Indigenous Australians: Pemulwuy A Resistance Hero

First People Then And Now


Indigenous Australians: Pemulwuy A Resistance Hero


1788 marked the most dramatic change in Australia’s long and ancient  history. The English from the First Fleet erected their tents in Sydney Cove.

Nothing like this had ever happened before for Indigenous Australians as these strangers were taking fish from the harbour and sea, and animals and plants from the bush.

First people then and now

First People Then And Now

Captain Arthur Phillip, now Governor of the new colony, claimed New South Wales for the British Crown. New South Wales in 1786  extended from Cape York to the southern extremity in the latitude of 43 degrees 39’S and westward as far as the 135th parallel and including the islands adjacent to the Pacific Ocean.

In effect Phillip was given authority to take half a continent from the Indigenous Australians who had been living on the continent for       60 000 years.

While Aborigines were to be protected under British law this did not mean much for the Eora people (Aborigines living in areas around Sydney) particularly when they saw their lands being devastated: trees cut down, food and tools stolen, bush cleared, roads built and houses erected.

This must have shocked and angered the Erora people.

From the beginning the Eora were angered. As Governor Phillip landed in Botany Bay and later at Port Jackson Eora people met him in armed groups. Two convicts were killed because they had stolen tools and offended local Indigenous laws.


From the people around Botany Bay there emerged a powerful guerrilla leader or resistance hero. This was Pemulwuy (c.1760-1802) – A Bidjigal man from the Botany Bay area of Sydney. The English regarded him as an outlaw.



Pemulwuy had two physical features that made him very distinctive. His left eye had a speck or brown mark on it and he had a club foot. But he was not born with a club foot it was the result of an injury.

Pemulwuy was also said to be a “clever man” which is someone with special and supernatural powers.1

Pemulwuy was linked to the killing of one of Governor Phillip’s servants, a gamekeeper called Mcintyre, who before he died admitted he had committed a number of offences against the Eora.

As the British grew richer in their new colony and were able to satisfactorily provide their own food and supplies the local Aborigines, known as the Eora, became more desperate and bitter, and more under threat.

From this time until his death in 1802, Pemulwuy led the Eora resistance against the British settlement which was continually expanding. Pemuluwuy and his men attacked the invaders – raiding settlements, burning houses, destroying crops, and going after wandering settlers.

Phillip sent out soldiers to arrest him. Pemulwuy couldn’t be found. It was thought that a black bushranger known as Black Caesar had killed him. But no, Pemulwuy survived but was badly wounded.

In 1797 the resistance against the English was severe so settler and soldiers did everything they could to fight Pemulwuy.

Battle of Parramatta

In the Battle of Parramatta, Pemulwuy with his army of warriors marched into Parramatta threatening to spear those who stood in their way. The red coat British soldiers opened fire killing five of Pemulwuy’s men.

Aboriginal resistance

Aboriginal resistance

The Eora were forced to retreat under the steady and sustained fire from the red coats. Pemulwuy was wounded and captured, but very soon he escaped but with leg irons still in place and was again leading the attacks on the invaders.

A legend developed that Pemulwuy could not be killed by bullets.

Efforts in 1801 were made by Governor Philip Gidley King to turn the Eora against their leader. The local Aborigines in the Parramatta, Georges River and Prospect Hill areas were to be driven away and kept from the settlements.

They were told that when Pemulwuy’s head was brought into the settlement that friendly relations would be restored.

In 1802 Pemulwuy was shot by two settlers and his head cut from his body and pickled . It was preserved in spirits and sent to England for research.

It was sent to Sir Joseph Banks in England for his collection. The current whereabouts of the head is unknown.

Pemulwuy ’s assassination brought down a man who had defied five governors in battle and won the admiration of both white and black. Above all he contained for twelve years the cancer like spread of the invasion into Eora lands.


1  National Museum of Australia


Barlow, Alex and Hill, Marji   Heroes Of The Aboriginal Struggle.  South Melbourne, Vic., Macmillan, 1987. (Australian Aborigines)

Grassby, Al and Hill, Marji    Six Australian Battlefields: The Black Resistance To Invasion And The White Struggle Against Colonial Oppression.   North Ryde, NSW , Angus & Robertson, 1988.

National Museum of Australia


Marji Hill

First People Then And Now

c. Art work – Pemulwuy by Marji Hill

c. Art work – Aboriginal resistance by Marji Hill