Woollarawarre Bennelong: The Man Behind The Myth

By Fabian Veron

Woollarawarre Bennelong’s enigmatic life has at its heart a story of origin, truth-telling and tragedy.

Bennelong was an individual imbued with antiquity’s kinship, whose breath was forged by the nuanced realms of sky and land.

Bennelong’s story is a layered and complex narrative, offering us all the opportunity to reflect upon his legacy of walking between two colliding cultures.

He was born in 1764 to Goorah-Goorah and Gagolh from the Wangal clan. The clan’s ancestral holdings was located on the southern side of the Parramatta river.

Woollarawarre was an individual embedded within ancestral traditional lore, fated to play a key role amidst his kin and those of the first British fleet.

In 1789, Governor Arthur Phillip was instructed by King George III to establish contact with the local tribes.

In those early days of colonisation, the locals kept their distance from the newcomers and Phillip decided to kidnap persons of interest.

The auspicious occasion of Bennelong’s abduction on the 25th of November in 1789 was captured by William Bradley’s watercolour.

Phillip’s capture of Bennelong was informed by his inclinations to acquaint himself with the language and customs of the locals.

In 1792 Bennelong journeyed across the oceans with Philip and rubbed shoulders with British aristocracy and men of intellect.

Woollarawarre returned to Sydney on the 7th of September in 1795 and was greeted by a colony struggling with law and order.

He witnessed his kin as underlings to a foreign power, bereft of poise, rhythm and rhyme.

Bennelong withdrew from the colonists’ settlement and found refuge in the bush, where he became leader of the Kissing Point tribe in Putney.

Woollarawarre’s enigmatic life has etched itself into the folklore of colonial Australia and beyond.

His name continues to wield influence, as contemporary historians unearth the deeds of a man that passed away in 1813.

Featured image: Bennelong (left) and William Bradley’s painting of the taking of Colbee and Bennelong. Photos: State Library of NSW/CC/Wikimedia Commons (1) and (2)

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