January 25, 2019 16:07:41
British explorer Matthew Flinders — whose body has been found under London’s Euston station — is famous for being the first person to circumnavigate Australia.
But what is less well known is that among his crew on the iconic voyage was an Indigenous Australian.
Bungaree, a Kuringgai man from what is now the Broken Bay area of New South Wales, was in Flinders’s crew all the way, making him the first Australian to sail around his native continent.
Who was Bungaree and how did he meet Matthew Flinders?
Bungaree was known as an explorer, entertainer and community leader.
He first came to prominence in 1798, when he accompanied Flinders on a journey between the Australian mainland and Tasmania on the Norfolk, working for the explorer as an interpreter and guide.
He next accompanied Flinders on his famous circumnavigation of Australia, on HMS Investigator, between 1801 and 1803.
In his book detailing his journey, Flinders described Bungaree as a “worthy and brave fellow” who saved the expedition multiple times.
According to co-chair of the National NAIDOC committee, John Paul Janke, Bungaree was one of the iconic figures of the early colony of Sydney.
“To me Bungaree is one of those key iconic figures in the early history of Australia, but that hardly anyone knows about him, to me, tells a bigger picture of this country, Mr Janke told The World Today.
“I always feel as though we’ve been, as Australians, robbed of the true history of this country. And Bungaree is one of those classic examples.
“Bungaree [acted] as an intermediary, and if you read the journals of both Flinders and Phillip Parker King, when the various voyages came across land, Bungaree would go on shore and talk to the natives.
“Of course he couldn’t speak the same language, so there was a lot of hand gestures and dialogue between those to communicate a safe passage and also so they could stay and chart and live off the country for a while.
“There are some wonderful anecdotes in Parker King’s journals of going ashore and asking Bungaree ‘can we eat this plant’? And Bungaree says, ‘I don’t know what the plant is, so maybe we should not eat it’.
“In some cases, there’s a potential that he might have saved people’s lives by telling them what not to eat or what to eat.
“So to me he was more than just someone who was taken on board to show them around. He was actually, I think, a very strong confidante for Flinders.”
Dr Gillian Dooley from Flinders University said Flinders thought so highly of Bungaree that the Indigenous explorer was mentioned in a book that Flinders wrote about his cat, Trim.
“Flinders talks about how he was very kind to the cat, looked after him and gave him food, in what was a rare personal glimpse into the journey,” Dr Dooley said.
The forgotten role of Indigenous people during early explorations
Flinders respected Bungaree and referred to him as an “intelligent native of New South Wales”, according to Dr Dooley.
“It was very brave of Bungaree, because he was in uncharted territory as well,” she added.
Flinders University Indigenous Archaeology professor Claire Smith said it was common for early British explorations of Australia to be assisted by Indigenous people “one way or another”.
But they often did not realise they were assisting people who planned to colonise their land, she added.
“The Aboriginal history of Australia is overlooked. There are many Aboriginal people who also were great explorers and contributed [alongside Matthew Flinders], but they didn’t have the idea of colonising the land like the British did,” she said.
The majority, she said, were tasked with obtaining permissions for the use of land.
How should we remember the first Indigenous Australian to circumnavigate the country?
When asked how the lack of knowledge about Bungaree’s involvement in Flinders’s voyages made Indigenous people feel, NAIDOC committee co-chair Mr Janke said it pointed to a larger trend that saddened him.
“My generation and generations before were taught a certain type of history of this country — a history that didn’t exist before 1770,” he said.
“There are no statues to [Bungaree] in this country.
“You can walk the streets of Sydney and see magnificent statues of Apollo, Athena, William Shakespeare, Queen Victoria. You can even see statues of Flinders’s cat, Trim.
“I think there are about three statues in this country to Trim, the cat that was onboard the Investigator. And it breaks my heart that we, as Australians, don’t have a statue to Bungaree that celebrates an iconic figure and someone who actually assisted in building this continent and building our nation’s history.”
Flinders University professor Claire Smith agreed: “We have statues of Matthew Flinders at Flinders University and as you enter you do remember him as having that impact on Australia.
“If we also had statues of the great Aboriginal people who have fought for land rights, who have worked with people, Europeans, early on in the explorations, then that would change our consciousness of Australia.”
January 25, 2019 14:18:57