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A Sydney identity - 1840

In December 1840, Sydney paper The Colonist introduced its readers to an Aboriginal man named Billy Worrall (William Warrell), who often visited Sydney town (read the original article here - Like many stories about Sydney’s Aboriginal people at this time, the article features Warrell as a figure of pity, noting his partial paralysis and his drinking. But with the aid of other information we have about him, we can flesh out the story of a proud Sydney man. William was in his 40s by this time. He was born a few years after the arrival of the first Europeans in 1788 to a Botany Bay mother and Illawarra father, and was the cousin of Cora Gooseberry (1770s – 1852), one of early colonial identity Bungaree’s wives. William spoke his Aboriginal language fluently, and his traditional connection to Sydney was acknowledged. We don’t know the source of his paralysis, but Warrell was still very active in the 1840s. Like many other Aboriginal people at this time, he often came into town from Aboriginal settlements in the Domain and elsewhere, sometimes with his cousin Cora and others.

The article describes Warrell as ‘the victim of drunkenness’ – this refers to the fact that while Aboriginal people in Sydney could be arrested for being drunk, it was not illegal for them to drink. The punishable crime was to supply Aboriginal people with alcohol, but as Sydney’s streets were literally awash with booze, the article was one of many stating a frustration at the difficulty of enforcing these laws. There was much more to William’s visits to the city than drinking though. His group often threw boomerangs in Hyde Park, and like other Aboriginal people at the time were probably making and selling their artefacts to people in town. They knew several publicans as friends and would stop off at their hotels to catch up or stay the night, before heading home to their settlement outside the town. You can see a picture of William from around the time of this story here ( will share more of William’s later life over the coming months, but if you can’t wait, you can read more about him here (

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