6 Places to Experience Indigenous History and Culture in Parramatta

By Jasmine Crittenden

The Burramatta people, a clan of the Darug nation, lived, hunted, gathered, danced and painted in Parramatta for at least 40,000 years before European arrival. Although their land is now mostly covered in concrete, there are many places where visitors can learn about Burramatta culture – from Arrunga Bardo garden, where a wealth of bush food grows, to Third Settlement Reserve, where legendary warrior Pemulwuy battled against colonisation. These six spots provide a window into one of the world's oldest surviving cultures. 

Arrunga Bardo Aboriginal Bush Food Garden

Found on the southern shore of Lake Parramatta, this garden is devoted to native plants that were indispensable to the Burramatta people. A self-guided walk teaches visitors about a myriad of flowers, herbs, shrubs, roots and trees. While some were edible, others were medicinal and, other still, used as tools and weapons. The name Arrunga Bardo means "calm water". From here, the 1.5-kilometre She Oak Track is an opportunity to explore Lake Parramatta's 75 hectares of surrounding bushland more extensively, passing through forest thick with she oaks, Sydney red gums and blackbutt. A longer adventure is the Lake Circuit, whose 4.2 kilometres take in rainforest and, in springtime, wildflowers. 

Warami Mittigar Cultural Walk 

An easy walk along the river and in beautiful Parramatta Park, the Warami Mittigar Cultural Walk is a wonderful opportunity to spend time on country with an Aboriginal traditional custodian, learning about connections to land, plant uses, tools, hunting and other aspects of local culture. Perfect for families with primary school children, the walk is hosted monthly by the Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Information Centre, secure a spot on the walk via the Eventbrite website

Old Government House

Built between 1799 and 1816, this World Heritage-listed Georgian house and its surrounding 200 acres of parkland served as the country home of the first ten governors of New South Wales, including Lachlan Macquarie. However, evidence of Burramatta culture remains today, in the scarred trees, whose bark was removed to create canoes, shelters and containers, and in the tiny pieces of shells in the building's mortar. Taken from middens, this strengthened construction. Old Government House is in Parramatta Park.

Old Government House

Old Government House. Image: Mark Bowyer

Parramatta Riverside Walk 

Along the northern bank of Parramatta River, bright murals cover the footpath, telling stories of Indigenous history – from the river's culinary abundance to the invasion of the First Fleet to the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their parents. These artworks are the creation of Jamie Eastwood, a Ngemba man who hails from northwestern New South Wales. To help deepen visitors' understanding, interpretative signs detailing historical events are dotted along the way. The murals begin just west of Lennox Bridge, in front of Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Information Centre, which is at 346A Church Street.

Third Settlement Reserve Toongabbie

This 12.1-hectare reserve is all that remains of Australia's third European settlement, a 640-hectare government farm created in 1792. Five years later, it became the site of the Battle of Parramatta when Aboriginal resistance leader Pemulwuy, a Bidjigal man, led an attack, backed by 100 fierce fighters. The 5.4-kilometre long Pemulwuy Loop is a walking trail named in his honour, which passes through three ecosystems: Cumberland Shale Plains Woodland, Cumberland River Flat Forest and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest. Third Settlement Reserve runs along Edison Avenue. 

Domain Creek

Along this pretty waterway in Parramatta Park, the Western Sydney Aboriginal Landcare Group – in collaboration with Parramatta Park Trust – has restored the bushland to pre-European conditions. The Burramatta Aboriginal Landscape Trail takes walkers on a revelatory cultural journey, exploring the relationship between the Burramatta people and their surroundings. Fire was a powerful tool for stimulating growth, vines were transformed into fishing line, paperbark provided a cosy shelter and grevillea flowers were soaked in water to make sweet drinks. Domain Creek runs through the western section of Parramatta Park.