The name 'Awabakal' means people of the plain or flat surface, believed to refer to the surface of Lake Maquarie. From the observations of the Reverend Threlkeld, it is understood that the Awabakal people lived around Lake Macquarie.
Aboriginal people believe there is no separation between the health of the land and the health of the people. They have long known that to care for the environment is to care for all the living things; that all life is part of the enormous network of relationships that were created by the Great Spirit ancestors of the Dreaming.
The territory of the Awabakal people was believed to extend from the Hunter River to the southern extremities of Lake Macquarie or the Tuggerah Lake in the south. The western boundary was the Sugarloaf Range and the Watagan Mountains. It should be noted that boundaries were not defined lines as on modern maps, but environmental landscapes and rather more fluid with communication and interaction between neighbouring countries. There are four tribal areas shown on maps that appear to converge on the Hunter River around the contemporary city of Maitland. These tribes are the Darkinung, Wanarua, Worimi and Awabakal.
The Awabakal people consisted of four clans, all of which had an area within the tribal territory considered theirs to use in their search for food and to gather raw materials for technologies. The four clans were; Pambalong (or Swamp District), Ash Island, Kurungbong and Lake Macquarie.
The clans came together on social and ceremonial occasions. On a daily basis they respected territorial boundaries.
From an early colonist perspective, most knowedge came from the Rev. L.E. Threlkeld who spent much time with the "Lake Macquarie Clan he knew or named as the Lake Macqquarie Clan. Their territory was bounded to the south by Reids' Mistake, the entrance to Lake Macquarie. North by Newcastle and Hunters' River, west by the Five Islands on the head of Lake Macquarie. This boundary, about 14 miles north and south by 13 miles east and west, is considered as their own land." Gunson N., 'Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L.E. Threlkeld 1824-1859'
Awabakal Enviromental Education Centre is located within this clan's territory.
Reports of numbers of Aboriginals at Newcastle were 200 to 300 people. Rev. L.E. Threlkeld's reports contradict this, but his contact was with just one clan, the Lake Macquarie, so accuracy is uncertain. Between 1825 and 1837 there were consistently about sixty Aboriginals, approximately 30 women and 30 men. The large number could refer to large tribal gatherings of the Awabakal or even inter-tribal gathering.
The more favourable environment of the coast, with the greater abundance and range of foods, supported greater numbers of Aboriginals than further inland.
The numbers of the Awabakal people were drastically reduced after 1837, within a matter of years. Such a decline was a result of the European diseases, such as smallpox and influenza, which "made sad havoc amongst the Aboriginal Tribes." The decimation of Aboriginal Australians in the first instance by disease and then by conflict was a reflection of lack of immunity to European infections and of worsening relations between Aboriginal Australians and the European colonists.