How Aboriginal Australians Survived the Last Ice Age

How Aboriginal Australians Survived the Last Ice Age


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A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science has investigated how Aboriginal Australians managed to survive during the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago in which they would have had to endure severe weather conditions.

The period which scientists call the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) is believed to be the most significant climatic event ever faced by Aboriginals of Australia – lakes dried up, forests disappeared, deserts expanded, animals went extinct, rainfall was dramatically reduced, sea levels fell more than 120 metres, and the average temperature dropped by about 10 degrees. According to Professor Sean Ulm from James Cook University in Cairns, vast areas of the Australian land mass would have been completely uninhabitable.

The study aimed to determine how the indigenous people of Australia survived in these extreme conditions by using advanced geospatial techniques to analyse archaeological radiocarbon dates across Australia. They found that during times of high climatic stress, human populations contracted into localized environmental ‘refuges’, in well-watered ranges and along major riverine systems, where water and food supplies were reliable.

"As much as 80 per cent of Australia was temporarily abandoned by Aboriginal people at the height of the LGM, when conditions were at their worst," said Alan Williams from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University

According to Williams, surviving the last ice age required Aboriginal communities to make significant changes to their way of life including changes in settlement and subsistence patterns, changes to hunting practices, to the types of food that were eaten and the types of tools they were using.

It is assumed that the dramatic changes would have also had huge impacts on social relationships and religious beliefs, however, this is much harder to determine through archaeological research.


    How Aboriginal Australians Survived the Last Ice Age - History

    Writing about the two months he spent in Australia during the around-the-world voyage of the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin recollected this about what he saw there:

    Wherever the European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal. We may look to the wide extent of the Americas, Polynesia, the Cape of Good Hope, and Australia, and we find the same result…

    Darwin happened to visit Australia at a bad time. During his 1836 stay, all of the indigenous people of Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand were in the midst of a catastrophic population crash from which the region has yet to recover. In some cases, such as that of the native Tasmanians, no recovery is possible because they’re all dead.

    The immediate causes of this mass death varied. Deliberate killing of native people by Europeans greatly contributed to the decline, as did the spread of measles and smallpox.

    Between disease, war, starvation, and conscious policies of kidnapping and re-education of native children, the Australian region’s indigenous population declined from well over a million in 1788 to just a few thousand by the early 20th century.


    Collision course

    By about 5 million years ago the slow-motion collision of Australia into the Pacific and Indian tectonic plate began to push-up the now four-kilometre high mountains of central New Guinea.

    This collision also formed the small stepping stones of islands across the Wallace Line which almost, but never quite, connected Australia to Asia through the Indonesian archipelago. They will meet in another 20 million years or so and Australia will become a vast appendix of the Asian landmass.

    At the beginning of the Pleistocene period around 2.8 million years ago, global climate began to cycle dramatically between glacial periods, or ice ages, and interglacials, the warm phases between them. As the ice sheets waxed and waned over these cycles, each lasting between 50,000 and 100,000 years, sea levels rose and fell by up to 125 metres.

    At times of lower sea level Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania were joined to form the single continent we know as Sahul.


    Australia 50000 Years Ago


    Aboriginal rock painting of Macassan prahu in Arnhem Land, c.2011. Courtesy Australian National University

    Homo sapiens or humans evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching modernity about 50,000 years ago. Prior to the arrival of humans in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, these places were inhabited by another species of hominoid, Homo heidelbergensis or Neanderthals. Neanderthals begin to show on the archaeological record at around 400,000 years ago and became extinct at about 35,000 years ago with the arrival of humans. Humans are so adaptable we have migrated to almost every part of the world and in the process forced the extinction of all other species of hominoids. We are the only species of hominoid left.

    About 180,000 years ago humans successfully migrated out of Africa. By about 50,000 years ago we were already beginning to diverge into distinct populations.

    Our species evolved in Africa 200,000 years ago. The Genographic Project has found that people spread out of Africa in at least two migratory waves. The first wave travelled from eastern Africa into the area of the east coast of the Mediterranean known as the Levant about 80,000 years ago.

    The later second wave moved from Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and continued eastward following the coast of South Asia about 50,000 years ago. This southern wave kept rolling along reaching Southeast Asia, where one branch of people migrated to Australia and New Guinea, while other branches moved along the coast of east Asia. A branch of this second wave migration moved north, into the central Asia and spread west into Europe and east into Siberia about 40,000 years ago. Eventually humans made their way to the American continent about 20,000 years ago.

    The actual timing of the southern wave of humans is hard to ascertain because it appears to have moved along the coast, where after the end of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago the melting glaciers drowned large stretches of coastline so the evidence is now under the ocean. The fossils we have of these migrants offer few clues as to what sparked their spread.

    Migration to the Australian continent for these travellers was a difficult task. Australia is separated from Southeast Asia by a great expanse of water. During the last Ice Age, the distance was smaller because so much water was frozen in glaciers. But before 50,000 years ago humans would still have faced a voyage across fifty miles of open sea to get to Australia. They must have built sea craft strong enough to survive the voyage, a technological feat that went beyond making spears or lighting fires.

    The first Aboriginal people arrived on the north west coast of Australia between 65,000 and 40,000 years ago. The archaeological evidence suggests that Aboriginal people had contact with Macassans and the people of southern Indonesia for the past two thousand years exchanging ideas, technology and culture. Aboriginal people eventually populated the entire continent of Australia developing a subsistence economy hunting birds, fish and animals and harvesting edible plants.


    No consultation with traditional owners

    The biggest concern with this act is there’s no statutory requirement ensuring traditional owners be consulted.

    This means traditional owners are left out of vital decisions regarding the management and protection of their cultural heritage. And it confers authority upon a committee that, in the words of a discussion paper, “lacks cultural authority”.

    There is no statutory requirement for an Indigenous person to be on the committee, nor is there a requirement that at least one anthropologist be on the committee. Worse still, there’s no right of appeal for traditional owners from a committee decision.

    So, while the committee must adhere to procedural fairness and ensure traditional owners are given sufficient information about decisions, this doesn’t guarantee they have a right to consultation nor any right to provide feedback.


    ​First Nations T elegraph

    The known timeline of the Aboriginal occupation of South Australia&rsquos Riverland region has been vastly extended by new research led by Flinders University in collaboration with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation (RMMAC).

    In the first comprehensive survey of the region, one of the oldest Indigenous sites along Australia&rsquos longest river system has been discovered. The results, published in Australian Archaeology, used radiocarbon dating methods to analyse river mussel shells from a midden site overlooking the Pike River floodplain downstream of Renmark.

    The shells &ndash remnants of meals eaten long ago &ndash capture a record of Aboriginal occupation that extends to around 29,000 years, confirming the location as one of the oldest sites along the 2500km river to become the oldest River Murray Indigenous site in South Australia.

    &ldquoThese results include the first pre-Last Glacial Maximum ages returned on the River Murray in South Australia and extend the known Aboriginal occupation of the Riverland by approximately 22,000 years,&rdquo says Flinders University archaeologist and PhD candidate Craig Westell.

    More than 30 additional radiocarbon dates were collected in the region, spanning the period from 15,000 years ago to the recent present. Together, the results relate Aboriginal people to an ever-changing river landscape, and provide deeper insights into how they responded to these challenges.

    The period represented by the radiocarbon results brackets the Last Glacial Maximum (commonly known as the last Ice Age) when climatic conditions were colder and drier and when the arid zone extended over much of the Murray-Darling Basin. The river and lake systems of the basin were under stress during this time.

    In the Riverland, dunes were advancing into the Murray floodplains, river flows were unpredictable, and salt was accumulating in the valley.

    The ecological impacts witnessed during one of the worst droughts on record, the so-called Millennium Drought (from late 1996 extending to mid-2010), provides an idea of the challenges Aboriginal people may have faced along the river during the Last Glacial Maximum, and other periods of climate stress, researchers conclude.

    &ldquoThese studies show how our ancestors have lived over many thousands of years in the Riverland region and how they managed to survive during times of hardship and plenty,&rdquo says RMMAC spokesperson Fiona Giles.

    &ldquoThis new research, published in Australian Archaeology, fills in a significant geographic gap in our understanding of the Aboriginal occupation chronologies for the Murray-Darling Basin,&rdquo adds co-author Associate Professor Amy Roberts.

    The dating, which was undertaken at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Waikato University, forms part of a much larger and ongoing research program led by Associate Professor Amy Roberts which is undertaking a broad-ranging investigation of past and contemporary Aboriginal connections to the Riverland region.

    The paper, &lsquo Initial results and observations on a radiocarbon dating program in the Riverland region of South Australia&rsquo (2020) by C Westell, A Roberts, M Morrison, G Jacobsen and the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation has been published in Australian Archaeology DOI: 10.1080/03122417.2020.1787928

    The Last Glacial Maximum is the most significant climatic event to face modern humans since their arrival in Australia up to 50,000 years ago. Recent studies have demonstrated that the LGM in Australia was a period of significant cooling and increased aridity peaking around 20,000 years ago.


    Australia 50,000 Years Ago

    Homo sapiens or humans evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching modernity about 50,000 years ago. Prior to the arrival of humans in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, these places were inhabited by another species of hominoid, Homo heidelbergensis or Neanderthals. Neanderthals begin to show on the archaeological record at around 400,000 years ago and became extinct at about 35,000 years ago with the arrival of humans. Humans are so adaptable we have migrated to almost every part of the world and in the process forced the extinction of all other species of hominoids. We are the only species of hominoid left.

    About 180,000 years ago humans successfully migrated out of Africa. By about 50,000 years ago we were already beginning to diverge into distinct populations.

    The migration of Homo sapiens from 150,000 to 40,000 years
    ago. Courtesy of Wikimedi

    Our species evolved in Africa over 200,000 years ago. The Genographic Project has found that people spread out of Africa in at least two migratory waves. The first wave travelled from eastern Africa into the area of the east coast of the Mediterranean known as the Levant about 100,000 years ago.

    The later second wave moved from Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and continued eastward following the coast of South Asia about 70,000 years ago. This southern wave kept rolling along reaching Southeast Asia, where one branch of people migrated to Australia and New Guinea, while other branches moved along the coast of east Asia. A branch of this second wave migration moved north into the central Asia and spread west into Europe and east into Siberia about 40,000 years ago. Eventually humans made their way to the American continent about 15,000 – 20,000 years ago.

    The actual timing of the southern wave of humans is hard to ascertain because it appears to have moved along the coast, where after the end of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago the melting glaciers drowned large stretches of coastline so the evidence is now under the ocean. The fossils we have of these migrants offer few clues as to what sparked their spread.

    Map of Southeast Asia and Australia during the last Ice Age. Courtesy Wikimedia

    Migration to the Australian continent for these travellers was a difficult task. Australia is separated from Southeast Asia by a great expanse of water. During the last Ice Age, the distance was smaller because so much water was frozen in glaciers. But before 50,000 years ago humans would still have faced a voyage across fifty miles of open sea to get to Australia. They must have built sea craft strong enough to survive the voyage, a technological feat that went beyond making spears or lighting fires.

    Aboriginal rock painting of Macassan prahu in Arnhem Land, c.2011. Courtesy Australian National University

    The first Aboriginal people arrived on the north west coast of Australia between 65,000 and 40,000 years ago. The archaeological evidence suggests that Aboriginal people had contact with Macassans and the people of southern Indonesia for the past two thousand years exchanging ideas, technology and culture. Aboriginal people eventually populated the entire continent of Australia developing a subsistence economy hunting birds, fish and animals and harvesting edible plants.


    Aboriginal artifacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia

    Location maps of the study area and sites referenced in text. 1) Cape Bruguieres Island (2) North Gidley Island (3) Flying Foam Passage (4) Dolphin Island (5)Angel Island (6) Legendre Island (7) Malus Island (8) Goodwyn Island (9) Enderby Island. Credit: PLOS ONE

    The first underwater Aboriginal archeological sites have been discovered off northwest Australia dating back thousands of years ago when the current seabed was dry land.

    The discoveries were made through a series of archeological and geophysical surveys in the Dampier Archipelago, as part of the Deep History of Sea Country Project, funded through the Australian Research Council's Discovery Project Scheme.

    The Aboriginal artifacts discovered off the Plibara coast in Western Australia represent Australia's oldest known underwater archeology.

    An international team of archeologists from Flinders University, The University of Western Australia, James Cook University, ARA—Airborne Research Australia and the University of York (United Kingdom) partnered with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to locate and investigate ancient artifacts at two underwater sites which have yielded hundreds of stone tools made by Aboriginal peoples, including grinding stones.

    In a study published today in PLOS ONE, the ancient underwater sites, at Cape Bruguieres and Flying Foam Passage, provide new evidence of Aboriginal ways of life from when the seabed was dry land, due to lower sea levels, thousands of years ago.

    The submerged cultural landscapes represent what is known today as Sea Country to many Indigenous Australians, who have a deep cultural, spiritual and historical connection to these underwater environments.

    The first underwater Aboriginal archaeological sites have been discovered off northwest Australia dating back thousands of years ago when the current seabed was dry land.An international team of archaeologists from Flinders University, The University of Western Australia, James Cook University, ARA - Airborne Research Australia and the University of York (United Kingdom) partnered with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to locate and investigate ancient artefacts at two underwater sites which have yielded hundreds of stone tools made by Aboriginal peoples, including grinding stones. In a study published today in PLOS ONE, the ancient underwater sites, at Cape Bruguieres and Flying Foam Passage, provide new evidence of Aboriginal ways of life from when the seabed was dry land, due to lower sea levels, thousands of years ago. Credit: Flinders University

    "Today we announce the discovery of two underwater archeological sites that were once on dry land. This is an exciting step for Australian archeology as we integrate maritime and Indigenous archeology and draw connections between land and sea," says Associate Professor Jonathan Benjamin who is the Maritime Archeology Program Coordinator at Flinders University's College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

    "Australia is a massive continent but few people realise that more than 30% of its land mass was drowned by sea-level rise after the last ice age. This means that a huge amount of the archeological evidence documenting the lives of Aboriginal people is now underwater."

    "Now we finally have the first proof that at least some of this archeological evidence survived the process of sea level rise. The ancient coastal archeology is not lost for good we just haven't found it yet. These new discoveries are a first step toward exploring the last real frontier of Australian archeology.

    The dive team mapped 269 artifacts at Cape Bruguieres in shallow water at depths down to 2.4 metres below modern sea level. Radiocarbon dating and analysis of sea-level changes show the site is at least 7000 years old.

    The second site at Flying Foam Passage includes an underwater freshwater spring 14 metres below sea level. This site is estimated to be at least 8500 years old. Both sites may be much older as the dates represent minimum ages only they may be even more ancient.

    The team of archeologists and geoscientists employed predictive modeling and various underwater and remote sensing techniques, including scientific diving methods, to confirm the location of sites and presence of artifacts.

    Aerial view of Cape Bruguieres Channel at high tide (Photo: J. Leach) (below) divers record artefacts in the channel (Photos: S. Wright, J.Benjamin, and M. Fowler). Credit: PLOS ONE

    "At one point there would have been dry land stretching out 160 km from the current shoreline. That land would have been owned and lived on by generations of Aboriginal people. Our discovery demonstrates that underwater archeological material has survived sea-level rise, and although these sites are located in relatively shallow water, there will likely be more in deeper water offshore" says Chelsea Wiseman from Flinders University who has been working on the DHSC project as part of Ph.D. research.

    "These territories that are now underwater harbored favorable environments for Indigenous settlements including freshwater, ecological diversity and opportunities to exploit marine resources which would have supported relatively high population densities" says Dr. Michael O'Leary, a marine geomorphologist at The University of Western Australia.

    The discovery of these sites emphasizes the need for stronger federal legislation to protect and manage underwater heritage across 2 million square kilometers of landscapes that were once above sea level in Australia, and hold major insights into human history.

    "Managing, investigating and understanding the archaelogy of the Australian continental shelf in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional owners and custodians is one of the last frontiers in Australian archeology" said Associate Professor Benjamin.

    "Our results represent the first step in a journey of discovery to explore the potential of archeology on the continental shelves which can fill a major gap in the human history of the continent" he said.

    In Murujuga this adds substantial additional evidence to support the deep time history of human activities accompanying rock art production in this important National Heritage Listed Place.


    Is an Aboriginal tale of an ancient volcano the oldest story ever told?

    Long ago, four giant beings arrived in southeast Australia. Three strode out to other parts of the continent, but one crouched in place. His body transformed into a volcano called Budj Bim, and his teeth became the lava the volcano spat out.

    Now, scientists say this tale—told by the Aboriginal Gunditjmara people of the area—may have some basis in fact. About 37,000 years ago, Budj Bim and another nearby volcano formed through a rapid series of eruptions, new evidence reveals, suggesting the legend may be the oldest story still being told today.

    The study raises a provocative possibility, says Sean Ulm, an archaeologist at James Cook University, Cairns, who was not involved with the work. “It is an interesting proposition to think about these traditions extending for tens of thousands of years.” But he and others urge caution, as no other stories passed down orally are believed to have survived that long.

    It’s not clear how long the Gunditjmara have lived in the southwest corner of what is now the Australian state of Victoria. Until now, the oldest accepted evidence for human occupation dates back no more than about 13,000 years.

    But geologist Erin Matchan at the University of Melbourne says that in the 1940s, archaeologists reported finding a stone ax near the region’s ancient Tower Hill volcano. The ax shows humans lived there before the eruption because it was found buried beneath the volcanic rocks.

    Now, Matchan and her colleagues have dated those rocks and those of Budj Bim, 40 kilometers to the northwest. The dating method—which relies on the well-established technique of measuring the radioactive decay of potassium-40 into argon-40 over time—suggests both volcanoes formed about 37,000 years ago. What’s more, Matchan says both seem to be of a style that can grow from nothing to peaks tens of meters high in a matter of days to months.

    The sudden dual eruptions may have made a big impression on the humans who were living in the area at the time, perhaps sparking the story of the four giants, the team reports this month in Geology . There have been no other large volcanic eruptions in the area in the intervening years that could have provided inspiration for the stories, Matchan says. Still, she stresses that her team is not definitively claiming that the Gunditjmara story is really that old.

    Aboriginal tales are already among the oldest known. In 2015, Patrick Nunn, a geographer at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, co-authored a study suggesting 21 communities around Australia have independently kept alive stories describing an episode of sea level rise that drowned parts of the coast. Nunn thinks those stories might be about 7000 years old. The Gunditjmara story would be more than five times as old.

    Increasing evidence also shows that humans on many continents migrated far and wide during the past several thousand years. That means the people living in a given area today are not necessarily related to those who lived there tens of thousands of years ago. But a 2017 study of ancient hair samples suggested Australia may be an exception to this rule: many Aboriginal Australian populations appear to have occupied the same place for almost 50,000 years. “That, I think, could help explain why stories might have been so well preserved for so long,” Nunn says.

    “We in the West have only scratched the surface of understanding the longevity of Australian Indigenous oral histories,” says Ian McNiven, an archaeologist at Monash University, Clayton, who is also cautiously open to the story’s deep antiquity.

    Damein Bell, CEO of the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, says the Gunditjmara community welcomes the new study, which highlights the deep links they have with their country. “As with all First Nations around the world, our stories, heritage, identity and survival are connected to our traditional homelands and waters,” he says. Bell says the Gunditjmara already suspected their story had been kept alive by their ancestors for a very long time, but they appreciate any scientific evidence that can provide a sense of exactly how long. “We’re always amazed with … new technologies that prove the brilliance of our ancestors.”


    Uncovering Aboriginal and early settler history along Australia's famous river

    UNSW Sydney's Grace Karskens reveals the complex and controversial history of the Hawkesbury River in her latest book People of the River.

    The sun rises over the mouth of the Hawkesbury River at Broken Bay. It is this river on which Professor Grace Karskens bases her book People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia. (Photo: Shutterstock)

    Professor Grace Karskens’ latest book People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia is part of a new generation of more inclusive Australian histories.

    “The new wave of Australian history combines Aboriginal and settler history,” the highly-acclaimed author and historian from UNSW Sydney's Arts & Social Sciences says.

    “It’s far more accurate because these two aspects were entwined in the past — so you can't really write Australian history without Aboriginal history.”

    The book takes readers back to the mid-1790s when ex-convicts built their bark huts on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, or Dyarubbin as it was known to local Aboriginal people.

    Professor Grace Karskens. Photo: Joy Lai

    The Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin River opens inland at Broken Bay, located along the east coast about 90 kilometres north of Sydney. Its sinewy vein wraps around to the west of Sydney where it connects to the Nepean River at Yarramundi Reserve.

    “Aboriginal people were, and remain, very close to their Country,” Prof. Karskens says.

    “Meanwhile, the ex-convict settlers were mostly rural people, who brought with them old traditions and beliefs about land.”

    From the mountains to the lakes and lagoons, Prof. Karskens researched the ecology, geology, soil science and flood zones of the region to understand the two societies, their cultures and the outbreak of frontier war between them.

    The painful history

    Shortly after Captain Arthur Phillip established a convict settlement at Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788, he and his officers went searching and discovered the 120-kilometre stretch of fertile soil fed by the river.

    But the area was already inhabited by the Darug people who had lived there for thousands of years, Prof. Karskens says.

    “When they go to the Hawkesbury, they start kicking Aboriginal people off their own country, and this is [one of the reasons] why the outbreak of a major frontier war erupts,” she says.

    Prof. Karskens says the settlers took Aboriginal children and stole and assaulted their women, heightening Aboriginal people’s growing distress, rage and anger.

    “Imagine strangers raiding your house, taking your baby or toddler, and refusing to return them,” she says. “That’s what it was like for Aboriginal people.”

    Professor Grace Karskens' book People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia (Photo: supplied)

    Prof. Karskens says Australia’s human history is far older and deeper than the 232 years since British colonisation in 1788.

    “On Dyarubbin, history goes back 50,000 years at least,” she says. “These original Aboriginal people lived through the last ice age and survived many cycles of climate change.”

    The experience of convict settlers

    To tell the full story of this tumultuous period in history, Prof. Karskens says, it is also necessary to look at the experience, culture and beliefs of the early ex-convict settlers.

    “Just as the local Aboriginal people have their deep cultural history, so too did these early settlers,” she says. “So, we're looking at two ancient cultures in the same space, and they both want the rich soils of the river.”

    The settlers, who were mostly emancipated convicts, have traditionally been left out of history because they were “written off as hopeless failures”, Prof. Karskens says.

    “But that is not true. These were the people who managed to stabilise the colony’s grain supplies as early as 1795.

    “They recreated a familiar community on the river and their children led the first patriotic movement in modern Australia.”

    Early settlers grew wheat crops fed by the rich soils of the Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin River. (Photo: Shutterstock).

    Mining the truth about modern Australia’s origins

    Prof. Karskens says the “common image” of the early colony as a “dumping ground” for Britain’s convicts is also incorrect.

    “The colony was certainly intended for convicts, but it was deliberately and carefully planned," Prof. Karskens says. "After their sentences ended, ex-convicts were given land and many became small farmers. They and their children were to create a new society in New South Wales."

    People of the River tells the stories of that period so “we can better understand what happened when this country was invaded”, she says. “I want people to understand and feel differently about Australian history. I want them to connect to it, to have a historical sense of place.”

    The view of the Hawkesbury River from the lush hills of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. (Photo: Shutterstock)

    Dyarubbin: the Real Secret River

    For her next project Dyarubbin: The Real Secret River, Prof. Karskens is working with a team of Darug researchers, artists and educators to map over 170 Aboriginal names for places along Dyarubbin.

    She stumbled on the long-lost list of names in Sydney’s Mitchell Library in 2017, which had been compiled in 1829 by Presbyterian minister Reverend John McGarvie.

    “I was speechless. It was unbelievable – a shock – because I can't tell you how rare it is to find something like that,” she says.

    The project has been supported by the $75,000 Coral Thomas Fellowship from the State Library of New South Wales for 2018-2019.

    Prof. Karskens and her Darug co-researchers are completing an online digital Story Map and a series of stories which will be published on the Dictionary of Sydney. Two exhibitions will follow in 2021.