Until recently it was widely believed that Aboriginal people had disappeared from the coastal part of Sydney by
the mid-nineteenth century. At the time, descendants of the survivors of initial colonial impacts were not
thought to be 'authentic' Aboriginal people, and their links to coastal Sydney were not acknowledged. Like
most settler colonial cities, they were written out of history. Their stories became hidden in plain view, fostering
a pervasive perception that Aboriginal people were incompatible with city space and urban life. By recovering
and piecing together a wide range of written and physical evidence though, this thesis has revealed the
ongoing presence of fifty to one hundred Aboriginal people in nineteenth-century coastal Sydney.
This thesis tracks patterns of movement and settlement to examine how these people responded to the growth
of settler Sydney. They were linked to Sydney through ancestry or marriage, but because they also moved
within a broader area of affiliation up and down the coast, they have often been seen as migrants rather than
locals. The fact that European use of coastal Sydney away from the city centre was sparse left Aboriginal
people the space to set up camp near valued fishing grounds. They also strategically engaged with the city,
forming relationships with a number of locally born Europeans. Between the 1840s and late 1870s the
government showed no interest in local Aboriginal affairs, and Aboriginal people drew on their cross-cultural
relationships to negotiate continued access to an increasingly suburban landscape. When an Aboriginal
protectorate was established across New South Wales in 1881, this entangled existence slowly unravelled. By
the turn of the century most Aboriginal people in coastal Sydney had come to live at the segregated settlement
at La Perouse, setting the pattern for the next century.
Some historians currently argue that settler colonies always seek to evict Aboriginal people, but a detailed
consideration of Sydney's colonial history demonstrates that entanglement and eviction are more dependent
on local factors than overarching ideologies. Messy, complex stories of cross-cultural interaction only emerge
by drawing together a diverse range of documents, images, artefacts and maps, with an eye to the importance
of location. Acknowledging these traces in libraries, museums and the urban landscape also helps bring the
story of Aboriginal Sydney back into plain view, where it belongs.
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