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Aboriginal Culture

Aboriginal Culture

Perth City is located in the ancient country of the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, who have been the Traditional Owners of the south west of Western Australia for at least 45,000 years. The geographical features and natural environment that was fundamental to Nyoongar culture and sustenance, has been substantially transformed by development of Perth City over the last 200 years.

At the time of European settlement in 1829, areas surrounding what is now central Perth were known as Mooro, Beeloo and Beeliar by the Nyoongar nation – the Aboriginal peoples of the south-west of Western Australia. The Whadjuk Nyoongar, as the Traditional Owners of these lands, overlaid a rich culture into these places, which provided for everyday life.

Aboriginal place names 

The river is a sacred place for Nyoongar peoples and they preserved many stories of the Waugal, a water-serpent understood to be responsible for the creation and maintenance of the river and most of the water features around Perth. The Nyoongar peoples moved with the seasons, travelling inland in winter, then returning in late spring to capture game such as wallabies, kangaroos and possums. A main camp site was at what is now known as Kings Park (Mooro Kaarta). Aboriginal peoples also frequented the mud flats (Matagarup) which later became Heirisson Island as it was a productive fishing spot.

The Nyoongar peoples had contact with various seafaring visitors including the Dutch and the French before the arrival of Captain James Stirling who colonised the region for the British in 1829. Relations between the settlers and the Aboriginal peoples were not always harmonious as the latter were dispossessed of their land and subjected to sometimes harsh and unsympathetic colonial rule. Fast forward to December 2009 when the State Government signed a framework agreement with the representative body, the South West Aboriginal and Land and Sea Council, aimed at resolving through negotiation six Nyoongar Native Title claims over Perth and the south-west of Western Australia. The City is working closely with its Aboriginal community to deliver 71 actions in the City’s Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan which aim to build respect, relationships and opportunity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

  • Registered Aboriginal Heritage Sites

    There’s many places across Perth that are of cultural and spiritual significance for the Whadjuk Nyoongar people. Places linking the past to the present of where Whadjuk Nyoongar people met, camped, hunted and performed ceremonies. In 2016, the 18 sites below were registered under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 in Perth city. 

    The 18 sites are listed below:

    Site Location Significance
    Site3502 LocationKings Park Scarred Tree SignificanceModified Tree
    Site3536 LocationSwan River SignificanceMythological
    Site3589 LocationHeirisson Island SignificanceMythological, Camp, Hunting Place, Meeting Place, Plant Resource
    Site3593 LocationGudinup SignificanceCeremonial
    Site3694 LocationClaisebrook Camp SignificanceCamp, Water Source
    Site3703 LocationSpring Street SignificanceCamp, Named Place, Water Source
    Site3704 LocationKings Park Waugal SignificanceCeremonial, Mythological, Plant Resource, Water Source
    Site3754 LocationMt Eliza Waugal SignificanceMythological
    Site3761 LocationKings Park SignificanceCeremonial, Hunting Place
    Site3767 LocationEast Perth Power Station SignificanceCamp, Meeting Place
    Site3787 LocationMounts Bay Road SignificanceMythological, Camp, Named Place, Water Source
    Site3789 LocationPerth Town Hall SignificanceCamp
    Site3791 LocationMatilda Bay SignificanceCeremonial, Camp, Water Source
    Site3798 LocationGovernment House SignificanceSkeletal Material / Burial, Camp, Water Source
    Site3799 LocationVictoria Square SignificanceSkeletal Material, Burial
    Site21621 LocationKilang Minangaldjkba SignificanceWater Source
    Site29278 LocationMidgegooroo’s Execution and Burial SignificanceHistorical, Skeletal Material / Burial
    Site37452 LocationWellington Square, the Old Recreation Reserve, Bunjie Park SignificanceHistorical, Man-Made Structure, Rockshelter, Meeting Place

    View a full list of Aboriginal Heritage Sites across Western Australia.

  • Walking Trails

    Karla Yarning: Stories Of The Home Fires

    The Karla Yarning Aboriginal heritage maps allow people to discover the connection Aboriginal people have with the city. The maps take people on a journey to discover and learn the importance Aboriginal heritage holds in the history of our city. 

    The first map, This City is Wadjuk Country, explores Wadjuk Noongar history before the arrival of white settlers in 1829. On this walk, you will explore areas of importance before white settlement and get a feel for the way Wadjuk people lived, traded, hunted, harvested and conducted ceremonies. 

    Download the map here.

    The second Karla Yarning map, Fighting for Families, Country, Rights and Recognition, explores Aboriginal history in Perth after 1829. On this walk, you’ll learn about important events and developments including the resistance of Wadjuk leaders Midgegooroo and his son Yagan in the 1830s, the Prohibited Area zone in place between 1927-1954, Aboriginal protest rallies held in the 1930s and 1940s and the establishment of important Aboriginal organisations. 

    Download the map here.

    The walks take approximately 1.5 hours each. 

    The maps were initiated, researched and written by Professor Len Collard of UWA and Dr Tod Jones of Curtin University with input and advice from Cultural Advisors. The City would also like to acknowledge the project partners: Lotterywest, The Department of Planning Lands and Heritage and Curtin University. 

  • Fanny Balbuk Yooreel

    In September 2016, the City partnered with the National Trust of Western Australia to deliver a project honouring the life of Whadjuk woman Fanny Balbuk Yooreel. 

    Balbuk was passionate about her country and ‘raged and stormed’ through her homelands as colonial Perth developed. Her story highlights the intersection of colonisation and the local Aboriginal people in 19th century Perth and how this manifested in the social, political and natural landscape.  Throughout April and May 2017, this collaborative project delivered a suite of publicly accessible activations for the 2017 National Trust Heritage Festival, including publication of a walking trail brochure.

    Through following the walking trail brochure, participants can walk the path of Fanny Balbuk Yooreel through the Perth landscape and connect to this Perth city in new ways. Guided by Whadjuk Elder women and their extended families, the map provides an experience informed by newly compiled research to mark the 110th anniversary of the death of arguably Perth’s most important and uncelebrated Whadjuk woman.  

    The information in this map was compiled through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and the National Trust of Western Australia in partnership with the City of Perth. 

    Download the brochure here.

  • Aboriginal Culture through Public Art

    The City of Perth regularly commissions Public Art in civic squares, streetscapes, parks and some unexpected places, recognising that the successful integration of site-specific art enhances the enjoyment of the city experience.

    The City’s current Public Art collection features works of six Aboriginal artists which all acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal culture, storytelling and traditions. 

    The City’s recently revised Art City Walking Trail features two Aboriginal artworks; First Contact (2015) by Laurel Nannup and Koorden (2015) by Rod Garlett, Fred Chaney and Richie Kuhaupt. 

    For further information on any of the City’s works created by Aboriginal Artists please email our City of Perth Cultural Collections Team: