Struggle Town

Keeping connected to Country in the fast-growing city of Sydney.

Video 6 Struggle Town

For Aboriginal people, Flat Rock Gully has been home for tens of thousands of years. With the expansion of Sydney and the ever growing population of immigrants following 1788, what happened to the people of Flat Rock Gully?

View of Flat Rock Creek catchment and Long Bay

We know that smallpox and other diseases killed many in the first decade. But Aboriginal people remained in Sydney. For a long time the preferred description of colonisation was that it was a bloodless and peaceful transition from Aboriginal occupation to white settlement. Yet a more sincere examination of history shines a different light on the process, with Aboriginal people actively contesting the dispossession and there being a frontier conflict that moved across the continent over a span of more than a century. Inside the frontier local clan survivors became an ignored but distinct presence in the streets and around the harbour of what was becoming Sydney.

Aboriginal people remained in the Flat Rock Ck area too. In a history of Naremburn prepared for the bicentenary, Eric Wilksch (1988) noted that ‘between the two streams that form the fork of the creek, was located an Aboriginal camping place’.

The history of St Stephen’s, North Willoughby, records the girls of the church regularly collecting suitable items of clothing for the Aborigines at Flat Rock. This site was known as Struggle Town. There is no doubt that the girls of the church at Central Township (the first settlement in this area) assisted in this mission.

Stories passed down from early pupils of Naremburn Public School (opened 1887) refer to the Aborigines who were camped in the bush down behind the school near the creek. This would have been on the Humphrey Evans and Robert Adams grants, just upstream from the Flat Rock crossing. (Wilksch 1988:3)

Aboriginal shingle cutters c.1870s
Aboriginal shingle splitters, Middle Harbour, circa 1870s

What might the new ‘owners’ of those land parcels have said about the Aboriginal people occupying space on ‘their’ land? Would they have felt invaded or that their rights were infringed? Or would they have tolerated this presence? We know that originally the land was considered by non-Indigenous people to be poor quality, being rocky and steep country. That is why it ended up becoming a quarry for the beautiful sandstone and a dumping ground for rubbish. It was only when people began to live there and appreciate its qualities that there seemed to be more interest in caring about the environment.

In the beginning, before white settlement, there was a grand gully, probably well-known to the local Aborigines as the source of fresh water, being fed by small streams from the Artarmon and St Leonards areas, merging into one main creek at the point where the present Willoughby Road (Flat Rock Bridge) crosses it.

The creek was [called] Long Bay Creek. However, it became more generally known as Flat Rock Creek because it commenced at ‘The Flat Rock’ where the creek could be crossed at normal times.

The area nearby, particularly to the immediate west of the Flat Rock crossing, also generally known as Flat Rock, was the site of the last recorded encampment of Aborigines. Because of the poor conditions under which they existed, this camp area became known in the 1870s as Struggle Town.

Just downstream a few hundred yards from this point, the clear water cascaded down a sheer rock face known as The Naremburn Waterfall, then on, down the gully to the sea at Long Bay. (Wilksch 1988:20)

The likely location of this encampment has suffered multiple impacts in subsequent years: first, the channelisation of the creeks and encroachment by housing, and then the tip and Gore Hill Freeway.

Flat Rock Creek in channel under bridge
Flat Rock Creek in channel under bridge

Nathan Moran from Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) (2021) claims that there is evidence in colonial documents for the presence of Struggle Town from 1870 to at least 1887. Hopefully more information will come to light about this place and others in the area in this period of change for Aboriginal people.

Back to the main history page for Flat Rock Gully

Download the full history PDF here.