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Portrait of an Aboriginal man named BalloderreeThe drawings made by Watling, Raper and others have taken on a significance that their creators could not have realised when they set about making them. The drawings of individuals, family groups, their tools, customs and activities found in this section are a key record of Aboriginal people and their culture, developed over thousands of years, which suddenly met with enormous change. The accurately observed and dispassionate portraits give a unique record of some of the key individuals to interact with the settlers.

Within a year of the arrival of the First Fleet, the Aboriginal people of the Sydney area began to die of diseases, mainly smallpox, introduced by the colonists. It is estimated that within two years of the start of the European settlement the Aboriginal population of the Port Jackson (Sydney) area had been halved and that this rapid decline continued throughout the 19th and into the 19th century. Similarly, few of the artifacts that these people made and used have survived.