Noongar dancers and Elders at WA Parliament during 2009
The following is a timeline of Noongar history and was originally published online in 2015. It will be updated from time to time. There is no apology for its lengthiness.
BACKGROUND TO THE WA GOVERNMENT TREATY WITH THE NOONGAR NATION
The Wagyl (or Waugal, Waagal) is central to Noongar beliefs, law and custom. It is a large snakelike creature responsible for the creation of the Swan and Canning Rivers and other waterways and landforms around present day Perth and the south-west of Western Australia. In Noongar beliefs the Wagyl was created by the Rainbow Serpent which entrusted the Wagyl to protect the rivers, lakes, springs and the wildlife. The Noongar people were appointed as the guardians of the land by the Wagyl.
Many Noongar people past and present talk of seeing the Wagyl. The Darling Scarp is said to represent the body of the Wagyl, which meandered over the land creating the curves and contours of the hills and gullies. As the Wagyl slithered over the land, his track shaped the sand dunes, his body scoured out the course of the rivers; where he occasionally stopped for a rest, and he created bays and lakes. Piles of rocks are said to be his droppings, and such sites are considered sacred. As he moved, his scales scraped off and become the forests and woodlands of the region. As well as being strongly associated with rivers the Wagyl joins up with Wetland systems like Herdsman and Lake Monger and still resides deep beneath springs. The most prominent Wagyl site in Perth is at the base of Kings Park at the Swan Brewery Site where the earliest European settlers recorded Noongar people talking about and protecting the Wagyl.
Noongar country conforms closely to the South West Indian Ocean Drainage Region, and the use of these waters played a very important seasonal part in Noongar culture.
The Noongar people divided the year into six distinct seasons that corresponded with moving to different habitats and feeding patterns based on seasonal foods.
Dry and hot. Noongar burned sections of scrubland to force animals into the open for easier hunt.
Hottest part of the year, with sparse rainfall throughout. Noongar moved to estuaries for fishing.
Cooler weather begins. Fishing continued and bulbs and seeds were collected for food.
Cold fronts that have until now brushed the lower south west coast begin to cross further north. This is usually the wettest part of the year. Noongar moved inland to hunt once rains had replenished inland water resources.
Often the coldest part of the year, with clear, cold nights and days, or warmer, rainy and windy periods. As the nights begin to warm up there are more clear, sunny days. Roots were collected and emus, possums and kangaroo were hunted.
A definite warming trend is accompanied by longer dry periods and fewer cold fronts crossing the coast. The height of the wildflower season. Noongar moved towards the coast where frogs, tortoises and freshwater crayfish were caught.
History prior to ‘Swan River Colony’
Pre history scientific dating confirms that the continent now known as Australia has been occupied by Aboriginal people for at least 50,000 years. In the south west of Western Australia, tools that are 35,000 years old and Noongar remains between 12,000 and 20,000 years old have been unearthed from an archaeological deposit in a limestone cave at Devil’s Lair, near Augusta. A more recent study says this date is more likely to go back some 50,000 years.
Noongar people lived by hunting and trapping a variety of game, including kangaroos, possums and wallabies. They fished using spears and fish traps as well as by gathering an extensive range of edible wild plants including wattle seeds. They used an enormous range of native plants and wildlife such as the grass trees (Balga) sap for medicinal purposes. Noongar people utilised quartz instead of flint for spear and knife edges and developed the art of working quartz crystals. They wore the cloak of the Kangaroo for warmth is the colder areas of the South West.
On the ship Gulden Zeepaerdt, Dutchman Pieter Nuyts “accidentally discovered the south coast east of Cape Leeuwin”, after this the area was commonly referred to as Nuytsland by Dutch explorers.
Dutchmen Volkersen and Jonck on the Emeloort, and the Waeckende Boey, were sent to search for survivors of shipwrecks, sought individually information about the ‘Southland’ near the Swan River and towards Bunbury. Jonck touched the coast near Bunbury and then turned away going North. Volkersen, on Waeckende Boey, touched the coast at Rottnest Island, lowered a boat and sailed up and down the coast noting that many fires were burning fiercely and there was much smoke rising in several places where Noongar people were camping.
The ships Geelvinck and Nijptangh anchored at Rottnest with Willem Vlamingh leading the expedition.
French expedition led by D’Entrecasteaux visited the South West Coast, the party included Riche from the ship Esperance. Riche sought to make contact with Noongars and saw fires in the distance, however, he got lost over night, and those searching for him saw some Noongar people who they assumed were “a unique species of man who could live on salt water and on special types of nourishment not suited to others”.
Nicholas Baudin anchored at King George Sound and proceeded up the coast towards the Swan River. He and his people discovered ‘the ingenious system of fish traps the Noongar people had constructed in Oyster Harbour, along the Frenches (Kalgan) River and near Cape Leeuwin. After visiting two islands off the coast (Carnac and Garden Island) a group, led by M. Heirisson, proceeded up the Swan River up to the area around Guildford.
Phillip Parker King visited King George Sound and produced a detailed account of his contacts with the Aboriginal people residing there; he recorded the presence of a man named Coolbun at the Sound.
King George Sound Garrison established Albany. Major Edmund Lockyer was instructed to establish a government settlement and garrison at King George Sound. Lockyer’s journal documents his encounters with the Noongar people of the area. Settlers such as Collet Barker meet Noongar man Mokare and establish a close friendship.
Charles Fraser, Colonial Botanist who accompanied the party in the Success to Swan River in 1827 wrote: ‘The natives in the vicinity of the Cape (Naturalist) and on the Bay are exceedingly communicative…I then joined them in their “Corr-abb-orra” [Corroboree] or dance in which we were joined by the Officers and sailors on shore. Their showing particular attention to me must have arisen from my being acquainted with their manner of dancing and singing, in which they heartily joined. Their language is distinct from that of every tribe I have met with on the Eastern coast or the interior …’
On 8 March 1827 when Captain James Stirling and 18 others were exploring the Swan River, near the present day suburb of Claisebrook, they encountered three armed Noongar men. Stirling noted that ‘they seemed angry at the invasion of their territory, and by their violent gestures gave him reason to rejoice at the space of water, which divided them from the boat.’ Three days later further down the river a group of about 30 other Noongar people appeared on the riverbank. Slightly concerned, Stirling wrote;
At first they displayed great reserve, but, as we made no attempt to approach them, the warriors followed us along the bank, the woman and children retiring out of sight. The woods now resounded with their shouts, to which replied our bugle with equal loudness and with more than equal melody. At this point appearances wore a threatening aspect, for the Natives seem very much enraged, and I judged from the violent gestures and great noise they made that we should shortly have a shower of spears.
Establishment of the Swan River Colony
In 1829 Captain Charles Fremantle took formal possession of the west coast of New Holland, which became known as the Swan River Colony of Western Australia. Shortly after Captain James Stirling arrived at the Swan River with the first settlers aboard the Parmelia and read the proclamation which stated that the Aboriginal inhabitants would be protected by the Laws of England and anyone harming them would be punished.
Between 1828 and 1886 Aboriginal affairs in Western Australia were the administrative responsibility of the Colonial Secretary, who operated in accordance with policy dictated by the Home Office (UK). The Colonial Secretary’s Office (CSO) originated with the appointment of Peter Broun as first Colonial Secretary on 30 December 1828.
December 15 – Thomas Peel arrived at Swan River colony with settlers. Nearly 2,000 settlers had arrived by the end of this year. Peel was granted enormous tracks of land south of Perth.
A “Native Institution” of four acres established in the Swan River Colony on the foreshore below Mt Eliza at Kings Park where the Swan Brewery now sits. The first administrative act in relation to Aboriginal people of the Swan River Colony was the setting up by Governor Stirling in 1832 of a mounted police corps with the Superintendent of Natives at the head. Its purpose was to ‘protect and control’ Aboriginal People. A Superintendent of Tribes was appointed to assist the Colonial Secretary in 1832. This was Captain Ellis who died as a result of his injuries during the 1834 Pinjarra massacre.
Hostility between Noongars and Europeans increased as more explorers arrived in the Avon Valley area. As Europeans expanded their number of sheep and crops, Noongar people were deprived of their water holes and hunting grounds. The settlers demanded that soldiers were posted at York to protect them from the increasing conflict, and an outpost was established there. The town of Northam was gazetted in 1833.
An influential Noongar figure from the 1830s was Yagan who was born about 1795. He was the son of Midgegooroo whose country was south east of Perth in the Canning River region. Other local groups included Yellagonga’s in Perth and Munday’s people who were east of the Swan and north from Canning River. Yagan was quoted as saying
‘You came to our country; you have driven us from our haunts, and disturbed us in our occupations: as we walk in our country we are fired upon by the white men; why should the white men treat us so?
His father, Midgegooroo, was executed by firing squad in St George’s Terrace; an execution without equal in Australia’s history. This event was seen as a tipping point in relations between the Noongar people and the Swan River Colony along with its the colonial settlers.
The Perth Deanery is on the site of the former colonial goal, where Midgegooroo was executed
Yagan was seen by the early settler Robert Lyon as a hero. Writing in the Perth Gazette Newspaper Lyon argues that Yagan and other Noongar who were being arrested for the ‘crimes’ against settlers should not be regarded as criminal and outlaws but prisoners of war because they were defending their land and property. After a series of conflicts a bounty was placed on Yagan’s head. He was finally shot, his back skinned to obtain his tribal markings and his kaat (head) decapitated, smoked and taken to London as a memento of the ‘Swan River chieftain’ where it was exhibited as an ‘anthropological curiosity’. It spent over a century in storage at a museum before being buried in an unmarked grave in 1964. In 1984 Noongar people were successful in getting a memorial statue celebrating Yagan erected on Herrison Island near the Causeway. Yagan’s kaat was eventually reburied in 2010 at a memorial park built in his honor in the Swan Valley.
On October 28 1834, along the Murray River in the Pinjarra area, a camp of Noongar people were attacked by a party of soldiers led by James Stirling, the Governor of the Swan River Colony. In European records, this event is known as ‘The Battle of Pinjarra’, but Noongar people view it very differently as ‘The Pinjarra Massacre.’ The British had been intent on invading Noongar country for the purposes of farming, and creating a link between the Perth colony and the deeper Southwest to Albany. Successful resistance by the Noongar people was thwarting their plans, and threatening the stability of the colony. In an effort to put an end to the resistance, Governor Stirling led a party of mounted police, soldiers and settlers in an organised attack on the Noongar people. In an early morning ambush many were massacred as Stirling’s men sought to ‘punish’ the group for previous crimes against the settlers. Stirling maintained that only 15 men were killed; however, other accounts, both written and oral, place the toll at upwards of 30, and possibly more. This contrasted with one casualty on the British side being ‘Superintendent of Tribes’ Captain Ellis. Furthermore, it seems that most of the ‘wanted’ men may not have been at the camp that morning (only two were reported killed) and so Stirling’s party attacked a largely innocent and defenseless group of people.
Settlements were established in the south-west at Albany, Denmark, Kelmscott, Katanning, Williams, Augusta, Busselton, Bunbury, Pinjarra, York and Beverley.
An Aboriginal Mission was commenced in the Swan Valley by Irwin and Moore who were leading Anglicans in the Swan River Colony; they had previously established the ‘West Australian Missionary Society’ and their first missioner was Luis Guistiani. Exactly, fifty years later this became the site of the “Swan Native & Half Caste Mission”.
Governor Stirling succeeded by John Hutt. Governor Hutt introduced a number of Aboriginal policy reforms. Protectors of Aborigines are appointed at Perth and York.
1840 – 54
A period of programs to “civilize” the Noongar population starts. Institutions for Aboriginal children opened at Perth, Fremantle, Wanneroo, Guildford, York and New Norcia. Land bounties were offered to colonists who trained Noongar men and women to apprentice standards. Children could be removed for apprenticeships without parental permission.
Under Governor Hutt a system of Protectorship was established. Two protectors were appointed by the Colonial Office in England. Charles Symmons was stationed in Perth and patrolled the area from Perth down the coast to Augusta. Peter Barrow was stationed at York and patrolled the area around York inland down to Albany. The Protectors Role was to ‘protect, civilize and mediate’ between Aboriginal People and the Government. The size of Noongar country and the distances they had to travel made this a somewhat difficult task. The Colonial Government issued directions that Noongar people should not be admitted to towns.
Rottnest Island prison, established in 1838, officially became a prison for Aboriginal people from all over the state. Apart from a short period from 1849-54 it continued to receive prisoners until 1931. Known as Wadjemup to Noongar people its original objectives were to train and repatriate prisoners into the rural work-force. Over three hundred Aboriginal prisoners died here. Today the former gaol has been converted into holiday accommodation and campers pitch their tents near burial sites. A lack of acknowledgement of the Noongar traumatic historical connection with this island remains outstanding.
One of the most notorious massacres in Noongar country occurred in the Wonnerup area in response to the spearing of prominent property owner George Layman by a Noongar elder, Gayware. The Wonnerup area is located within the traditional territories of the Wardandi, a sub group of the Noongar people of the South west of WA. These wetlands provided the Noongar people with reliable food sources. The Noongar practiced firestick farming which saw seasonal burning of the grasslands which in turn promoted new growth of the vegetation and drove game into the open for hunting. As European settlement in the region grew settlers hunted for game, fenced properties and sought to stop seasonal burning. The depletion of food sources forced Noongar people to raid settler’s livestock and supplies to survive. In a confrontation at Layman’s property, Layman pulled Gayware’s beard, which is recognised in traditional terms as a ‘gross insult’ to a Noongar elder. Reprisals by the settlers followed which resulted in an unknown (but suspected large) number of Noongar people being killed.
The Crown prosecuted Weewar, a Binjareb Nyungar warrior, for carrying out tribal payback by spearing Dyung of the Mooro Group. Weewar’s trial became the test case in Western Australia which determined that British Law took precedence over traditional law.
New Norcia Mission founded. Benedictine monks set about creating an Aboriginal village community. Many Noongar families from this area were given Spanish names.
Reward for ‘civilising natives’ abolished. Interest in local Noongar people had waned and the number of settlers in the Swan River Colony had diminished so much through hardship and that the whole colony was under threat of collapse. Accordingly an Order in Council declared Western Australia to be a convict colony.
The title of Protector of Aborigines was changed to Guardian of Aborigines and protector of Settlers. In 1857, this special office lapsed.
1850 – 1860
First convicts arrived from England on 1 June 1850.
The formalised boundaries of the Swan River settlement were extended east to Kellerberrin and southeast to Williams and Kojonup. Reserves for Aboriginal people start being established on outskirts of towns.
The second official census of the colony was undertaken in 1854 with the total population recorded as 11,743. No Noongar people were counted in this census.
The Transportation of convicts ends. By now a total of 9,668 convicts had been sent to the Swan River Settlement. Noongar people become a primary source of labour particularly on rural farming properties. Noongar people continued to live on country, often on the farms on which they worked. This meant that much of their traditional lifestyle was maintained whilst they worked on the farms.
By the late 1870s Government policy was influenced by a belief in the ‘inevitable extinction’ of a dying race of ‘tribal’ Aborigines, and concern at the growth of so called ‘half caste’ or ‘mixed blood’ Aborigines.
The Aborigines Protect Act 1886 was to provide for the ‘better protection and management’ of Aborigines. The administration of Aboriginal affairs was removed from the Colonial Secretary and entrusted to the Aboriginal Protection Board, which consisted of five members and a secretary, all of whom were nominated by the Governor. The Board was responsible for overseeing the activities of the Protectors of Aborigines, who were individuals appointed by the Governor or the Board under the Aborigines Protection Act 1886. This Act allowed the Aborigines Protection Board (APB) to supervise rationing and medical care, and provided for the provision of 5,000 pounds to be spent on the care and protection of Aborigines. ‘Miscellaneous’ aspects of the Act included the provision that ‘every Aboriginal native of Australia, and every Aboriginal half-caste or child of a half-caste, such half-caste or child habitually associating and living with Aboriginals’ should come under the jurisdiction of the Act.’ Power was given to any justice of the peace to order Aborigines out of town. If they refused they could be sentenced to up to one month jail.
After the granting of responsible government to Western Australia in 1890 the board remained in the hands of the British Government as they were wary that the ‘black subjects’ were not being treated fairly.
A large group of Noongars gathered for a corroboree at the Government Well reserve, one and a half miles from Northam. Most had been shepherding for station owners and they came back to their traditional country where they met other family groups for ceremonies and meetings. A European observer described the corroborees: ‘Dances were held every evening and they took up a collection from the Europeans who went to watch.’About 35 of the Noongars were from the Northam district, the remainder came from Victoria Plains, Newcastle, York, Southern Cross and Coolgardie.
The Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed on 1 January. The early twentieth century in post Federation (1901) Australia was set against the background of the ‘White Australia policy’ and chronic racism directed towards Noongars. The emphasis became based on exclusion and segregation with Noongars excluded from jobs under the new Labor government, excluded from towns and children removed from schools. ‘Native camps’ were established on the outskirts of most towns. Curfews existed with Aboriginal people having to vacate the town area by 6 pm or face arrest. It was an offence for Aboriginal people to drink alcohol.
1900 – 1914
Minimum of sixteen Noongar farmers gained land by a special provision in the 1887 Land Regulations (‘up to 200 acres of land could be conceded to Aboriginal people under terms and conditions laid down by the governor’). The Lands Dept granted these blocks under reserve conditions, this meant the land could be resumed at any time and it was. Unlike European farmers the Noongar farmers had no title against which to borrow the finance needed to carry out the improvements required by the terms of occupancy so the land grants were lost.
1901 During the visit to Perth of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York during an eight-month royal tour of the British Empire in 1901. The six men were given the title of Kings for their respective country, and may have been adorned with ‘King Plates’ to acknowledge their importance in their aboriginal communities.
In September 1904 a 245 acre Reserve was created for Noongar people in Welshpool (present day Forrestfield); this became a ‘feeding depot.’ The Welshpool reserve was cancelled when ‘Moore River Native Settlement’ was established in 1918. The Chief Protector of Aborigines, Henry Prinsep, moved elderly Noongar people from Northam, York and Beverley to Welshpool Reserve.
The old ‘Welshpool Reserve’ now has the Tonkin highway, cutting through one corner of it; but it is largely intact. the site has not been privatised, but it includes: sporting facilities, a golf club, a veteran car club and the like. It has some signage that acknowledges its history and can be identified from google earth. While it appears to be public land; it is not clear why the land is not held by the Aboriginal Lands Trust?
At the turn of the century there was alarm about ‘inter race mixing’ and the population of Noongar people was increasing rapidly. New legislative measures were enacted in response to these concerns. The most infamous was the 1905 Aborigines Act.
The Aborigines Act of 1905 set up a bureaucratic structure for the control of Aboriginal people where all Aboriginal people became ‘wards of the state’. Under the Act, people were classified as ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ based on the ratio of Aboriginal blood to European blood. One of the major functions of this Act was to ‘provide for the custody, maintenance and education of the children of Aborigines’.
From 1905 to 1910 Daisy Bates undertook detailed genealogical and ethnographic research with Noongar people throughout the South West. Bates records information from Noongar people such as Joobaitch, the son of well known leader Yellagonga. She also recorded stories about the ‘dreaming’ or as Bates records it, the ‘Nyitting’, defined as ‘ancestral times’. In her notebooks there are references to the Waugal which is the same creation spirit recorded by early writers. The Waugal created the waterways in the South West along which Noongar people camped and hunted. Bates is extremely dismissive of what she called ‘half-caste’ Noongar people and does not records them in her genealogies.
In 1911 amendments to the Aborigines Act 1905 removed restrictions on the size of Aboriginal reserves and granted the Chief Protector the power to remove children ‘to the exclusion of the rights of the mother of an illegitimate or half-caste child.’ The increased size of the reserves meant that Aboriginal people could be moved en masse from town areas to these native reserves. This enabled pastoralists to benefit from easily sourced and cheap Aboriginal labour while keeping the emerging towns free from ‘Aboriginal fringe camps’.
In 1914 a number of Aboriginal people were enlisted to fight in World War One. At this time Aboriginal people in Australia were not even recognised as citizens of the country of Australia and were administered under the 1905 Aborigines Act by the Aborigines and Fisheries Dept.
In May 1915 Mr AO Neville was appointed as the Chief Protector of Aborigines. In this role he automatically became ‘the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and half-caste child until such child attained the age of 16 years.’ Noongar children were forcibly taken away from their parents and transported to various mission run settlements in the South West, but they still remained on Noongar country.
Carrolup Aboriginal Settlement (later known as Marribank) established near Katanning in the South-West.
Moore River Native Settlement established north of Perth near Mogumber (later operated as ‘Mogumber Mission’ and now known as ‘Mogumber Farm’. Up to 500 people were kept at Moore River at any one time in very poor conditions.
Carrolup and Moore River Native Settlements were the largest institution to house Aboriginal people in the South West. These sites were considered places where children could be trained and apprenticed out to the local workforce where they would interbreed and be absorbed into the white community. The older people who were considered ‘too dark’ could live out their lives here.
These two Government run institutions were significantly under-resourced. By way of comparison, five times more money was spent on prisoners at Fremantle gaol than was spent on Moore River inmates. Ironically perhaps these institutions kept Noongar people together where aspects of law and custom could be shared and continued.
Many ‘Stolen Generation’ Noongar children were accommodated at the Carrolup and Moore River institutions.
Carrolup later became well known for children’s artwork. The story of the Carrolup art began in 1945 with a teacher who encouraged the children to develop their talent and introduced sketching sessions. The children were inspired and began making extraordinary drawings, varying from landscapes and botanical studies, to scenes drawn from Australian poetry and images depicting Aboriginal life in the South West. Executed in a style that mingles European and Aboriginal styles, they reflect a pivotal moment in modern Aboriginal art history. The children framed their composition in an traditional European way, as reflected in their use of foregrounding and shading, but incorporated images of people, kangaroos and designs from Aboriginal culture. The art was so technically sophisticated that the work toured Europe in the 1950s to considerable acclaim. It was the first Noongar and Aboriginal art exhibited internationally. Over 100 pieces were then ‘lost’ until 2004 when they were re-discovered, still in their original packing, at the Picker Art Gallery in New York State. Some of the art was exhibited in Katanning in 2006 under tight security. This collection of Carrolup Art was formally transferred from Colgate University, New York, to Curtin University in WA in may 2013. Importantly, this means the art is rightfully back in Noongar Country and can be readily viewed.
Between 1918 and 1952, 346 deaths were recorded at Moore River Native Settlement, 42% of which were children aged 1-5. The ‘Moore River Native Settlement was closed in 1951’.
After World War One, the Australian government developed a soldier resettlement scheme which granted or sold subsidised arable crown land to returned soldiers. Returned Aboriginal servicemen were excluded from taking ownership over these land grants as they were still under the control of the 1905 Aborigines Act and effectively, non-citizens.
In August 1918 John Kickett, a Noongar man who fought for Australia in World War One wrote to his Member of Parliament :
“I want a Little Fair Play if you will be so kind enough to see on my Beharfe . . . I have five of my people in France fighting, since you were here for your election one has been killed which leaves four as my people are Fighting for Our King and Country Sir, I think they should have the liberty of going to any State school.”
Perth city is made a prohibited area for Aboriginal people and other accessible for those with a ‘Native Pass.
In March 1928 Edward Harris, William Harris, Wilfred Morrison, Arthur Kickett, Norm Harris, Edward Jacobs and William Bodney make up the first Aboriginal Deputation to march onto the WA Parliament house to see Premier Collier demand rights for Aboriginal people.
1920 – 30s
The “Second Dispossession” took place. On the back of hardworking Noongar labour, the pastoral industry in the Southwest had grown significantly and as a result, land that had been set aside for Aboriginal reserves was acquired by the state to satisfy demand. As the Noongar people were never granted title over these reserves, the government was not obligated to pay compensation. Noongar families were again evicted from their homes.
In January 1933 the Premier of WA, in response to complaints from European towns people to AO Neville authorized the entire Noongar population of the Northam district be removed to Moore River Native Settlement by train. In 1986, Jack Davis wrote the play No Sugar, which documented these events.
Northam, as well as Gnowangerup, were then declared prohibited areas for Aboriginal people.
Sister Kate’s Home for Aboriginal Children was founded at Queens Park in 1933. It was as a place where Noongar children of light-skinned appearance were taught in the ways of white Australia. Originally known as the ‘Quarter Caste Children’s Home’, it reflected its eugenic function in ‘rescuing nearly white’ children and preparing them for absorption into the white community. There is a biography of Sister Kate and many stories are told of it in a number of biographies of former residents. It eventually was left in a will to the Presbyterian Church (later to become part of the Uniting Church), who sold it to an Aboriginal Corporation run by former residents.
Children who were considered too ‘dark’ to be absorbed were left at Moore River Native Settlement, or sent to other institutions such as the church run ‘Native Mission Farm Roelands’ (near Collie). The Roelands Mission was an independent non-denominational mission and it closed in 1975, the property eventually came under the control of the Churches of Christ Federal Aborigines Mission Board. The said Churches of Christ Aborigines Mission Board controversially put it on open market for sale and after some strategic campaigning and lobbying it was eventually purchased for the benefit of former residents and their descendants.
Moseley Royal Commission to Investigate, Report and Advise upon matters in relation to the Condition and Treatment of Aborigines. This report contained references to the condition of the ‘native settlements’ such as Moore River, where the report concluded that the settlement was a “woeful spectacle”. “The buildings were overcrowded and vermin ridden, the children’s diet lacked fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and milk and their health had been seriously affected.”
The Native Administration Act was passed by the WA parliament. The Act extended the powers of the newly named Commission of Native Affairs over the daily lives of Aboriginal children and the power to remove and any ‘native; to a reserve or ‘institution or hospital’. Chief Protector of Aborigines, AO Neville, was successful in persuading the Western Australian Government to include eugenic measures to ‘breed out the colour’ in the Act. This Act further increased the government’s power to remove children and it sought to re-classify Aboriginal people. The Act stipulated definitions for Aboriginality and inserted a definition of ‘Native’, as follows:
a) any person of the full-blood descended from the original inhabitants of Australia;
b) subject to the exceptions stated in this definition any person of less than full blood who is descended from the original inhabitants of Australia or from their full blood descendants, excepting however any person who is
I. a quadroon under 21 years of age who neither associates with or lives substantially after the manner of the class of persons mentioned in paragraph (a) in this definition unless such quadroon is ordered by a magistrate to be classed as a native under this Act;
II. a quadroon over 21 years of age; unless that person is by order of a magistrate ordered to be classed as a native under this Act, or requests that he be classed as a native under this Act, or requests that he be classed as native under this Act; and
III. a person of less than quadroon blood who was born prior to the thirty-first day of December, 1936, unless such person expressly applies to be brought under this Act and the Minister consents’. ‘Quadroon’ defined as: ‘a person who is descended from the full-blood original habitants of Australia or their full blood original habitants of Australia or their full blood descendants but who is only one-fourth of the original blood’.
The solution to the ‘part aboriginal problem’ as it was described in this Act was through ‘tutored assimilation’ and ‘breeding out the colour’ or ‘assimilation through organised breeding’ both concepts being influenced by the anthropology of the time. Dr Norman Tindale produced and endorsed a ‘scale of absorbability’ of the various kinds of ‘cross-breeds’ ranging from the first generation half caste to 7/8ths caste. These categories bore no relationship to contemporary Noongar society and yet these categorisations defined government policies and affected entire generations.
Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell record genealogies of Noongar families in the South West from Albany all the way up to Moore River and as far east as Southern Cross. During this expedition, Tindale records Noongar vocabulary that continues to be spoken widely throughout the South West seventy years later.
1939 – 45
During World War Two many Noongar servicemen enlisted and fought alongside Australian ‘citizens’.
The town of Northam was declared ‘an area in which it shall be unlawful for natives not in lawful employment to be or remain’.
The law was revoked in 1954.
The Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act was passed in 1944. Under this act Aboriginal ex-service personnel and others qualified for Australian citizenship. This act mirrored acts in other Australian states with requirements to be met in order for Noongar people in the South West to become citizens and not be considered ‘Native.’ Once a citizen, the person concerned was classed as a non-native and exempt from the control of the Native Administration Act and could ‘… enable the holder to vote in state and federal elections, drink alcohol, visit licensed premises and travel freely within the state’. However, to become a citizen, Noongars were required to live a European lifestyle and to keep away from other Noongars who continued to practice traditional laws and customs. The citizenship certificates supplied to Noongars were commonly known as “Dog Tags.” A further requirement was statutory declaration by the applicant that he or she had ‘dissolved all tribal and native associations, except for lineal descendants of the first degree’ for the two years prior to the application.
Assimilation becomes the Government policy for Aboriginal people in Australia. Assimilation had been the unofficial policy since the turn of the century where ‘part aboriginal’ people were separated from ‘full Aboriginal’ people and expected to assimilate into white society.
The Native Welfare Act is passed. Many of the conditions relating to absolute control of Aboriginal people were repealed by this act; however, the Commissioner for Native Affairs was still recognised as the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children until the age of 21. The Department of Native Welfare maintained legislation which discriminated against Aborigines in Western Australia in areas such as marriage, health, and the right to supervise the economic activities of Aboriginal people. The significant change in this act was that the repeal of the clause allowing the Minister to compel an Aboriginal person to remain within a reserve or an institution. Aboriginal people who had served in the army or navy for longer than six months were automatically regarded as ‘non-native’ and were entitled to vote.
The application of the Commonwealth Social Services Consolidation Act was changed and Aboriginal people were eligible for all Social Service benefits, pensions, and allowances, on the same conditions as whites, unless they were considered to be ‘primitive’ or ‘nomadic.’
Commonwealth legislation extends the federal right to vote to all Indigenous people of Australia. Western Australian Parliament follows ‘to allow Aboriginal people to vote in state elections on the same terms as the Commonwealth franchise’.
The Native Welfare Act is amended. This amendment results in the removal of the power of guardianship held by the commissioner but allowed children to be removed under the Child Welfare Act 1947.
A federal referendum was conducted in 1967 to determine whether Aboriginal people should be included in the national census as Australian citizens and whether the Commonwealth Government should be given the power to make laws for Aboriginal people. The referendum returned a “YES” vote of 90.77%, still the highest positive vote in any referendum in Australia. This provided Aboriginal people with all the rights of ordinary Australian citizens. However, the place of Aboriginal people in the constitution did not guarantee the extinguishment of discriminatory policy or laws governing the Aboriginal population. It was almost 10 years before any such legislation would be enacted.
Pastoral Award Wages are extended to Aboriginal workers in Western Australia. Although this had the effect of raising the income of Noongar workers, many pastoralists who had taken advantage of cheap Noongar labour now sacked their farm employees.
Professor William H Stanner records his influential ABC radio Boyer Lecture ‘After the Dreaming’ famously called the ‘Great Australian silence’ regarding Aboriginal affairs. Stanner described this silence as ‘a cult of forgetfulness’ or ‘disremembering’ that has been ‘practised on a national scale’ and chastised historians for ‘having given the Aborigines no place in our past except that of ‘a melancholy footnote.’ Histories of Noongar people start being written and oral Histories start being recorded revealing aspects of a previously hidden history.
The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is passed. This Act Recognised the right of Aboriginal people to protect cultural heritage or ‘sites of significance’ from being destroyed by development. Throughout the South West places of supreme cultural importance to the Noongar people have been registered as ‘sacred sites’ with the Department of Indigenous Affairs. There are recognised sacred sites throughout Noongar country such as Mulka’s Cave in the Ballardong area, Wave Rock near Hyden, Devils Lair in the South West Boojarah area and hundreds of other places of cultural importance.
The 1975 Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, colour, descent, nationality or ethnic origin. Its purpose was to protect everyone’s human rights. The Act specifically outlawed racial discrimination in the provision of access to certain places and to accommodation, and in the provision of goods and services.
Seaman Land Inquiry received submissions from Aboriginal groups about their land and aspirations for their land and individuals living in the South West region of Western Australia. The report was published in September 1984. A bitter public debate took place through 1984 and 1985. It was characterised by a prolonged campaign led by the WA Chamber of Mines and supported by conservative political parties which focussed on racist stereotypes to create fear, in the wider community.
The State Labour Government introduced the Aboriginal Land Tenure Bill 1985, which was resoundingly criticised by Aboriginal people throughout the State; it was defeated in Parliament. The failure of the State Parliament to recognise Aboriginal rights was followed by the retreat of the Federal Labor Government from the introduction of uniform national land rights legislation in 1986.
Protests about redevelopment of ‘Swan Brewery Site’ at Goonininup (near Kings Park) commence; the major focus is on discrimination against Noongar people and the destruction of their sacred sites. This site represents aspects of Noongar people’s traditional knowledge and culture. The ‘Brewery protest’ was earthed in Noongar culture and beliefs.
Noongar people’s beliefs have been ridiculed for their claims that the area is the site of the Wagyl, however, the historical record is replete with extremely detailed references from the earliest years of the Swan River Colony.
After the High Court ruled that the Brewery was on Crown land and thus protected by the Aboriginal Heritage Act. The Lawrence Government subsequently excised the brewery site from the protection and the redevelopment proceeded.
In June 1992 High Court’s ‘Mabo’ decision reversed the notion that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ or ‘desert and unoccupied’ when Europeans arrived. This effectively re-introduced Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia.
The Keating Government passed legislation that established the National Native Title Tribunal.
The Noongar Land Council is established as an Aboriginal Representative Body for the Noongar people.
The South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) replaces the Noongar Land Council as the Aboriginal Representative Body for the South West of Western Australia.
After extensive consultation the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council lodged the ‘Single Noongar Claim’ on behalf of 218 Noongar families.
The Single Noongar Claim brought together the claim groups from the six registered native title claims covering the south-west as well as 12 other smaller unregistered claims, to form a Single Noongar Claim over all Noongar Country.
Noongar Country extends from Jurien in the north out to Merredin and Ravensthorpe in the east, down to Albany and the coastal areas in between. It was in this area that the Noongar people lived at the time of European settlement, and it is in this area that most Noongar people continue to live today.
The single claim ensured that all Noongar people benefited and could be proud of their heritage, traditions and their Country.
In January almost 100 Noongar Elders met in Kings Park; they discussed and endorsed a major cultural project. The planning for the project began two years earlier, and among many historic protocol meetings, the idea was taken out to the Noongar nation.
At the Kings Park meeting a reference was established. The reference group met throughout 2005, selected the artists, chose the name for the canvas and decided on the following themes:
In October 2005 eighty applicants acting on behalf of the Noongar people, commenced action in the Federal Court in to have their native title rights and interests determined. The land subject to the Single Noongar Claim was in the southwest corner of Western Australia and included Perth. The primary respondent to the application was the Western Australian Government.
The ‘Ngarlak Koort Boodja’ canvas was unveiled in Kings Park in at the opening of the 2006 Perth International Arts Festival and was attended by over 5000 people.
On 19 September 2006 Justice Wilcox, of the Federal Court, determined that native title rights and interests exist over the land; that the Noongar people are the traditional people for the southwest corner of Western Australia. He accepted that Perth, in the middle of this region, has always been part of Noongar country.
The judge accepted the applicant’s case that a single Noongar society existed in 1829 and that it continues to the present day as a body united by its observance of traditional laws and customs.
This decision was made on the basis that Noongar people have maintained their connection with country and have continued their traditions and practices. Justice Wilcox said: “The basis of my conclusion was compelling evidence about five matters: the continuing use of the Noongar language by many people throughout the claim area; the adherence by all the witnesses to a complex of spiritual beliefs that accorded broadly with the beliefs noted by the early European writers and were widespread in the claim area; the maintenance of traditional hunting practices, even where this was not necessary for food-gathering purposes; the continuing coming-together of people for festivals, funerals etc; and, most importantly, the continued adherence, by many people, to the traditional rule about seeking permission to visit someone else’s country.
Justice Wilcox found that in 1829 the claim area was occupied and used by ‘Aboriginal people who spoke dialects of a common language and who acknowledged and observed a common body of laws and customs’. He accepted that what united and distinguished them from neighbouring groups was a ‘commonality of belief, language, custom and material culture’. Though sub-groups or families exercised particular rights and responsibilities for particular areas to which they ‘belonged’, those rights and responsibilities arose from a wider normative system that operated within the broader Noongar society. The rights of the sub-group were burdened by the entitlement of others to access land for various purposes.
Shortly after the decision was handed down the State and Commonwealth Governments lodged an appeal; the appeal was heard in April 2007 by three Federal Court Judges.
The Federal Court upheld the Appeal of the Single Noongar claim and sent the Claim back to Court for a second hearing. However the Court did not set aside the native title claim. The court did not overturn the findings of the evidence provided by the Noongar people or that there was a Noongar society. It assumed that in 1829 the laws and customs governing land throughout the claim area were those of a single community. However, it held that the 2006 decision failed to consider two matters that claimants were required to establish in order for their application to succeed. The first being whether there has been continuous acknowledgment and observance of the traditional laws and customs by the Single Noongar Society from 1829 until now. The second being whether claimants have a connection with the Perth Metropolitan Area. The Court therefore set aside the 2006 decision and has remitted it for future determination.
This decision puts the Noongar’s native title aspirations back to square one. The WA Premier along with other Cabinet Ministers publicly acknowledges that Noongar people are the traditional owners and custodians of Perth and the South West.
The Federal Court’s ruling (2008) demonstrates how difficult it is for Aboriginal people to prove their continuing connection to country.
The Noongar People are the largest Indigenous group in Australia, with an estimated 35,000 Noongars living in Western Australia’s South West. The Noongar people continue to hold a proud connection with the land. Their culture and traditions are still as strong today as they were over 200 years ago.
Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Bill 2015 (Bill No. 112)
Synopsis The purpose of this bill is to create an Act for the recognition of the Noongar people as the traditional owners of the lands in the south-west of the State.
Royal Assent given 16 May 2016 as Act No. 9 of 2016.
For a fuller and more technical overview of the historical date linked to the legal case that was put on behalf of the Noongar people in the ‘Single Noongar Claim’ refer to:
“It’s Still In My Heart, This Is My Country” the single Noongar claim history by
South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, John Host with Chris Owen.
UWA Press 2009
ISBN 978 921401 42 8