Culture and heritage

Heritage of NSW


Exploration is about discovering new lands, measuring and mapping them. For the early explorers in NSW it was a way of seeing and describing the land based on western scientific principles. They ventured as 'heroes' into the unknown, confident that their exploration would pave the way for civilised, industrious societies.

The explorers often followed pathways that had been used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years - many of which are still used today. The explorers relied on local people to help them, yet saw the country through European eyes.

For Aboriginal people, white exploration meant encounters with men who had peculiar clothes, instruments, and animals. The encounters could be strange, curious, and sometimes violent. These meetings also meant 'gifts' - perhaps an axe, a blanket, a pipe or tobacco. The gifts were exchanged for help reaching a destination, or information about water sources, landscape features, plants and animals. Generally the relationships between explorers and Aboriginal people showed all the tension, ambiguity and fragility of colonial race relations.

Thomas Mitchell said this of his Aboriginal guides, in 1848: "There is no subject connected with New South Wales, or Australia, less understood than the character and condition of the aboriginal (sic) natives. They have been described as the lowest in the scale of humanity; yet I found those who accompanied me superior in penetration and judgement to the white men composing my party. Their means of subsistence and their habits, are both extremely simple; but they are adjusted with admirable fitness to the few resources afforded by such a country in its wild state."

Blue Mountains National Park - historic walking tracks
Many of the Blue Mountains tracks started life as Aboriginal hunting, trading and ceremonial routes. Some were used by European explorers trying to find their way through the mountains.

Yuranighs Aboriginal Grave Historic Site
Yuranigh guided surveyor Thomas Mitchell in 1845-46. The site of his grave is a unique combination of Aboriginal and European burial customs.

Page last updated: 26 February 2011