Aboriginal people have been present on the South Coast of New South Wales for the past 20,000 years. Occupation and use of the land increased since rising sea-levels shaped the current shoreline some 6,000 years ago. During that period, rich social structures developed, along with cultural and spiritual traditions. The long history of indigenous occupation is reflected in many of the place names along the route of the Great South Coast Walk. These names have their origins in Dreamtime creation stories. Many places are sacred sites, of particular significance to the people, where important events occurred during the Dreamtime or where ceremonies are conducted.
The fundamental social unit of coastal aboriginals is the extended family or clan and intimately associated with each clan is their country 1. For coastal clans, country included not only the land, but the adjoining estuaries, beaches, coastal waters and ocean 2. The ocean, or saltwater country, was inseparable from the land 2. Groups of clans speaking a common language formed a wider social group, sharing ceremonies, belief systems, technologies and subsistence strategies 2. South Coast populations formed into three language groups - Tharawal, Dhurga and Thaua.
The Great South Coast Walk passes through the land of the Tharawal, Wodi Wodi, Wandandian, Jerrinja, Walbunga, Djiringanj, Kootungal, Thaua and Bidawal peoples. These groups loosely form the Yuin Nation of indigenous people. So, as we undertake our journey on the Great South Coast Walk, let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land through which we pass and pay respect to the knowledge and traditions of the Yuin peoples and their unbroken ties to the country of of the South Coast.
References and further reading
1. Smyth D (1994) Smyth, DM (1994). Understanding Country – The Importance of Land and Sea in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Societies. Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Canberra. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/45870929
2. Smyth D (2001) Indigenous People and the Sea in the South-East Marine Region. In: Sea Country: An Indigenous Perspective https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/271c0bfc.../indigenous.pdf
Organ MK (1993) Illawarra and South Coast Aborigines, 1770-1900, Report to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Canberra, 348p. University of Wollongong Research Online
Shoalhaven City Council Shoalhaven Indigenous History
Harrison MD, McConchie P (2013) My People's Dreaming - An Aboriginal Elder Speaks on Life, Land, Spirit and Forgiveness. Harper Collins (a personal insight into the traditional teachings of an elder of the Yuin people of the South Coast).
McKenna M (2016) From the Edge: Australia's Lost Histories. Melbourne Univ. Publishing (a fascinating account of the first encounters between indigenous and European people as the 17 survivor of the "Sydney Cove" shipwreck walked north along the South coast to Sydney town in 1797).