Where the Knowledge Waters Meet

Sydney Opera House

Known  to the Gadigal people as Tubowgule, a tidal island reached via middens of discarded oyster shells,  Bennelong Point has been a special gathering place for thousands of years.

Performance on Bennelong Point has a history that stretches far back before the official opening of Sydney Opera House in 1973.

The Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land, danced and sang here for thousands of years when the land was a tidal island known as Tubowgule.

The “knowledge waters” ran where the salt and fresh waters mixed. Long before the site was chosen for the Opera House, it had been a special gathering place.

Its current name honours Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior Eora man at the time of the first British settlement in Australia in 1788. Kidnapped by the first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, Bennelong served as an interlocutor between the Eora and the British, both in Sydney and London, where he attended the theatre, museums and Houses of Parliament. At his request, Governor Phillip built him a hut on the point that now bears his name.

In this video, the Sydney Opera House’s Head of Indigenous Programming, Rhoda Roberts, reflects on the history and significance of the land.

Aboriginal soprano, actor, composer and playwright Deborah Cheetham AO describes the significance of Bennelong Point.

Sydney, looking south from the north shore, c.1817. On the left, the tidal island Tubowgule can be seen.

Joseph Lycett painted this picture a year before Governor Lachlan Macquarie directed that the fort that would come to bear his name be built upon the island. The lime for Fort Macquarie was derived from the great number of discarded shells accumulated over thousands of years of fishing and feasting.

The hut, built for Woollarawarre Bennelong by Arthur Phillip can be seen nestled on the island.

Typical coastline of Sydney's inner harbour: rocks strewn with generations of shellfish and vegetation overrunning the point at which the land meets the tidal watermark.

Where the “knowledge waters” meet: fresh and saltwater merge in a perfect fishing ground. Tubowgule, later Bennelong Point, had for thousands of years been a sacred meeting place.

Senior Eora man Woollarawarre Bennelong was 24 years old when the British arrived. Regarded by many Aboriginal people as a political prisoner, he acted as a mediator between the Eora people and the British.

First Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, ordered a hut built for him upon the promontory that would bear his name.

The British Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, ordered a fort built upon the tidal island, Tubowgule, between December 1817 and February 1821, under the direction of former convict and architect Francis Greenway.

Fort Macquarie was a square construction with circular bastions at each corner and a castellated square tower.

The lime used in construction was derived from the great middens of discarded shells that surrounded the tidal island. The fort was connected to the mainland by a roadway.

A page from the international competition guidelines for Sydney Opera House, showing the seaward face of Bennelong Point.

The Fort Macquarie Tram Shed on Bennelong Point, which was demolished to make way for Sydney Opera House.

Aerial photograph of Sydney Harbour showing construction of Sydney Opera House on Bennelong Point.

Stephen Page describes the significance of Bennelong Point.
Credits: Story

Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team

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Contributors:
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Estate of David Moore
Latchkey
State Library of New South Wales

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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