The Awabakal people are the traditional owners of the land from Wollombi in the west, Lake Macquarie to the south and Newcastle and Maitland to the north.
In the Awabakal language, awaba was the word for Lake Macquarie, meaning flat or plain surface, and by extension referred to the people native to that area. The Awabakal were bounded to the north–west by the Wonnarua, the Worimi to the north–east, and the Darkinjung peoples to the west and south. The Awabakal territory covers about 1,800 square kilometres.
The eaglehawk or wedge-tailed eagle has special significance for the Awabakal people. Kon, their “celestial entity”, looks like an Aboriginal man, but in flight resembles an eagle-hawk.
The Awabakal people played a significant part in shaping the environment of their region. They practised fire-stick farming extensively, which helped them to hunt and to navigate through dense prickly scrub along the coast. Newcastle’s main city thoroughfare, Watt Street, was built over an Awabakal path from the shore to the top of a hill. Fishing, particularly for shellfish, was a significant part of the Awabakal people’s diet and culture pre-colonisation.
The Awabakal, in pre-colonisation times, were noted as being strong and determined defenders of their territory, the means by which the defence occurred need to be explored to deepen understanding of the culture. They had possession of their rich coastal territory for thousands of years, during which time they successfully repelled incursions by the neighbouring Gamilaraay people and established places of defence, “virtual armouries”, high in the Watagan Mountains.
Aboriginal connectedness to places and communities is linked through their dreaming stories. Biraban, the eagle hawk, is held in highest regard by the coastal tribes. Homage to the eagle hawk is conveyed in their stories and linked to their tribal social structures. Koin is another revered local sky-hero who announces the coming of Kooris from distant tribes for rites or corroborees.
Natural landscape features and known sacred sites include Whibayganba, Newcastle’s famous landmark Nobbys. It is said that a notorious kangaroo jumped from Tahlbihn Point, at the site now known as Fort Scratchley, to the safety of Whibayganba. The kangaroo remains hidden in the island’s bowels occasionally thumping its tail and making the land tremble. The thumping is said to be a reference to the region’s earthquake activity.
There is also a high cliff named Yi-ran-na-li, renowned for being a fearful place. Yi-ran-na-li must be respected by all, and no one should linger or speak in its vicinity because of the danger of falling rocks.