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Wollongong City Council

Aboriginal Culture and Heritage

The area we know today as Wollongong was originally inhabited by the Dharawal people (also spelled Tarawal or Thuruwal), who remain the Traditional Custodians of this land.

The name Wollongong is said to originate from the Aboriginal word woolyungah, meaning five islands.

Wollongong has a proud Aboriginal community that encourages everyone to learn about and celebrate local cultural traditions.

The Dharawal people lived on the coastal areas of Sydney between Broken Bay/Pittwater, Berowra Waters, south west to Parramatta and Liverpool and extending from there (and along the south-east coastline), into the Illawarra and Shoalhaven districts. The traditional language of this tribe was also known as Dharawal and this was spoken from Sydney in the north to as far south as Bega.

Another tribe, the Wodi Wodi, are a sub-group of the Dharawal. The Wodi Wodi people occupied the southern part of the Dharawal area with several camp sites around Lake Illawarra including Berkeley and Hooka Creek. Aboriginal people moved freely throughout the region and shared resources with their near neighbours without fear of trespassing.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of the Illawarra region is made up of many diverse cultural and political groups and organisations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also identify themselves according to their cultural and national identities.

The Illawarra region has many different nation groups - Traditional Custodians.

  • Korewal Elouera Jerrungarugh Tribal Elders (KEJ)
  • Wadi Wadi Coomaditchie Aboriginal Corporation
  • Wodi Wodi Elders Corporation
  • Wodi Wodi Traditional Custodian Corporation.

Other nation groups residing within the Illawarra region include, but are not limited to, the Yuin, Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi, Bundjalung, Dunghutti and Gumbayggir Nations.

Cultural identities are extremely important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They represent different heritages, languages, cultural practices, spiritual beliefs and geographic areas.

While the Illawarra is made up of three local government areas, Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama, it is important to acknowledge and respect that for Aboriginal people these boundaries do not reflect the cultural boundaries of the local Aboriginal community.

Council has a dedicated Community Development Worker - Aboriginal Services, as well as an Aboriginal Reference Group that gives advice to Council about issues that affect our local communities.

There are also multiple groups and organisations in Wollongong that provide information and support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in our area.

For more information, see our Aboriginal Communities page.

Explore Aboriginal Culture

Wollongong Art Gallery's collection includes hundreds of works by Aboriginal artists from the local area, and across Australia.

The Gallery's temporary exhibition program also often features work by contemporary Aboriginal artists.

To find out more, visit the Gallery's website.

Our Botanic Garden has a Towri Bushtucker Garden and education centre.  These are dedicated spaces for people to learn about the use of plants for food, medicine and shelter in Aboriginal culture.

Public Art

Our city's public art collection features many murals, sculptures and mosaic works by talented Aboriginal artists.

Visit our Public Art page to explore this collection.

Coomaditchie Co-operative

Artists from the Coomaditchie Co-operative, based in Warrawong, are some of the premier Aboriginal artists in the Illawarra region. Their art captures the spirit, colours and stories of their cultural heritage as coastal people.

Visit the Coomaditchie website to find out more.

Sandon Point Aboriginal Place is a significant heritage and cultural site, and home to the Sandon Point Tent Embassy. Council works with local Aboriginal communities to make sure this place continues to be valued and protected.

We have a Sandon Point and McCauleys Beach Plan of Management PDF, 3453.5 KB which covers the Sandon Point Aboriginal Place.

Council has a funding program to support not-for-profit groups organising events for NAIDOC Week. See our NAIDOC Week Grants page for details.