Thursday, January 03, 2008

Bennelong bridged two cultures

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1813 Bennelong (Benelong; b. c. 1764) died at Kissing Point, now known as Ryde, on Sydney's North Shore. Bennelong was a senior man of the Eora, a Koori (Aboriginal) people of the Port Jackson area, at the time of the first British settlement in Australia, in 1788. He subsequently served as an interlocutor between the two cultures, both in Sydney and in the United Kingdom, though was later marginalized and died in obscurity, shunned by the European community and even by his own people. He was long troubled by a tendency to over-consume alcohol.

Bennelong (married at the time to Barangaroo) was captured with Colbee (married to Daringa) in November, 1789, as part of NSW Governor Arthur Phillip's plan to learn the language and customs of the local people. Like another captive, Arabanoo, Bennelong soon adopted European dress and ways, learning to speak English. Bennelong is also known to have taught George Bass the language of the Sydney Aborigines, and gave Phillip the Aboriginal name Wolawaree to include him within a kinship relationship.

Although a captive, Bennelong served the British colonizers well by attempting to enlighten them about Aboriginal customs and language, in an ultimately vain attempt to aid relations between the two groups. In May, 1790, for example, Bennelong was present at Manly when Governor Phillip was speared by local Aborigines, managing to persuade the Governor that the attack was caused by a misunderstanding and therefore avoiding further bloodshed. Later that year, Bennelong asked the Governor to build him a hut on what became known as Bennelong Point, located between Sydney Cove and Farm Cove in Port Jackson, which is now the location of Sydney Opera House.

Although Bennelong appears to have had an ambivalent relationship with both the settlement and Governor Phillip, Bennelong and another Aborigine named Yemmerrawanie travelled with Phillip to England in 1792, and were presented to King George III on May 24, 1793. Sadly, Yemmerrawanie died whilst in Britain, but Bennelong returned to Sydney in February, 1795. Increasingly overwhelmed by European culture, Bennelong quickly became alienated from his own people after his return.

Bennelong is commemorated in the Australian Federal electoral division (seat) of the same name in New South Wales, until 2007 by former prime minister, John Howard.

Bennelong's grave: A good place to say "sorry"
Seeing it is in John Howard's seat, wouldn't Bennelong's graveside be a perfect place for new PM Kevin Rudd to say "sorry" on National Sorry Day (something Howard refused to do for 11 years)?

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