Clans of Sydney

What is the clan name for your area?

This is not as easy to answer as you would think! There are many different language maps showing different boundaries and even different names.

Aboriginal people had a different language depending on the area where they lived. In this way the country was divided into small parts of land by the different language groups, tribes or nations. Through these different language groups artificial boundaries can be drawn. Additionally, the tribal groups were divided into clans.

Nowadays, the subject of language groups and clans is the cause for much debate because many different maps can be found and no map can said to be the true one.

For the Sydney region the following language groups can be found on many maps still available today: Darug, Dharawal, Darginung, Guringai and Gundungurra. However, there are various ways of spelling the names and different names can be found referring to the same group. Eora is also commonly used for Sydney. For northern Sydney the term Guringai has been used, however, it was originally invented by a researcher in 1892 for this area and there is a Gringai clan in the Barrington River, Glouchester area who are requesting Sydneysiders to stop using their name. The Aboriginal Heritage Office in its 2015 report, Filling a Void: A Review for the Historical Context for the use of the Word ‘Guringai’ provides the background to the word and some suggestions for moving forward:

It is not authentic to the area, it was coined by a non-Aboriginal person and it gives a misleading impression of the connectivity of some original clan boundaries …  In the absence of a convenient single term for the whole of northern Sydney, the AHO would recommend the use of clan names for local areas, with the understanding that these too have their limitations and problems, and the acceptance of the truth of the lack of certainty as a feature of how Aboriginal history and heritage is portrayed here (AHO, 2015: 41).

Clan names which can be found on most maps for the northern Sydney region of the AHO partner Councils are the following: Gayamaygal, Gamaragal, Garigal, Darramurragal and many more. For Strathfield it is most likely the Wangal. If you are interested in this subject you always have to be critical and try to find out if the sources are reliable for your research. It’s not Aboriginal peoples’ fault that we don’t know these things and it wasn’t the traditional owners’ wish that these things be lost. Hoping that some certainty will emerge now is not really fair for all those people who were told to give up their language, stop practicing ceremony and hide their Aboriginality. If you are doing an Acknowledgement or a document and are not sure what to say, it can be quite effective to acknowledge these facts and to give people an opportunity to reflect on why things are the way they are.

Clan names

Dr Val Attenbrow provides the clearest review of names and their associated spellings and re-orded or presumed location.

Clan name Historical spelling/s Name or description of country
Bediagal Bediagal, Bidjigals, Bid-ee-gàl, Bejigal, Be-dia-gal Probably to the north-west of Parramatta, between Parramatta and Hawkesbury River, possibly around present day Castle Hill.
Birrabirragal Birra birragal-leon Possibly associated with Birra Birra, a rocky reef in the lower harbour now known as Sow and Pigs.
Borogegal Borogegal, Borogegal-yurrey Possibly associated with Borogegy, now know as Bradleys Head.
Boromedegal Boorammedegal, Boromedegal, Boora me di-gal, Booramedigal-leon Assumed to be associated with Parramatta area, on similarity of pronunciation, Parràmatta (Tench 1793), Par-ra-mata (King in Hunter 1793).
Buruberongal Burubirangal, Bu-ru-be-ron-gal, Buruberongal, Boo-roo-bir-rong-gal, Boo-roo-ber-on-gal, Boorooberongal To the north-west of Parramatta, about two hours walking distance from the Hawkesbury River (Phillip in Hunter 1793).
Darramurragal Darra murra gal, Tarra-merragal Said to be ‘in the district of Wanne’, but on similarity of name associated with the suburb Turramurra, at the headwaters of the Lane Cove River.
Gadigal Cadigal, Cadigàl,Càd-i-gal, Cadi-gal Cadi was on the south side of Port Jackson, extending from South Head to Long Cove (Darling Harbour) (King in Hunter 1793). Càdi, the bay of Cadi, is probably ‘Kutti’ which is the Aboriginal place name for Watsons Bay.
Gahbrogal Cah-bro-gal The Cahbrogal lived inland and ate estuarine teredo worms called cah-bro (Collins 1798). In 1845 Mahroot said the ‘Liverpool blacks’ were called ‘Cobrakalls'(In: Select Committee on the Condition of the Aborigines Report 1845). Associated with the suburb Cabramatta.
Gamaragal Càmmerragal, Cam-mer-ray-gal, Cameeragal, Camera-gal, Kamarigal Cam-mer-ray (Collins 1798), Cammerra (Phillip 1790), Camerra (King in Hunter 1793) was on the north shore or north side of Port Jackson.
Gameygal Kamey-gal Around Kamay, the name for Botany Bay, possibly to the north-west of Gwea (Anon ca 1790-1792).
Gannemegal Cannemegal Wau-maille [War-mul] which the Cannemegal was said to inhabit was one of eight place names in the district of Rose Hill which was 10 minutes walk westward from Rose Hill (Anon ca 1790 1792).
Garigal Caregal, possibly Corrugal Caregal initially given as name of ‘a man, or a tribe, who resided to the northward’. Later, ‘Nanbarre said Caregal was the man’s name, and he lived at, or near Broken Bay’ (Phillip in Hunter 1793).
Gayamaygal ‘the tribe of Kay-yee-my’ Kay-yee-my, the place where the Governor was wounded – Manly Cove (Phillip in Hunter 1793); Kay-ye-my, Manly Bay (Anon ca 1790-1792).
Gweagal Gweagal, Gwea-gal Gwea. Gweea was on the southern shore of Botany Bay (Tench 1793).
Wallumedegal Wallumedegal, Walumetta, Wallume-de-gal Wallumede. Wallumede was on the north shore, opposite Warrane (Sydney Cove) (King in Hunter 1793).
Wangal Wangal, Wanngal, Won-gal Wann (Phillip 1790). Wanne (King in Hunter 1793) extended along the south side of the harbour from Long Cove (Darling Harbour) to Rose Hill, which the local inhabitants called Parramatta.

Clan names chart (Attenbrow 2009; ‘Clan names chart’, Australian Museum,)

Note, there is no historic use of the term ‘Gai-mariagal’. This term has only appeared relatively recently and as yet no documented evidence has been provided to show it was used at the time of the First Fleet or before the late 1990s.

There’s more on our FAQ page.

Clans in the Sydney Region
Courtesy of Dr Val Attenbrow 2010