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Getting to the Spot
Phillip and others set out in search of evidence in relation to the murder, possibly by aborigines, of two convict rush cutters near Sydney Cove.
The expedition arrived at sunset on the north shore of Botany Bay after a trek from Sydney Cove of some twenty miles. No Aborigines were encountered en route although many were seen fishing from canoes, in the bay. On the following morning about fifty canoes, but no Aborigines, were found on a beach which lay, according to White, between the grave of Pere Receveur (late of the then departed French expedition) and the entrance to Botany Bay. White also wrote that, after passing the canoes, “…we fell in with an Indian path, and, as it took a turn towards the camp (Sydney Cove) we followed it about two miles ..."
Phillip’s account of the return march did not mention the “Indian path” but stated that the party kept for some time near the sea coast.
The accounts of Phillip and White record that the walk from Botany Bay led unexpectedly to a large gathering of Aborigines at a coastal bay or cove. On signs from Phillip that he had come in peace, the people led him and his party to water which Phillip described as “…The finest stream of fresh water I have seen in This country, but the cove is open to the sea.”
Captain Hunter undertook survey work in Botany Bay in late September 1788 and following this, in the same year, a survey map of Botany Bay was prepared by William Bradley. It is significant that Bradley’s map of Botany Bay and environs included the notation “good water” at the head of a coastal inlet consistent in location and shape with Long Bay. Bradley’s map is reproduced on the rear cover of the Society’s publication.
As the British departed from the bay where the fine stream flowed an aborigine offered to escort them to meet another gathering of his kind at a bay about half a mile further on, according to White. However, Phillip declined and instead led his party away in another direction.
No mention is made in the accounts of Phillip or White, as published in Appendix 1, of any “Indian path” or discernable native track between the coastal bays they visited and Sydney Cove.
As noted above, White put the distance to the first visited coastal bay as about two miles from some point between Receveur’s grave and the entrance to Botany Bay; then a further half mile or so to the second bay which was not visited. Scaling of White’s distances on a modern map, and having regard to Phillip’s reference to keeping near the coast, leads to the conclusion that the first bay was Long Bay and the second, Seal Bay which lies between Long and Maroubra Bays.
This general location is believed to have been an Aboriginal camp site which could explain the existence of the “Indian path” leading to Botany Bay shores where fishing canoes were beached. However, it does not appear that the most southerly stretch of the probable route taken between January and March, 1788 between Sydney Cove and the Laperouse camp would have followed the “Indian path”. The probable route, shown on Page 9 of the society’s publication terminated north-west of the site where Receveur was buried, whereas the “Indian path” terminated south-east of that site.
Members of the First Fleet who recorded their treks between Sydney Cove and Botany Bay during the sojourn of Laperouse were naval officers and surgeons-general to the fleet. It can be expected, therefore, that their first hand reports were accurate, concise and unromanticised.
However unless maps of the actual routes taken by these persons were made, modern recording of the routes they took must remain probable. The British and French who made the overland journey might knowingly or otherwise have followed native tracks but to conjecture on this matter serves to do little more than cloud the recorded facts.
History presented as an amalgam of probabilities amounts to little more than fiction.
The “Indian path”
It is assumed in the these notes that John White’s term “Indian path” was an allusion to an aboriginal track. Alternatively, White may have been describing a pass too narrow to be conveniently negotiated by a party unless it walked in Indian (single) file; in the manner of Indians, perhaps observed by the British in their North American colonies.
There appears to be no evidence that Aborigines used the “Indian path”. Such inference is yet another probability.
Estimates of Aboriginal human habitation in Australia range from 40,000 years to over 100,000 years. Even at the lesser period it would be inevitable that any non Aboriginal person would scarcely travel overland between significant locations without the route at least approximating that previously traversed by Aborigines.
The likelihood of Aboriginal tracks having been followed, knowingly or otherwise, by European settlers and visitors on overland journeys, appears so obvious as to warrant no mention in concise accounts of or references to such journeys.
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