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Biddy/Biyarung Giles (c. 1810–1888)

by Kodie Mason

This article was published:

Biyarung (c. 1810s–1888), more frequently known as Biddy Giles, Dharawal woman and knowledge holder, also known as Biara and Granny Giles, was born into the Gweagal clan c. 1810. While Biyarung’s birth date is unknown, it was documented that she was a child during Governor Macquarie’s time. Oral histories record that Biyarung’s father and uncle witnessed Cook’s landing at Kurnell in 1770, according to the written version of her account, ‘They all run away; two fellows stand; Cook shot them in the legs; and they run away too!’ (Longfield 1905, 2, 6). She had connections—most likely through her parents—across Dharawal country, from the Illawarra to Gamay (Botany Bay), spending most of her life around the southern Sydney region, and she knew most of the traditional place names around Sydney Harbour. It appears she had strong connections to Kurnell, and according to anthropologist Mary Everitt, spoke 'pure Botany Bay Turruwul (Dharawal)’ (Organ 1993, 198). Her daughter Ellen Anderson later described her mother’s country as northern Dharawal land.

Not much is known about her early life. As a young woman, Biyarung married an Aboriginal man known as Cooman. At this time there were several men of the same name documented in Sydney, and it is not clear who her husband was. Few details of their marriage are known, except that they lived around Campbelltown and were noted to be from the Georges River. By the 1850s she was apparently no longer with Cooman, and had moved to Wollongong, the southern part of Dharawal country. She married senior Dharawal man Paddy Davis, also known as Paddy Burragalung, who was Ellen Anderson’s father, and lived with him at Five Islands.

Around the late 1850s or early 1860s, Biyarung returned to Sydney. There she married again, to an Englishman named Billy Giles, and took over a farm at Mill Creek, off the Georges River. A highly skilled woman, she used her excellence in fishing and hunting to operate tours around Botany Bay, and the Georges and Hacking Rivers with Giles. Her intimate knowledge of the lands and waters of her cultural area made for a successful business venture, and meant she was treated deferentially by her customers. One patron recalled, ‘no matter what hour of the day it was, or what was the state of the tide, or what kind was the weather, “Biddy” could, so to speak, put us “on” to the fish’ (Robinson 1911, 6). The correspondent was impressed with her remarkable dog training ability and was astonished by her pack of hunting dogs. During her hunting trips, she demonstrated her deep connection to her Dharawal language and culture, teaching participants Dharawal words, and sharing stories and lore about the land and history.

In the 1880s Biyarung moved away from Mill Creek, probably after the death of her husband. She was living at Dolls Point, around the entrance of the Georges River, with other Aboriginal people, including her brother Joey. She remained in the area for the rest of her life and became known as ‘Granny Giles.’ In 1888, when she was at La Perouse, she was one of the passengers rescued from a boat on Botany Bay in a storm. In December of the same year, she fell sick and passed away in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and was buried in Rookwood cemetery.

An important cultural leader who lived and worked around Botany Bay, Georges and Hacking Rivers, and Wollongong, Biyarung was a language and cultural informant of the anthropologist Mary Everitt. She passed her deep cultural knowledge and expertise to her daughter Ellen Anderson, who was the main source of many traditional Dharawal stories in C. W. Peck’s publication Australian Legends in 1933. Her daughter and her grandson Joe Anderson, as well as successive generations, have carried the strong connection to Dharawal country and culture forward. In 2020 a park in South Village, Kirrawee, was named after her because of her significance to the Sutherland Shire. It is not just the legacy of her knowledge that is important today, she is remembered and honoured as an important Dharawal woman, held in high regard by the community and her descendants, some of whom still live at La Perouse and around Dharawal country.

 

Kodie Mason is a Dharawal/Gweagal woman from Botany Bay. Kodie is a descendant of Biddy Giles (Biyarung) and consulted with other family members in writing this article.

Research edited by Kiera Donnelly

Select Bibliography

  • Goodall, H., and A. Cadzow. Rivers and Resilience: Aboriginal People on Sydney's Georges River. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2009
  • Irish, Paul. Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2017
  • Discovery Centre, Botany Bay National Park, Kurnell. Longfield, Richard, to W. Houston, 1905. Archives of Captain Cook’s Landing Place Trust, Box 12, Item 141
  • Organ, Michael, comp. Illawarra and South Coast Aborigines 1770–1900. Report to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Canberra, 1993
  • Robinson, S. B. J. ‘Small Beer Chronicles and Chronicle Small Beer.’ St George Call (Sydney), 8 April 1911, 6
  • This Is Where They Travelled: Historical Aboriginal Lives in Sydney. Compiled by Paul Irish. Sydney: Waverley Library Galleries, 2017. Exhibition

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kodie Mason, 'Giles, Biddy/Biyarung (c. 1810–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/giles-biddybiyarung-31922/text39377, published online 2023, accessed online 13 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Biddy Giles, centre, 1880

Biddy Giles, centre, 1880

State Library of New South Wales, 110318625, image no 42

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Biara
  • Biyarung
Birth

c. 1810
New South Wales, Australia

Death

1888 (aged ~ 78)
Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

unknown

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.

Occupation
Legacies