In 1788 the British settlers arrived and made their camp at Circular Quay just a few minutes walk from Kings Cross. Even then Kings Cross was already one of the most densely populated areas in the country. It was the main camp of the Cadigal, although history would know them as the Eora.
Of course the British were more interested in their own survival than the Aboriginals who already lived there and their interaction was full of misunderstandings, including the name of the people. When Captain Philip asked them who they were, they replied that they were Eora, and so he recorded that as the tribal name. In fact Eora merely means "we are from this place", hence the confusion by the British.
They ranged along the southern side of Sydney Harbor from South Head to around Petersham, perhaps a little further west, and south to Botany Bay. It was one of the smallest tribal areas in the whole country, but because of the richness of resources was comparatively densely populated. Captain Phillip estimated there were 1,500 of them, although modern archeaology has produced estimates from as few as 200 to as many as 4,000. They were a sub-clan of the Dharug people who ranged all along the coast and as far inland as the Blue Mountains.
Many words that are used today, and believed by the public to be used by all Aboriginals, were the names of things given by the Cadigal and not necessarily used anywhere else. Thus wallaby, wombat, dingo, woomera, and many more words originated with this small tribe. The Eora were almost wiped out by disease in the early nineteeth century, but they live on in their vocabulary.
It is not known exactly what mistake the British made when they thought the Cadigal called the larger hopping animal a Kangaroo. That word has proven to be untraceable. The Cadigal actually called the animal a "Walla Mulla" and that is the origin of the name Woolloomooloo. What someone was really saying when it was recorded as "Kangaroo" remains a mystery.
They had many camps throughout their territory, but it seems the one at Kings Cross was the central one due to the natural resouces of the area. It was a high point of land close to the harbor from which danger and weather could easily be observed. It was quite likely to be the place from which they first watched the English ships enter the harbor. Today it is the part of the street shown in the photo. Although it now looks bleak, it is protected by the shape of the top of the hill from the cold south-easterly winds and rain and was a good place to camp.
To the east was Rushcutters Bay with its fresh water and swampy rushes that provided basket making material for the women to gather, and the numerous birds and frogs and snakes for the men to hunt. Potts Point was forested with wallaby in abundance, and at Garden Island the currents that once flowed between the land and island would have been perfect for fishing at the turn of the tides. To the west of Kings Cross is Woolloomooloo. At that time it was a place with fresh water and extensive mud flats, perfect for finding crustaceans at low tide and fishing at high tide. That was what would have been seen from this birds-eye view not all that long ago instead of these buildings.
The ridge that is now Sydney CBD was open forest full of wallaby and the possums that have adapted well to modern conditions and are still abundant in Hyde Park. Hyde Park was a swamp that was the source of the Tank Stream as well as the stream that flowed into Woolloomooloo Bay. Swamps are always a rich souce of food for native peoples since animals are attracted to the water. The photo of Hyde Park (incuding the Captain Cook monument) is an illusion in many ways because just 200 years ago this was a swamp at this very location.
The stream that flowed from it is long gone, but the ugly alley now called Stream Street actually follows the meandering curves of the original creek. I always see the industrial looking brick walls as a reminder of the wall of trees that would once have stood here.
With the variety of resources within a short walk, and the fishing in the harbor, this area must have seemed like a natural paradise to the Cadigal people.