Over five days in July 1901, the people of Perth welcomed the Duke of York and Duchess of Cornwall in one of the final legs of their long tour of the recently federated country of Australia. The place and role of the local Aboriginal population accorded by the government and authorities is captured in part by the following excerpt from the 1902 Aborigines Report to the State government.
“During the visit of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, in July, as many of the aborigines as wished to come were given an opportunity of seeing the celebrations, and they behaved in a very exemplary manner; contrary to expectation, not a single complaint was made against them for loitering about the city or becoming troublesome.
There were no fewer than 110 accommodated at the site of the natives’ camp, on the Old Guildford Road, about half-a-mile out of town. I had huts specially built for them, and four special constables, selected for me by the Police Department, were appointed to look after them. The natives were provided with firewood and straw, and they obeyed all my injunctions to camp there and conduct themselves in a proper manner. They had plenty of food provided for them, and they held several corroborees and generally enjoyed themselves. They saw everything that was to be seen, and were taken over in a body to visit the Zoological Gardens, and having witnessed the departure of the Duke and Duchess from the town, were quietly sent back to their different districts. I much regret that the Celebrations Committee did not view with favour my proposal to get up a grand corroboree, but they very kindly erected a long staging on the route, from which the natives were able to see their Royal Highnesses and be seen by them.”**
In addition to this large group of Aboriginal people, six senior representatives of different Noongar communities were identified as leaders, and invited as such to take part in the celebrations.
‘Kornden’ acknowledges these six Noongar men who came from their respective areas to take part in commemorative celebrations 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.
King plates were a form of regalia used in pre-Federation Australia by white colonial authorities to recognise local Aboriginal leaders. The plates were metallic crescent-shaped plaques worn around the neck by important Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal people did not traditionally have kings or chiefs. They lived in small clan groups with several elders-certain older men and women-who consulted with each other on decisions for the group. By appointing kings of tribes, and gathering them king plates, the white colonial powers went against the more collegiate of traditional Aboriginal culture.
Many of the “Indigenous Kings” have fallen into obscurity and while there is hope of recovering more of the country’s historical figures, many are sure to remain unknown to present and future generations.
Joobaitch, was one of those men, and he and other ‘Kings’ are recorded in numerous photographs from that time. (Joobaitch is the first figure on the left hand side of the photograph above.)
Rod Garlett, the artist who designed the sculptures, wrote:
“I am a great-great grandson of Joobaitch of the Swan River. Joobaitch’s grandfather is Doornong who is recognised as one of the Traditional Owners of Whadjuk country in the single Noongar Native Title Claim. I have many local stories to tell of Aboriginal people of a bygone era. Their spirits still roam the areas of their traditional homelands, water holes and haunts. These people are my people… they are known to many as the Whadjuk people.
I created a painting called “Beneath This City is My Ancestors Land” a triptych with a medium of River sand and Traditional Ochre from the earth. This story is of the Whadjuk people and their country, the Riverland and the lakes systems that run between each other and that provided an abundance of fresh water and traditional foods represented by the black swan.
The painting was created through frustration and protest in the sense that in our art galleries around Perth we are smothered with art of the famous desert people and paintings of their strong connections to their homeland, waterholes and country. I wanted to show the gallery owners and other artists that Noongar people, too, can paint our country in a traditional way without the buildings and roads or highways and say:
This urban landscape all covered over with concrete bricks and bitumen hides this country and its spirit from those who walk it now. This wasn’t always the case. It’s not gone… it remains unseen. Our stories are alive in our Country in your Country, in all of us – our stories live on.
“Beneath this city is my Ancestor’s land”
Our connection to Country is fast becoming lost to all those who live here, I hope to encourage others to see the importance of that which we’re losing before it’s too late.”
Working with sculptor, Richie Kuhaupt, Rod Garlett has fashioned a celebration of Noongar culture, tradition and knowledge and physical embodiment of six proud and respected Noongar leaders.
Kornden is a Noongar word that means ‘strong’ and it was given to this project by Noongar Elder, Sealin Garlett.
Kornden is inspired by the need to tell this story in a place of significance for Joobaitch and his kin, the Noongar people – and for all of us in Perth today.
It is hoped that Kornden will invite broader awareness, connection with, and celebration of Noongar culture, as well as reflection and revelation of relationships, cultural practices and stories little understood in the wider Perth community.
** [excerpt]: WESTERN AUSTRALIA. ABORIGINES DEPARTMENT. REPORT FOR FINANCIAL YEAR ENDING No. 21. 30th JUNE, 1902
With thanks to Fred Chaney, Architect, who was a driving force in this project