Darug man Uncle Chris Tobin says there’s lots to be proud of in Parramatta, or Burramatta - a suburb which still hangs onto the roots of its “ancient name”, translating roughly to ‘place where the eel lies down’.
“Parramatta was known as a gathering place,” he told NITV News.
“The old days, there were lots of lagoons around Parramatta that held a lot of burra. So Parramatta: Burramatta. Burra’s our word for the eel.”
“I think that’s what keeps a bit of the magic in Parramatta, the fact that people are using the ancient name for it… Every time they’re saying Parramatta they’re making that connection with Old Country I reckon.”
This story and others are shared as part of a documentary series produced by Parramatta Council that explores the history of the area to mark what some call Foundation Day.
The second of November is marked by the local council as the anniversary of ‘settlement’ in the region, led by Governor Arthur Phillip on 2 November 1788.
The day is a “delicate subject” for some of the area’s Traditional Owners like Uncle Chris, who says he has “dodged” Foundation Day invites in the past.
“The invitations are made with good heart, people want Aboriginal people involved with it, but it’s so difficult,” he said.
“I use those opportunities to slip in some information, to teach.”
“We’re not up to celebrating yet, while we’re still paying rent in our own country we’re not going to celebrate Foundation Day.
“But I love that Parramatta wants to include us in their story, because we are integral to this story.”
The Parramatta Foundations documentaries aim to shed light on the multicultural suburb it has become, focusing on its colonial and Indigenous histories.
The videos feature comedian Dan Ilic interviewing local historians and people like Uncle Chris about the area’s rich bush food, medicines, ‘legends’ and the history of the flying foxes in Parramatta Park.
The docu-series also highlights another pandemic humanity experienced - around 100 years ago.
Detailing the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic and its impact on the Parramatta region, historian Michelle Goodman said it was dealt with in a similar way to how governments have confronted the current coronavirus pandemic.
“They issued a public proclamation which is basically what we would call lockdown,” she said.
“So all the public spaces closed like cinemas and restaurants… use of public transport was limited.”
“Hygiene - they started deep cleaning all the city… compulsory wearing of masks.”
“And then there was also government relief issued - council funded work programs for people who had lost their livelihoods."
Uncle Chris says he believes First Peoples resilience and ‘optimism’ will bring us through the current global pandemic as well.
“The pandemic I think we’ll get through, we will. We’ve gotten through those other scary times,” he said.
“The fact that we’re here, after all that we’ve been through, should be a source of encouragement for everyone.”