The Awabakal and Worimi peoples are acknowledged by Council as the traditional custodians of the land and waters of Newcastle.
Aboriginal people lived a very rich and vibrant existence in and around Muloobinba (Newcastle) and the Coquon (Hunter River). Food was abundant in marine life and bush tucker. Ceremonies and feasting were generally times for sharing of resources and trading of implements with inland clans. Shell middens at Meekarlba (Honeysuckle) and a tool making site at Pillapay Kullaitaran (Glenrock Lagoon) are remnants of those communal gatherings.
Aboriginal peoples’ connectedness to places and communities is linked through their dreaming stories. Biraban, the eagle hawk, is held in highest regard by the coastal tribes. Homage to the eagle hawk is conveyed in their stories and linked to their tribal social structures. Koin is another revered local sky-hero who announces the coming of Kooris from distant tribes for rites or corroborees.
Natural landscape features and known sacred sites include Whibay Gamba, Newcastle’s famous landmark Nobbys. It is said that a notorious kangaroo jumped from Tahlbihn Point, at the site now known as Fort Scratchley, to the safety of Whibay Gamba. The kangaroo remains hidden in the island’s bowels occasionally thumping its tail and making the land tremble. The thumping is said to be a reference to the region’s earthquake activity.
There is also a high cliff named Yi-ran-na-li, renowned for being a fearful place. Yi-ran-na-li must be respected by all and no one should linger or speak in its vicinity because of the danger of falling rocks.
Aboriginal Heritage Study
The City of Newcastle engaged Australian Museum Business Services (AMBS) in 2003 to undertake a city-wide study of Aboriginal heritage across the LGA. A final report was accepted by Council in December 2005. The study aimed to develop a management framework for the identification, consideration and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage, providing Council with a set of guiding principles for understanding and valuing Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Accordingly, an important set of principles were established in the Heritage Study including the following:
- Aboriginal cultural heritage is to be recognised as a finite and valuable resource of the Newcastle LGA.
- Aboriginal community members are to be pivotal in the identification, assessment, and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage, as it is primarily Aboriginal people who should determine the significance of their heritage.
- Places of Aboriginal cultural value within the Newcastle LGA are to be actively conserved and managed to retain those cultural values. Appropriate conservation action will vary according to the level of significance.
- Aboriginal cultural heritage is to be actively managed during the development process, to ensure appropriate conservaton and impact mitigation outcomes are achieved.
- Compliance with relevant statutory controls, specifically the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974) and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (1979), is to be required for all development and heritage programs.
- Sustainable, ongoing management strategies for Aboriginal cultural heritage should be promoted within Council and the broader community, through heritage training for Council personnel and public interpretation programs.
Recent development activities in the Newcastle West area have provided further insights into the potential Aboriginal heritage sites in the vicinity of Hunter and King Streets. An Aboriginal heritage investigation in 2010 and release of a final report in 2011 into the former Palais Royale site indicates the presence of important ancient Aboriginal cultural heritage in this area.