ARCHIVE ARTICLE: The Traditional Owners of Pitt Street, Sydney
February 16, 2009
First Broadcast on 27th September 2001, Radio 2GB. Brian Wiltshire.
Wesley Mission’s main building at 220 Pitt Street has become the fifth Sydney landmark to recognize the traditional ownership of the land on which the building stands. Other buildings will shortly follow Wesley Mission’s example.
The Darug people lived from the coast out to the Blue Mountains. They had occupied the land for at least 30,000 years. Australia is the world’s oldest, driest, flattest continent and yet they made a success of living here. Indeed, it has been argued that they enjoyed a better standard of living than the Europeans on the First Fleet.
Unfortunately, when the convicts arrived so did small pox. About 50 to 90 per cent of the Indigenous People died within two years because of the small pox. Those that survived were killed or driven away by whites eager to acquire the land for cultivation. In 1801 an order was issued permitting the shooting of any Indigenous person west of Parramatta. But not all the people were killed. A reunion was held in 1990 and over 300 descendants of the Darug people attended. Colin Gale, Chairperson of the Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation, welcomed all the people to the land for the Pitt Street ceremony.
Indigenous People in the Sydney area were basically divided into clans, of around 50 to 60 people. It was the clan that was the important land owning and land using group.
The Clan that owned present day Pitt Street were the Cadigal. Karen Bateman a Wesley Mission staff person, who took part in the ceremony recognizing the traditional ownership of Pitt Street, is in fact a Cadigal person.
Recognizing the traditional ownership of 220 Pitt Street carries no legal implications. It is not part the land rights dispute that has gone on in other parts of Australia. Instead, it is simply recognizing that other people owned the land for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.
Along with the unveiling of the plaque recognizing the traditional ownership of the land, there was also a signing ceremony by which Wesley Mission signed a Covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress pledging continued co-operation with the Congress.
The Congress was created two decades ago to identify and encourage Aboriginal and Islander peoples with gifts in ministry to witness to their own peoples; to have an effective ministry of pastoral care; to develop strong relationships with all members, commissions, committees and councils of the Uniting Church; and to live in unity with the world-wide fellowship of churches and create relationships with other Indigenous Christian groups throughout the world.
Both events were therefore a way of reaffirming Wesley Mission’s long commitment to, and involvement in, the struggle for social justice of Indigenous Peoples. This work has been done though evangelism, taking up issues with the governments, issuing public statements and the delivery of welfare and labour market programmes.
On the latter point, for example, Karen Bateman and Kevin Bird (who also took part in the ceremony) have been running a very effective set of programmes at the Mission’s Nambucca Heads office training people for employment. This has been one of the most successful activities anywhere in the