Dyarubbin: Exhibition Review

Written by Brei Dwyer, RAHS Volunteer & Member

Professor Grace Karskens’ research led her to the discovery of a document that has changed our understanding of the Darug people of Dyarubbin (the Hawkesbury River, NSW). This document, alongside other revealing sources, are a part of the Dyarubbin Exhibition at the State Library of NSW until March 2022.

Dyarubbin was an important resource in sustaining Darug people long before white settlement and remains intrinsically connected to Darug culture and spirituality. In the late eighteenth century, the fledgling British colony on Eora Country was struggling to sustain itself, so the fertile flood plains of Dyarubbin made it an attractive place for settlers. It also had other purposes; a site in an isolated section of the river known as Sackville, was used as an Aboriginal Reserve from 1889 to the mid twentieth century. We are increasingly learning that this frontier contact resulted in substantial conflict between European settlers and Darug clans.

In addition to the oppressive and often violent history of colonisation on Darug Country, much of our knowledge of this area has been cloaked by a European perspective. However, the frontier contact resulted in some written sources, providing insight into life on the river before colonisation. Karskens’ investigation has brought these sources to light in an exhibition that educates and celebrates Darug history. There is rich indigenous Dreaming and knowledge connected to Dyarubbin that is showcased by living Darug knowledge-holders and educators through a range of audio experiences, allowing visitors to learn from storytelling. The Great Eel story for example, begins at Cattai on Dyarubbin and is shared by ancient Darug descendants, Leanne Watson and Jasmine Seymour.

The oral histories are complimented by artworks reflecting the values and places of the Darug people. These provide an engaging experience that deepens visitor knowledge. At the heart of the exhibit is a comprehensive online, interactive catalogue of significant places along Dyarubbin and their histories. These are documented with maps, colonial documents, photographs and stories. Some of the photographs of rock art, such as the cave located at Canoelands depicting native animals, are annotated by local Darug women, giving us insight into their stories.

The exhibition gives pause for reflection on how we remember contested places and historical figures. One such example is convict turned chief magistrate at Bulyayurang (Windsor), Andrew Thompson. The Darug contributors to the exhibit share their knowledge of Thompson’s role in the killing of their ancestors. Dyarubbin provides new insights into colonial frontier violence and the diverse array of indigenous communities that rely upon and are connected to Dyarubbin.

The exhibition is the visual and interactive means of accessing Prof. Karskens written work, People of the River: Lost worlds of early Australia. In addition, it is the sharing of knowledge directly from Darug people to educate and celebrate their rich history. You can read more about Dyarubbin on the State Library website.