Head of Indigenous Programming at the Sydney Opera House Rhoda Roberts describes the significance of Bennelong Point as a gathering place (2016) by Sydney Opera House and LatchkeySydney Opera House
Soprano Deborah Cheetham explains the significance of Bennelong Point (2016) by Sydney Opera House and LatchkeySydney Opera House
Aboriginal soprano, actor, composer and playwright Deborah Cheetham AO describes the significance of Bennelong Point.
The land on which the Sydney Opera House stands was known to its traditional custodians, the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, as Tubowgule. It is part of a broader cultural landscape where Aboriginal people have feasted, sung, danced and told stories on Country for generations. Tubowgule is a point jutting out into the harbour flanked by Warrane (Sydney Cove) to the west and Wahganmuggalee (Farm Cove in the Royal Botanic Garden) to the east.
Tubowgule was a rocky point located at the end of a long, wide ridge and surrounded by rocky shoals that mostly covered at high tide. It was part of an area rich in resources for Aboriginal people with proximity to the harbour, cove, and a fresh water creek and its mud flats (known as the Tank Stream on the west side of Sydney Cove) providing oysters, mussels and fish. The area would also have had possums, wallabies, kangaroos, and many edible plants. The discarded remnants of the shell and bone from the meals made by Aboriginal people became ‘middens’ located at around Sydney Harbour.
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. In 1790, at his request, Governor Phillip built him a hut on the point that now bears his name. After being taken to England, Bennelong did not return to Tubowgule and instead lived at Kissing Point. The hut was demolished and bricks reused elsewhere in the colony.
Sydney, looking south from the north shore (1817) by Joseph Lycett, State Library of New South WalesSydney Opera House
Sydney, looking south from the north shore, c.1817. On the left, 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 known as middens around Sydney Harbour, 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 Sydney coastline (2016) by Sam DoustSydney Opera House
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.
Water crashes over shells in Sydney Harbour (2016) by Sam DoustSydney Opera House
Sydney Harbour from 20,000 feet (1992) by David Moore, Estate of David MooreSydney Opera House
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 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.
Looking east with Bennelong Point at the beginning of Stage Two (1963) by State Library of New South WalesSydney Opera House
Aerial photograph of Sydney Harbour showing construction of Sydney Opera House on Bennelong Point.
Aerial view during construction of Stage Two (12) (1965) by State Library of New South WalesSydney Opera House
Looking northeast toward the Sydney Opera House just before its official opening (1973) by Max Dupain, State Library of New South WalesSydney Opera House
Bangarra Dance Theatre celebrates 25 years (2014) by James Morgan, Bangarra Dance TheatreSydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney festival* (3) (2011) by popejon2Sydney Opera House
Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Estate of David Moore
State Library of New South Wales