Eora Fishing Project and young women

Core content of the Project: Science, Food Technology, Aboriginal Studies, Geography

Traditionally, in coastal NSW, women contributed 50–80% of a community’s food supply.

Women collected fungi, plants (fruit, nuts, seeds, tubers), reptiles and frogsm, and all kinds of seafood, including fish, eels, worms, molluscs and
crustaceans. Men hunted for large game (kangaroo and emu), bandicoots, small mammals and birds (ducks, geese and swans).

In the Sydney region, women were primary fish-getters and men also gathered vegetables.

Teaching and learning strategies of the project

1. Young women keep a running diary of what they learn. They reflect on the meaning and context of information.

2. Young women learn about local plants and animals from Aboriginal perspectives.

  • Researching animals, insects, reptiles, birds, fish and shellfish
  • Learning about the Sydney coastal region in the context of habitats, food webs and traditional food supply
  • Reporting on species in the context of totems and dreaming stories

3. Young women learn about the Eora calendar.

  • Identifying the traditional timing of daily and seasonal activities
  • Considering the reasons for the timing of activities

4. Young women learn about traditional technologies. They gain insights into collective labour by attempting to:

  • identify traditional roles and skills
  • collect natural (traditional) materials
  • weave string, fishing line and dilly bags from barks
  • carve fishing hooks from shells.


Getting started

Reflective journals

These allowed the young women to keep a running log of each new concept or activity: what they had learned, why they had learned it, what they thought about it.

The journals also allowed students to file significant information handouts and private research.

Information handout:

  1. Map of Eora country
  2. Eora calendar outlining seasons and key food cycles
  3. An overview of an Eora day by time and tasks. This included the D’harawal names for different times of day and divisions of labour by gender.
  4. Lists of significant D’harawal words
  5. Pictures of the hooks and weavings we planned to make

D’harawal calendar


Gamaruwamumu: An Eora day

Gugara’djanaba (pre dawn) Kookaburra calls. Women gather the morning dew and the leaves of medicine plants. Men collect sedative plants to throw in the kangaroos’ water holes.
Bayabula (sunrise) Morningsong. Men gather remnants of cooked foods, put out the night fires and bury the embers under the ash. Berries and fruit are gathered for breakfast. If the gili’boolga comes, there will be a sunset celebration.
Widaburra (early morning) Kangaroos come to drink. If there are sedatives in the water the animals will be listless and easy to catch. The men butcher the meats. Women set out with dillybags to gather tubers and bulbs.
Waranwarin (mid-morning) Learning time. Boys over 12 years go with the men. Children sit under trees with aunts and grandmothers and hear stories and law.
Bawuwan darrbi (midday) Move camp. Short shadows make snake and spider holes easy to see. Collect water.
Nalawala’dulban (early afternoon) Women sit in the shade and weave string and baskets, treat pelts or make mats for shelters. Children learn songs. Men sharpen spears, plan ceremonies.
Managambi (late afternoon) Gathering firewood. Small male animals culled from inside logs for evening meals. As the day cools, the fire is lit.
Barragula (sunset) Kookaburra laughs. Food is cooking, stories told to children. Sometimes dancing or art work illustrates a story.
Nguwing’kapo (silence of night) At starlight, the men move away from camp and children are covered with pelts and mats. Women talk together as the fire burns down.

A small learning community

The young women learned to recite a poem that outlined the tasks of the project and stressed the importance of careful listening.

They chose a clan name for the whole learning group and formed small buddy groups of three. This aspect of the project assisted the young women to develop identity by belonging. Small groups chose focus areas with a view to developing expertise.

Gathering materials: trial and error

As a class group, we investigated different types of fibres with similar qualities to traditional strings, including hemp and cotton. We also stripped some native grasses and dried them.

We had weaving patterns and sample products and we researched a variety of nets and baskets from books and the internet. We practised some twining and different weaving techniques and compared them with traditional products.

Teachers contributed a variety of shells for carving, including turban shells, and also gathered oyster shells from the rocks along the Cooks River. (These were live oysters but inedible due to high levels of industrial pollution in the river.)

Using rocks as files to shape the shells, two aspects of fish hook making became apparent:

  1. the effort and time involved in shell carving
  2. the OH&S risks associated with the talc-like shell dust.

Making things: trial and error

There were some attempts to reproduce traditional items and tools using contemporary techniques.

Electric grinders allowed for some headway in shaping down larger and harder shell material but some shells were easily smashed. Metal files were more effective but shell dust was problematic even with masks.

Oyster shell samples
Oyster shell samples

Authentic learning

We were granted a ‘scavenger licence’ from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to gather bark fibre, resin, shells and spear shafts in the Royal National Park.

Aboriginal experts joined us to provide students with some basic orientation, rules and cultural context. They provided us with expert tuition in string and rope production.

The Eora Classroom
The Eora Classroom
Kurrajong branches
Kurrajong branches
Stripping Kurrajong Bark (black man's hemp)
Stripping Kurrajong bark (black man’s hemp)
Stripping Kurrajong Bark (black man's hemp)
Stripping Kurrajong bark (black man’s hemp)
Making Twine
Making twine
Making Twine
Making twine
Making Twine
Making twine
Making Twine
Making twine
Making Twine
Making twine
Finding bait
Finding bait
Finding bait
Finding bait
Finding bait
Finding bait
Finding bait
Finding bait

Back at school…

Goring Bardo
“Year 7 went to the National Park. When we arrived, Uncle Rod greeted us. He taught us how to make a fine string. We had to strip the kurrajong barks for the string and then file them on sandstone. To make it more fine, we dampened them in the water. When we finished, we decided to soak our feet in the water.
After, we went looking for crabs. Everyone was working together to catch them. Some of us got cuts in the process.
Then, a couple of us went to a sandy beach to look for shells. There were tons of oyster shells and some of them had oysters in them.”
– Lola W. Imawan

Goring Bardo Report
On Thursday, we went to the Royal National Park to learn how to make fishing line and collect oyster shells for our hooks:
1. Kurrajong was needed for bark
2. We stripped it more to make it thin
3. We softened the bark so it was easy to weave
4. We looped it then started weaving
5. We added more bark to make it longer.
We collected crabs and relaxed. We also got lots of scratches and cuts from rocks and shells.
– Nadine Mourad

Syllabus outcomes

Aboriginal Studies: students develop awareness of key aspects of Aboriginal autonomy and the impact of colonisation on culture and economy; students identify roles determined by knowledge and gender.

English: students identify and describe cultural expression in the context of myth, allegory and totem and compose text to reflect relationships, empathies and perspectives.

Technical Arts: students identify a range of technologies and use a range of hand tools in different technological environments, recognise the use of appropriate materials for specific applications; apply relevant OH&S procedures.

Geography: students learn about the natural world and describe how various beliefs and practices influence the ways people interact with, change and value their environment.


The core content of the Eora Fishing Project involved sophisticated knowledge that could not be sourced solely from text.

Trial and error learning is a valuable basis for understanding the types of skills involved in producing traditional tools. However, an authentic cultural curriculum cannot be based on guesswork.

It was important to access local expertise in both planning and teaching these traditional skills and to involve Aboriginal experts at planning level.

Story contributed by Kath Greenwood from Alexandria Park Community School. Published in 2016.