The Eora, the Aboriginal people of the coastal Sydney region, gathered, fished or hunted their food and enjoyed a rich and varied diet thanks to the extensive fauna and flora found in the Sydney basin.
Many of these mammals, birds, reptiles and plants can still be seen today in bushland, parks, beaches and even suburban backyards.

white cockatoo

Birds of Sydney Harbour were a ready source of feathers for ceremonial belts and head dresses, including cockatoos, hawks (bunda), crows (wugan), cranes, pelicans (garanga), pigeons (wungawunga), herons and emu (murawung). While emu no longer roam the city water’s edge, most of the birds commonly found at the time of colonization can be spotted around Sydney Harbour, in the Botanic Gardens, the Domain and in parks and gardens throughout Sydney.


One of Australia’s largest lizards, the goanna is found in the bush surrounding Sydney. Goannas have sharp teeth and claws and eat insects, eggs, small birds, fish and rodents. For some Eora people, the goanna was a totem (symbols that are sacred to an individual or group). For others, like Aboriginal people throughout Australia, goanna were a delicacy, grilled on the coals of an open fire.


The familiar laughing cry of the kookaburra often heard around Sydney gave it the common names of Laughing Jackass and, afterwards, the Settler’s Clock.

Kookaburras feed on small reptiles, snakes, crabs, fish and insects and sometimes swoop on meat cooking on backyard barbecues, flying off to a tree to ‘kill’ their prey by smashing it against the trunk.


Wattles (Acacia species) are trees or shrubs bearing fluffy yellow or cream balls or spikey blossoms. Their many varieties provided firewood, and timber for carving digging sticks and spear-throwers (wumara). Aboriginal people ground the edible seeds into flour.

These days, Wattleseed is used to flavour drinks, bread, ice cream and pancakes.

Spear Grass Tree

The most useful plant that grew along Sydney’s coastal strip was the goolgadya or grass tree (Xanthorrhea species), also called the gum or gummy plant. Heated in a hot fire or with a firestick, the yellow-red resin in the dark brown spikes of the tree melted and solidified into lumps that were used as a waterproof, all-purpose adhesive.

The flowering spike (yegali) of the grass tree produced nectar and was soaked in water to make a sweet drink. An edible worm or grub found in the plant was called danganuwa.

Port Jackson Fig

Birds scatter seeds of the Port Jackson fig (Ficus rubignosa), which grows in the crevices of bare sandstone cliffs like the ones at Bennelong Point, or stands tall in places like Observatory Hill and on the islands of the Harbour.

Aboriginal people ate the small, seed-filled yellow fruits when they were soft and ripe, and preserved them by forming ‘cakes’ that were left to dry.


Uncover the world of Aboriginal Australians by exploring these key sites

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.