The use of the word Eora/eora is a subject that is open to debate. Val Attenbrow in in Sydney’s Aboriginal Past (UNSW Press 2002) has a section entitled “The Eora Dilemma” theat summarises the common use of the term. In regard to the popular use of the term she writes:
It is used today in a variety of contexts to refer to the original inhabitants of the area between Port Jackson and Botany Bay or sometimes to the people of the whole Sydney region. However, neither the early colonial accounts nor the late 19th century anthropologists or linguists use the term in this manner. (Attenbrow (2002): 35)
The term appears in a number of the early word lists and is translated thus:
Men or people (Dawes)
The name common for the natives (Collins)
Men or people (King)
A number of people (King)
The only instance where the word appears in the early published texts is Collins in reference to a conversation he had with Bennelong following his return from England in 1795. The passage is as follows:
….I wished to learn what were his ideas of the place from which his countrymen came, and led him to the subject by observing, all the white men here came from England. I then asked him where the black men (or Eora) came from? He hesitated; did they come from any island? His answer was, that he knew of none: they came from the clouds (alluding perhaps to the aborigines of the country); and when they died, they return to the clouds… (Collins: 454)
Where the word is used in context by Dawes it is not unequivocally related to place, nor is it a name by which the indigenous users of the language identified themselves as a group or polity. Dawes provided the following examples of how the word was used (and understood by him):
Ŋwıyí̇ tālı tyu̇ŋóra breada eóra = He gave pork (and) bread to the eoras (Book B page 35)
Ŋwiadyaoúwı magŏra eorāra dyı = The eoras gave fish to him (Book B page 35)
Dawes used the word in the English translation in order to differentiate between indigenous ‘people’ and his own ‘people’. To this end the word whiteman or whitemána, was introduced (by Dawes?) into the Indigenous lexicon in preference to the locative form Berıwȧlgal (Be_re_wal_gal = the name given to us by the natives, Berewal = a great distance off) (Dawes Book C page 9).
Attenbrow provides a history of the appearance of the word in later nineteenth century and early twentieth century texts. W. Wentworth-Bucknell and George Thornton use the term in 1899 as a ‘tribal’ name for people inhabiting the Port Jackson/Sydney region in 1788 - these writers do not provide sources. The term as defining a specific tribal/language group gained greater currency with Norman Tindale’s publication Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974).
In 1987 Kohen and Lampert drew the conclusion that 'the Dharug language had two major dialects, that of the Eora or coastal people and that spoken by people occupying the inland area from Parramatta to the Blue Mountains' (Kohen and Lampert in Mulvaney, Australians to 1788 (1987:345)). In 1993 Kohen employed the term Darug (Eora) as a ‘linguistic tribe’ (Kohen (1993): 22). . In Jakelin Troy’s The Sydney Language (1993) ‘eora’ is translated as ‘people’ or ‘Aboriginal people’ and indicates that the term was not used to refer to non-Aboriginal people.
For the purposes of this site, the term ‘Eora’ has been used as a collective term to describe the clans inhabiting the Port Jackson/Parramatta River region who were linked by marriage, ritual, shared food resources, language and custom. These groups had close ties with speakers of what has been described as Coastal Darug, or Darug-Eora located in the Botany Bay-upper George’s River region to the south, and the lower Broken Bay region to the north. Wherever possible an individual’s known clan affiliation is used in preference to the collective term ‘Eora’.