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A place to set up camp: 1850s - 1880

In March of 1880 newspapers reported the death of 61 year old Edward Smith Hill at his home in Woollahra. The obituary noted that he was ‘the friend of the aborigines of the colony’, hinting at the deep links Edward forged with local Aboriginal people throughout his life. He and his two brothers were the sons of convicts, but they all overcame their humble beginnings to become prominent citizens in the colony – Richard a politician, George a businessman (and one time mayor) and Edward a man of science. All three of them knew local Aboriginal people, but none more so than Edward. He was said to have been a fluent speaker of the Sydney language, knew many Aboriginal people from Sydney to the Illawarra and beyond, and regularly went on hunting and fishing trips with them.

Edward valued the knowledge he gained from Aboriginal people as it gave him status as an expert on local Aboriginal culture. He gave lectures on the subject, and was associated with the Australian Museum. Aboriginal people across the Sydney and Illawarra knew who he was. When they were in Sydney, they often camped outside his house at Woollahra. As such, Edward’s yard became one quite a few places around the harbour where Aboriginal people would set up camp throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

Edward’s death did not stop Aboriginal people living in the area. Although they did not camp in the yard of the new owner of his house, they kept living in nearby areas such as Rose Bay, Watsons Bay and Rushcutters Bay for a number of years after 1880. But it does seem a lot was lost when Edward died. He had no children and we don’t know where any of his personal papers ended up. If they have survived, they could contain a treasure trove of information about the Aboriginal people of Sydney.

[Thanks to John Ruffels for making me aware of Edward Smith Hill and details of his life].

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