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Eora people
aka: Ea-ora, Iora, and Yo-ra
Eora (AIATSIS), nd (SIL)
IBRA 6.1 Sydney Basin.png
Sydney Basin bioregion
Language family: Pama–Nyungan
Language branch: Yuin–Kuric
Language group: Yora
Group dialects: Dharug
Bioregion: Sydney Basin
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Coordinates: 34°S 151°E / 34°S 151°E / -34; 151Coordinates: 34°S 151°E / 34°S 151°E / -34; 151
Notable individuals
Portrait of Bennelong, a senior Wanegal man of the Eora peoples.

The Eora /jʊərɑː/ is the name given by the earliest settlers[1][a] to a group of indigenous people belonging to the clans along the coastal area of what is now known as the Sydney basin, in New South Wales, Australia.

Contact with the first white settlement's bridgehead into Australia quickly devastated much of the population through epidemics of smallpox and other diseases. Their descendants live on, though the language, social system, way of life and traditions are mostly lost.


The language spoken by the Eora has, since the time of R. H. Mathews, been called Dharuk, which generally refers to what is known as the inland variety, as opposed to the coastal form Iyora (or Eora).[2] It became extinct after the first two generations, and has been partially reconstructed in some general outlines from the many notes made of it by the original colonists, in particular from the notebooks of William Dawes.[3]

Some of the words of Aboriginal language still in use today are from the Eora (possibly Dharawal) language include: dingo=dingu; woomera=wamara; boomerang=combining wamarang and bumarit, two sword-like fighting sticks; corroboree=garabara;[4] wallaby, wombat, waratah, and boobook (owl).[5] The Australian bush term bogey (to bathe) comes from a Port Jackson Dharuk root buugi-.[6][7]


Eora territory, composed of sandstone coastal outcrops and ridges, coves, mangrove swamps, creeks and tidal lagoons, stretched from the southern area around the Georges River and Botany Bay through to Port Jackson, northwards to Pittwater at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River Westwards it extended to Parramatta.[8] In terms of tribal boundaries, the Kuringgai lay to the north: on the Western edges were the Darug; and to the south, around Kundul were the Gwiyagal, a northern clan of the Tharawal.[9] Their clan identification, belonging to numerous groups of about 50 members, overrode more general Eora loyalties, according to Governor Phillip, a point first made by David Collins[1][b] and underlined decades later by a visiting Russian naval officer, Aleksey Rossiysky in 1814, who wrote:

each man considers his own community to be the best. When he chances to meet a fellow-countryman from another community, and if someone speaks well of the other man, he will invariably start to abuse him, saying that he is reputed to be a cannibal, robber, great coward and so forth.[10]

Bands and Clans[edit]

Eora is used specifically of the people around the first area of white settlement in Sydney.[11] The generic term Eora generally is used with a wider denotation to embrace some 29 bands, which in turn constituted clans that spoke several distinct languages. Thus, Eora is used collectively to refer to all tribes in the area of the primary settlement area, the Guringai to the north, the Tharawal people to the south and the central-west Dharug. These have been classified into the following language groups. The sizes of bands, as opposed to clans, averaged around 50 members. -gal denominates the clan affixed to the place name.[12]

1. Guringai North

  • Terramerragal
  • Cammeraigal
  • Carigal
  • Cannalgal
  • Gorualgal
  • Kayimai

2.Dharug (Eora)

2.Dharug West

4. Dharawal South

  • Gweagal
  • Norongerragal
  • Illawarra
  • Threawal
  • Tagary
  • Wandeandegal

The Cadigal people are the traditional owners of the inner Sydney city region.[13] Their traditional land and waters are south of Port Jackson, stretching from South Head to Petersham. The people described by British settlers as the Eora people were probably Cadigal people, the Aboriginal tribe of the inner Sydney region in 1788 at the time of first European settlement. The Cadigal clan western boundary is approximately the Balmain peninsula.[14]

The traditional territory of the Wanegal people begins around Goat Island and runs west past Concord to what is now called Parramatta, and includes parts of Lane Cove River.[14]

The Cammeraygal peoples traditional territory is on the present-day lower North Shore of Port Jackson, centred on Manly Cove.[14]


The traditional Eora people were largely coastal dwellers and lived mainly from the produce of the sea. They were expert in close-to-shore navigation, fishing, cooking, and eating in the bays and harbours in their bark canoes. The Eora people did not grow or plant crops; although the women picked herbs which were used in herbal remedies.

The Eora placed a time limit on formal battles engaged in order to settle inter-tribal grievances. Such fights were regulated to begin late in the afternoon, and to cease shortly after twilight.[15]


The first contact occurred when James Cook's Endeavour anchored in Botany Bay. A drawing, thought recently to be the handiwork of the Polynesian navigator Turpaia who was on board Cook's ship, survives depicting Aboriginals in Botany Bay, around Kurnel.[16]

When the First Fleet of 1300 convicts, guards, and administrators arrived in January 1788, the Eora numbered about 1,500.[9] By early 1789 frequent remarks were made of great numbers of decomposed bodies of Eora natives which settlers and sailors came across on beaches, in coves and in the bays. Canoes, commonly seen being paddled around the harbor of Port Jackson, had disappeared.[17][18] The Sydney natives called the disease that was wiping them out (gai-galla) and what was diagnosed as a smallpox epidemic in April 1789 effectively decimated the Port Jackson tribes. [18] J. L. Kohen estimates that between 50 and 90 percent of members of local tribes died during the first three years of settlement. No settler child showed any symptoms of the disease. From the journals of Watkin Tench it is known that samples of smallpox had been brought to Australia with the First Fleet carried bottles of smallpox. It has been suggested that either rogue convicts/settlers or the governing authority itself spread the smallpox when ammunition stocks ran low and muskets, when not faulty, proved inadequate to defend the outpost.[19]

Smallpox in conjunction with the destruction of their natural food sources, saw approximately 70 per cent of the Eora people die out during the eighteenth century.[citation needed] Other pathogens and viruses and frontier violence continued to depopulate much of Eora territory throughout the nineteenth century. However, there are still many Indigenous people living in Sydney who identify as Eora and reject the notion that the Eora people have died out.[citation needed]

Notable people[edit]

Main articles: Bennelong, Barangaroo, and Yemmerrawanne

Bennelong, a Wangal of the Eora peoples,[14] served as a link between the British colony at Sydney and the Eora people in the early days of the colony. He was given a brick hut on what became known as Bennelong Point where the Sydney Opera House now stands. He traveled to England in 1792 along with Yemmerrawanne and returned to Sydney in 1795. His wife, Barangaroo, was an important Cammeraygal woman from Sydney's early history who was a powerful and colourful figure in the colonisation of Australia. She is commemorated in the naming of the suburb of Barangaroo, in east Darling Harbour.[20]

Notes and references[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ 'Neither the word lists nor the contexts in which eora is used in these early accounts suggest the word eora was associated with a specific group of people or a language.'
  2. ^ The natives of the coast, whenever speaking of those of the interior, constantly expressed themselves with contempt and marks of disapprobation. Their language was unknown to each other, and there was not any doubt of their living in a state of mutual distrust and enmity


  1. ^ a b Attenbrow 2010, p. 35.
  2. ^ Troy 1992, p. 1, n.2.
  3. ^ Troy 1992, pp. 145–170.
  4. ^ Troy 1992.
  5. ^ Dawes.
  6. ^ Dixon 2011, p. 15.
  7. ^ Dixon 1980, p. 70.
  8. ^ Smith, Burke & Riley 2006, p. 1.
  9. ^ a b Connor 2002, p. 22.
  10. ^ Connor 2002, pp. 2,22.
  11. ^ Connor 2002, p. 61.
  12. ^ Attenbrow 2010, p. 29.
  13. ^ "Aboriginal People and Place", City of Sydney government website, 2002
  14. ^ a b c d Smith, Burke & Riley 2006.
  15. ^ Connor 2002, p. 3.
  16. ^ Smith 2005, pp. 1–6.
  17. ^ Barnes 2009, p. 151.
  18. ^ a b Attenbrow 2010, p. 21.
  19. ^ Warren 2014.
  20. ^ Dosen et al. 2013, p. 363.


Further reading[edit]

  • Kurupt, Daniel, ed. (1994). The Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia. Aboriginal Studies Press. ISBN 0-85575-234-3. 
  • Thieberger, N; McGregor junior, W (eds.). "Sydney language". Macquarie Aboriginal Words. 

External links[edit]