While the Aboriginal people of Sydney Harbour were the first original Australians to be dispossessed of their lands soon after the First Fleet landed at Circular Quay in 1788, it's easy to assume that the Aboriginal people here were a figment of history.
Truth is they never left and to survive they cleverly fitted in and stayed hidden right under the noses of of a colonial society intent on the excluding its Aboriginal peoples and their alien concepts of custodianship of the land.
Theirs is remarkable and a largely unknown story of hardship and persecution but also guile, and shared reliance on community and friendship of their non-Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
Today elder Mark Merriman has decided the time is right to reveal and introduce the traditional ways of the harbour Aboriginals to all Sydneysiders and people who come here.
Alone he is very much a big part of the complex, continuing and very real Aboriginal revival of Sydney Harbour. He Sydney Harbour Elder in 2018 to help expand Aboriginal knowledge and our inclusion together with enduring Aboriginal presence.
A Yuin Aboriginal man by blood, Mark’s family have called Pyrmont home since they fled the dispossession of their country of South Coast NSW in the 1840s to work here. Born in the early 1960s to an Aboriginal family with presence here for more than 150 years, his story is typical of so many urban Aboriginals of dislocation, forced institutionalisation and lost identity. Like so many Aboriginal men who are recognised as the most incarcerated population in the world, his hidden Aboriginal heritage was revealed while in jail by older Yuin men who knew the truth.
Mark is one of the few people to remember Pyrmont’s little-known Muddy Hill Mob Aboriginal community that were removed in the early 1980s and today he is the oldest Aboriginal male in the area.
His first hand experience of post-colonial Aboriginal life, both in and around Pyrmont and throughout NSW’s boys home and prison systems, is a new window to a largely untold history.
As a Yuin man, Mark is a coastal Aboriginal and being close to the water is key to his existence. Just as his ancestors used the waters of the Wallaga Lakes of the NSW South Coast for 60,000+ years, the Pyrmont Merriman’s have done the same with the traditional waters of the Gadigal people of Sydney Harbour.
Since rediscovering his culture Mark and given the knowledge of smoking, spear making and bush tucker, he has made his business to give people true Aboriginal welcomes to Sydney. As compared to many ‘traditional’ welcomes which are done by Aboriginals lived connection to the area, he brings real integrity to the purpose of Welcome to Country and the aim of growing the unbroken thread of Aboriginal culture running through modern Australia today.
He is also one of the first harbour Aboriginals to begin speaking the Gadigal language of the original people to help guide others. The phrase that guides him is “Ngarangun” which means “we learn, think and listen together”.
Mark is regularly consulted by Indigenous academics at the University of Sydney for his ground level and lived knowledge. He has been used by the Department of Education, the redevelopment of Parramatta Gaol and is a lead elder of an initiative to revive local spear making by replicating the 200 spears that Captain Cook took in away 1770. Part of the reason he began Sydney Harbour Elder is to continue this work.
"...and bred on Sydney Harbour where my mum being of Irish heritage and my dad being Aboriginal.
Our family have lived here constantly since the 1840s since my father's ancestors were being removed from their lands on the NSW South Coast. My Blood Country is Yuin and my life connection is Gadigal. I am a Yuin Gadigal man. Plain and simple. And my connection is respectfully to both.
I was brought up in a totally different era for this area when worked together. I will personally take you on a guided tour through Ultimo, Pyrmont and Darling Harbour giving you the whole history out of a book given to my Father by the Lord Mayor at the time. But I also have my own history to tell along the way which will have you crying with laughter. Imagine going through the Powerhouse Museum and looking up to a World War 2 Spitfire. I remember sitting in it and playing around in it pretending I was shooting the Red Baron out of the sky.
I knew where they hid all the old steam trains the lot before the museum as built. Cannot tell you too much... if you want to know more I'm more than welcome to take you on a tour. Showing and telling you history that is both black and white Sydney history."