On the city’s southern edge, footsteps of the people who walked before us echo across the land. On the beach and in the bush, there’s hidden evidence of a life well-lived… you simply need to know where to look.
Only nine generations ago, before European colonisation, Jibbon headland in Royal National Park was home to the Dharawal people. Standing on Jibbon beach you would have seen women coming ashore from bark canoes (nuwi) with their morning catch of fish (magura). Men returning from their morning hunt with banggarai the swamp wallaby and heard the sound of kids laughter (djanaba) at camp.
That was less than 250 years ago. What remains? You’ll find a mostly deserted golden sand beach, possibly a sleek sailboat bobbing offshore, and a friendly nod from a local Bundeena resident enjoying the rare coastal seclusion of a place that’s still geographically in Sydney. Take a closer look and you’ll discover an open air museum of Aboriginal Sydney.
We’ve chosen not to show images of the actual carvings due to sensitivities around publication of sacred images. The header image is a DNSW stock image of an engraving site in Ku-ring-gai National Park.
5km (3 miles) return from Bundeena ferry wharf.
3 hours return, comfortable pace.
Good, well marked track. No track marked along Jibbon Beach.
Class 2 Track (Although Jibbon Beach is untracked so technically 5+).
Mountains to climb?
No, relatively flat. Elevation approximately 10 metres.
Mobile (cell phone) reception?
Yes, train to Cronulla, then ferry to Bundeena.
Yes. A few cafes to choose from in Bundeena. Try Cafe Manna.
Dharawal people, like all Aboriginal people used plants for food, shelter, medicine and tools. They had thorough knowledge of seasonality and practiced sustainability in all aspects of their lives. Every plant had a purpose and we still know quite a few of them today.
Lomandra longifolia looks like a useless spiky shrub to you and I. To Dharawal people various parts of the plant were fruit, bread and and an energy snack. The leaves were used to make fish traps and weave dilly bags to collect fruits and nuts. They were also used as bandages and in the sacred female initiation ceremony of malgun. Cool huh? All this from one plant? Join us on a guided walk to learn more traditional Aboriginal plant uses.
Your first hint that Royal National Park is full of living history is behind Jibbon beach. At first glance, and easily overlooked, you’ll see a dune overgrown with plants stretching the entire length of the beach. Look closer and you’ll see a three metre high pile of empty oyster, mussel and periwinkle shells. You might see discarded fish, wallaby and possum bones, and the remains of cooking fires. It’s a Dharawal shell midden.
This midden is around 3000 years old. Sure, that’s quite recent compared to the 20,000+ years that Aboriginal people have lived in the Sydney area, but look at it another way. It’s 1000 years before the rise of the Roman Empire; rice is first cultivated in Ancient Japan and it’s the start of the Iron Age in Europe. Got it? Whoa.
From Jibbon Beach you climb a couple of stairs and walk along a short path to a clearing. There are now steel and stone sculptures representing the nearby Aboriginal rock carvings… but did you know this was a campsite?
Dharawal people created and maintained this campsite over thousands of years through the careful use of fire and plant management. They camped here in the winter months and created a habitat around the camp that attracted animals they wanted to hunt. They also ensured desired fruits and berries would grow in the area thereby creating a larder of food around their campsite. Meat and three veg for dinner anyone?
Jibbon is home to one of the best preserved Aboriginal rock art sites in Sydney, while still being easily accessible. Now viewed from a steel walkway and viewing platform, the Aboriginal rock carvings on this site date back over a thousand years. There were probably rock carvings at this site before Christ walked the earth but they’ve been eroded over time, along with their stories.
Traditional Aboriginal art depicts animals, people and spirits or Dreaming ancestors. Jibbon has all these and more. Biame, the Creator, is prominent. Marloo, the kangaroo and ‘bringer of the rain’ is also set in stone. However, this Aboriginal rock art site is all about Orca.
Orca and Dharawal hunters had a symbiotic relationship. During the annual humpback migration of winter and spring they worked together to feed the several hundred people who lived around the bay. It was known as the ‘law of the tongue’ and for this Orca were sacred.
We have learned what we know about the Jibbon Aboriginal site specifically, and about Aboriginal history and culture generally, through many in-depth conversations with Dharawal people, respected Aboriginal elders and academic research from trusted sources.
It’s an easy two to three hour walk to explore Jibbon headland in Royal National Park.
Australia’s oldest national park is not just near Sydney, it’s in Sydney. You can catch a train to Cronulla, ferry to Bundeena and enjoy one of the easiest Royal National Park walks only an hour from the city centre.
This is a visually stunning walk but it’s the stories that make this place so special. You can read them on our blog, download an e-book (coming soon) or join us on a guided walk where our local, passionate guides will bring these stories to life.
“This experience was refreshing and interesting. The landscape of the coastline was breath-taking. Our friendly guide, Ian, was always wearing a happy smile, had good knowledge of the land and its history, and he’s got great enthusiasm, which all together made this bush walk unforgettable.”
“This was my first actual bush walk, definitely a winning experience. Our guide was knowledgeable and clearly passionate about the land we covered, pointing out wildlife, plants and interesting local history.”
“Absolutely brilliant. Completely impressed. Ian has a real charm and made the tour feel like taking a walk with an old friend – though he knows a lot more about Aboriginal culture than any of my friends.”
The jewel in the crown of Australia’s oldest national park is the coast track from Otford to Bundeena. The Aboriginal carvings walk near Jibbon Beach is a teaser of what you can expect to see if you continue walking south on the full Royal Coastal Track.
SELF GUIDED WALK
Hear all the stories that make this walk so fascinating – at your leisure! Coming Soon.
HALF DAY GUIDED WALK
Enjoy an exclusive guided experience with one of our passionate guides.