A Brief Native History of Manly
At the time of European settlement the Northern beaches was the traditional home of the Guringai people. The Manly town area (Kay-ye-my) was inhabited by the Cannalgal and Kay-e-my clans. The history of these tribes dates back around 20,000 years - older than Sydney Harbour, which changed from a deep river valley to a harbour after the end of the last Ice Age 6,500 years ago.
The shellfish middens (pits of empty shells) that remain in this area show that a rich variety of seafoods was the main menu for the clans. They also ate some animals; and native fruits and vegetables that still grow in the Sydney Harbour National Park, and can be on the Manly to The Spit Scenic Walk.
The Guringai people worked hard. As Pauline Curby writes in Seven Miles from Sydney , “They fished in pure sparkling waters, gathered food in the dunes and swamps, and hunted in the eucalyptus forest and open heath country.”
In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip, commodore of the First Fleet, was on a reconnaissance mission around Port Jackson when he spied a group of natives at Kay-ye-my. Phillip wrote of the encounter that twenty of the men “waded into the water unarmed” and approached his boats, checking them out with great curiosity. “And their confidence and manly behaviour,” he went on, “made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place.”
The ‘Manly Cove’ Aboriginals were described by the English
settlers as happy, funny, curious, lean and well-made. They used small canoes and surfed in them even in huge swells, and lit fires in winter to burn off the undergrowth for easy access to the edible roots abundant in the bush.
Things were reasonably amicable between the settlers and the Kay-ye-my people for the first year or so, with “unrestrained curiosity” displayed by both groups; but when it became clear that the visitors were there to stay and the natives were “obliged to leave” things became a little less friendly.
In 1789 a wave of smallpox (one of many diseases imported from England) killed off 50-90% of the natives, devastating their communities and destabilizing their society. Then the tribes suffered kidnappings, theft, shootings… things got worse and worse until ironically, after Arthur Phillip became Governor of New South Wales, he was speared through the shoulder by a Kay-ye-my man at Manly in 1790.
By 1830 there were hardly any natives left in the area.
The Spirit of the Guringai
There are many ancient sites associated with the Guringai, ranging from manufactory sites showing grinding grooves and ochre mines; to rock engravings, ochre stencils, rock shelters and shellfish middens (pits).
North Head was a place of exceptional spiritual significance for many coastal language groups from Newcastle to the South Coast. This was where the senior law men or karadji assembled for healing ceremonies and cultural maintenance. Today North Head retains a strong association for Aboriginal people as a visual reminder of the relationship between culture, place and Indigenous identity.
Sources: Pauline Curby, Seven Miles from Sydney A History of Manly , - a wonderful book available for purchase at Manly library and Humphreys Newsagency.
Special thanks to John MacRitchie, Local Studies, Manly Library.