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What the Colonists Never Knew: A History of Aboriginal Sydney

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Summary

What the Colonists Never Knew paints a vivid picture of what it was like to grow up Aboriginal in Sydney, alongside the colonists, from 1788 to the present.

Peter Read’s exploration of the history of Aboriginal Sydney is interwoven with Dennis Foley’s memories of his own Gai-mariagal country, taking readers on a journey through the region’s past. This book offers an honest account of the disappointment, pain and terror experienced by Sydney’s First Peoples, and celebrates the survival of their spirit and their culture.

Dennis, the grandson of Clarice Malinda Lougher, the last practising matriarch of the Gai-mariagal clan, was immersed in cultural knowledge and lore from an early age. Through his eyes we see a Sydney of totemic landscapes resonating with ceremonial sites and ancestral activity, song-lines and walking tracks, habitat caves and middens, and share memories of what has been lost.

At Narrabeen camp in the 1950s we meet Uncle Willie de Serve, a man who wore the scarifications of his ritual life and mentored the young Dennis. "His face was alive with a thousand stories."

Dennis also introduces us to Nanna Watson, who lived in a little humpy at Car-rang-gel (North Head). "On a hot summer's afternoon, she would hitch her dress up round her knees and wriggle around in the sand to get a couple of ugaries (pipis), chew one up and spit it into the water and put the other one on the line, and before you knew it she'd have a big whiting or a bream."

Through the stories so generously told we may reflect on what it means to be a stolen child and one of the 'silent generations', and to fight to safeguard culture and identity. We can sense the responsibility of being the senior Gai-mariagal and the last of the storytellers, and the urgency to document and share the knowledge bestowed on him by generations of his family.

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Harvard citation

Korff, J 2020, What the Colonists Never Knew: A History of Aboriginal Sydney, <https://www.creativespirits.info/resources/books/what-the-colonists-never-knew>, retrieved 18 September 2020

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