Today is the start of National Reconciliation Week, so I thought we’d take a look at someone who was part of Sydney’s early history: Carangarang.
Now I must confess that I didn’t know much about Carangarang before today. But that’s one of the great things about the Dictionary of Sydney. It has soooo many articles and one of its strengths is content on Aboriginal history.
Who was Carangarang?
While I don’t believe women are defined by their men, in this case, Carangarang’s relations do provide some helpful context.
Most people, I believe, have heard of Bennelong. Bennelong was abducted by Governor Arthur Philip from Manly and he later became an important diplomatic figure forging relationships between the Eora and the British. Some would say Bennelong is the most famous Aboriginal man in Sydney’s history.
Well, Carangarang was Bennelong’s sister. She was a Wangal woman. Born around 1771, she lived into the 1830s. She remained connected to her country and her culture. And as author Keith Vincent Smith describes, Carangarang was ‘a notable figure around Sydney and Kissing Point until the late 1830s, when she was in her sixties’.
Why haven’t we heard more about her? Well, the vagaries and biases of white historical documents (First Fleet journals, letters and dispatches) can partly explain the silences. Slowly, historians are piecing snippets together, making connections between names and slight references.
We know that Carangarang was an Eora fisherwoman. She was regularly seen in a nawi (canoe) on the harbour, singing as she paddled to keep time. She fished on the harbour, with her young children by her side in the vessel, and shared her catch with her brother.
Carangarang maintained a close relationship with her brother. She was beside herself with joy when he returned from his travels in England. We can assume that Carangarang would have been closely watching her brother’s diplomatic efforts, but we can’t be sure what she thought of them. I think she was more on her sister-in-law Barangaroo’s side, keen to stick to her culture. She attended funerals and mourned the loss of her mob. And later in life she continued to practice culture up at Kissing Point, where she was observed dancing and singing at a corroboree. She wore a possum skin cloak and had traditional ornaments in her hair.
We know that Carangarang had two husbands, and several children. One of her sons was later recorded as camping around Bondi and Rose Bay into the 1870s. So Carangarang’s cultural knowledge was carried and continued well into the late nineteenth century.
Carangarang’s story is one of many Sydney stories. As we embrace National Reconciliation Week it’s imperative on us all to learn more about, and respect, the culture and history of Sydney’s Aboriginal people. The Dictionary of Sydney is a good place to start!
Find out more about National Reconciliation Week and how to get involved on the website here: https://www.reconciliation.org.au/national-reconciliation-week/
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Lisa, for ten years of unstinting support of the Dictionary! You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio