Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Bondi rock carvings

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Bondi rock carvings

Contemporary Bondi Beach is popular with surfers and sun-lovers. In earlier years, Aboriginal people also found it an attractive place, with its abundant nearby fresh water, fish and rocky shores full of shellfish. The name Bondi, also spelt Bundi, Bundye and Boondye, comes from the Aboriginal 'Boondi'. According to some authorities, this means 'water tumbling over rocks', while the Australian Museum records its meaning as 'a place where a fight with nullas took place'.

Early British arrivals identified Aboriginal pathways running from Port Jackson to the coast. In 1882, Obed West described Aboriginal men walking from Sydney harbour to Coogee or Bondi with bark canoes on their heads, looking for the best fishing spots. A midden of shellfish debris and artefacts at the edge of the dunes has now disappeared under modern development.

In 1899, a large cache of stone artefacts that came to be known as Bondi points were found at the northern end of the beach. These long thin blades were shaped to use as spear points and barbs and were first called 'chipped-back surgical knives' because they are shaped like scalpels.

Situated on the southern or sea side of Bondi Golf Course, adjacent to a sewerage treatment plant, there stands a substantial panel of Aboriginal rock carvings depicting various fish species. They are carved into the flat sea-cliff at a fishing rock known to the Indigenous people as Murriverie or Marevera. They were formed by pecking at the rock surface with pointed stones or shells, and extended over 60 metres southwards.

The largest group shows an eight-metre figure of a shark that appears to be attacking a male figure that could be an iguana or lizard. This could be the first record of a shark attack at Bondi. It was earlier thought to be a whale, as there are two other rock engravings of whales at Bondi, but the dorsal and pectoral fins identify it as a shark.

A separate panel shows two fish and a boomerang. The southernmost portion of the group has been cut deeper and is probably of an older date, possibly up to 2,000 years old. Ancestral footprints (mundoes) that once led to the site have now faded. It is assumed that the carvings were linked to a ceremonial ground overlooking the ocean.

A low chain fence now encloses the site. The carvings were retouched and fenced in 1951. A plaque commemorates a misguided attempt in 1964 by Waverley Council to preserve the engravings by re-grooving them. They are listed on the State Heritage Inventory but are poorly drained, blistering, and in danger of being damaged. They deserve serious attention as evidence of the Aboriginal occupation of Bondi long before the blonde-haired surfers arrived.


C and L Cass (eds), The Best of the Bondi View, Boondye Books, 2003

Melinda Hinkson, Aboriginal Sydney, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2001

'Aboriginal Rock Carvings (Murriverie)', State Heritage Inventory, Heritage Branch, New South Wales Department of Planning, Parramatta, viewed 27 November 2008, http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_index.htm

Anne Ross, 'Tribal and Linguistic Boundaries: A Reassessment of the Evidence', in Graeme Aplin (ed), A Difficult Infant: Sydney Before Macquarie, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1988

Daniel Scott, 'Road Map from the Dreamtime,' Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 2008

Joseph Waugh (ed), Aboriginal People of the Eastern Coast of Sydney, Randwick and District Historical Society Inc, Randwick NSW, 2001