Sydney and the area of Barangaroo Reserve was first occupied by the Gadigal people maybe over 10,000 years ago.
The Sydney harbour with the surrounding hills were home to about 1500 people when the British arrived and declared when they landed at Camp Cove that the land was ‘Terra Nullius’ –‘nobody owns it’ without consulting the local people – the Traditional Owners – or even offering few baubles and a contract of sale.
The British were but the latest of visitors form maritime powers. The Chinese came in the 11th century and then progressively the Dutch, Portugese, British and French. When the British Captain Arthur Phillip arrived on 26 January 1788, he brought with him shiploads of convicts from the overcrowded gaols of London.
The Aborigines of that time were mostly pacific and friendly living without rancour around the harbour and for many years following the settlement by the colonisers, the marine life of the harbour, particularly the local shellfish of the inner harbour, were shared.
At that time, a key person in the local aboriginal community was Barangaroo, a Cammeraygal woman among whose husbands was the legendary Benelong, probably the best-known Aborigine until the recent sports stars. The early settlement of Sydney – around what is now known as Circular Quay.
The major development occurred on Millers Point and the area known as The Rocks, that area above which the approaches to the giant Sydney Harbour Bridge flow. The area consists of stone terrace houses and a plethora of old ‘pubs’ (hotels and taverns) each having a unique brand.
As trade and traffic increased the port expanded and wharfs were built in several inlets and bays mainly on the south side of the harbour, with the most significant being on the west side of Millers Point and Walsh Bay. With the building of the bridge in 1932, access to the west was reduced and ocean liners such as the Queen Mary could not pass. Yet it was not until about 50 years ago that port activities expanded beyond Sydney Harbour.
About 10 kilometres south of the harbour is Botany Bay where the British first landed in 1770. Ships enter with Cape La Perouse on their right, named after the French explorer who lost the race to colonise Australia. Here a new container port was built and in 2003 it was decided to move all working port activities from Sydney Harbour to Botany Bay.
This released the western side of Millers Point for redevelopment. Governments often fail their constituents in times of such an opportunity but in this case there were several people whose commitment to a sustainable future ensured that the site would be redeveloped as a reserve, Barangaroo Reserve. The memory of Barangaroo in this activity is appropriate as Benelong is remembered in the name of Benelong Point on the east side of the Harbour Bridge on which the Sydney Opera House resides.
The project entailed the creation of a new hill to connect the harbour side to The Rocks and the planting of some 78,000 local plants and trees. On any fine weekend afternoon, there is no better stroll than to start near at the water’s edge and note the chasm below the hill-top, an open space of some six-storeys height that supports the 12,000 cubic metres of hill-top with giant columns that remind of a colossus of antiquity.
Once on top it is but a short walk to the palisade Hotel and then the Lord Nelson with its own brewery, and down Windmill Street to the Hero of Waterloo, best known for its jazz groups that challenge the famed band at the Peace Hotel in The Bund of Shanghai for excellence in Geriatric Jazz.
Barangaroo Reserve adds to Sydney’s claim to be definitely the most beautiful city in the world and also adds one day to your next visit to this wonderful place where the cultures of the traditional Owners blend with the modern western, where engineering marvels excite, and where man shows that he cares for his environment.