohen. The History Group therefore advise that when in Beecroft or Cheltenham it is respectful to say that you are on the country of the Wallumedegal of the Dharug.


Roderick Best
Beecroft Cheltenham History Group