The site believed to be the final resting place of the iconic Eora leader Woollarawarre Bennelong will be preserved and a memorial established after the NSW Government purchased the privately owned suburban home.
The fate of the property in Putney in Sydney’s north-west has been in doubt since it was listed for auction late last year. It initially failed to sell and was eventually taken off the market after the historical significance of the site was made public.
Local member Anthony Roberts revealed on Sunday that the NSW Government had paid around $3m to secure the property and preserve the legacy of a man he described as “one of our greatest leaders and early ambassadors".
Gadigal man and co-director of the Bennelong Putney Committee, Des Madden says Bennelong was a man before his time and the preservation of his story is important for all Aboriginal people.
“This is not just for the Kissing Point clans and the Wongal but this is for the whole of Eora and also broader across the whole of Australia,” he told NITV News.
The committee has spent the last few months working towards the historic deal and fellow co-director Jody Orcher says this is all about the recognition of the two histories of Australia.
“I used to work in the Botanic Gardens and talk about history all the time. But there was nothing around that recognised Bennelong or Pemelwuy or anyone. There were all these big statues around but what commemoration did we have?”
Bennelong is one of the most significant figures from the time of early colonisation and is remembered as the first mediator between Aboriginal people and the British settlers.
Initially kidnapped and held at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip, the two men developed a friendship and Bennelong lived for a time among the settlers. In 1792 he and another Wangal man travelled with Phillip to England but the pair battled poor health and Bennelong’s companion, Yemmerrawanne, died from a chest infection.
Upon returning to his traditional lands, Bennelong moved between both black and white society and following his death in 1813, was buried in the orchard of his friend, the iconic brewer, James Squire. Bennelong is believed to share the grave with one of his wives and a nephew.
Gadigal Elder Uncle Allan Madden says it’s exciting to see Bennelong’s story being told and celebrated by the community.
“You hear the story of Bennelong, the heartache and the pain and what he went through, and then all the recognition is bestowed on him after he’s dead,” he said.
Fellow Elder Uncle Chicka Madden agrees that there is a growing awareness of Aboriginal history.
“Being an urban blackfella, you didn’t learn much about it in the early days. Something like this that’s happened today, it’s is the start of a new chapter for the Aboriginal people,” he said.
Local Historian Dr Peter Mitchell first identified the likely location of Bennelong’s grave in 2011 after examining historical accounts and comparing old and new photos of land that once belonged to brewer James Squire.
The gravesite has remained something of an open secret over the last few years, but Dr Mitchell raised concerns when the property went to market without mention of its historical importance.
Late last year he wrote to political leaders urging them to consider purchasing the land to “convert it to a memorial parkland to all of the people of Eora Nation who were dispossessed when our ancestors arrived.” Dr Mitchell says he hopes Bennelong’s legacy can be restored.
“History has been pretty unkind to him, and I think we’re about to make a change. It’s coming good,” he told NITV News
Ms Orcher says the Bennelong Putney Committee will consult with government and community with the ambition of creating a memorial that could become a home to artefacts and a place to share the rich Indigenous history of the region.
“Hopefully we can have something to represent Aboriginal Sydney. This is really about us as Aboriginal people, our history and our perspectives of what is important in our history and also to pay tribute to Bennelong.”