The arrival of the First Fleet in Port Jackson in January 1788 brought together two cultures that had evolved in response to different climates, different resources and different stresses. Britain had over two hundred years of contact with cultures that differed to a considerable degree from its own. The Eora had no such experience. By February 1788 it was becoming apparent that the visitors were not leaving. They were exploiting valuable food resources that placed pressure on a finely-balanced relationship held by Eora with the land and water over which they were custodians. The group that had most contact with the new arrivals was the Cadigal whose home territory was chosen as the main point of settlement. Governor Arthur Phillip’s instruction for establishing the new colony included opening a dialogue between the British and the indigenous inhabitants of New South Wales. The main purpose of such a dialogue was to turn what had all the hallmarks of an unpromising venture to Britain’s advantage.
First contacts varied from place to place but there was curiosity on both sides. The Eora initially avoided contact with the newcomers and it was not until 5 February 1788 that Wallumedagal people were induced to cross the river and accept gifts from a party under William Bradley at Breakfast Point in Wangal territory. During the following days small numbers of Eora entered the camp at Sydney Cove but could not be persuaded to stay. A further encounter took place on 9 February 1788 when Phillip met two elders who approached the camp at Sydney Cove but would not enter it. The meeting was cordial and polite and a significant degree of nonchalance was displayed by the elders. This meeting however, effectively terminated close contact between the groups.
On 30 May 1788 the first British casualties, rush-cutters William Okey and Samuel Davis, occurred at a time when reports were made of Eora living in a state of starvation. The deaths of Okey and Davis took place on the foreshores of Darling Harbour and were probably a payback for the killing of an Aboriginal man by Morty Lynch, a marine. The unnamed Eora man allegedly stole Lynch’s jacket a few days before. The attack on the Eora man occurred on Major Ross’ farm at what is today, Balmain. This location, known to the eora as Kow-wan or Kowang, lies within Wangal territory.
With hostilities escalating throughout the latter half of 1788 the urgency for Phillip, to discharge his instructions regarding dialogue with the inhabitants of Port Jackson became paramount. In November 1788 a second settlement had been established at the limit of saltwater at Rose Hill (Parramatta). Communication between the two settlements was almost always undertaken by boat. The presence of two settlements would soon become a matter of great concern to the Eora With gentler, coercive means failing, the only alternative considered was to capture one or more of the local inhabitants in order to obtain information regarding the number of inhabitants and the nature of any potential natural resources.
On 31 December 1788 Arabanoo was captured at Manly Cove for this purpose. The Gamaragal appear to have been deliberately targeted, possibly because of their perceived superior position within Eora society. Arabanoo, who is assumed to be Gamaragal, provided limited information - language was the principal problem as well as an understandable reticence to give information that may provide an advantage to the invaders. For nearly four months Arabanoo remained isolated from his people except when under supervision of his captors.
In April and May 1789 the first reports of a contagion sweeping through the Eora were made. The ‘smallpox’ outbreak – referred to by the Eora as ‘gal-gal-la’ may have reduced the population within the area known to Europeans by a considerable degree. Bennelong would later estimate this reduction to be 50% over a period of less than three months. In effect the 1500 people estimated to be living within the immediate environs of the settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788 were now reduced to less than 800 individuals. The immediate effects were the deaths of vulnerable members of the communities – the elders, young women and children. Young and mature men appear to have had a greater chance of survival. The dead were left unburied in places that would normally be used for habitation and the survivors dispersed, further spreading the disease so that its effects extended beyond the Eora and into neighbouring groups.
The secondary effect was on the structure of Eora society - during the first encounters contact had been managed by elders within the local groups – after the outbreak very few elders were seen. Effects of the outbreak varied across the Port Jackson region – the Gamaragal appeared to be less affected than their neighbours. The Cadigal however, were now reduced to three people – all males. The response to this situation was the combining of members of surviving groups to form new groups. The British settlers were apprehensive of the situation in that it was assumed that they would be blamed for the outbreak. As mitigation the British used the outbreak to demonstrate their good intentions by caring for the sick brought into the camp, despite the risk of spreading the disease within their own people.
Nanbarry, a Cadigal, a boy 9 or 10 years old was brought into the settlement with his father both suffering from smallpox – the father died but the boy recovered and was taken into the household of Surgeon White. A girl of fourteen, Boorong - known initially as Abaroo (Barramattagaleon) was brought into the settlement by the Governor’s boat suffering from smallpox and was adopted by the Rev. Richard Johnson’s wife.
On 18 May 1789 Arabanoo – who was being groomed as the primary interlocutor between the local peoples and the British, died of smallpox. Arabanoo’s role was now filled by Nanbarry and Boorong with limited success. Neither had standing within the surviving communities and had limited knowledge to impart to the British regarding the geography and resources of Port Jackson.
 You are to endeavour by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the Savages Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of Our Subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary Interruption in the exercise of their several occupations. It is our Will and Pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the Offence. You will endeavour to procure an account of the Numbers inhabiting the Neighbourhood of the intended settlement and report your opinion to one of our Secretaries of State in what manner Our Intercourse with these people may be turned to the advantage of this country. (Draught Instructions For Governor Phillip 25 April 1787 National Archives PC 1/62/16)
 Bradley 1969, p 76
 Feby. 9th. This day 2 of the Natives came down very near the Camp they came to within a small distance of the Governor's house but cd. not by any entreaty be prevail'd upon to go into the Camp. The[y] were both men pretty much advanced in life; had each of them long spears in their hands The Governor went to them attended by several officers &: presented one of them wt. an Hatchet & bound some red Bunting abt. their heads wt. some yellow Tinfoil; They sat down under a tree & cd. not be prevailed upon to go any further. They appear'd to express very little surprize at the Governor's house, which was very near them -- they sit in the same form in wh. the Taylors in England sit & one of them while in this attitude sharpen'd the point of his spear with an Oyster shell (rub'd to an edge & fasten'd in to a stick abt. a foot long) on the Bottom of his foot -- While I was standing by them a black Boy belonging to one of the Ships in the fleet came up to look at them -- They appear'd pleas'd to see him, felt his hair, open'd his shirt bosom & examin'd his breasts & by signs express'd a wish to have a lock of his hair, wh. I made the Boy let me cut off & presented to them & in return I cut off some of their hair -- They put the Boy's hair carefully by in a wreath of grass twisted round one of the Spears.They stay'd here at least an hour then betook themselves into the woods, & nobody has been near the Camp since. (ML Safe 1 / 15 Arthur Bowes-Smyth, illustrated journal, 1787-1789. Titled `A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in the Lady Penrhyn, Merchantman William Cropton Sever, Commander by Arthur Bowes-Smyth, Surgeon - 1787-1788-1789'; being a fair copy compiled ca 1790. a1085099)
 II have no doubt but that this Native having been murdered occasioned their seeking revenge & which proved fatal to those who were not concerned. They have attacked our people where they met them unarmed, but that did not happen until they had been ill treated by us in the lower part of the Harbour & fired upon by the French. (William Bradley 1969: 111-112)
 The term ‘gal-gal-la’ was later employed in reference to a skin condition referred to as ‘the itch’.