Ku-Ring-Gai - what's in a name?

The Municipality of Ku-ring-gai is named after an indigenous group identified in 1892 by John Fraser, an ethnographer.

Working from incomplete colonist records and observation, Fraser attempted to identify the major groups of indigenous people in NSW, studying commonalities of language and identifying bonds of kinship.

Fraser’s notes identify the people of the area as the Kuringgai, (or Guringai). He believed Kuringgai lands encompassed areas ranging outwards from the Hawkesbury River, with the lands extending as far north as the South West Rocks, and to the south of the Hawkesbury, with groups of Kuringgai people also roaming along the northern foreshores of Sydney Harbour.

A skilled and broad-ranging people

"The next great tribe is the Kuringgai on the sea coast. Their 'taurai' (hunting ground or territory) is known to extend north to the Macleay River, and I found that southwards it reached the Hawkesbury then after, by examining the remains of the language of the natives about Sydney and southwards, and by other tests, I assured myself that the country thereabout was occupied by sub-tribes of the Kurringgai. [sic]", John Fraser – 1892

Old map of NSW

Undoubtedly the inhabitants were skilled hunters and gatherers, on both land and water, travelling extensively within these lands. Considering himself familiar with Darkingjung, the main dialect, Fraser used the name Kuringgai. In Darkingjung, “‘Guri’ (Koori), means black man and ‘Ngai’, means black woman, or belonging to”.

Although the name Guringai found common use over the years, indigenous groups and modern historians now suggest the name, is a simplification of a complex and diverse grouping of peoples. 

History and heritage

“In 1990, the Kuring-gai College merged with UTS to become UTS’s Kuring-gai Campus”

By Fraser’s time, settlers were already present in the area as farmers and workers. The railway had encroached and isolated settlements were on their way to becoming suburbs. The popular Guringai name was adapted for the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in 1894 and again for the first local government, the Ku-ring-gai Shire Council, in 1906.

The population doubled between the years 1950 and 1980 with area’s facilities keeping pace. In 1971, The William Balmain Teacher’s College found a new home in the area, becoming the Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education in 1974. In 1990, the Kuring-gai College merged with UTS to become UTS’s Kuring-gai Campus.

Ku-ring-gai today

Ku-ring-gai remains famous for its leafy green surrounds, and pockets of untouched dry sclerophyll forest still exist in the national park. The Ku-ring-gai National Park includes more than 350 indigenous sites including rock engravings, burial sites, axe grinding grooves and other places of Aboriginal occupation.
Descendants of the indigenous people still identify with the area, maintaining their connection to the land. Ku-ring-gai itself continues to grow as a culturally diverse society with peoples from all countries and walks of life.

A name is a powerful thing; a sign of identity, a claim to place, a label for ‘home’. A name can meld past and the present. The Ku-ring-gai name brings a sense of place, pride and past to residents and alumni alike.

Story by James Cottam