16. Where Do I Belong?

Bennelong’s Dilemma

Where do they belong?


The Europeans were living on land where Bennelong and his people belonged.

After the spearing at Manly, Bennelong was left with the dilemma of how to deal with the invaders. His people, were not united with their neighbours, and were already weakened. Bennelong had pressure from ‘both sides’ to enter into negotiations. He had come to know more about the strangers than anyone else and it was up to him to decide what to do.


Nowhere to go to now

Moving to another land was not an option for Bennelong’s people. Bennelong referred to the Kameraygal and Bidjigal people as enemies and special permission was needed to even enter another’s country. The Europeans were obviously mortal, not spirits, and obviously here to stay. His own community had already suffered terrible losses.

The spearing of Arthur Phillip now caused him fear of retaliation. Bennelong and his community waited across the harbour, on what is now North Sydney.

Over the following month there was a series of cautious ‘conferences’ between Bennelong and Arthur Phillip…

Bennelong’s demands

 15th September, 1790: A week after Phillip’s spearing, Bennelong and a group of Cadigal people renewed contact with the British and camped across the harbour from the settlement where the Sydney Harbour Bridge now stands. Both sides met in the morning and agreed to meet again in the afternoon. The Europeans gave Bennelong a hatchet and a fish, as well as presents to all the others. A meal was shared.

Bennelong told the Governor he had severely beaten Wileemarin for spearing Phillip. He said that he would camp for two days and wait for the Governor to visit him. He said that his people had been robbed of many items, including fish-gigs, spears, a wooden ‘sword’ and other articles, and demanded their return.


 16th September, 1790: The Europeans returned the stolen weapons which were gladly received…

“Imeerawanyee darting forward, claimed the sword. …he had no sooner grasped it than… Singling out a yellow gum tree for the foe, he attacked it with great fierceness, calling us to look on… Having conquered his enemy he laid aside his fighting face, and joined us with a countenance which carried in it every mark of youth and good nature…  All the stolen property being brought on shore, an old man came up, and claimed one of the fish gigs, singling it from the bundle, and taking only his own; and this honesty, within the circle of their society, seemed to characterise them all…” 

Bennelong asked about the Governor’s health, indicating that he might come and visit Sydney, as long as Phillip came to see him first. He was given a share of fish from a large catch with nets of three or four thousand fish.


 17th September, 1790: Arthur Phillip went in a boat to meet Bennelong and tried to persuade him to come to Sydney town.  Bennelong refused to return with him.

First Meeting

 8th October, 1790: Bennelong and a group of Aboriginal people visited the settlement and spoke with Phillip, while Reverend Johnson stayed under Aboriginal guard back at Bennelong’s camp. This was to be the first of their meetings, and it marked an important change in events. It also marked the beginning of a relationship between Arthur Phillip and Bennelong.

Bennelong’s Dilemma


Where do I belong?

My world is changing

right before me

How could I be wrong – 

to believe

That the strangers who are here

could share with us,

and we could show them…

What can we do?

Nowhere to go to now.

Got no chance of them goin’ away.

Who do we turn to now?

That so many are gone and land that we’re on

is slowly being taken away…

Where do they belong? –

Here they are –  from where we don’t know…

Strangers to this Land!

A time of change is here –

we cannot run,  we must decide

How will we survive?

How will we survive?