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Perth’s Aboriginal History

Aboriginal peoples’ name

The Aboriginal people of the Perth area belong to the southwest region and are referred to by various names. The best known are Nyoongar, Nyungar, Noongar, Wajuk and Wudjari. However, the variations of “Nyoongar” appear to be wrong.

“As a nation we are not even Noongars, we are actually Bibbullmun. Bibbullmun is the mother earth, the dirt we walk on, Nyoongahs are the males, Yorgahs are the females, Koolungahs are the children,” explains Aboriginal elder and Bibbullmun cultural researcher, Toogarr Morrison [9]. “Bibbullmun is a nation of 23 States with each State having four skin groups.”

Living conditions

The climate in winter (makuru) is cool and moist and the Aboriginal people adapted to it by wearing kangaroo skin cloaks and building weatherproof huts (when they stayed longer).

Crows were sacred to the Nyoongar people and known as ‘wardang’. “In tribal times, a Nyoongar man with special powers was able to turn himself into a Wardang, so it’s a very sacred bird,” explains Aboriginal elder Richard Wilkes.

According to Mr Wilkes tribal leaders incarcerated on Wajemup (Rottnest Island) in the 19th century were able to use that power.

“These men used to turn themselves into a Wardang to come back from Rottnest Island, from the penal colony over there, and also Nyoongar people likened themselves to the crow in reincarnation.”

 Contact with white settlers

It was not before 1825 that the Nyoongar of the Perth area had contact with white people. A military base was established in King George Sound and the Swan River area was subsequently colonised. The area that was occupied by the settlers had a great ceremonial and economic significance to the Nyoongar, and the spreading of the settlers led in 1834 to the “Battle of Pinjarra” in which a lot of Aboriginal people were murdered.