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Everyone is always asking me about my online name. By ‘everyone’ I mean four people and by ‘always’ I mean four times in the last eight years. But hey, you’re all curious about it, right?

The first thing to say is that the ‘-gal’ suffix does not mean I’m a woman nor that I aspire to be one. Somewhat the contrary in fact.

‘Cabrogal’ is the name of the band of Australian Aborigines from which I descend. My great-great grandmother, married name Lucy Leane, was the last of the Cabrogal people living on traditional land in what’s now the Liverpool and Georges River region of western Sydney.

Cabrogal tribe - 1843

This is the Cabrogal band around fifty years after first contact. The dude third from the right in the back row looks a bit like I did when I was a teenager. Depending on what’s in his pipe he may have been a lot like I was as a teenager.

‘Cabrogal’ is a Dharug word derived from ‘cabro’ or ‘cohbra’ – an aquatic woodworm considered a delicacy that abounded in the rivers of their land  – and ‘gal’, a suffix meaning ‘men’. The suffix for women is ‘galyon’. Yeah, I know it’s a bit sexist, but we don’t call the people from Germany ‘Gerpersons’ do we?

As a Sydney basin tribe their initial contact with the European invaders was devastating, first when they were ravaged by the smallpox epidemic that came in the wake of white settlement then when many of the surviving warriors joined Pemulwuy’s resistance and paid with their lives. By the 1830s the remaining Cabrogal had been largely assimilated culturally and their traditional way of life was gone forever. It was only in the 1920s with the advent of racist policies such as those that led to the Stolen Generations that they were ‘unassimilated’ again, causing my family members to scatter and adopt non-Aboriginal fake identities, pretending to be Southern Europeans, Maoris, Native Americans – anything except indigenous Australians.

William and Lucy Leane

William and Lucy Leane, circa 1870.

But in 1865, before all that had happened, Lucy had married the wealthy and influential white landowner (or land-stealer) William Leane, raising thirteen children and thereby continuing the ancient bloodline that now flows in my veins. Apparently she and William met when he saw her foraging in the water of the Liverpool river. Thinking she was drowning (or pretending to) he dived from his boat and ‘rescued’ her. He must have liked what he had a hold of because they were to stay together until her death over thirty years later. Her life as a mother, trader and proud Aborigine was documented in several official records and forms the basis of a chapter in the history textbook, Rivers and Resilience by Heather Goodall and Allison Cadzow.

Despite recent attempts to revive the Dharug language I think it fair to say the traditional language, lifestyles and beliefs of the Cabrogal people are almost entirely and irretrievably lost. Our people are dispersed – most not even knowing of their black heritage – and our Land is under the carparks and shopping malls of Sydney. Even if it is still possible to find cohbra in Sydney’s waterways there is probably no-one living there who would dream of eating it and given the level of pollution it would probably not be safe to do so.

But I am proud to be able to call myself Cabrogal and to have roots in this land that stretch back tens of thousands of years. And I’m proud to be a descendant of a woman like Lucy Leane, no matter what colour she may have been.


From → history

  1. Thank you for this post! It’s great to hear your connection with that land, and water, and people.


  2. This totally reminded me of the History lessons, that I have abandoned since 10th grade maybe? 😛
    You sounded like a royal descendant though. 😀


    • I don’t know if Lucy was royal but she sure was noble. So I guess that entitles me to put on airs and graces.

      Pretty sneaky moving to a new blog like that, ‘Velane’. I thought you’d gone off blogging.

      Tell you what though. If you are really in awe of TEDx you desperately need to sign up for my cynicism classes.


      • Yes, yes. You should try roaming the streets dressed up in vintage attire. 😉

        Teenage hormones and fluctuations. Enough said. 😀

        Haha, I’d love to, given my current state of mind. 😛 Oh, people are going to hate me so much once I graduate your classes in honors. ^_^


        • When I was your age I roamed the street in ripped denim, chains and bloodspattered t-shirts with a safety pin through my ear. I can’t blame my hormones though. I was just a wanker. My fashion sense has changed but not much else.

          Heck of a ride you’re on VDB. Hold on tight – especially during the bits where you have to close your eyes.


        • Sounds gruesome. Chains are awesome, mind you. How about the hairstyle though? ^_^
          I can’t roam around anywhere except my hone, so I choose to wear the loosest of the clothes I can find, with a notorious self cut hairstyle. Not satisfying but it makes people tell me to go clean up, so I think it does the job. 😛
          You should start a fashion blog. I’d follow that. 😀

          Woah, there are that kind of bits too? :/


  3. How about the hairstyle though? ^_^

    Depends on how I slept the previous night.
    Mostly it looked a lot like the dude in the picture above.

    When I was nineteen and particularly stoned I let a friend of mine cut my hair without a mirror so I couldn’t see what she was doing. I didn’t mind the mohawk so much but she also cut a swastika into the side that promptly got sunburned pink and was visible for 100 metres. I spent the next month avoiding an elderly friend of mine – a pharmacist who was also a Holocaust survivor – until it had grown back enough to cut the swastika out. I have always hated Nazis.

    Since then the only time I have cut my hair was when I let it go to dreadlocks while I was in India then decided I didn’t want them and had to cut them out. It’s now been growing for nearly thirty years and comes almost to my waist (I’m 187 cm so that’s pretty long). No thinning but I’ve got grey streaks coming from my temples these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judy Joyce permalink

      what is your link to Lucy & William as I am doing the Family tree and I do not know if I know you or not. I was the one who gave a lot of the information to the book Rivers and resilience about Lucy and I know that the photo you have on this site of William is not with Lucy it is a photo of Him & his Second wife. I do have a photo of Lucy and also many photos of the family


      • Hi Judy, it’s Michael. Eric and Jess’s first grandchild.

        You’ve told me before that you think the photo is of William’s second wife but for that to be true William would have to have been in his sixties when the photo was taken. It sure doesn’t look that way. Also if you carefully check your copy you will see from the horizontal banding it’s probably wet colloidal (maybe a tintype) – a photographic technology that would not have been used by professional photographers in the 1890s, having been replaced by the cheaper, easier to use and better quality gelatin dry-plate method.

        I’m also familiar with the other photo you refer to and the attributions for that can’t be true either. If the woman is Lucy the child is too young to be her daughter.

        When Pop first got the photo out – shortly after his sister Lucy died – he told me it was of his grandparents William and Lucy, so that’s what I’m going with.

        Over my life up until the 1980s Pop was always very reticent to discuss the family background at all but other family members variously explained our complexion as being due to Spanish, Greek, Native American and Maori ancestry. Never Aboriginal. After Great Aunt Lucy died he became very insistent that he was Aboriginal, that Lucy was his grandmother and that was a photo of her. He also said that after Lucy died William had remarried another Aboriginal woman from Taree (Purfleet?) but never said it was her in the photo.

        Since then I’ve also been told several other contradictory things by other family members, including that William’s second wife wasn’t Aboriginal but Indian.

        I think it’s pretty safe to say that our family history has been thoroughly scrambled up over the past century – probably with good reason – and it’s not safe to accept unsupported family anecdotes as the truth. However I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the man in the picture is anyone other than William and unless he was a remarkably well preserved middle-aged man who was fond of superseded technology the photo must have been taken while Lucy was still alive. Given the nature of the portrait it’s hard to imagine him being photographed in that way with someone other than his wife so I think the safest assumption to make on the evidence is that the woman is Lucy.


  4. Rexie permalink

    Cabrogal, you look a bit like Lucy Leane so I take it as a proof you are a descendant 😉 Btw, you are very lucky to have four people as your ‘everyone’. Hell, your world is too crowded! 😀


  5. Shannon permalink

    Happened upon this site doing some research into my family history … I have just this week learnt that my maternal grandmother’s own grandmother was Mary Passanisi (nee Leane), one of Lucy’s daughters! What a surprise indeed!!


  6. Elizabeth permalink

    Hi Cabrogal, I too am a descendant of William and Lucy. Where did you get the photo?


    • It’s been in the family for over a century, though for obvious reasons it was kept well hidden for much of that time.


      • Judy Joyce permalink

        I am also a dependent of Lucy and that photo is not her it is of Williams second wife I Have a photo of Lucy

        Liked by 1 person

        • Shannon permalink

          I’d like to see what photos you have of Lucy please Joyce.


    • Anonymous permalink

      That is not a photo of Lucy that was Williams Second wife I have the real photo of Lucy


  7. You told me the meaning of your name before. But this here with so much history, Oh I can’t read it. Please make it simple , It means Australian Community. That’s it 😛


  8. Wow! I love this so much, from top (funny) to bottom (sad)…..and the middle (very interesting).
    Thanks so much for sharing about your online name Cabrogal!


  9. Super interesting to know the origin of your name and have a short bio thrown in to boot! 🙂 I’ll be back for more.


  10. Brian permalink

    What connection did the Bull Family have with the Cabrogal people?


    • I’m afraid I can’t help you there Brian. I know very little of Cabrogal genealogy outside of my own family tree and the Bull Family isn’t one of its branches.

      However Google tells me that a politician named Nathanial Bull was one of the first big European landowners on what had been Cabrogal lands so it seems quite possible that, like William Leane, some of his family members married Cabrogal women (It’s much less likely they would have married Cabrogal men).


      • Brian permalink

        Thanks anyway I’ve just started tracing my family tree and am happy to get any info.


  11. Hi cabrogal, thanks for the words, I laughed a lot. I’m a decendant too…


  12. Barb Currey permalink

    Hi !! I am another descendant of Lucy !! Great Great Grandaughter…. her daughter Ruth was my great grandmother, Ruths son Gilbert (Ted) McDonald was my grandad, Thelma Birkin (McDonald) is my mum 🙂 Such a great read, thanks !! All you relatives need to find me on facebook !!!


    • Good to hear from a rellie.
      I hope you ask your library for a copy of Rivers and Resilience and read more about Lucy.


  13. I am a fool who has been informed; let’s hope I remember.


    • If you’re a fool it’s a common kind of foolishness. I included the bit about the ‘-gal’ suffix because so many people jump to the conclusion you did.


      • Maaaybe if you put an image of an aborigine with the tribal word/name under it for your “avatar,” it might clear that up sooner. ‘Doubting you could change your account name to cabro-riginie.


        • If you mouse-over my avatar you’ll see I’m of Aboriginal descent. I doubt there’s many people out there who know Dharug word formation anyway.


        • All I see is a blank where an avatar should be. No, but I am sure plenty more would recognize a word like “aboriginal” versus “cabrogal.”


  14. Okay, that’s weird, here you have a baby giving the finger, which makes me think your last statement was sarcastic. But, when I receive your comments, I see a blank avatar.


    • Yeah, WordPress is strangely inconsistent with my gravatar. On some blogs it appears, on others (e.g. Jessica’s) a generic is substituted but you get the proper image if you mouse-over and on others it’s just a blank frame and mouse-over doesn’t work. I have no idea why.

      My statement wasn’t sarcastic. Don’t you get the profile text when you mouse-over?


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