Whales and a Cultural Walkabout of Watsons Bay
Located just 11km north east of Sydney’s CBD and home to some stunning harbour views, gorgeous beaches and a picturesque coastline, is none other than Watsons Bay. Not only is it a great place to experience some of Sydney's rich history, you will be blown away by the beauty of one of the most famous ocean cliff lookouts; the perfect setting to witness the migrating whales cruise on by.
The Cadigal, the original inhabitants of these stunning landscapes, were a coastal group dependent on the harbour for providing most of their food. Referring to the area now known as Watsons Bay as ‘Kutti’, they acquired their resources from Camp Cove and carved rock engravings there, which have since eroded from the cliff faces and rock surfaces that line the coastline.
Much has changed since the Aboriginal population was driven out of Watsons Bay by European settlers more than 200 years ago. However, Aboriginal culture has finally returned to the area thanks to Tim Ella with the establishment of ‘Kadoo’ and it’s Indigenous and historical walking tours.
"It's great to have Aboriginal culture back in a place like Watsons Bay," says Ella. "It's sad that a lot of tourists and Sydneysiders, too, have maybe never even met an Aboriginal person and heard about our way of life.”
Under the city lights may have been where he was born, but Tim’s spirit clearly belongs amongst mother nature’s rugged bush and serene ocean. Now, as a proud Dharawal man and aging elder of the Yuin people, Tim has become an educator himself, passing on his knowledge to our country's visitors, locals and all who wish to hear his words.
Upon meeting at the iconic Gap Stairs, Tim’s tour of Watsons Bay begins with a traditional ochre ceremony, followed by a humbling Welcome to Country. After showing off 1000 year-old tools and relics, Tim leads you on a walk through this amazing part of Sydney Harbour National Park, explaining how the local Aboriginal people hunted, fished and gathered throughout the area. If learning all about the intricacies of the Aboriginal people’s connection to these lands wasn’t enough, sampling some of the intriguing flavours of bush tucker (under the guidance of Tim - there’s some bad berries out there!) will give you a glimpse into how this ancient civilisation survived and thrived.
With panoramic views of the Tasman Sea and a breaching humpback off in the instance, Tim goes on to explain the significance of the whale to his people. As their traditional homeland was mostly coastal, it’s no surprise the Cadigal regarded the powerful and boisterous whale as a beloved ancestor, shaper of the landscape, and immortal being of the timeless, instructive and never-ending age of creation known as the Dreamtime (or Dreaming). To these coastal communities, the whale is the all-powerful Rainbow Serpent, sharing the characteristics of the famous creature of the inland. Much like the serpent is perceived elsewhere in the world, the whale is also associated with fire, earth energy, wind, water, the sun, moon and the symbol that links these elements - the rainbow.
With the great whale migration being such an ancient occurrence, the whale was adopted as the Cadigal people’s totem, or spiritual emblem. It heavily influenced cultural and spiritual practices, defined roles and responsibilities, and shaped relationships with each other and creation. With that in mind, the local tribes saw the whale as an integral part of their world and any changes to the annual pilgrimage would be a sign of natural unbalance.
To ensure the whale’s safe passage up the coast, and to make sure this balance stays in check, the Cadigal would hold elaborate ceremonies that would last for months at a time. Involving intricate dances, energetic songs and fanciful art, these rituals would be accompanied by giant bellowing fires and the sounds of swinging Bullroarers echoing out to sea. The combination of the roaring vibrato and thick smoke acting as a ‘lighthouse’ to provide guidance to the migrating whales.
The connection to the whale was so ingrained, the body art displayed during these ceremonies would even resemble the lines found on a humpback whales belly. These thirteen lines would represent an individual’s ties to family, trade, the arts and their heritage.
As the sun dissolves behind the Harbour Bridge to the west and the whales continue their journey north to the east, another day ends amongst the sheer beauty and compelling history of Watsons Bay. With the surface merely scratched, there’s still much to learn about the traditional custodians of our lands. However, thanks to Tim, and Kadoo Tours, the ancient civilization that has called the NSW coastline home for 1000’s of years is finally coming back to the fore. Perfectly summing up the mission of Kadoo Tours, Tim explains "It's important to show people how we've managed to survive this long as the oldest race on earth, and that our culture is still very much alive." We can’t help but agree.
To learn more about Kadoo Tours or to book a tour, visit their website Kadoo Tours website!
Disclosure: all cultural content contained in this article was shared with NPWS by Tim Ella.