Now, two centuries after his death and burial in 1813, we ask, who, really was Woollarawarre Bennelong? It seems the more we scratch the surface, the more the ‘humanity’ of Bennelong is revealed in all his complexity.
One of the things that could be very powerful is driving home his humanity … sometimes when you get down to race politics people overlook this or downplay it because it suits their purpose.
I think he was a survivor, he had to be what he was ... when he was with the white people he'd go back to his tribe and tell them what to expect and what's going to happen.
As much as Bennelong was using the situation to his advantage, he was being used to the advantage of other people.
Someone who was determined to forge relationships.
This guy's a double agent. He's working both sides of the fence here.
You have Bennelong sleeping on Phillip’s porch and you’ve got resistance from within the colony Caesar (a Negro) and Paddy (an Irish guy) and Pemulwuy … looking at that and Bennelong … they’ve got to be collaborating these fellows . You’ve got one from the Parramatta River and one from the Georges River … they have got to be passing information to each other.
To try and tell people who he is based on the history of him - I think that does him a lot of injustice, because there's the other side of the man. There's the family man, the married man and there's the resistance man.
Bennelong was a person in a particular time with a particular set of circumstances that he had to deal with.
Identity can be compiled by other people.
The Bennelong we think of today is a construct ... of generations of information.
It makes you wonder how much of Bennelong's motivations ... were geared towards tribal conflict ... but its was about the collective, about the group, about the mob ...
The idea of choice, that Bennelong had a choice - we probably need to think about that ... given how terrifying it must have been to see all your people dying around you ...
The adaptation that took place in those opening years was phenomenal and Bennelong is a strong example of that ...
There was a curiosity between Europeans and Bennelong ...
It's important to bear in mind that a lot of what we think we know about Bennelong is what people have chosen to record
What they said about him being a drunk and addicted to alcohol … it was the currency of the time. They (the colony) ran out of money … everybody was drinking. People of the time virtually drank more rum and wine than water …
The way Aboriginal people lived was a choice, it was an informed choice ... Bennelong is an embodiment of that choice ...
Everyone was trying to make out who these Martians were that had arrived here. That’s why Bungaree he came from around Patonga … came down here … to find out what they were all about … these people who had just arrived. Bennelong would have been doing the same.
He seemingly rejected a lot of the trappings of 'civilised' life. He stripped off and went back to the bush and took up where he left off.
We always look at him as a public figure but he had wives and children and people he’d cared about.
I suppose when you think about it everyone one of us in this room knows a blackfella that has a Bennelong in him. Was he a traitor? Was he an uncle tom? Did he go over to the white fellas to sell his people out?
Phillip created another unfortunate precedent when his protégé Bennelong, became the first true Aboriginal fringe dweller. He existed from 1795 until his death in 1813 as a sad, pathetic figure, comfortable neither with his own people nor with the white settlers.
He appeared a volatile egotist, mainly interested in love and war; a tease, a flirt and very soon a wine-bibber; a trickster and eventually a bit of a turncoat.
it is clear that he could no longer find contentment or full acceptance either among his countrymen or the white men.
Sir, - I was very much interested in Mr. Weirter's account of the aborigine Bennelong, which appeared in last Saturday's "Herald." I am the owner of a portion of the late Mr. Squire's old brewery property at Kissing Point, and in that property there is a black-fellow's grave. A very old resident of Kissing Point told me that the man had worked at the brewery, and had died and was buried there. Seeing that history tells us that Bennelong was buried at Kissing Point in Squire's grounds, and this grave being the only one known on the property, it seems to me that there can be no doubt that the grave is that of Bennelong
On 2 July 1927 the Sydney Morning Herald carried an article by Fred W. Weirter titled ‘Bennelong. The Aborigine’ that formed a brief biography of Bennelong. This reproduced the obituary in full and was slightly less condescending. A response to the article was published six days later from C. C. Watson. This made reference to Bennelong’s grave at Kissing Point and a general location for it.
A significant step in establishing Bennelong as a tragic figure in Australian history was the publication in 1941 of Eleanor Dark’s novel The Timeless Land. Although this took a sympathetic view it portrayed Bennelong as a broken man who failed in his attempt to be like the invaders. This was a widely read and Manning Clark said that his own A History of Australia was inspired by Dark’s novel. In the first volume of his History released in 1962 he agreed with Dark’s view of Bennelong as a tragic figure, saying Bennelong ‘disgusted his civilisers and became an exile from his own people, and rushed headlong to his dissolution as a man without the eye of pity from the former, or affection from the latter’.
The much-respected anthropologist W E H Stanner in his Boyer Lectures of 1968 took the view that Australia’s history needed to recognise the contribution of Aboriginal men and women of outstanding character and personality. Bennelong was expressly excluded from this group. In 1977 Stanner went on to describe Bennelong as a ‘volatile egotist, mainly interested in love and war; a tease, a flirt and very soon a wine-bibber; a trickster and eventually a bit of a turncoat’.
Eleanor Dark’s entry for Bennelong in the Australian Dictionary of Biography is brief. It repeats the notion that Bennelong was received by George III. The entry reiterates the concept of Bennelong being isolated by both communities in the years after his return from England.
In 1984 John Mulvaney agreed with Stanner’s assessment of Bennelong’s legacy and suggested that Pemulwuy was a man who would be ‘most celebrated by his people around 1988’. In 1988, Bruce Elder in Blood on the Wattle followed Stanner’s lead and dismissed Bennelong as, ‘the first true Aboriginal fringe dweller. He existed from 1795 until his death in 1813 as a sad, pathetic figure, comfortable neither with his own people nor with the white settlers.’
In 1993 Marcia Langton in ‘Rum, seduction and death’ examined the way in which Bennelong had been treated by historians in the twentieth century. Langton summarised the existing view of Bennelong thus:
The story of Bennelong was the first reconstruction of an Aboriginal person as a ‘drunken Abo’, and from there the stereotype developed.
In regard to Bennelong’s circumstances and the environment that he was now forced to live in Langton stated that:
These [‘First Fleet’] officers were the first British ethnologists, whatever their purposes and whatever their prejudices. They were also the first of the British to attempt to assimilate Aboriginal people, albeit by means of kidnap, a tactic not so different from the removal of children which followed in the late nineteenth century and flourished continually until the 1970s. They were also the first of the British to create an ‘urban’ Aboriginal population: Baneelon [sic] was the first archetypical ‘urban Aborigine’.
Keith Vincent Smith produced the first comprehensive biography of Bennelong but ended the story at his departure for England, concentrating on Bennelong’s role as a mediator between two cultures. Inga Clendinnen in her 2003 work Dancing with Strangers argues that Bennelong was a complex character whose role as mediator ultimately failed and with it Bennelong’s place in both societies. Although Clendinnen takes a sympathetic view it perpetuates the idea of Bennelong’s isolation from his own people. Thomas Keneally in Commonwealth of Thieves examined Bennelong and expanded on his role as an envoy of his own people but accepted the story of his decline and alienation that had now become an inviolable truth.
Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton in First Australians examined the relationship between Bennelong and his relationship with the senior representatives of the British settlement at Port Jackson. They describe the subtleties of the relationship between Bennelong and Phillip and Bennelong’s skill as a negotiator. Perkins and Langton also examined the Sydney Gazette obituary that had so influenced the prevailing view of Bennelong. They describe the piece as a vicious tract that evokes the theme of an unredeemable savagery and primitivism.
In 2009, following Langton’s and Perkin’s work, Grace Karskens questioned the accepted version of Bennelong’s life and asserted that ‘stories of Bennelong as the “first drunken Aborigine”, helplessly “caught in a void between two cultures” are myths’. Karskens further suggested that it was perhaps necessary to rethink ‘what happened to Aboriginal people in early Sydney’.
Such a rethinking and re-evaluation took place in the same year as the publication of Karskens’ The Colony with the appearance of three major articles in the journal Aboriginal History vol. 33 (2009). Keith Vincent Smith’s ‘Bennelong among his people’ employed documents that had been previously overlooked or unknown in a revision of previously held attitudes. This provided a more complete picture of Bennelong within the context of his own people. Kate Fullagar in ‘Bennelong in Britain’ provided a detailed account of the time spent by Bennelong and Yemmerawanne in Britain. Emma Dortins’ article ‘The many truths of Bennelong’s tragedy’ is a detailed historiography regarding the way in which the ‘accepted truth’ of Bennelong’s life developed.
Since 2009 Bennelong has been the subject of on-going research and interest. In terms of contemporary Indigenous attitudes there are still questions regarding the precise nature of Bennelong the man and his role in the early years of European settlement. The damning attitude to Bennelong expressed by writers following his return from Britain focussed on the choice Bennelong made in rejecting that society. His attempt to maintain some degree of traditional life in the face of a seemingly unstoppable force is regarded as impressive. Also regarded as important, and something overlooked in most histories, is the fact that Bennelong was able to keep a group of survivors – men, women and children – together, as a group. This group survived as an entity for more than twenty years following his death. A further aspect of Bennelong’s association with European society in New South Wales is the concept that as an intermediary he was also in a position to pass information to his countrymen.
Bennelong’s legacy also has a cultural aspect. He appears as a character in at least two novels, Eleanor Dark’s The Timeless Land in 1941 and Eric Willmot’s Pemulwuy in 1987. In 1964 Dr Stuart Scougall commissioned Donald Friend (1915-1989) to paint the Bennelong series. This group of ten panels examines aspects of Bennelong’s career. The collection was bequeathed by Dr Scougall to the Sydney Opera House Trust.
 BENNELONG'S GRAVE. -TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.
Sir, —I was very much interested in Mr. Weirter's account of the aborigine Bennelong, which appeared in last Saturday's "Herald." I am the owner of a portion of the late Mr. Squire's old brewery property at Kissing Point, and in that property there is a black-fellow's grave. A very old resident of Kissing Point told me that the man had worked at the brewery, and had died and was buried there. Seeing that history tells us that Bennelong was buried at Kissing Point in Squire's grounds, and this grave being the only one known on the property, it seems to me that there can be no doubt that the grave is that of Bennelong.
I am, etc.,
C. C. WATSON,
Ryedale-road, West Ryde
July 7. (SMH 8 July 1927)
 Brooks (1998): 427
 Clark 1962: 145
 Stanner (1968): 25–26 and.45
 Stanner (1977): 19–20
 Mulvaney 1985: 14
 Marcia Langton, ‘Rum, seduction and death’ in Race Matters, Gillian Cowlishaw and Barry Morris (eds.), Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1997:77-94 (An earlier version was published in Oceania 63 (3), 1993:195-206)
 Langton (1997): 85
 Langton (1997): 85
 Smith (2001)
 Clendinnen 2003: 266–267 and 272
 Keneally (2005): 446
 Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton, First Australians, The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, Victoria, 2008
 Phillip became fond of Bennelong’s company and trusted him to the extent that he gave him his own short sword, a typical weapon in the personal armoury of a British officer … An unlikely relationship developed between Bennelong and Governor Phillip. (Perkins(2008):16) and
Phillip’s diplomacy was driven by the desperate conditions in the colony. He promised Bennelong and his people that they were free to come and go from the settlement as they pleased, and food, blankets and hatchets would be given in return for an end to their resistance. The ever-canny Bennelong negotiated a brick house for himself. (Perkins(2008):20)
 His obituary in the Sydney Gazette was a vicious tract that failed to mention his services to the colony. (Perkins(2008):29) and His [Bennelong’s] obituary in 1813 in the Sydney Gazette evokes the theme of an unredeemable savagery and primitivism. (Perkins(2008):91)
 Karskens (2009)
 Aboriginal History 33 (2009)
|Dawes – language notebooks|
|Aboriginal History Vol 33||
Keith Vincent Smith - Bennelong among his people
|Aboriginal History Vol 33||
Kate Fullagar - Bennelong in Britain
|Aboriginal History Vol 33||
Emma Dortins - The many truths of Bennelong’s tragedy
|Aboriginal History Vol 33|
|Aboriginal History Vol 33||
Kate Fullagar - Woollarawarre Bennelong: rethinking the tragic narrative
Sydney's Aboriginal past: investigating the archaeological and historical records, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2002.
‘Aboriginal placenames around Port Jackson and Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia Sources and uncertainties’ in Aboriginal Placenames. Naming and Re-naming the Australian Landscape Aboriginal History Monograph 19 Edited by Harold Koch and Luise Hercus ANU E Press 2009
|Dictionary of Sydney||
Contains biographical entries for many of the people mentioned in text
|Powell, Michael and Hesline, Rex||
‘Making tribes? Constructing aboriginal tribal entities in Sydney and coastal NSW from the early colonial period to the present.’ Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society