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Beeliar Boodjar: an introduction to Aboriginal history in the City of Cockburn, Western Australia.

This report is based upon an interpretive Aboriginal history of a metropolitan region in Western Australia known today as the City of Cockburn. The researchers first conducted a review of existing literature and oral histories, then consulted with local Elders and members of the Aboriginal community to analyse the material and construct a historical narrative around the interrelated Nyungar theoretical principles of boodjar (land), moort (kin) and katitj (knowledge). This interpretive history draws heavily on previously conducted oral history projects to bring Aboriginal voices together with historical texts and a variety of language resources to reflect the continuous connection Nyungar people of Western Australia's south-west have with their Country.

This report is intended as an introduction to the deep and continuing history of Nyungar people and culture in the area known today as the City of Cockburn. The authors wish to acknowledge the many Aboriginal families who have long association with the Cockburn area and will have more stories to tell in the future.

The initial research plan for this project proposed that the researchers collect historical data to be analysed in consultation with Elders and Aboriginal community members who comprised the City of Cockburn Aboriginal History steering committee. Steering committee members included Reverend Sealin Garlett, Maisie Stokes, Gail Barrow and Hayati Jaffrey. The steering committee discussed the many different stories and pieces of historical and cultural information that pertained to the City's Aboriginal history and heritage. On the basis of existing literature and oral histories, the City of Cockburn has always contained major Nyungar camping sites and a number of major travel routes through Nyungar Country. The City was the site of various cross-cultural historical incidents in the early days of the Swan River Colony and was also an area that Aboriginal people moved to in the mid-1900s to participate in industry. Some of the first Aboriginal housing schemes in Western Australia began in the City of Cockburn and a number of inspiring social progress initiatives also had roots in the area (Collard et al. 2001; Palmer 2002).

The main themes and concepts covered in this report were chosen by the steering committee as being the most important for the general public to understand. These theoretical themes and concepts comprised boodjar (land), moort (kin) and katitj (knowledge), which includes the Dreaming, connection to boodjar, Nyungar language and nomenclature, and the history of trade relationships and interaction among people. The all-encompassing message of these themes and concepts is one of connectedness. Members of the steering committee emphasised the importance of connections between story, land and people, and how Nyungar language both explicitly and implicitly articulates that interconnectedness of kura, yeya, boorda, meaning from the past to the present and into the future (Collard and Harben 2010; Host et al. 2009; Morgan et al. 2008).

We advise that this document contains names of deceased Aboriginal people. Their relatives have been notified about this project and are pleased to see the wisdom of their Elders live on. We do not wish to cause any distress to Aboriginal people who follow a specific cultural protocol regarding such names.

The Nyungar context

Aboriginal Australians have histories spanning well over 40 000 years. In that time, Nyungar have occupied and managed the south-west of Western Australia (Hallam 1981). Nyungar is the generic name that describes people whose ancestors originally occupied and continue to occupy the whole South West (Collard and Harben 2010). The word Nyungar is commonly accepted as meaning 'person' or 'people' (Mountford and Collard 2000). Noongar, Nyoongar and a range of other spellings are in common use today. Words in the Nyungar language can be written in many different ways due to regional dialectic differences and the absence of a common orthography.

The South West is traditionally occupied by at least 12 Nyungar socio-dialectic groups, including Balardong, Juat, Kaneang, Koreng, Minang, Njakinjaki, Pibelmen, Pindjarup, Wardandi, Whadjuk, Wiilman and Wudjari (Tindale 1974). Beeliar is one clan of the Whadjuk group. Beeliar Nyungar literally means 'river people' (Bindon and Chadwick 1992). What we know today as the City of Cockburn is Beeliar Boodjar.

Boodjar, moort, katitj

Traditional owner, moort and long-time Cockburn resident Reverend Sealin Garlett informed us (Collard 2002:1):
 Boodjar means land to Aboriginal people.
 It really is the sense of identity and sense
 of belonging. This is my country where I
 belong. This is demangarmarn, my grandmother
 and grandfather's land, this is their
 land where their spirits move now. Boorda
 or later on, this is going to be the responsibility
 of my children and my children's children,
 their home and this place will always be
 linked to their spirit.

The 'Dreaming' is a term used to describe Aboriginal creation stories about events within and beyond the living memories of Aboriginal people. The Dreaming shaped the physical, moral and spiritual world and continues to renew and sustain itself today (Arthur 1996). Nyungar responsibilities, beliefs and values have been based on the same principles since kura (a long time ago). The content of Dreaming stories may change depending on the narrator, audience and location. The Rainbow Serpent, the Waakal, is always depicted as fundamental to Nyungar Dreaming, creating the shape of the boodjar and giving foundation to the meaning of life (Bennell and Collard 1991).

Traditional owner moort and long-term Cockburn resident Len Collard (2000:2) wrote that 'the Waakal came out of the earth. Sometimes it went kardup boodjar (under the earth) and sometimes it went yira boodjar (over the earth) and it made bilya [beeliar] (river/s), the kaart (hill/s) and ngamar (the waterhole/s).' It is easy to look at the Beeliar Nyungar wetland system and visualise this huge Waakal twisting up and down, making its way north to Fremantle and south to Mandurah.

Traditional owner moort, the late Tom Bennell Yelakitj, said:

the real water snake oh, he is pretty, that carpet snake ... the Nyungar call him Waakal kierp wirrinitj (water spirit). That means that carpet snake, he belongs to the water. You mustn't touch that snake; that's no good. If you kill that carpet snake noonook barminyiny that Waakal ngulla kierp uart, that means our water dries up--none. That is their history stories and very true too (Harben and Collard 2008:23).

The late Judy Jackson spent a long time in the 1940s and '50s visiting relatives camping in the wetlands around Walliabup (Bibra Lake). She stated, 'The Waugal [sic] keeps everything clean and tidy and supplies the clean waterways for the food to grow in those areas, the wildlife to live in those areas, for us to have our clean, fresh water' (Drake and Kennealy 1995:41).

Traditional owner moort Dorothy Winmar said, 'They believe in the Waakal very dearly. They reckon without the Waakal around they would have no water' (Collard et al. 2004:19). She explained that Nyungar have rules to follow when they are around the Waakal's sacred waterholes. The stories that many Nyungar tell is that when the water is clear it is all right to take the water, but when it is 'dark or murky' the Waakal is swimming around and you must not take any water while he is there.

Nyungar in the Cockburn area continue to enjoy much of their boodjar, visiting areas around estuary waters and wetlands with their moort, and wangkiny (talking) and maintaining Nyungar katitjiny (knowledge and understanding). Traditional owner moort and long-term Cockburn resident Patrick Hume said, 'There are special places around here ... It will just stay in my family, and be handed down from generation to generation' (Collard et al. 2001:13). The late Thomas Henry Ford was a traditional owner moort and long-term resident. He spoke about important places in Cockburn:

Yeah well one place they used to go is Bibra Lake but they got Adventure World there, but see they are all built over now ... The Aboriginals used to go and camp there years ago. There's another place out here at Thompson's Lake--it's only just a waterhole, it's water but that's another place of significance for Aboriginal people in the area (Collard et al. 2001:4).

Dr Joan Winch has lived in the Cockburn and Fremantle areas since 1942. She said:

Bibra Lake was the one that we used to go to. And there was so much water in those days, because the kids used to swim there ... And of course there was a lot of brumbies, you know, wild horses you'd come across--Lots of kangaroos ... Another place we used to go out to, was ride our bikes out with Dad down to Robb's Jetty and go fishing. Because people always used to go fishing out there. And I think there were quandong trees out along that way ... (Collard et al. 2001:3-4).

The wetland system in the Cockburn area has always been an important region for Nyungar. While having great spiritual significance, the wetlands have long provided a variety of food, medicinal and manufacturing resources (Palmer 2002). These well-populated wetland areas were the most biologically productive areas of the plain (Hallam 1972). Reverend Sealin Garlett says:

One of the things that I remember Uncle Cliff Humphries and Uncle Sully Hume talk about is the richness of Aboriginal people here. You see, one thing is, I am very sensitive of my surroundings and I found that going through the lakes here, there are a lot of trees that are associated with our bush medicine. I think that there is a wealth of medicine in our area ... through Bibra Lake ... when I used to walk in these places or take my kids for a walk, I always approached this place with my Aboriginal spirit, just thinking how we are surrounded by people who knew how to walk this land, you know? (Collard 2002:2).

Coolbellup (North Lake) and Walliabup (Bibra Lake) in the City of Cockburn local government area have always been main campsites, with large numbers of Nyungar frequently travelling to the area. Nyungar continued camping in the Cockburn area through the 1980s and regularly visit the area today. Long-established trails linking the fresh water wetlands were frequently utilised by Beeliar Nyungar and other Nyungar coming to the area to fulfil their social and cultural obligations. A series of well-worn paths leading to and away from Bibra and North Lakes formed the main transport route between the Swan River and Murray River Nyungar groups (Palmer 2002).

The late Joe Walley was a traditional owner of the Pindjarup region, south of Whadjuk Country. His family has a long association with the Cockburn area. He spoke of travel:

The Pindjarup Nyungar used to follow the lakes or water chain from Pinjarra, right through where Murdoch University now stands, to Walyalup or Fremantle. It was a seasonal run for the Nyungar, from Pinjarra to Ravenswood, past Lake Gorgerup, Black Lake, Pagononi's Swamp, Hansley Swamp and Warriup Swamp and past Thompson's Lake (Collard et al. 2004:43).

Nyungar language and place names

While there are far fewer Nyungar language speakers today than in the past, Nyungar language has been incorporated into Australia-English terms for places, trees, animals and various objects. More than 80 sign-posted suburbs, streets and landmarks in Cockburn have names in Nyungar language. In the coastal Nyungar dialects, the '-up' suffix at the end of a geographical name means 'place of' (Brandenstein 1988).

December 1801 was one of the first times that Nyungar language was written in Roman script. Englishman Matthew Flinders constructed a short wordlist while visiting Kinjarling, the place that would also become known as Albany (Flinders 1814). Although some linguists have used the International Phonetic Alphabet for writing Nyungar language (Henderson et al. 2006) and a Nyungar spelling system was developed in the 1990s (Whitehurst 1992), the academics and journalists who recorded Nyungar songs, stories and language were from vastly different cultural and disciplinary backgrounds, so their orthographies are often dissimilar and inconsistent. Some of the transcriptions of Nyungar material may also contain mistakes, and translations can be hampered by the writer's lack of familiarity with Nyungar language and culture. Regional dialectic difference among speakers also adds complexity to working with Nyungar language (Scott 2010).

Some historically recorded material may not be easy to share, but there are many examples of Nyungar names for places in the City of Cockburn that have meanings that relate Nyungar relationships with and interpretations of their land. Yangebup (Yangebup Lake), derived from the word Yanget, means 'place of the bulrushes'. Kogolup (Kogolup Lake) most likely means 'a place of the quokka' (Brandenstein 1988). The quokka is a small marsupial commonly found nearby on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup). Jilbup is the Nyungar name for Thompson Lake. It could mean 'place of green grass' and could also refer to the season in which grass becomes green. The root word djilba is both the name for that season and a word for 'green grass' (Bindon and Chadwick 1992). The name Toodjabubup (Banganup Lake) includes the word toodjar, meaning 'mist' (McGuire 2009). The Nyungar name for Cockburn Sound, Derbal Nara, indicates that it is a derbal 'estuary' (MacFaul 1833) of nara, 'salmon' (Bindon and Chadwick 1992).

Trade and exchange activity in the Whadjuk Nyungar region

The Cockburn area was a well-established place of trade activity among Nyungar groups (Polgaze 1986). Dr Richard Walley is a traditional owner of the Pindjarup region. His family has a long association with the Cockburn area. He spoke of trade:

Nyungar have always been engaged in trade, right back well before settlement ... Our people, the Nyungar, went as far as Uluru and the centre of Australia and those people, the Aboriginal people from there, came back here to Nyungar country as well ... The different groups would bring stones and ochres and all sorts of different things from their country that didn't exist in Nyungar country and that is a form of 'paying their way' when they visited Nyungar country. So trade in Nyungar country is very, very old. Thousands of years old (Harben and Collard 2008:65).

Non-Aboriginal author JE Hammond (1933:24) observed that many items produced by Nyungar in areas around Cockburn were traded to areas far north of Perth:
 While in the Gascoyne, in 1873-74, I found
 evidence of exchange with the Southwest ...
 [They] had blackboy gum and red tail feathers
 and white tail feathers of the cockatoo,
 which I had never seen or heard of north
 of Perth ... We also saw several koilies of the
 South-West on the Gascoyne, and this left us
 with no doubt that some sort of exchange was
 carried on ... I am much inclined to think that
 the blackboy gum we saw in the Gascoyne
 was also taken north from the South West
 with the spears, koilies and feathers.

Koilie is a Nyungar term for 'boomerang' and the gum that Hammond refers to is biriny, an adhesive produced using the resin of the Balga or Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea preisii) (McGuire 2009).


Focusing on the Nyungar thematic concepts of boodjar, moort and katitj, this report is intended as an introduction to the deep and continuing history of Nyungar people and culture in the area known today as the City of Cockburn. The range of literary sources and oral histories reflects the continuity of connection Nyungar have with their Country and reveals the continuing manifestation of a sense of the history and spirit of place in the area known today as the City of Cockburn. As demonstrated by the decision of Justice Wilcox in September 2006 that native title existed over the Perth metropolitan region (Host et al. 2009), there is a growing awareness that Nyungar communities in metropolitan areas maintain cultural capital, including language, story and song, which demonstrates their connection to Nyungar boodjar kura, yeya, boorda. As Nyungar in the City of Cockburn and surrounding districts always say, nidja Nyungar boodjar noonook nyininy--This is Nyungar Country you are located in.


Arthur, Jay 1996 Aboriginal English, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Bennell, Tom and Glenys Collard 1991 Kura, Nyungar Language & Culture Centre, Bunbury, WA.

Bindon, Peter and Ross Chadwick 1992 A Nyoongar Wordlist from the South West of Western Australia, Western Australian Museum, Perth.

Brandenstein, Charles von 1988 Nyungar Anew: Phonology, text samples and etymological and historical 1500-word vocabulary of an artificially re-creates Aboriginal language in the South-West of Australia, Pacific Linguists, Canberra.

Collard, Len 2000 The Waakarl Story, Catholic Education Office of Western Australia, Perth.

--2002 Oral history interview with Reverend Sealin Garlett, unpublished, Perth.

--, David Palmer and Leonie Stella 2001 City of Cockburn Oral History Project, Murdoch University, Perth.

--, Sandra Harben and Rosemary van den Berg 2004 Nidja Beeliar Boodjar Noonookurt Nyininy: A Nyungar interpretive history of the use of hoodjar (country) in the vicinity of Murdoch University, Murdoch University, Perth, <http://wwwmcc.> accessed 21 October 2011.

--and Sandra Harben 2010 'Which knowledge path will we travel?', Studies in Western Australian History 26:75-95.

Drake, Cathy and Shona Kennealy 1995 Recollections of the Beeliar Wetlands: Recollections of long-time local residents, City of Cockburn, Waters and Rivers Commission, City of Melville, Town of Kwinana, Alcoa of Australia, Perth.

Flinders, Matthew 1814 A Voyage to Terra Australis Undertaken for the Purpose of Completing the Discovery of that Vast Country and Prosecuted in the Years 1801, 1802, and 1803, Volume 1, G and W Nichol, Booksellers to His Majesty, London.

Hallam, Sylvia 1972 'An archaeological survey of the Perth area, Western Australia', Australian Archaeology 6:13-27.

--1981 'The first Western Australians' in CT Stannage (ed.), A New History of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, WA, pp.35-71.

Hammond, Jesse 1933 Winjan's People: The story of the south-west Australian Aborigines, Hesperian, Perth.

Harben, Sandra and Len Collard 2008 Avon Basin Noongar Heritage and Cultural Significance of Natural Resources: Literature review, Murdoch University, Perth.

Henderson, John, Denise Smith-Ali, Kim Scott and Hannah McGlade 2006 A Protocol for Laves' 1931 Noongar Field Notes, AIATSIS, Canberra, <www. Protocol_for_Laves_1931_Noongar_Field_Notes.pdf> accessed 21 October 2011.

Host, John, Chris Owens and The South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council 2009 'It's Still in My Heart, This Is My Country': The single Noongar claim history, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, WA.

MacFaul, Charles 1833 'The topography of Derbal', Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal 23 April:64.

McGuire, Oral 2009 Nyungar Budjara Wangany: Nyungar NRM wordlist and language collection booklet of the Avon catchment region, Wheatbelt Natural Resource Management, Northam, WA.

Morgan, Sally, Tjalaminu Mia and Blaze Kwaymullina 2008 Heartsick for Country: Stories of love, spirit and creation, Fremantle Press, North Fremantle, WA.

Mountford, Anne and Len Collard 2000 Nidja Noongar Boodjar Noonook Nyininy (This is Noongar Country You Are Sitting In), Catholic Education Office of WA, Perth.

Palmer, David 2002 Aboriginal Involvement in the Cockhurn Area: Reviewing the literature, Murdoch University, Perth.

Polgaze, Ray 1986 The Aboriginal significance of Coolbellup/Walliabup wetlands (North Lake and Bibra Lake), unpublished, Perth.

Scott, Kim 2010 'Apologies, agency and resilience' in R West-Pavlov and J Wawrzinek (eds), Frontier Skirmishes: Literary and cultural debates in Australia after 1992, Winter Verlag, Heidelberg.

Tindale, Norman 1974 Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Whitehurst, Rose 1992 Noongar Dictionary: Noongar to English and English to Noongar, Noongar Language and Cultural Centre, Bunbury, WA.

Len Collard

Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute

Clint Bracknell

University of Western Australia

Associate Professor Len Collard is a Whadjuk/ Balardong Nyungar and traditional owner of the Perth region. Associate Professor Collard is an Australian Research Fellow--Indigenous at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute. He has a background in literature and communications and his research interests are in the area of Aboriginal studies, including Nyungar interpretive histories and Nyungar theoretical and practical research models. He has conducted research for the Australian Research Council, the National Trust of Western Australia, the Western Australian Catholic Schools and the Swan River Trust. His research has broadened the understanding of the many unique characteristics of Aboriginal people and improved the appreciation of Aboriginal culture and heritage of the south-west of Australia. Len's ground-breaking theoretical work has put Nyungar cultural research on the national stage.


Assistant Professor Clint Bracknell lectures at The School of Indigenous Studies, The University of Western Australia, and is compiling research on the musical and linguistic heritage of Nyungar people. His ancestral Nyungar country is along the south-east coast of Western Australia. The Norman Tindale nomenclature refers to this area as Wudjari/Koreng and his cultural Elders use the term Wirlomin to refer to their clan. Clint is heavily involved in the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project, a Nyungar language regeneration project in the south of Western Australia.

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Title Annotation:RESEARCH REPORT
Author:Collard, Len; Bracknell, Clint
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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