12. Real Name

Real Name

A Wave of Death


Smallpox was a disease new to Australia and it took hold in 1789. Aboriginal people of the Sydney area were known to use the word “gal-gal-la” for smallpox. It also meant “evil spirit”.

Europeans wrote of the events and gave similar accounts of its ravages. Many pondered how it came to have spread in such a way. Some accounts suggest that it was caused by the French, Cook or other visitors, but Tench adds that the ship’s surgeon brought out “variolous matter in bottles”.

After being shown British justice, Arabanoo died of the wave of death which killed over half of the Aboriginal people of the Sydney region and beyond. In the following year, it spread as far as Victoria and even South Australia.

Too much to endure


“In the year 1789 they were visited by a disorder which raged among them with all the appearance and virulence of the small-pox. The number that is swept off, by their own account, was incredible. At that time a native was living with us; and on our taking him down to the harbour to look for his former companions,  those who witnessed his expression and agony can never forget either. He looked anxiously around him in the different coves we visited;  not a vestige on the sand was to be found of human foot; the excavations in the rocks were filled with the putrid bodies of those who had fallen victim to the disorder; not a living person was anywhere to be met with. It seemed as if, flying from the contagion, they had left the dead to bury the dead.”

“He lifted up his hands and eyes in silent agony for some time;  at last he exclaimed, ‘All dead!’ and then hung his head in mournful silence, which he preserved during the remainder of our excursion. Some days after he learned that the few of his companions who survived had fled up the harbour to avoid the pestilence that so dreadfully raged. His fate has been already mentioned.  He fell a victim to his own humanity when Boo-rong, Nan bar-ray,  and others were brought into the town covered with the eruptions  of the disorder.

On visiting Broken Bay, we found that it had not confined its effects to Port Jackson, for in many places our path was covered with skeletons, and the same spectacles were to be met with in the hollows of most of the rocks of that harbour.”


Collins – after taking Arabanoo to visit his home country

Victim of Smallpox


On the 18th May, 1789, Arabanoo died. Captain Tench wrote of him:

“…we early discovered that he was impatient of indignity, and allowed of no superiority on our part.  If the slightest insight were offered him he would return it with interest. He knew he was in our power; but the independence of his mind never forsook him…”




Real Name


Dear God

They have buried our past now

Those pink legislators

And stolen our names

They knew our mothers were black

So they came, and they took us away

And pinned on a label

One that’s a lie

So much we have been through

Too much to endure

No more no more no more no more!

I need my real name

I need the arms

Of the woman who bore me

The feel of her hands

And the warmth of her fires

Circling around me

So please hurry God

Before it’s too late

I need my real name

Arabanoo – you are dying

What can we say now – what did we do?

We are trying – praying for you

So much we have been through

Too much! Take it away!

Gotta be a bran’ new day again some day

I need my real name

So please hurry God

Before it’s too late

I need my real name