Sydney takes ~ Warrane, Sydney Cove

Sydney takes ~ Warrane, Sydney Cove

‘Isn’t every square inch of our cities a crime scene?’ Walter Benjamin [1]

Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, 1788, William Bradley


1 Order

26 January. The British landed at Warrane, the colours were displayed, the British flag flown, and possession of the country taken formally in the name of King George III.

27 January. Sailors from the Sirius with marines and a few male convicts land and start cutting down the trees and clearing ground. A casuarina swamp forest dominates the estuary. Phillip and his staff set up tents on its east side.

28 January. The wives of the marines disembark. The rest of the male convicts disembark over the next few days. ‘Confusion quickly gave way to system.’ Watkin Tench, Captain-lieutenant of Marines.

29 January. The Governor’s imported portable house is placed in position.

30 January. The livestock lands, one bull, five cows, one bull calf, one stallion, three mares, three colts, and a number of ewes and hogs and goats.

6 February. ‘At 5 o’Clock this morng. all things were got in order for landing the whole of the women & 3 of the Ships Long Boats came alongside us to receive them. They were dressed in general very clean &some few amongst them might be sd. to be well dress’d’. Arthur Bowes Smyth, surgeon.

‘While they were on board ship, the two sexes had been kept most rigorously apart, but, when landed, their separation became impractical, and would have been, perhaps, wrong. Licentiousness was the unavoidable consequence’. Watkin Tench

To the west of the stream lay the Rocks, ‘where the convicts provided themselves with disorderly makeshift accommodation’.[2]

Towering Angophoras and Banksias at Farm Cove were felled to make way for the First Farm. In some of the earlier accounts from convicts, it was noted that when they attempted to cut down the trees, their tools broke and the tree trunks had to be blasted out of the ground with gunpowder.

‘It will scarcely be credited that I have known twelve men employed for five days, grubbing out one tree.’ John White, surgeon.

Plants brought along the way at Rio de Janeiro and Capetown were at first cultivated with some success. Gov. Phillip’s valet for the voyage, Henry Dodd, was placed in charge of the farm. Dodd had been an agricultural labourer and had worked on Phillip’s farm in Hampshire. Within two months of the First Fleet’s arrival on 26 January, three gardens had been established on the east side of the Tank Stream. By July the farm had ‘nine acres in corn’.

By 1792 the governor’s residence and surrounding garden dominated the eastern side of Sydney Cove. The garden was planted with agricultural crops to supply essential food for the governor, and his staff and servants.

‘They had to get self-sustaining pretty quickly. The first crops they would have tried growing were the traditional English staples — wheat, rye, oats, corn, vegetable crops and fruit trees. The rain was very sporadic, they had long periods of drought . . . Most of the country from the garden to the harbour was very swampy, and probably lots of mangroves.’ Dr Brett Summerell, Chief Botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

‘Once Phillip cleared the land around the house he fenced it to ward off ‘wilderness’. This boundary attempted to define the difference between the cultivated and the uncultivated; it had become land that was useful as opposed to barren and deceitful. The deceit arose from those first impressions of Sydney Cove and Parramatta as places where trees, shrubs and grass grew easily. To British eyes this meant the soil was rich and good for growing crops—and yet the soils were poor and easily exhausted, the trees and bushes difficult to clear. In fact, the soils of Sydney Cove were not suitable for growing the crops so essential for the survival of the colony during the early years.’ Mary Casey[3]

In an effort to create order, future streets and building allotments had been pegged out while tentative plans for a hospital, jail, court and church were taking shape. The first building to be finished was an observatory.

Governor Arthur Phillip wrote, ‘There are few things more pleasing than the contemplation of order and useful arrangement’, which he contrasted with wilderness.[4] He obeyed George III’s order that all land remain property of the Crown, except land ‘granted’ to convicts of ‘good conduct and disposition to industry’, and judged useful for farming.[5] In Australia, what was of concern was not the natural theology of the New World, but good order, whether Edenic natural order or military discipline.

Farming, like colonisation, requires order, which is achieved through mapping, surveying and construction of roads, as Paul Carter’s spatial histories reveal.[6]

The gardener Peter Good noted in 1802 that Sydney ‘has a fine appearance. It is seated at the end of a Snug Cove . . . each house has a considerable space of Garden ground so that the Town spreads over a great space … there is a degree of neatness & regularity.’[7]

Under Bligh by 1810 the fenced area of Sydney was ‘civilised’ and, ‘filled with a shrubbery rather than food-producing crops. The ground beyond the fence was cleared, appearing devoid of natural vegetation. Equilibrium had been gained through the transformation into opposites: useful land and the wild rocky ground. The wilderness was used by the lawless members of the community to hide stolen goods and to perform ‘unnatural acts’. It was a ‘no man’s land’ where many things were possible; it had no order or control. The fenced sections were the only places where there was order and control.[8]

2 Old order

‘Having passed between the capes which form its entrance, we found ourselves in a port superior, in extent and excellency, to all we had seen before. We continued to run up the harbor about four miles, in a westerly direction, enjoying the luxuriant prospect of its shores, covered with trees to the water’s edge, among which many of the Indians [Aborigines] were frequently seen, till we arrived at a small snug cove on the southern side, on whose banks the plan of our operations was destined to commence.’ Watkin Tench

In August 1788, 67 bark canoes (nawi), carrying 94 men, 34 women and nine children floated on the harbour.[9]

One first fleet officer said of the indigenous people: ‘They appear… from their unreasoning manners, to have few ideas of order among themselves.’[10]

Who were the Gadigal?

The Gadigal were a group of Indigenous Australians whose traditional lands are located in what is now the city of Sydney. Before being named Sydney in the 1770s, the land was originally called ‘Cadi’. ‘Gal’ means people, so the Gadigal literally means the people of Cadi. The name Cadi comes from the grass tree species Xanthorrhoea, a native plant that local Aboriginal communities would make sections of spear shaft from the stems and glue together with the resin.

The Gadigal were part of a wider group known as the Eora Nation, who numbered roughly 1,500 individuals in the wider coastal area. There were roughly 29 clans in the Sydney region, with the Gadigal making up around 100 people. The inhabited area of Cadi included the cove area, known then as ‘Warrane’ and what is today’s Sydney CBD and Royal Botanic Garden. As a coastal community, they were dependant on the harbour for providing the majority of their food.

The spread of smallpox in 1789 was estimated to have killed 53% of the Indigenous population, with only three Gadigal individuals remaining in 1791. However, it was suspected that individuals from the clan may have dispersed out to the Concord area and settled to escape the epidemic.

Farm Cove is Woccanmagully, a hunting place and an initiation ground. Judge Advocate David Collins recorded details of a Kangaroo and Dog Dance corroboree and initiation ceremony held there in February 1795. For some days an oval 8 metres by 5, had been prepared and cleared. It was named Yoo-lahang. The ceremony lasted two days, 15 boys from the eastern harbour clans were initiated as warriors by having their front teeth knocked out by the Cammeraigal tribal elders from the North Shore.

A ceremony at Farm Cove (Yoo-long erah-ba-diang), James Neagle, 1798

The ground was where ritual punishments were given. In July 1805, Colebee and Bennelong, who were usually allies, fought a duel over Bennelong’s wife Kurubarabulu here.

In 1789, Colebee and Bennelong were kidnapped from Manly Cove.[11] Governor Phillip, used them to learn about their language and customs. Phillip wanted good relations with the Eora people, with, ‘a determination rare, possibly unique, in the gruff annals of imperialism.’[12]

Colebee was a Cadigal, from the present eastern suburbs of Sydney. His face was heavily scarred by smallpox, from which he had recovered. They both escaped, but returned and were the leading Aboriginal men in Sydney at that time. He had five names, given at different times during the various ritual inductions he underwent. The other four are given as Wolarrebarre, Wogultrowe, Boinba, and Bundabunda. Bennelong and another man Yemmerrawanne travelled with Phillip to England in 1792. On his return Bennelong went bush, occasionally dining at the servants’ table in Governor King’s residence. He frequently participated in payback battles, and officiated at the last recorded initiation ceremony in Port Jackson in 1797. He had several wives: the first, name unknown, probably died from smallpox. He then married the Cammeray clanswoman Barangaroo, who died shortly after in 1791. He then took up with a Gweagal woman, Kurubarabüla (after kidnapping her I have read). They stayed together a year until he left for England. On his return, he had a son, Dicky, by another woman. His last wife, Boorong, was buried with him.

Bennelong was badly injured in the fight and the injuries may have hastened his death at around the age of fifty, though alcohol had weakened him. He was buried in the orchard of the brewer James Squire, a friend. [13] It is thought Colebee died in payback the following year, site unknown.

Productive farming on the site was abandoned by 1816 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie converted the Government farm site into a botanic garden.

A View of Sydney Cove, Port Jackson Painter, 1792. National-History-Museum-London.

3 Cadigal Creek, The Tank Stream

Cadigal Creek is the reason the settlement began at Sydney Cove, back then two blocks inland.[14] The stream entered the harbour at what is now the intersection of Bridge and Pitt Streets in the heart of Sydney’s CBD.

‘The main cove of Sydney was marked by a slow-running stream. Considering the nature of his human cargo, and desiring the separate the most desperate of the convicts from the main body and from the woman, Phillip had formulated an idea for settlement that included one well before he left Portsmouth. He hoped that founding the river would act as a physical barrier between the classes of the First Fleet, a separation that could be further reinforced by a guard.’ [15]

Order is much more than a fence or physical barrier, like power it permeates everything: ‘The fundamental codes of a culture – those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of its practices – establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home.’ Michel Foucault.[16]

Phillip traced the stream’s origin to a swampy area between today’s Hyde Park and Sydney Town Hall. It dropped through a series of waterfalls to the harbour. As the water source for both humans and their livestock, it was essential to maintain water quality in the stream. Phillip declared the first catchment and environment protection act of the European occupation. He created a green belt 15 metres wide either side of the stream. Polluting activities, cutting trees and grazing stock in the belt were prohibited.

August 1788. Heavy rains changed the gentle stream into a raging torrent, washing away brick kilns, huts and making the roads impassable. Drought followed the floods. Phillip ordered convicts to deepen the stream and they dug out storage tanks, hence its name, the Tank Stream. Each was five metres deep and held nearly 20,000 litres of water.

When Governor Phillip in ill health returned to England in 1792, Major Grose, commander of the New South Wales Corps, became colonial administrator. He established military rule, abolishing the civilian courts. After the poor harvest of 1793 he cut the rations of the convicts but not those of the Corps. Phillip’s policy had been of equal rations for all.

Major Grose allowed the military to build houses and pigsties in the Tank Stream’s green belt, causing pollution and disease. Subsequent governors tried increasingly severe laws to protect the water source. In 1800, Governor King flogging offenders and demolished their houses, but by 1828 It became an open sewer and was abandoned as a source of drinking water.

‘A view of the Tank Stream’ unknown artist, c1842

In 1858, the Tank Stream was diverted beneath Pitt Street and 150 metres of stone culvert was built over it to Circular Quay. Today the Tank Stream still functions as a stormwater drain that flows into the harbour.

See my video from 2008, Tracking the Tank Stream.

4 Circular Quay, order and opera

COVID has changed this place. No tourists wheeling huge amounts of luggage to or from the vast cruise ships that once moored opposite the Opera House. Captain Cook has vanished, a spruiker dressed the part encouraged tourists to take a cruise. And the music has gone. No sign of the Aboriginal musicians who would set up bare chested, painted with didge and Clapsticks and often miked and with a soundtrack, inviting selfies from the passing tourists. Some are excellent musicians.

The first and one of the few dwellings on the rocky eastern side of Sydney Cove was a hut built for Woollarawarre Bennelong. Near where the Sydney Opera House was built, voted the top Australian landmark.

Harriot Anley, Construicting Circular Quay, detail 1845, State Library of NSW

Now you hear the odd ferry whistle, the voice announcing, ‘The ferry on Side A is due to depart for . . .’, squawking Silver Gulls, an old man busking with a couple of jingle sticks, the rippling water . . . The ferries run on time, and the glass magnifies the sharp winter light.

The earliest piece of European music known by name to have been played on this site (apart from God Save the King, sang the day after the women landed, for Governor Phillip’s official commission) is ‘The Rogue’s March’, played by a marine fifer and drummer ‘at the drumming out’, two days later, of a sailor, carpenter and a cabin boy from the Prince of Wales, ‘who had been caught in the female convicts’ tents. The sailor, carpenter and cabin boy ‘were drummed through the camp with their hands tied behind them, the boy dressed in petticoats’ . . . ‘The Rogue’s March’, a lively melody in 6/8 meter was traditionally played to accompany the ritual dishonouring of military or civil offenders.[17]

a surprisingly jaunty tune

We confuse culture with civil-isation.

‘Every time an opera lover drops their bum into a padded seat the taxpayer pays on average $45 towards their experience. (That’s for operas put on by Opera Australia. If you go to see a show by Opera Queensland, the government has pitched in $194 towards the cost of your ticket. If you go to one by West Australian Opera, it’s $191.) (2015 figures) . . . But to boost attendance numbers, Opera Australia puts on shows that are not really opera, just musicals. In 2015 it presented Anything Goes. The year before it did The King and I, and South Pacific. If you take out the musicals, the number of people going to actual opera shrinks, and the subsidy per attendee goes up, dramatically.’[18]

[1] Walter Benjamin, A Small History of Photography, 1931.

[2] Mary Casey, ‘Remaking Britain: establishing British identity and power at Sydney Cove, 1788-1821’, Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 24, 2006, p88.

[3] Mary Casey, 2006, p89.

[4] ‘The wild appearance of land entirely untouched by cultivation, the close and perplexing growing of trees, interrupted now and then by barren spots, bare rocks, or spaces overgrown with weeds, flowers, flowering shrubs or underwood, scattered and intermingled in the most promiscuous manner, are the first objects that present themselves.’ Arthur Philip, The Voyage to Botany Bay, Facsimile Edition, Hutchinson, 1988, p122.

[5] ‘Phillip’s ideas at once framed and shaped the settlement. A distinguished British naval commander of diverse international experience, an investigative spy for Britain, and a gentleman farmer on his property in Hampshire, he was just short of fifty years old. A practical man of immense conceptual and spiritual energy, Governor Phillip saw his immediate decisions as a matter of urgency.’ Ann Moyal, ‘Arthur Phillip: 1788. The Foundation Year’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, August 2017.

[6] Paul Carter, The Lie of the Land, Faber and Faber 1996. Carter’s earlier The Road to Botany Bay explores structures of perception in European encounters and in Living in a New Country, he explored notions of place through place naming and place inventing. Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay; Paul Carter, Living in a New Country, Faber, 1992.

[7] Quoted by Richard Neville, ‘A degree of neatness & regularity’,

[8] Mary Casey, 2006, p92-3.

[9] John Hunter, An Historical Journal … London, 1793.

[10] An Officer of the first fleet quoted by Adrian Mitchell ‘Watkin Tench’s Sentimental Enclosure’s: Original Relations from the First Settlement’ Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 11, 1994, ANZSC

[11] Lieutenant Bradley in charge of the kidnapping recalled the ambush as, ‘by far the most unpleasant service I ever was ordered to Execute’. Quoted by Ann Moyal, 2017.

[12] Inga Clendinnen, Dancing with Strangers, Text, 2003, p25.

[13] The actual grave site has been located in the garden of a private house in present-day Putney, the NSW Government bought the house and is turning it into a public memorial to Bennelong, together with a museum commemorating the impact of European invasion on the Indigenous peoples of the Sydney area.

[14] Phillip spent several days examining Botany Bay but found no clean source of water. 21 January he sailed with several officers by cutter north to Port Jackson, which Cook had named but not visited. They were astonished to find ‘the finest harbour in the world . . . a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security’. Letter to Lord Syndey, 15 May, 1788.

[15] Annemarie McLaren, ‘Convict Geographies of Early Colonial Sydney’, Thesis, University of Sydney, p16.

[16] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Les Mots et les choses [words and things] 1966), 1970, Pantheon, pxx.

[17] Geoffrey Lancaster, The First Fleet Piano: Volume One, ANU, 2015.

[18] Jason Murphy, ‘Australia’s biggest taxpayer rip-off: Is it time for the fat lady to sing?’, ‘Opera got about five times as much money as literature from the arts funding body. Yet I don’t think anyone would deny great Australian books — from Picnic at Hanging Rock to Possum Magic to The Slap — are a more important part of Australia’s cultural heritage than Opera.’

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