The area known as Campbelltown City is located on the custodial lands of the Dharawal people and there are many reminders of their traditional and ongoing connection to the land.
Scattered throughout the area are many sites of cultural significance. One of these is what is known as a 'first contact' site – where local Dharawal people had drawn charcoal sketches of bulls that had escaped from Sydney Cove and made their way to what was known as "the Cowpastures" - an area near Campbelltown.
As colonists moved from Sydney Cove into this area interaction between the settlers and the Dharawal people was sometimes peaceful but not always. Resulting from disputes between settlers and Aboriginal people from another clan group an intervention from colonial military saw many of the local Dharawal people perish in what is known as the Appin Massacre.
Today Campbelltown City has one of the largest urban populations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in New South Wales.
There are many areas and specific sites of cultural significance that have been left by the Dharawal people. One of the most significant of these is what is known as the Bull Cave.
The legend of the Cowpastures explains how early European settlers stumbled on the region’s fertile farming land. In July 1788, just six months after European arrival, the early settlers lost two bulls and four cows.
Almost two years later, the cattle were sighted in the Menangle area. Local Aboriginal people saw the strange animals and sketched them on the walls of sandstone shelters along the Georges River, including in a cave now known as ‘Bull Cave’.
In December 1820, Governor Lachlan Macquarie named Campbell-Town in honour of his wife, Elizabeth Campbell. The region has become known as Sydney’s ‘Living Heritage’ precinct, being home to an impressive portfolio of heritage listed buildings, sites and pioneer cemeteries.
There are Aboriginal heritage items, buildings dating back to the early 1800s and a fascinating war history.
The Appin massacre of 1816 is perhaps the most devastating and tragic event to occur to the Dharawal and other local clans, and was a low point in the relationship between Aboriginal and European inhabitants.
Diseases brought by the Europeans also depleted the Dharawal population. In 1845, the number of Aboriginal people in the Campbelltown Police District had dropped in 10 years from 20 to none. Tribal life in the district continued in a limited way.
Corroborees were still held at Camden Park and Denham Court until at least the 1850s. During 1858, about 200 Aborigines attended the celebrations at Campbelltown marking the opening of the railway line.
Today, the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation, Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal Committee Reference Group of Campbelltown City Council, foster Aboriginal culture in the Campbelltown area. Campbelltown City Council also holds a memorial flag raising ceremony to remember those who perished and to show Council's commitment to reconciliation.
Non-Aboriginal Australians are fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about local Aboriginal culture and history through the work of these groups. A determined willingness to learn from our history will assist the process of reconciliation.