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What the Colonists Never Knew: A History of Aboriginal Sydney

National Museum Australia

What the Colonists Never Knew: A History of Aboriginal Sydney


What the Colonists Never Knew paints a vivid picture of what it was like to grow up Aboriginal in Sydney, alongside the colonists, from 1788 to the present.

Peter Read’s exploration of the history of Aboriginal Sydney is interwoven with Dennis Foley’s memories of his own Gaimariagal country, taking readers on a journey through the region’s past. This book offers an honest account of the disappointment, pain and terror experienced by Sydney’s First Peoples, and celebrates the survival of their spirit
and their culture.

'This is a mesmerising read. It flows from rich anecdotal remembrance loaded with song and lore to incisive commentary about legislation and then slips seamlessly into detailed evocation of pre-colonial life. I have always loved Foley’s ability to bring a story to life and Read’s measured but uncompromising analysis... I love this bloody book.' - Bruce Pascoe author of Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture

'There has never been a book like this before. Dazzling, revelatory, unheralded.' -  Melissa Lukashenko author of Mullumbimby and Too Much Lip

'Come into this book to find a Sydney that many of us have never seen. This is a Sydney which to this day belongs to a network of vivid, tenacious, funny and courageous Aboriginal people. Dennis and Peter are both master storytellers and they bring to us the rich and moving stories of people who lived on and travelled around the paths and waterways of the city, to keep close to the people and country they cared about.' - Heather Goodall author of Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770–1972 and Rivers
and Resilience: Aboriginal People on Sydney’s Georges River with Allison Cadzow

About the Authors

Dennis Foley is an Indigenous Australian scholar working in the Faculty of Business, Government and Law at the University of Canberra. He is well-known in the growing discipline of Indigenous entrepreneurship. His writings focus on social inclusion and cross disciplines, such as Indigenous Literature, Indigenous History, and Indigenous Epistemology and Pedagogy. Dennis is a Fulbright Scholar, a dual Endeavour Fellow and a published poet. His matrilineal links are with the Gai-mariagal people of north-eastern Sydney, and his patrilineal connections are with the Wiradjuri of the Turon River region in western New South Wales. He is active in the Indigenous community and Indigenous business associations, and has been appointed to several state and federal advisory committees.

Peter Read AM is a distinguished historian who has worked at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney. For most of his career, his research has focused on Aboriginal history, with occasional forays into place studies and Latin American studies. This book is the culmination of research into Aboriginal Sydney that began with a grant from the Australian Research Council in 2009. Peter co-founded Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation in 1980 and is currently a director of that organisation.

Dennis Foley & Peter Read
Published August 2020
240 pages 
240mm x 170mm 
ISBN 9781921953392

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