United by a common language, strong ties of kinship, and a rich saltwater economy, the Aboriginal people of coastal Sydney lived as skilled fisher-hunter-gatherers in family groups scattered around Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), the Parramatta River and the coast. They referred to themselves as Eora (yura), simply meaning ‘people’.
Their territory spread from the Georges River and Botany Bay in the south to Warrane (Sydney Cove), north to Pittwater and west along the river to Parramatta.
Aboriginal people lived in clans, or family groups. Clans within Sydney Harbour and the coast spoke one common language, but married into adjacent language groups (called ‘tribes’ by the colonists, including Dharug (Darug), Dharawal/Tharawal, Gundungurra and Guringai (Kuring-gai).
A clan was an extended family group that shared the same language. It numbered from 20 to 60 men, women and children. Nowadays clan groups in the Sydney metropolitan area collectively identify as the Eora Nation.
While the Eora were the coastal people of the Sydney area, the Dharug (Darug), according to linguist R. H. Mathews (1901), occupied Liverpool, Windsor, Penrith and Campbelltown. The Dharawal people’s lands are mostly confined to the area south of Botany Bay, extending south to Nowra and across to the Georges River in Sydney’s west.
Aborigines eating fish around a campfire, c.1790
King, Philip Gidley
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, CY3011/109