The life of Bungaree, the first Indigenous person to circumnavigate Australia, will be commemorated this weekend by the Pearl Beach Aboriginal History Group on the Central Coast of NSW.

Born around 1775 in the Broken Bay area, Bungaree is one of the most celebrated men in early Sydney history, most known for being a highly intelligent man, skilled diplomat, peacekeeper, cultural mediator and interpreter.

He was first recruited by Matthew Flinders in 1799 for a six-week maritime expedition to act as a diplomat and interpreter between the British and Aboriginal Australians in the Hervey Bay and Moreton Bay regions.

After another expedition, he was sought out by Flinders again to accompany a 12-month mapping expedition circumnavigating the entire continent of Australia between 1802-1803, becoming the first Indigenous person to do so.

Tracey Howie, a direct descendant of Bungaree, said his life has been unjustly overlooked in the education and understanding of Australia’s history during this time.

“We’re of course enormously proud of the things that he did in his time and of the legacies that he left,” she said.

“The input that he [had on] the mapping of certain islands and things like that around Australia, that sort of information is still being used today … his contribution to the identification of Australia as we know it today was irreplaceable.”

“Unfortunately, he’s been somebody that’s not been celebrated as much as he probably should’ve considering the impact that he did have on early colonisation times in Australia.”

Ms Howie said Bungaree is responsible for achieving peace between the British and Indigenous Australians on multiple occasions throughout his life and during his expeditions around Australia.

This includes negotiating on behalf of the British crew with Indigenous mobs for safety and access to food and water, using his skills as a diplomat to benefit the livelihood of both parties.

Portrait of Bungaree. Image supplied by Pearl Beach Aboriginal History Group.

On one occasion, it is noted that he negotiated with a hostile Indigenous mob by passing on knowledge of more effective spear hunting tools.

In return, they gifted him with what Flinders recorded at the time as “a hollow log that made the most harrowing sound”, which is believed to have been the reintroduction of the Didgeridoo to NSW.

Ms Howie said we need a greater understanding of Indigenous heroes such as Bungaree who shaped this country both before and after colonisation.

“It has been proven now that everybody came out of Australia, this is where the human race came from and progressed across the rest of the world,” Ms Howie said.

“To not give credit to the people of this country that started the human race is really a downfall in humanity.”

“How can you really appreciate everyone that come after them if you don’t give enough appreciation and recognition to those that started us?”

Ms Howie, who works in Indigenous education herself, said more needs to be done in schools to tell the story of Australia’s history more accurately and fairly.

“When I went through school, we only learned about Captain Cook of course, I remember learning a little bit about Matthew Flinders and that sort of thing,” she said.

“There was absolutely no mention of my great great grandfather that saved his backside, he wouldn’t have survived his first docking if Bungaree wasn’t on board, they would’ve either been taken over by the locals or they would’ve starved to death.”

This will be the second year that the Pearl Beach Aboriginal History Group will be hosting the commemorative weekend celebrating Bungaree’s life, with events such as weaving workshops and exhibitions of historical artefacts.

There will be the return of dancing on Broken Bay, a tradition that occurred for thousands of years before colonisation and was both witnessed by Captain Arthur Phillips in 1788 and recorded in a painting by William Bradley.

Ms Howie said the celebrations over the weekend are a reminder of the impact Bungaree’s life still has on Australia today.

“To have it on the weekend identifies and commemorates the passing of Bungaree and the time that he left this physical world, so it’s sort of a representation of his soul still living within this physical life,” she said.

“The participation that was down there [last year] was absolutely fantastic … I’m hoping this year it’s just as successful.”

The Pearl Beach Bungaree Commemorative Weekend is on November 22-24.

By Sarah Mozley