Early contact on the Far South Coast

The earliest accounts of contact between Europeans and the Kooris of the Far South Coast happened by way of the sea. The main transport route from Sydney to the rest of the world and Tasmania passed south along the east coast and around into Bass Strait. The meeting of two oceans and weather systems led to frequent storms, and survivors of wrecked ships or those seeking shelter were the first Europeans to visit the coastline.

The first recorded contact was by the survivors of the Sydney Cove, a trading ship travelling from Bengal to Port Jackson, which was wrecked on an island in Bass Strait in 1796. A party of seventeen men left in a long boat for Port Jackson but were run aground, this time on the coast of East Gippsland, and so set out to walk to Sydney. On this journey they experience many privations but were often assisted by Aboriginal people they met on the way. This usually took the form of meals of fish and shellfish, which appeared to make up the major part of the local diet.

By the early nineteenth century, sealers were operating in Bass Strait. They left gangs on the islands to hunt seals while they transported skins to Sydney. Some stopped in Twofold Bay and there are a number of historical reports of conflict with the local people defending their women from the notorious kidnappers who took Aboriginal women to the islands as work and sex slaves. By the time settlers came to the area, venereal and other diseases were evident in the local population.
Early settlement on the Far South Coast was based on whaling and pastoral industries and Aboriginal people were employed, as isolation limited the availability of white workers. The European shore-based whaling industry took advantage of traditional travel routes. During the whaling season, over one hundred Kooris camped around Twofold Bay and some continued to live at the Kiah inlet.
The seasonal work suited the Kooris as it mirrored the winter coastal camps and some travelled back to their tribal land into Victoria, inland or north up the coast when the season finished. The special relationship with the orca, or killer whale, continued into the early twentieth century and was taken up by the Davidson family whaling at the Kiah inlet.

Contributed by Sue Norman published in 2015.