Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group

Since the Dreaming Aboriginal people have been part of what we now call Beecroft and Cheltenham for over 30,000 years. This date derives from the date of artefacts found some 15 m below the surface in a blue metal quarry near Penrith.[1] Little is known from that date until 1788. From 1788, when we can trace the beginning of their dispossession, the records talk of a people who communicated amongst themselves but who also identified differences which distinguished some from others. One difference was their language (called by some Dharug[2] and by others just the “Sydney language”) which appears to have been divided into two dialects in the Sydney basin, understood by each[3] - but differing.[4]
As their story unfolds it appears to confirm that this land of Beecroft and Cheltenham was more closely connected to the people centred around Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour whereas just to the north, perhaps even as close as Thornleigh, the people of that land were connected to the Hawkesbury. To the west, perhaps even as close as Thompson’s Corner the people lived more in the woods and less dependant on the waterways. But these are broad general statements and may hold no more validity than to say of a modern day Beecroft resident that they aspire more to a bush view than a beach one.




[1] E Stockton “The search for the first Sydneysiders” in P Stanbury (ed) 10,000 years of Sydney Life (Sydney, 1979) p 52

[2] A term not used before 1901 but now adopted by descendants: M Powell & R Hesline “Making tribes? Constructing Aboriginal tribal entities in Sydney and coastal NSW from the early colonial period to the present” (2010) 96 JRAHS 115 at 136

[3] For those who argue for a single language see: Rev Lancelot Threkeld (1828) quoted in K V Smith King Bungaree (Sydney, 1992) p 24; J Troy The Sydney Language  Canberra, 1993)

[4] For those arguing for two dialects see: A Capell “Aboriginal languages in the south central coast, New  South Wales: fresh discoveries” Oceania (1970) Vol 41, 20-27.; V Attenbrow Sydney’s Aboriginal Past (Sydney, 2002) pp30-36. William Walker writing in 1821 said “The languages of all of these tribes are different, so much so that one tribe rarely understands another in every particular.” Quoted in J Brook & J L Kohen The Parramatta Native Institution and the Blacktown: A History (Kensington, 1991) p 122.



Aboriginal people have their personal stories which form their heritage and traditions and sense of identity. This is their personal story and no one else has the right to claim that story as their own. In this, we pay respect to these people, their elders past and present, and to their story.

As local people, each of us also has a personal story. Our stories are not the same as those of the Aboriginal people. In telling this story we aim not to minimise those differences. We aim not to lay claim to a heritage that we do not have. But just as our personal stories are woven into the tapestry of our local and wider Australian stories, so too the story of the Aboriginal people of this locale forms part of that same tapestry belonging to us all.

Originally part of the homeland of the Wallumeda People, the traditional owners of the land, Beecroft and Cheltenham are almost unique among Sydney suburbs, as large parts of them are heritage areas. Situated 26.5 kilometres from Redfern Station, then the Sydney terminus, Beecroft developed along the railway line from Sydney to Newcastle, opened in 1886. It was a small platform in the middle of nowhere, named after Hannah Beecroft, the wife of Henry Copeland, Secretary (i.e. Minister) for Lands.  The first land sales took place here in 1887. Cheltenham, named for the home town of a significant early settler William Chorley, was the name given to the railway station opened in 1898, 25 km from Sydney.

Both suburbs became known for their quiet village atmosphere and fine gardens. Despite closer development throughout Sydney over the past twenty years, they retain something of the semi-rural atmosphere of their origins.

Many significant people have had associations with Beecroft and Cheltenham. Some of their life stories can be found here.

Bush Muschetta (c1780-1825)

The most famous of the Aboriginal leaders to fight against the English Colony in Sydney was Pemulwoy. He appears to have come from around the Botany Bay area. Sometimes portrayed as a freedom fighter or leading a guerrilla war, others say that he may have been a caradhy, or a man within the Bidjigal tribe who was empowered to dispense justice. If the latter is true then his attacks were not to drive the invading settlers away but to respond to the settlers as part of his environment and bring them within his system of law whereby he would punish breaches of his people’s laws by way of payback.[1]

After he had been killed in 1802 his son Tedbury continued similar activities to his father. Tedbury was captured, for the first time, by some settlers from Baulkham Hills and Northern Boundaries ie adjacent to the northern boundary of the Field of Mars Common near present day Beecroft in 1805. Following his capture Tedbury took his captors to a cave when he had stored some clothes taken from a white man he had killed. The Sydney Gazette of 19 May 1805 records that while escorting Tedbury the captors were accosted by a group of Aborigines near North Brush (again near this district). Where Tedbury had hidden his clothes may well have been on Macarthur’s ‘Cornwall’ farm in present day Beecroft. By way of digression, and noting that it may be totally unconnected, it is coincidental that some three years later in January 1808, Tedbury travelled to Sydney carrying spears as he heard that Macarthur was at risk of harm from Governor William Bligh - this being the time of the Rum Rebellion. Tedbury informed Macarthur that if need be, he was prepared to spear Bligh.[2]
The fact that Tedbury was located near Macarthur land and there are links between Tedbury and Macarthur where Tedbury is offering to undertake payback lends some credence to the alternate view of the activities of both Tedbury and his father.

Returning to the main story, one of the Aboriginal men who accosted the party accompanying Tedbury to the cave in North Brush in 1805 was a man known as Bush Muschetta. On this occasion he declared in very good English that he proposed to continue the fight started by Pemulwoy and his son Tedbury.

Later in his life Bush Muschetta was said to be of the Carigal clan around Broken Bay.[3] He was also said to be the brother of ‘Old Phillip’ who also was associated with the Broken Bay tribe.[4] 

Shortly after this introduction to Bush Muschetta, the Sydney Gazette of 4 August 1805 records that Bush Muschetta (or Musquito) had been betrayed by some other Aboriginal men and been captured. A common reason for such betrayal was pay back for (in this case possibly) Bush Muschetta having taken an Aboriginal woman from another clan without necessary approvals.[5] Indeed, there is a record of one tribe raping a member of Tedbury’s tribe in 1795.[6]

Following his capture Bush Muschetta was convicted and transported to Norfolk Island. The nature of this sentence was explained by Governor King in later correspondence:

“Much has been said about the propriety of their being compelled to work as Slaves, but as I have ever considered them the real Proprietors of the Soil, I have never suffered any restraint whatever on these lines, or suffered any injury to be done to their person or property – And I should apprehend the best mode of punishment that could be inflicted on them would be expatriating them to some other settlements where they might be made to labour as in the case of the two sent to Norfolk in 1804.”[7]

While there he worked as a charcoal burner.[8] In 1813 he was then re-located to Tasmania. There he became a ticket of leave stockman and black tracker for Edward Lord who had settled there in 1804. In 1814 Mr Lord petitioned Governor Macquarie for Bush Muschetta’s freedom. Also in that year the Australian Dictionary of Biography says that his brother Phillip successfully petitioned for his return – but this was not carried out.[9] This petition was then followed by a petition four years later, in October 1818, by Lieutenant-Governor Sorell who wrote to Governor Lachlan Macquarie:

“Musquitto, a native of Port Jackson, who has been some years in this settlement and who has served constantly as a guide with one of the parties and has been extremely useful and well conducted, also at his own desire, goes to Sydney.”

While freedom was granted in 1814 in Sydney[10] this decision never reached Tasmania with the consequence that no freedom was given to permit Bush Muschetta’s return to Sydney. He did not leave Tasmania.

Staying in Tasmania he assaulted a convict who insulted him and then escaped into the bush rather than be captured. From 1819 he, and his mob, led a vendetta against neighbouring settlers including a 5 hour battle with some 150 men in two divisions against the farm of Mr Hobbes in 1824. Eventually captured, he was tried as a ‘principal in the second degree’ for aiding and abetting in the murder of one William Holyoak. No evidence was led other than that he was present with 60 or 70 others at the time of Holyoak’s death. He was denied legal representation. He was hung on 24 February 1825.

He was one of the few Aborigines of this era to leave behind at least part of his story for it is recorded that he said to Mr Bisbee his gaoler:

“I stop wit white fellow, learn to like blanket, clothes, bakky, rum, bread, all same white fellow: white fellow giv’d me. By and by Gubernor send me to catch bushranger – promise me plenty clothes, and send me back to Sydney, my own country: I catch him, Gubernor tell too much a lie, never send me. I knockit about camp, prisoner no liket me then, givet me nothing, call me bloody hangman noose. I knock one fellow down, give waddie, constable take me.

I then walk away in bush, I get along wid mob, go all about beg some give it bread, blanket: some tak’t away my gin: that make fight: mob rob the hut: some one tell Gubernor: all white fellow want catch me, shoot me, pose he see. I want all same white fellow he never give me, mob make a rush, stock-keeper shoot plenty, mob spear some. Dat de way me no come all same your house. Never like see Gubernor any more. White fellow soon kill all black fellow … Hanging no good for black fellow… Very good for white fellow, for he used to it.” [11]

This was reported as if to demonstrate the naivety of Bush Muschetta and his failure to comprehend the equal application of colonial law to him. With the hindsight of a further 200 years of history, his words can just as easily be taken (not as naïve) but as wisely stating a truth that white man’s punishment was from a different world and so was inappropriate to the actions of this Aboriginal man, first encountered in history around Beecroft.

[1] Anonymous, Pemulwuy, Pemulwoy, Pemulwy, Pemulwei: Justice or War? accessed 25 March 2010

[2] Sir William Macarthur “A few Memoranda reflecting the Australian natives” quoted in J Connor The Australian Frontier Wars 1788-1838 p 46

[3] Also see: M Powell & R Hesline “Making tribes? Constructing Aboriginal tribal entities in Sydney and coastal NSW from the early colonial period to the present” (2010) 96 JRAHS 115 at 138

[4] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 62

[5] K Willey When the Sky Fell Down (Collins Sydney 1979) p 180

[6] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 65

[7] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 66

[8] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 66

[9] N Parry “Musquito” Australian Dictionary of Biography Supplementary Volume p 299. Also see K V Smith “Bennelong among his people” (2009) 33 Aboriginal History 13

[10] Letter of Thomas Campbell dated 17 August 1814 quoted in K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 73

[11] Quoted in C Wise “Black Rebel: Musquito” in E Fry (ed) Rebels and Radicals (George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1983)


Malcolm E Cox  2020

I lived in Beecroft from 1953 to 1969, that is age 8 to 24. My parents were Harold and Hettie Cox, and I had an older brother Ian, and a younger sister Helen. We lived almost in the middle of Beecroft at 92 Beecroft Road, right opposite the School of Arts. However, that property, and the ones on either side were acquired by the Department of Education and demolished late 1966. In 1966 we moved to 56 Lyndon Way, a new subdivision in Beecroft. Eventually, we all moved on and married, Ian and I have two boys each and Helen two girls.

My dad, Harold, was a pharmacist and had one of the two chemist shops in Beecroft from 1953 to 1957. Following that he sold the shop and established a pharmacy in West Ryde in 1958, which he sold in 1974. He then bought a smaller one in Waitara, and retired in 1979. Dad was born in 1910 in Goulburn and the family moved to Sydney in 1925 so the he and his older brother could complete education. He did pharmacy and brother Bert completed medicine. Their grandparents migrated to Sydney from Wales and Dorset in 1878; his grandfather was a grocer, then became Town Clerk in Goulburn; his father was also a grocer in Goulburn then Sydney. Dad died in 1982.

Mum was very a supportive wife, and a terrific mother; she was born in 1914 in Mayfield, Newcastle. Her parents migrated from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland in 1911, and her father, a fitter and turner, worked with BHP Steel Works Newcastle and became

foreman of the coke ovens. Mum finished school, then did a secretarial course and worked as a secretary/stenographer in Newcastle. Mum and dad married in 1939. At Beecroft she played ten-nis at the Cheltenham Recreation Club 1955-1965, then joined the Cheltenham Women’s Bowling Club 1966-1979. We had mum’s mother (Agnes Young) live with us from 1954 until her death in 1968. Mum died in 1983.

Before Beecroft dad had chemist shops at Brighton-le-Sands and then Bexley North. They were both community minded, and dad previously was President of the Bexley North P & C, then after coming to Beecroft they were very active in the Methodist-Uniting Church.

My recollection of Beecroft was a pleasant environment, abundant bushland, with a conservative society that was dominantly protestant, and a village-type setting. It had a basic shopping centre but no hotel, and for any major shopping we usually went to Eastwood. This atmosphere did not start charging until around 1960-61. However, I should be thankful for that, as it was a great place to grow up.

I lived at home until 1969, attending Epping Boys’ High School, and completing geology at Macquarie University. From 1970 I followed a career in geology and worked in various parts of Australia, PNG and Fiji, then returned to

study and follow research completing a MS at University of Hawaii, then a PhD at the University of Auckland, NZ. I returned to Australia in 1986, worked in resource geology 1987-1990, then in 1991 started as a lecturer in hydro-geology at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, retiring as Professor of Hydrogeology in 2015. I have lived in Brisbane since 1987 and have an active interest in growing bonsai.

Ian went to Eastwood Primary School, then Homebush Boys’ High; he left home around 1965 and went to Sydney University and Teachers College graduating in 1967. From 1968 he taught at Penrith High, then North Sydney Boys (rowing master at both), then to Dubbo in different high school positions to Deputy Principal and retired in 2003. During this time he completed a BA at UNE (1979) and a BEd at Riverina Institute of Technology (1988). They moved to Southern Highlands in 2011, and sadly he died of an unusual nasal cancer in 2015. He contributed much to secondary education and later especially zoo education at both Dubbo and Taronga Zoos.

Helen went to Cheltenham Kindergarten in 1956 and to Beecroft Public School 1957 to 1963, then Cheltenham Girls’ in 1964 and completed HSC in 1969. She completed a secretarial course at Artarmon Technical College in 1973, then 1974 to 1991 worked in various management secretarial positions, moving to Mudgee in 1992 and was office manager at the golf club to 1995. From 1999 to current she has been customer service and office manager at Huntington Estate Wines, and a major coordinator of the annual music festival.

I have used a lot of the available information of 1950’s-60’s and also earlier periods to provide context and to better understand my time at Beecroft, plus confirm if some of my recollections are correct, or imagined.




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