Dawn Reflection

As the sun rose on Australia Day, the world-renowned Sydney Opera House sails were illuminated with a spectacular Aboriginal artwork.


05:20 AM - 05:40 AM

26 January 2024


Sydney Opera House

2 Circular Quay East, Sydney, NSW, 2000

Important Information

First Nations at first light

Australia Day in Sydney started with a reflective moment to honour the nation’s Traditional Custodians as the sun rose over Sydney Harbour on Gadigal land.

The 2024 Dawn Reflection artwork showcased on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, titled Trailblazers, honoured four significant First Nations heroes who once shaped the landscape around Sydney Cove (Warrane) during the 18th century.

They were Nanbarry, Barangaroo, Pemulwuy, and Patyegarang.

Projected onto the iconic canvas of the Sydney Opera House on January 26, these historical figures come to life in a profound display of cultural remembrance.

The cultural figures were chosen by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and the artwork was designed by Aboriginal digital artist Brett Leavy who used digital tools to build on historical images, paintings, sculptures and references, to create lifelike and respectful 3D virtual portraits.

In its fourth year, the Dawn Reflection has become a meaningful tradition, offering a poignant annual acknowledgement to the remarkable contributions of Australia's first peoples at the first light of our national day.

Find out more about the Aboriginal figures depicted in the artwork below


2024 Dawn Reflection - Nanbarry Profile FINAL

Nanbarry was a prominent figure in Sydney’s early colonial history, serving as an interpreter and intermediary between his people and the British. As a boy he survived smallpox in 1789, which killed his parents. He recovered under the care of Surgeon John White and took on a new name—Andrew Sneap Hammond Douglass White.

Speaking "pretty good English," Nanbarry became a bridge between cultures. Some say he also acted as an Aboriginal spy within Governor Phillip's house, passing on warnings to Indigenous resistance leaders. He became a seaman on HMS Reliance, making voyages to Norfolk Island and the Great Barrier Reef.

In his youth, he took part in an initiation ceremony at Farm Cove in 1795 and throughout his life participated in ritual revenge battles. Nanbarry's death at Kissing Point in 1821 is shrouded in mystery. He was buried alongside Bennelong and his last wife within James Squire's orchard.


Barangaroo was an Indigenous woman who lived in the Sydney area before the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. She is often associated with the Cammeraygal people, part of the Eora Nation. She witnessed significant changes to her homeland and was known for her ability to adapt and be resilient.

Barangaroo played a significant diplomatic role in mediating between the local Gadigal clans and the European settlers, who were unaware of the traditional practices of the original custodians. Her interactions with figures such as Governor Arthur Phillip were notable for attempting to navigate the cultural and social complexities of the time.

Barangaroo resisted the impact of the exploitation and disruption to the harmony of Sydney Cove. This resistance was not only physical but cultural. Barangaroo made many efforts to maintain her cultural practices, connections to the land, and traditional ways of life despite the encroachment of the settlers.

Dawn Reflection 2024 Profile - Barangaroo FINAL


Pemulwuy was a prominent First Nations warrior. He was a proud member of the Bidjigal people, a clan of the Eora Nation. However, his role was not just that of a warrior - Pemulwuy, much like Barangaroo, began in a diplomatic role with the new arrivals, arranging trade through meat and fish.

His interactions with figures like the Gamekeeper John McIntyre have been recorded, and Pemulwuy fought to preserve cultural practices, maintain connections to the land, and uphold traditional ways of life as the First, Second and Third Fleeters arrived.

Pemulwuy led warriors from Botany Bay in the east to Parramatta and Toongabbie out west. In 1797 he was shot and hospitalised but later escaped. Pemulwuy was shot dead in 1802. Governor King recognising him as a as “a brave and independent character”. Today, Pemulwuy is remembered for his leadership, courage, and resilience.

Dawn Reflection 2024 - Pemulwuy Profile


Dawn Reflection 2024 - Patyegarang

Patyegarang is an important figure in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and is considered by some to be the first Aboriginal linguist in Australia. She was born before Sydney Town was established in the early 1780s, coming from the Cammeraygal clan of the Dharug nation.

At the young age of 15, Patyegarang assumed a role far beyond her years—serving as a cultural educator and local language instructor for Lieutenant William Dawes. Dawes forged connections with the local Gadigal people, finding in “Patye” (as he fondly called her) a resilient mentor.

Together, they embarked on compiling vocabularies, grammatical forms, and expressions in his notebooks. Dawes recorded their conversations, which would become a major source of information about the Gadigal language and offer unique insights into the broader concerns of Aboriginal people at the beginning of colonisation.

"It’s important to place these key individuals in their proper place in our history. They hold important roles, and their stories need to be shared with our nation. Many may know their names, but today is about shining a light on the role they played in modern Australian history.

The four statuesque images bring to life key Aboriginal figures who were not regularly recorded in Australian history books.

Using Metahuman technology, I work closely with cultural experts and community representatives to ensure each virtual representation aligns with historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity.”

Brett Leavy, Aboriginal Digital Artist

See images of Dawn Reflection projections from previous years

Location Map

Get directions

Australia Day in NSW Partners