New sculpture honours Aboriginal explorer

Published 10:00am 5 December 2023

New sculpture honours Aboriginal explorer
Words by Ashleigh Howarth

A new sculpture that pays tribute to the first known Aboriginal person to circumnavigate Australia and contribute to the mapping of the Australian coastline has been unveiled outside the Bribie Island Seaside Museum.

The sculpture pays tribute to Bongaree (also known as Bungaree), an Indigenous Garigal man from the Broken Bay area in Sydney who explored Moreton Bay and Bribie Island with British navigator Matthew Flinders.

Aboard the boat Norfolk, the pair landed near the beach at Bongaree, which is named in his honour, on July 16, 1799.

The sculpture depicts Bongaree, Matthew Flinders and his cat Trim staring out on the Pumicestone Passage, with Bongaree pointing into the distance describing the view and Matthew Flinders in the process of lifting his telescope. There is also a metal frame of Australia behind them.

To celebrate the unveiling on November 28, Bribie Island Historical Society president Barry Clark and other members of the not-for-profit group invited local elders from the Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, members of the Bongaree family descendants’ group, local politicians and members of the public to witness the momentous occasion, which Barry described as a “very proud moment”.

“This is a very special event, not just for Bribie Island, but in the whole history of Australia,” Barry said.

“As president of the Bribie Island Historical Society I have written many articles about Bongaree the man, and I have long held this view that more needed to be done to recognise him, especially when there is so much on Matthew Flinders and how he was hailed as a hero around the world.

“But in this place called Bongaree, there were no images or sculptures of him. Along the waterfront we have installed many interesting heritage plaques and signage, but nothing representing Bongaree.

“The Bribie Island Historical Society, a not-for-profit organisation, donated its funding into this wonderful creation.

“This is a very big step forward, and what you have here (the sculpture) has been totally and fully accepted by all the Indigenous people, and I think it is a wonderful legacy.”

During his speech, Barry also spoke about how Bongaree and Flinders “were good mates” who both achieved incredible things in their lifetime.

Bongaree’s life

Born circa 1775, Bongaree was a man with sharp intellect.

By 1798, he was employed on a 60-day round trip to Norfolk Island on the HMS Reliance, where he met British explorer Matthew Flinders.

Flinders was so impressed by Bongaree that the following year he took him on a coastal survey voyage to Bribie Island and Hervey Bay on the 25-tonne longboat Norfolk.

Bongaree was known as a brilliant diplomat and despite language barriers could quickly communicate with coastal Aboriginal groups they encountered.

Bongaree travelled with Matthew Flinders again on his most exploratory voyage from 1802 to 1803, the circumnavigation of Australia on the HMS Investigator. It was on this expedition that much of Australia’s unknown coastline was mapped.

Bongaree was later given a military uniform by the governor of NSW and would greet new arrivals into Sydney.

He died November 1830.

Bongaree’s descendants thank the Historical Society

Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, a descendant of Bongaree, was one of the many guests of honour at the unveiling ceremony.

“I would like to thank Barry and the Bribie Island Historical Society for what you see here,” Sharlene said.

“It has taken just over a year to get to this point, so it has been a long journey, but there was lots of consultation with the Bribie Island Historical Society along the way.

“It’s wonderful to see Bungaree, I say Bungaree, acknowledged in this way because he was a great man. He did what he had to do to survive for him and his family, and in doing that, he did great things.

“Not only did he circumnavigate Australia, but he also took many trips on many voyages with several different people.

“Also, he was a great person in Sydney when he used to come and greet ships. Any passing ships or ships that were coming into the harbour, the first person that greeted them was Bungaree.”

Months of hard work

The sculpture was made with the support and endorsement of Bongaree family descendants and local representatives, with the assistance of Busy Fingers and City of Moreton Bay.

There are multiple memorials around the world dedicated to Matthew Flinders, but this is the first public recognition of his Aboriginal guide and friend Bongaree.

The sculpture was made by Bribie Island artist Derek Patey and his wife, who spent more than 450 hours making it.

“It was a huge learning curve and a great honour to be involved in the creation of the sculpture of Bongaree, Matthew Flinders and his cat famous Trim,” Derek said.

“This sculpture took approximately five months of work, which was roughly around 450 hours.

“There’s 300m of bird wire in the sculpture which is 20 layers thick.

“It has been out in the weather for three months to take the shine off it.

“We also went through eight pairs of gloves, three pliers, two snippers and two tubes of Dettol cream after being scratched to death.”

The sculpture is now on display outside the Bribie Island Seaside Museum, located at 1 S Esplanade, Bongaree.


Related Stories

Popular Stories