Great South Coast Walk

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.  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 these peoples and their unbroken ties to the country 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.

2. Smyth D (2001) Indigenous People and the Sea in the South-East Marine Region. In: Sea Country: An Indigenous Perspective

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

Sapphire Coast Tourism History in the Shadow of the Mountains: A journey through the history of the Sapphire Coast Part 2 – The Indigenous People

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).

Great South Coast Walk Steering Committee

David Briese
Graham Burgess
Maureen Carter
Frances Perkins
Fiona Stewart
Jan Thomas
Barry Tomkinson

The following people have contributed to discussions or provided input into the development of The Great South Coast Walk proposal:

Alex Allchin
Tom Bartlett
Joanne Bell
Kerrie-Anne Benton
Greg Binskin
Lysanne Cameron
Matt Colahan
Alistair Crombie
Mike Druce
Jan Gatenby
Kate Grarock
Trevor King
Terry Korn
Graeme Lawless
Steve Lawson
David Maidment
Kirsten Mayer
David McMillan
Andrew Morrison
Garry Potts
Dave Roach
Doug Reckord
Jenny Robb
Jess Ronan
Tim Shepherd
John Souter
Geoff Steel
Mike Taverner
Leonardo de Terminus
Mike Thomson

For millenia, aboriginal people used a network of pathways along the the length of the South Coast for trade and for ceremonial purposes. Did any of them walk the entire length of country crossed by the Great South Coast Walk? We can never know, but it seems unlikely that in the thousands of years of human movement along these paths, such journeys were not made. The list below of known end-to-end walkers and their achievement is acknowledged in the context of those who have walked before.



  Date completed




William Clark, John Bennet and an un-named Lascar servant of Clark 15 May 1797 S to N: Survivors of the 17 men who set out from 90-Mile Beach in Victoria to walk to Sydney following the wreck of the "Sydney Cove"
Victorian and NSW Scout groups 15 May 1997 S to N: Bicentennial re-enactment of the journey of the "Sydney Cove" survivors in the form of a relay over two months
David and Pennie Briese 8 May 2004 N to S: Through Walk in 39 walking days (with several stops and side-trips adding up to 82 days from start to finish)
Maureen and David Carter 14 Oct 2010 N to S: Stage walk done in 28 walk stages (from 1-7 days) and 3 short cycling stages over 22 months; 53 days of walking
Jim Yurchenko and Amy Lauterbach (USA) 15 Oct 2011 N to S: Through walk in 24 days
"Mountain Goat" (real name not known) Mar 2014 N to S: Posted a message in the Photodiary of a Nomad Visitor Book to say that he had walked from Sydney to Mallacoota on the Great South Coast Walk (time not known)
Kate Grarock 25 Nov 2016 N to S: Through walk in 25 days
Claire Wind 20 Jan 2017 N to S: Through walk in 26 days
Tom Bartlett and Jess Ronan 4 July 2018 N to S: Through walk in 20 days
Ross Young Nov 2019 N to S: Stage walk done in 3 stages between May and November 2019; 27 days of walking
Jane Turnbull and Cameron Hay (New Zealand) 9 Nov 2022 First to walk S to N: walked in 2 stages, the first in October 2018 to Eden and the second in October-November 2023 to Bundeena.