Two hundred years ago this week, Governor Lachlan Macquarie named Lake George (known to local Aboriginal people as Weereewaa) after his monarch, George III.
On October 28 1820, Macquarie recorded in his diary: "We sat down to Dinner today at 1/2 past 5, and after Dinner we drank a Bumper Toast to the Success of the Future Settlers of the Shores of 'Lake George' - which name I have given to this grand and magnificent Sheet of Water in Honor of His present Majesty. - We drank Tea early - and went to Bed at 1/2 past 9."
The diary extract is one of a series local historian Jennifer Lamb is publishing on the Goulburn 2020 Facebook page each day, as part of the ongoing project to commemorate the governor's visit to the region.
"We haven't been able to do a lot of face-to-face events with the COVID restrictions; this is one way of making people aware that it's 200 years since [Macquarie] visited, and the impact that it had on the land and the people who were here already," Ms Lamb said.
When Macquarie and his party visited, the lake was at the highest it would be in the two centuries that followed: 25 feet (7 metres).
There is a movement today to restore the lake's original name of Weereewaa. That name also survives on the electoral roll.
At the time of Federation, 80 years after Macquarie named the lake, the electorate that includes Goulburn was named 'Werriwa'. That electorate once stretched from southwest Sydney to what is now the ACT; today, however, it has shrunk to south-eastern Sydney.
"It was good that name was remembered in the electorate," Ms Lamb said. "A hundred years ago, people turned a blind eye to Aboriginal names and issues, so that was quite heart-warming."
Macquarie's visit the beginning of colonisation in the region
Also that week, Macquarie's clergyman preached the first sermon given in the Southern Highlands. Its intentions may have noble, but its effect was disastrous, Ms Lamb believes.
On October 29 1820, Macquarie recorded in his diary that the Rev. Robert Cartwright "gave us a very excellent appropriate Sermon, strongly impressing the justice, good Policy, and expediency of Civilizing the Aborigines, or Black Natives of this country and Settling them in Townships".
Cartwright, Ms Lamb explained, recognised that some Aboriginal people were being treated badly by the colonists. His solution was to convert them to Christianity, so they could become "good citizens", Ms Lamb said, while Macquarie wanted the Aboriginals to become "useful members of society".
"It sounded good at the time, but it marked the beginning of the destructive effects of colonisation," Ms Lamb said. "It took people's culture away from them. It marked the beginning of the stolen generation and assimilation. The fact that their culture survived is to their credit."
To help balance the historical record, Ms Lamb and her colleagues are working with local Indigenous people to find the names of their ancestors who helped European people find the land, guided them, and worked with them.
"They never named them, or very rarely," Ms Lamb said.
Macquarie, Ms Lamb continued, was notorious for this. He named Nagaray, an elder who met the governor on the Cookbundoon Range - but although Nagaray and his family of eight accompanied Macquarie's entourage to Weereewaa, after that first mention, Ms Lamb said, Macquarie only identified them as 'natives'.
"Yet he always referred to his horses by name," Ms Lamb said.
For the British colonists, Ms Lamb said, Australia was unclaimed land.
"From the very beginning of European settlement in 1788, they recognised Aboriginal people were here, but they reckoned they didn't have ownership of land. They declared it terra nullius - there for the taking, because these people didn't own it, and they didn't believe they farmed it or managed it, either."
Nowadays, Ms Lamb explained, historians recognise that Aboriginal people cared for and managed the land, and altered the vegetation over thousands of years through firestick farming.
"But the Europeans didn't see it that way - and it suited them not to see it that way," Ms Lamb said. "They could barge in and take over, and put these Aboriginal people into townships. It didn't work, as we know with hindsight."
Ms Lamb also dealt with the theme of Aboriginal dispossession in her play Journey Through Country, performed earlier this month.
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