[Disclaimer: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are advised that this story may include culturally sensitive material. Reader discretion is advised.]
Bungaree was born circa 1775 in the Broken Bay area and was a member of the Garigal clan. During the 1790s, he moved to Sydney and became a famous figure in the fledging colony, moving effortlessly between his own people and the European settlers, and playing a key role in the early coastal exploration of Australia.
Bungaree’s first known voyage – a round trip from Port Jackson to Norfolk Island aboard the HMS Reliance – was undertaken in 1798. He sailed in the company of naval lieutenant Matthew Flinders who, the following year, recruited him for a coastal survey voyage to Bribie Island and Hervey Bay. During this voyage, Bungaree acted as Flinders’ intermediary with the Aboriginal Peoples they encountered along the coast.
In May 1802, Bungaree was again recruited by Flinders. This time, he accompanied him on the HMS Investigator to complete the first recorded circumnavigation of Australia. The voyage took 13 months and, again, Bungaree acted in a diplomatic role. As Bungaree was the only person on the ship born in Australia, he has the distinction of being the first known Australian to circumnavigate the continent. Subsequently, in 1817, he accompanied Captain Phillip Parker King on HMS Mermaid on a trip to north-western Australia.
Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of NSW, was a patron of Bungaree and, in February 1815, granted the Garigal man – along with fifteen other Aboriginal men and their families – land at Georges Heights to settle and cultivate. Like Bungaree, the other settlers were from Broken Bay and were not members of the local Borogegal clan. Macquarie appointed Bungaree their leader, and he was given the title of Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe.
To assist with farming the land grant, which became known as King Bungaree’s Farm, Bungaree was given a fishing boat, clothing, seed, implements, pigs and ducks. He briefly grew peaches and other produce at Georges Heights on what was the first Aboriginal land grant in the colony. Although the exact boundaries of the farm are unknown, the Sydney Gazette (1815) situated it on “the peninsula of Georges Head” and Thomas Florance’s Survey of Port Jackson (1828) placed it at Middle Head.
Bungaree had several wives and children, and was known for his wit. A clever mimic, he imitated the walk and mannerisms of the Governors and personalities in Sydney, and enjoyed dressing in military cloaks and hats. In 1828, he and his clan moved their camp to the Domain, where his health deteriorated due to malnutrition. In 1830, he was admitted to hospital and put on rations. Bungaree died at Garden Island on 24 November 1830 and was buried in Rose Bay.
He moved effortlessly between his own people and the European settlers.
– Michele Harper
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