Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bungaree (c. 1775–1830)

by F. D. McCarthy

This article was published:

Bungaree, by Charles Rodius, 1831

Bungaree, by Charles Rodius, 1831

National Library of Australia, 8953976

Bungaree (173 cm) tall, with a happy disposition and much intelligence, who came with the remnants of his Broken Bay group to settle in Sydney. He sailed in the Norfolk for the north in 1799, and had a town on Bribie Island named after him; accompanying Matthew Flinders in the Investigator in 1801-02 he was the first Aborigine to circumnavigate Australia; in 1817 he sailed to north-western Australia with Phillip Parker King and helped in contacting strange tribes, being quick to perceive their intentions: he was also an expert at spearing fish. Both Flinders and King commended his even disposition and brave conduct. In 1804 he escorted back natives who had come to Sydney from Newcastle, and proved useful in preserving friendly relations with the Aborigines there.

Various governors and colonels gave Bungaree discarded uniforms and a cocked hat; in this garb he lived and slept. He affected the walk and mannerisms of every governor from John Hunter to Sir Thomas Brisbane and perfectly imitated every conspicuous personality in Sydney. He spoke English well and was noted for his acute sense of humour. Although he had no tribal authority his adaptation to the life of the settlement, his talent for entertaining and his high standing with governors and officials established him as the leader of the township Aborigines. A pathetic remnant of their people, they spent their days giving exhibitions of boomerang throwing, doing odd jobs, and begging for bread, liquor, tobacco and cash: 'Len' it bread' was Bungaree's favoured approach.

Bungaree had several wives, one of whom was named Matora; Cora Gooseberry became his principal wife, with the title of queen. In 1815 Governor Lachlan Macquarie set up the fifteen members of Bungaree's group on a farm at George's Head with huts, implements, stock and convict instructors. They were installed with a feast at which the governor decorated Bungaree with a brass plate inscribed 'Bungaree: Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe', a completely fictitious title. The group did not take to farming and the venture failed. At the end of his term of office in 1822 Macquarie asked his successor, Brisbane, to protect and look after this group. Brisbane gave them a fishing boat and net. After a long illness, Bungaree died on 24 November 1830 and was buried at Rose Bay. A portrait by Charles Rodius is in the Public Library of New South Wales.

It seems likely that Bungaree's facile exhibitionism too easily impressed his white contemporaries, who quite failed to understand the Aborigines.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Hunter, An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island (Lond, 1793)
  • D. Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1798-1802)
  • M. Flinders, A Voyage to Terra Australis, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1814)
  • P. P. King, Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1827)
  • R. Sadleir, The Aborigines of Australia (Syd, 1883)
  • E. Scott, The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders (Syd, 1914)
  • I. Lee, The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson (Lond, 1915)
  • T. Welsby, Bribie the Basket Maker (Brisb, 1937).

Citation details

F. D. McCarthy, 'Bungaree (c. 1775–1830)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Bungaree, by Charles Rodius, 1831

Bungaree, by Charles Rodius, 1831

National Library of Australia, 8953976

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bongaree
  • Boungaree

c. 1775
New South Wales, Australia


24 November, 1830 (aged ~ 55)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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