Living in harmony with the land, Aboriginal men and women used natural materials to make tools, clothing, adornments and jewellery, all superbly crafted for their daily needs. Experts at both making and using tools, Aboriginal people were able to create fire, hunt, and craft vessels for carrying their possessions and food. Eora men, women and children of the Sydney coast wore no clothing, adorning themselves only with bands around their arms, wrists and waist, and necklaces and ornaments in their hair. In colder hinterland areas like the Blue Mountains people kept warm by wearing cloaks made by sewing possum skins together.


Ornaments were worn by the Eora to signify status. Boys who had been initiated into adulthood wore headbands of possum fur or bark around their foreheads, fur armbands (nurunyal) and plaited fur waistbands for holding clubs and tools.

Men and some women of authority, like Barangaroo, wore reeds or bird bones called gnanung through the base of their nose. A feather ornament (darral) was sometimes worn on their head.

Stone axe

The Eora shaped stones from river beds to make axes called a mugu or mogo. The axes were used to make canoes (nawi), bark shelters (gunya), shields and for hunting.

To make a mugu, a river stone was ground to a sharp edge by rubbing it over wet sandstone. It was bound to a handle using cord made from bark and cemented in place with resin or beeswax.

Grooves in sandstone where river stones were ground can still be seen around Sydney Harbour.


Aboriginal life on Sydney Harbour revolved around the water’s edge, creeks, lagoons and river banks, where women fished from canoes (nawi) or collected shellfish and crustaceans near the shore.

The nawi was a precious possession. Three to four metres long and one metre wide and shaped from a sheet of stringybark, or bark from the fir tree (gumun), the shape of the vessel was achieved by tying at the ends with cord or vines. Wooden spacer sticks held the sides apart. Canoe paddles (narawang) were made from wood or bark.

Shell Fishing Lures

Aboriginal women fished with handlines (garadyun) spun from the inner bark of the kurrajong tree. They used shiny shell fishhooks or lures called berá or bara.

To make the bara, women ground Sydney Turban shells into a crescent shape using a stone file. The hooks did not have a barb to snag fish, but were used as lures without any bait. A notch cut at one end of the curved hook was attached to the fishing line and a stone served as a sinker.


Spears were used by men for hunting, fishing and fighting. To make a spear, two or more flowering stalks of the spear grass tree were bound together and glued with grass tree resin. Spears varied from 2 to 3.5 metres in length. There were many different types but gamai was the generic name for a spear with barbs (yalga) fixed at the point (wudyang) with gum.

War spears only had one, often jagged point and were designed to wound or kill. With lightning speed and dexterity, spears that dropped to the ground during combat were quickly grasped between the toes and lifted up ready to throw, without interrupting the fight.

Yilimung / Eleemong

In the Aboriginal culture of south-eastern Australia, deaths were often avenged through ritual combats in which an accused man, holding only a narrow shield, faced a stream of barbed spears.

There were three different types of shields – 
Yilimung, made of bark – a small shield used to repel spears.
Yarragung, a ‘shield for war’ – carved from solid wood hardened over a fire used during combat
Darrawang – a narrow three-sided shield which was also used as a musical instrument to beat time.

Shields were coated with white pipeclay and often painted with a red vertical line crossed by one or two horizontal lines.


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