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Bungaree by Augustus Earle (1826)
Portrait by Augustus Earle

Bungaree, or Boongaree (c. 1775 – 24 November 1830), was an Aboriginal Australian from the Guringai people of the Broken Bay north of Sydney, who was known as an explorer, entertainer, and Aboriginal community leader.[1][2][3] He is also significant in that he was the first Australian born person to be recorded in Matthew Flinders' Diary as a resourceful Australian,[4] and the first Australian-born person to circumnavigate the Australian mainland.


When Bungaree moved to the growing settlement of Sydney in the 1790s, he established himself as a well-known identity able to move between his own people and the newcomers.[5] He joined the crew of HMS Reliance on a trip to Norfolk Island in 1798, during which he impressed Matthew Flinders.[6] In 1798 he accompanied Flinders (and his brother, Samuel Ward Flinders, a midshipman from the Reliance) on the sloop Norfolk on a coastal survey as an interpreter, guide and negotiator with local indigenous groups.[7] Despite the lack of a common language, the indigenous people persistently sought Bungaree out to speak to instead of Flinders. His mediation skills were greatly appreciated by the Europeans with whom he shared the ship. In 1799, to reach an agreement with local people in one particular situation, Bungaree gave them a spear and a spear thrower as gifts, showing them how to use them. It is referred to by Bronwen Douglas as a "cross-cultural act, signifying a reciprocal rather than a hierarchical relationship and challenging the reified notion of 'cross-cultural' as contact between opposed, homogenized 'cultures'”, adding that "the Moreton Bay people probably took Bungaree for the leader of the expedition and the white men for his followers".[8]

He was recruited by Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia between 1801 and 1803 in Investigator.[9][6][8] Flinders was the cartographer of the first complete map of Australia, filling in the gaps from previous cartographic expeditions, and was the most prominent advocate for naming the continent "Australia". Flinders noted that Bungaree was "a worthy and brave fellow" who, on multiple occasions, saved the expedition.[10][8] Bungaree was the only indigenous Australian on the ship – and as such, played a vital diplomatic role as they made their way around the coast, overcoming not inconsiderable language barriers in places. According to historian Keith Vincent, Bungaree chose the role as a go-between, and was often able to mollify indigenous people who were about to attack the sailors, by taking off his clothes and speaking to people, despite being in territory unknown to himself. Flinders later wrote in his memoirs of Bungaree's "good disposition and open and manly conduct" and his kindness to the ship's cat, Trim.[6]

In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie dubbed Bungaree "Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe"[11] and presented him with 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land on George's Head[7] as well as a breastplate inscribed "BOONGAREE – Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe – 1815".[12] Bungaree was also known by the titles "King of Port Jackson" and "King of the Blacks",[1][9] with his principal wife, Cora Gooseberry, known as his queen.[6]

Bungaree continued his association with exploratory voyages when he accompanied Captain Phillip Parker King to north-western Australia in 1817 in the Mermaid,[3][7] amongst other things giving advice on which plants were safe to eat.[6]

Captain Faddei Bellingshausen referred to Bungaree's welcoming visit to the Russian exploration ship Vostok in 1820.[13]

Bungaree spent the rest of his life ceremonially welcoming visitors to Australia, educating people about Aboriginal culture (especially boomerang throwing), and soliciting tribute, especially from ships visiting Sydney. He was also influential within his own community, taking part in corroborees, trading in fish and helping to keep the peace.[6][14]

In 1828, he and his clan moved to the Governor's Domain, and were given rations, with Bungaree described as 'in the last stages of human infirmity'.[15] He died at Garden Island on 24 November 1830 and was buried in Rose Bay.[7][9] Obituaries of him were carried in the Sydney Gazette[16] and The Australian.[17]

By the end of his life, he had become a familiar sight in colonial Sydney, dressed in a succession of military and naval uniforms that had been given to him.[7][9][18] His distinctive outfits and notoriety within colonial society, as well as his gift for humour and mimicry, especially his impressions of past and present governors,[9] made him a popular subject for portrait painters, with eighteen portraits and half a dozen incidental appearances in wider landscapes or groupings of figures.[1] His were among the first full-length oil portraits to be painted in the colony, and the first to be published as a lithograph.[13]


However, Bungaree's important role in the exploration of Australia appears to have been almost forgotten. There are statues to Flinders and the cat Trim, but as at January 2019, not a single statue to Bungaree recognising his achievements.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Barani (2013). Significant Aboriginal People in Sydney Archived 17 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Sydney City Council
  2. ^ "Bungaree, late chief of the Broken Bay tribe, Sydney, 1836". National Portrait Gallery collection. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b Indigenous intermediaries: new perspectives on exploration archives. Konishi, Shino, Nugent, Maria, Shellam, Tiffany. Acton, A.C.T.: ANU Press. 2015. p. 88. ISBN 9781925022773. OCLC 917505639.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ "Bungaree: an Indigenous perspective". www.abc.net.au. 3 September 2012. Archived from the original on 27 May 2017. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  5. ^ Steele, Jeremy M. (December 2005). The aboriginal language of Sydney (PDF) (M.A. thesis). Macquarie University. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Bungaree: Indigenous man who helped Flinders explore Australia". BBC News. 25 January 2019. Archived from the original on 25 January 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e McCarthy, F.D. [1966] (2006). "Bungaree ( – 1830)" Archived 25 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. ISSN 1833-7538.
  8. ^ a b c Douglas, Bronwen (2014). Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania, 1511–1850. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 118–131. ISBN 9781137305886.
  9. ^ a b c d e Pollon, pp. 225–226.
  10. ^ Matthew Flinders, A Voyage to Terra Australis, 1814.
  11. ^ "Sydney, Sitting Magistrate—W. Broughton, Esq". Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. 4 February 1815. p. 1. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  12. ^ Attenbrow, Val (1 January 2010). Sydney's Aboriginal past : investigating the archaeological and historical records. UNSW Press. p. 61. ISBN 9781742231167. OCLC 659579866.
  13. ^ a b Hansen, David (April 2007). "2007 Calibre Prize (commended): 'Death Dance' by David Hansen". www.australianbookreview.com.au. Archived from the original on 15 February 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  14. ^ "Domestic Intelligence". Monitor. Sydney. 20 October 1826. p. 2. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  15. ^ Keith Vincent Smith (2011). "Bungaree". Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust. Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  16. ^ "Death of King Boongarie". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. NSW: National Library of Australia. 27 November 1830. p. 2. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  17. ^ Smith, pp. 144–145.
  18. ^ Attenbrow, Val (1 January 2010). Sydney's Aboriginal past : investigating the archaeological and historical records. UNSW Press. p. 111. ISBN 9781742231167. OCLC 659579866.
  19. ^ Smith, p.32.
  20. ^ "Navy Ships,Boats & Craft:HMAS Bungaree", Royal Australian Navy, archived from the original on 1 February 2019, retrieved 2 February 2019
  21. ^ O'Sullivan, Matt (2 October 2017). "New ferries to cater for population boom along Parramatta River". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 7 October 2017. Retrieved 7 October 2017.


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