A Matriarch Entrepreneur in a Mercantile Economy
Carawoolgal or Cora Gooseberry was an Indigenous Sydney coastal woman, the daughter of Moorooboora, leader of the Murrooredial (Pathway Place) clan, named from muru (pathway) and boora (Long Bay), south of Port Jackson. Her Aboriginal name was recorded as Kaaroo, Carra, Caroo, Car-roo or Ba-ran-gan. She married Bungaree, who worked as a guide and boatman for Matthew Flinders voyage to the Queensland coast in the ship Norfolk. In 1815 Cora was seen demonstrating spear throwing to a lieutenant in Barrack Square and in 1822 she and Bungaree guided Robert Scott and his party over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst. They were well known within and around colonial Sydney and Governor Macquarie titled them ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ of Botany Bay and the Broken Bay Tribe.
Cora Gooseberry was a Sydney ‘identity’ during the 1830s and 1840s, she was often seen with her government-issued blanket, her headscarf and a clay pipe. Cora moved between colonial settlements and small Indigenous groupings around Sydney Harbour and Broken Bay. Through Cora’s resilience, she adapted her cultural skills and over her lifetime made a living providing people with fishing and cultural tours. Indigenous peoples were indentured labourers and servers until the 1970s and economic reparations have only recently been parceled out by the Australian government. Emancipated convicts and the influx of white free settlers faced indentured labour and servitude, however, as the colony began to operate as a global influence and independent state, white settlers were given parcels of land and economic opportunity. These liberties were not afforded to Indigenous peoples and other non-white immigrants such as Islander, Chinese and Indian people, who were forced to work in harsh conditions for rations and minimal wages.
Cora was meeting these challenging systems with resilience and determination, and like many other Indigenous peoples, found ways to hold agency, have economic independence and be sovereign peoples within a colonised land and economy. As was common among Indigenous workers of the time, Cora was paid with rum, tobacco, flour and in some instances, coins. Restrictions on fair wages and economic freedom maintained the colonies control over the sovereign Indigenous peoples of the pastoral lands that bolstered the Australian economy. The New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land Constitution Act of 1842 gave the government legislated control of Indigenous peoples lives and their means to access the colonies ‘free market’ and earn livable and fair wages, alongside the white settlers and emancipated convicts, this was a common tool of imperialism across the globe.
In 1846, Cora moved into the Domain, above Woolloomooloo Bay and was often at Edward Borton’s, Cricketers Arms Hotel on the corner of Market and Pitt Streets. In cold weather she slept in the kitchen of his residence at the Sydney Arms hotel on Castlereagh St. Edward, an ex-convict and a ‘friend to the blacks’, developed a strong bond with Cora. The average annual income of an ‘unskilled’ white labourer was approximately £1125 pounds and annual lodgings were approximately £495. Cora, unfortunately, did not have access to earn these same wages, and as a result relied on government rations and the welfare from settlers in the community such as Edward Borton.
In Winter 1850, as a member of the ‘Sydney tribe’ she collected her government-issued blanket along with her cousin 'Billy Warrall' and her step-son Bowen Bungaree. She died on 30 July 1852 aged about 75, in the kitchen of Sydney Arms Hotel. Borton paid for her burial and headstone in the Devonshire Street Cemetery. In 1900, the headstone and grave were removed to Botany to make way for Central Station. These policies and systems of oppression denied Cora access to a quality of life her white counterparts were afforded.
The Ongoing Impacts of Indentured Labour
These same exclusive systems and economic structures have been built upon over time, and as a result, over 15,000 Australians work in ‘slave-like’ conditions in 21st Century Australia. Indentured labour and slave-like working conditions have historically disproportionately affected Indigenous peoples, however, the rapid expansion of global trade, consumerism and COVID-19 have caused indentured labor to rear it’s head into the contemporary Australian context, with everyday Australians experiencing slave-like conditions in some of Australia’s major major industries such as clothing, PPE and food manufacturing.
Breastplates and the imposition of British Economy, Patriarch and Monarch on Matriarchal Indigenous Sydney
The British sailed into an established society of Culture, Lore, domestic and international open trade, resource-sharing and community-building, that had operated for thousands of years. The process of colonisation brought the ad hoc imposition of Britain's political, economic, patriarchal and monarchical structures and systems. This caused the tangible and intangible dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land, resources, culture and socio-political and economic structures. Decades following invasion, during Governor Macquarie’s era, in an effort to conciliate with Indigenous peoples, the British imposed breastplates and royal titles of ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’. The breastplates were given to Indigenous peoples who were deemed valuable to the colonial expansion of Australia. These breastplates were worn with high honour by some Indigenous people and could be worn in conjunction with colonial garb. Bungaree, also known as ‘King of the Broken Bay Tribe’ was often seen wearing his breastplate and one of his many colonial jackets. Some Indigenous peoples sold fish and traded goods to purchase colonial clothing, however breastplates were ‘bestowed’ and could not be bought, so they became an honour to some peoples and a shame and embarrassment to others. It is known, and still practiced today, that working within the structures and cultural norms of the oppressor, is a way for Indigenous peoples to hold sovereignty and agency within an imposed system that concurrently incites violence and oppression, despite, Indigenous socio-political, economic and cultural structures being established and practiced tens of thousands of years prior to the conception of the colonising state, The Kingdom of Great Britain.
The breastplates were a tangible and physically worn object that represented the forced structural change that would be metaphorically worn by generations to follow.
Among the over 3000 Indigenous clans that make up Australia, the Indigenous political, cultural and economic knowledge systems are mostly operated under a matriarchal structure that is ethical, autonomous and in symbiosis with nature, people and animals.
Indigenous Sydney is a matriarchal society that, prior to colonisation, was a thriving fishing community that was a thread of a broader woven Indigenous Australia fabric. Culture, Lore (law), trade, agriculture, aquaculture and economy were managed symbiotically by the men and women within the community, however, cultural teachings, community leaders and decision makers were mostly women.
Cora Gooseberry, born a year prior to British colonisation, was birthed into a matriarchal system that had been mostly undisturbed and upheld for at least 18,000 years in and around Warrane (Sydney Harbour). Cora Gooseberry’s defining years of her life and death would be under a patriarchal system which was in its infancy of implementing economist Adam Smith’s philosophy of the ‘free market’. Eighteenth Century Britain forged a system of mercantilism which relied on maximising foreign exports and minimising imports. This was a pivotal driving force in Britain's global colonial project and Australia has upheld and built upon these economic structures over the centuries, the reliance on exporting negatively impacts the Australian economy when global trade shuts down due to global events such as war and pandemics.
Nearly 150 years prior to the British arrival, Indigenous Australians were involved in the Indigenous Indonesian resistance to colonial trade and ‘free market’ systems imposed by the Dutch and reinforced by the British. Varying Indonesian groups were trading with Indigenous communities in the Northern parts of Australia as a means to maintain their economic freedoms under colonial rule. A recent archaeological discovery found in Western Australia unearthed a Dutch coin in a known Asian fishing camp in The Kimberly. This new research is leading to western academic discoveries of moneterey economic trade between Indigenous Australians and Asian communities independent of Britain.
The East India Trading Company and The Royal African Company (which operated the Atlantic Slave Trade), were among some of Britain's most successful trading companies that maintained their foothold on global economic rankings. Tariffs and foreign taxes on exports created intense economic stress on Britain, which in turn relied heavily on Indigenous resources and labour within their colonies to maintain power. This economic pressure was a factor in the 1840's depression in the colony and allowed for the materialisation of the ‘free market’ and private industrial trade. By the 1850's Australia began exporting whale oil, wool and 40% of the world's gold. Following on from this, Australia became Britain's most valuable export partner, with Australia providing 80% of Britain's exports by the 1880’s. Australia was trading under six separate colonies prior to federation and the burden of trade tariffs and taxes was a driving factor in Australia’s push for federation in 1901.
“This period of Australian First Nations history coincided with the largest economic expansion in human history, the opportunity cost incurred by First Nations Australians as a result of colonisation is immeasurable.”
Cora Gooseberry was reported to have given a cultural art and fishing tour to the police commissioner in July 1845, in exchange for tobacco, flour and rum. Cora said ‘all that I heard, my father say’, implying the cultural knowledge had been passed down to her by her father, upholding and actively practising Indigneous modes of oral history and cultural sharing. This was not the first time Cora had conducted tours, Cora had operated walking tours to the Blue Mountains, fishing and rock engraving cultural tours and spear throwing demonstrations around Sydney Harbour and North Head as early as 1815.
Cora was living in a time of global colonial and economic expansion, where structures of enlightenism and ‘free trade’ were being formed. These systems, schools of thought and institutions continue to disadvantaged Indigenous peoples today, just as they did Cora Gooseberry. These economic and political systems are still in opposition with the Indigenous Culture, Lore (law), and Economy.
Indigenous Australians “continue to be second class citizens in their own country, destined to manage a portfolio of rights and assets that are the subject of deliberate development constraints, working only in the mainstream economy in mainly mainstream jobs for which in most circumstance they are not the ultimate or main beneficiary.”.
Through Cora’s recorded life we can see that Indigenous peoples have simultaneously resisted and adapted to violently imposed societal, political and economic structures by enacting self-determination and entrepreneurship within a system that does not account for the economic liberty and freedoms of Indigenous peoples within the colonies of Britain.
Written by Aiesha Saunders
Bibliography and further reading
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- 'Did legalised slavery exist in Australia?', ABC Radio National, 10/7/2014
- First Nations Economic Development Symposium Paper 2022 pg.6
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