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Cabrogal

27/02/2014

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.

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From → history

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

    Like

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

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    • 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.

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      • 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. ^_^

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        • 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.

          Like

        • 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? :/

          Like

  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

      Hi
      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

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      • 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.

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      • Ray Duffy permalink

        Judy, I like many others are doing a family tree story and it was only after a DNA ancestry test that my connection to Lucy Burn was confirmed. Her daughter Charlotte married Francis Duffy in 1902 (approx.) The eldest of this union was Garnet Francis Duffy who was my father.
        I would welcome the opportunity to obtain copies of any family photos you may have including confirmation of which photo is the true Lucy Leane (nee Burn).
        Can they be transmitted via email?

        Like

  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! 😀

    Like

  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!!

    Like

  6. Elizabeth permalink

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

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

      Like

      • 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.

          Like

    • Anonymous permalink

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

      Like

  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 😛

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  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!

    Like

  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.

    Like

  10. Brian permalink

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

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    • 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).

      Like

      • Brian permalink

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

        Like

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

    Like

  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 !!!

    Like

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

      Like

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

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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        • 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.

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        • 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.”

          Like

  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.

    Like

    • 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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      • I did not get anything good. And, with this new computer, I am having other problems suddenly for some reason. Something to do with secure content and the browser options.

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        • I did not get anything good.

          You don’t get the bit that says “European and Indigenous descent”?

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        • Nope. And, again, I am getting used to a new computer when I get the chance to use it online, and it’s a bit of a learning curve with lots of little messages asking me if I want to record this and allow that. Truthfully, I haven’t tried looking into your “gravatar-gravatas” with this computer, yet. If I feel like it–right now, kinda down on my health and nervous condition–I’ll check, again.

          Like

  15. Hope you feel better soon.

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    • Thanks. I don’t know why half of what is happening is happening. But, my whole life has been a bit of a nightmare like that. Half the time, it’s a miracle I’m alive. And, the other half, it feels like something wants me to die or suffer. I sometimes think I knew I wasn’t supposed to be born when/the way I was, from the time I was in the womb. But, there is also something special about the year I was born that seems to be a mystery eluding me and calling me out to solve it.

      Okay, I hovered and got some Gravatar notes on your heritage and personality/interests. Nothing about aborigine history or the explanation of the name/ID. And, still, the baby picture.

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      • Hey wb, think for a minute about the endless chain of unlikely circumstances going all the way back to the Big Bang that ultimately resulted in you being you. And think of all the things your actions now will continue to bring about for thousands of years after you’re gone and forgotten. I dunno if anything is ‘meant’ to be, but to say you weren’t meant to be born is to spit in the face of the entire past, present and future of the universe.

        It is the way it is. All of it. Nothing needs to be justified or excused. Not you, not your triumphs, not your failures, not your joy, not your suffering.

        You precisely fit the time and place you occupy. If you weren’t you the universe wouldn’t be the universe.

        There is no ‘why?’. Because everything.

        https://neurodrooling.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/causation/

        https://neurodrooling.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/the-awakening/

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        • Is it? Or, in the possibility of everything, what if my being forced from the womb threw the cosmos off just a wee bit? What if Jesus had not been born when he did? What if the star didn’t guide the wise men to their prophecy? Time and space. I was forced into this time and space. I’m here for a reason, but I am not sure it was the original plan.

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        • what if my being forced from the womb threw the cosmos off just a wee bit?

          I can’t see how that would be possible unless you were somehow not of the cosmos. A rather odd idea, but not completely inconsistent with Judeo-Christian dualism I guess.

          What if Jesus had not been born when he did? What if the star didn’t guide the wise men to their prophecy?

          Then we’d be living in a different universe (assuming of course that those things really did happen in this one). What’s more, the universe would have been different right from the start, way before Jesus was born.

          I’m here for a reason, but I am not sure it was the original plan.

          There’s a wise old drinking song that goes “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here …”. That says it all about ‘reasons’ and ‘original plans’ IMHO.

          If dualistic individualism and free will are true in any meaningful sense then every ‘free’ decision you make is a first cause (if it was caused by external, pre-extant factors it wasn’t free). So if you’re a source of first causes – thereby initiating new chains of cause and effect that are pretty much eternal – then you’re a fundamental contributor to the ongoing act of Creation. You’re helping to give birth to the cosmos that gave birth to you. How can you say you weren’t meant to be born?

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        • The way you talk about everything being what it is just because it is, what’s the sense of caring about anything? What does it matter if we sloth around all our lives or work to make money or steal? If we have no control over what’s to come, we’re just wasting time and energy trying to accomplish things we don’t even know are worth anything. At the same time, that’s the sort of deceptive talk an evil entity might use to make people stop achieving any good (or bad).

          If everything stems from a big bang, then certain events may be set in perpetual motion, but, surely, not every asteroid can hit the same way over and over. And, if anything changes natural course, crap seems to happen. I think many of the disasters we witness or hear about are the cause of someone going against nature and causing a sort of revenge. Hitler wasn’t necessarily born a monster; he was directed that way and talked of that way. And, I suspect, if he felt people saw him as a monster, he was going to go down being the baddest monster he could be. Jesus, on the other hand, was played up as the ultimate good guy, and if there is any source that says otherwise, how many believe that?

          I kinda got off track there a bit, I think. 😛

          Well, just cuz an asteroid gets created from an exploding planet, doesn’t mean it’s doing any good other than destruction. I may be born for a reason, but it better not be destruction or evil. And, it’s likely I’ll never really know if I did any good or bad until my death is decided and however the “media” skews the finale.

          Anyway, I just think the way I was born and my constant near-death experiences are telling something. It’s a movie waiting to happen.

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        • What does it matter if we sloth around all our lives or work to make money or steal?

          It matters exactly as much as you make it matter. In other words, your morality is your personal responsibility, not something you can calculate with rationalisations or derive from the prescriptions of others.

          At the same time, that’s the sort of deceptive talk an evil entity might use to make people stop achieving any good (or bad).

          Well, that’s a self-perpetuating meme so there’s no way to counter it. If you think the universe is a battlefield between good and evil with no non-combatants then obviously anyone who suggests otherwise must be fighting on ‘the other side’ – whether wittingly or not. If you want to reinforce that sort of cognitive bias you might check out the post in which I endorse the moral philosophy of Aleister Crowley.

          If we have no control over what’s to come, we’re just wasting time and energy trying to accomplish things we don’t even know are worth anything.

          Indeed. Or as Krishna puts it in the Bhagavad Gita, “You have the right to labour, but not to the fruits of your labour”. If you’re doing something in expectation of some sort of reward – even if it’s only self-satisfaction – you are not acting as a true moral agent but rather through self-interest. And if you think you control what’s to come you’re acting from hubris.

          You do what you think is right because you think it’s right. Not in expectation of some kind of ‘accomplishment’.

          To summarise:
          From an individualised dualistic perspective either your choices are predetermined by causality or you have at least some scope for free will. If the former there’s no true choice and therefore no such thing as morality. If the latter the consequences of your choices will propagate outcomes way beyond your capacity to predict them, so any consequentialist morality is delusional.
          From a unified non-dualistic perspective you are the universe. There is no ‘personal’ morality but on the other hand the universe as a whole is without cause or consequence – not bound by time, space or the ‘rules’ of cause and effect (so to ask “What caused the Big Bang?” or “What created God?” is a category error). Your morality is that of the universe. To call it ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is to pretend to step outside the universe so as to judge it.

          Alan Watts tells an interesting parable about causality and inductive logic. A man sits in his garden. There is a snake farm next door which he can see through a narrow gap in the fence. After some time he notes that he always sees the head of a snake, followed by its body then it’s tail. So he concludes that snake heads cause snake bodies, which in turn cause the tails. Of course if he perceived the snake as a whole – rather than as a narrow, time-and-space-bound component of itself – he would probably reach a different conclusion. The snake’s body may not be free to act independently of its head and tail, but the snake as a whole is still free.

          surely, not every asteroid can hit the same way over and over.

          Who knows? That’s the point. We can’t predict outcomes except in the most limited and reductionist ways. Certainly not well enough to calculate all the consequences of even our most trivial decisions. So consequentialist moral philosophies, such as utilitarianism, are intellectually (and I would argue morally) bankrupt. We can only do what seems right to us, not what we imagine (or are told) brings the best results.

          And, if anything changes natural course, crap seems to happen. I think many of the disasters we witness or hear about are the cause of someone going against nature and causing a sort of revenge.

          There may be truth to this in an individual sense. If you push against the ‘way things are’ from a sense of yourself as a separate individual – whether your motives are ‘good’ or not – then you are creating karma, which serves to deepen your alienation from unity and reduce your capacity to act in harmony with the cosmos.

          it’s likely I’ll never really know if I did any good or bad until my death is decided

          True (though I can’t imagine who or what does the ‘deciding’ or how you’d ‘know’ if you’re dead). So when you feel you’re faced with a moral choice go with what seems right to you in the moment. You might be wrong. Perhaps you had no real choice at all. But if you’re not listening to the one true reality – the here and now – how can you hope to stay in harmony with what is?

          Like

        • If you care to continue this discussion on a more personal level, I suggest we do so via email. Otherwise, I may say more publicly than I care to say so.

          Like

  16. This is such a great story. Many thanks for sharing!

    I’m am working on a project that aims to make public and acknowledged, the stories of Australian women farmers. http://www.invisiblefarmer.net.au.

    Would you give me permission to republish some of this, and use the picture of Lucy and William? You will, of course, be fully acknowledged for the work!

    Like

    • I have no problems with how you use anything on this blog, whether or not you acknowledge the source. However you might want to check the comments by my mother’s cousin, Judy Joyce, who believes the photo is of William with his second wife rather than Lucy. I disagree because William was 60 when he remarried and looks much younger in the photo. Also there are irregular horizontal streaks that suggest an albumin based photographic medium that was no longer in use by the time Lucy died.

      To the best of my (very incomplete) knowledge Lucy was a mother, trader and forager but not a farmer.

      Like

      • Many thanks for the help – and for the warnings. Interesting what your cousin says. I’ve seen the picture used on other sites in my internet trawling, so it is interesting how speculation can become truth in the realm of the internet. Perhaps if we say it is ‘possibly Lucy Leane’.

        Also interesting how she is described as a farmer in the dictionary of Sydney https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/leane_lucy. I wonder where they got that info, based on your understanding!

        Thanks for replying

        Like

        • I see what you mean now. If by ‘farmer’ you mean landowner who employed farmhands, as opposed to someone who actually worked the land, then William definitely qualified and I guess, as his wife, perhaps Lucy would have been seen that way too. I’m a bit confused about Lucy’s social status during her lifetime though. It seems several prominent white residents of the Liverpool region supported her in her petition to be granted a boat by the government so I’m assuming she had some recognition. On the other hand, local police opposed it and also tried to deny her connection to the land and status as a Cabrogal lady. It seems Australian police attitudes towards Aborigines were already set in stone by the mid-19th century, regardless of their socio-economic status.

          Heather and Alison got copies of several old documents from Judy for their book Rivers and Reslience. I also have copies of those documents (and the other photo Judy refers to in the comments). Let me know if you want me to email you scans.

          It’s not just the internet that propagates dubious stories. It’s also part of my family heritage and – I suspect – a common experience of invasion and racism in Australia.

          For many generations there has been tension in my family between those who embrace their Aboriginality and those who seek to deny it – partly due to internalised racism but also for very pragmatic reasons (e.g. to avoid having children taken from them).

          There’s a brief history of my great uncle Bert here.
          https://indigenoushistories.com/2013/08/30/petitioner-soldier-writer-poet-nurse-the-multifaceted-indigenous-leane-family-2

          As you can see he was quite comfortable with his heritage. On the other hand his sister, also named Lucy, was very protective of the family and tried to prevent anyone from letting on about our Aboriginality. Cover stories included that we were of Spanish, Greek, Maori and Native American descent – so I suspect race wasn’t so much the issue as fear of how officials would treat us if they knew.

          My guess is that denial that the woman in the photo is our direct ancestor probably started as part of that cover-up and even though people like Judy have well and truly embraced Lucy as our forbear there are still residual family ‘myths’ that are hard to let go of.

          Like

  17. Jeanette Antrum permalink

    I am also a descendant of Lucy. Does anyone have any information on her parents?

    Like

    • That would be nice.

      In the documents associated with her unsuccessful application for a boat there’s debate as to whether she’s purely Aboriginal or of mixed race. Lucy and her sponsors say she’s of pure indigenous descent but the two police officers who objected to her application claim she’s a ‘half-breed’. Given that cops tend to be both racists and professional liars I know who I believe but that the matter was contested suggests that even then there were no official records of her parentage. So I’d guess the chances of finding anything about it now are slim to non-existent.

      Like

  18. this is great work, you’ve done Lucy Leane proud. I was looking into other matters and came across her story, and its a very inspiring one. This is the importance of telling stories, how many times have I been scooting across the Heathcote Road, the significance of that stretch is that there are two lanes and lots of road angst. But to the north , a slice of country I can easily put in my minds eye, but it has no meaning attached. until I heard about Lucy Lrane. next time I see it, I will know what it means. and that is me being educated

    Like

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