Whadjuk Nyoongar and the City of Perth

Captain Stirling and his party arrived at Kuraree on 12 August 1829, and marked the site of the future City of Perth by felling a tree. This event began a period of conflict over land and resources. For the dispossessed Whadjuk Nyoongar, life would never be the same again. The settlers, with their houses, fences and roads, their crops and their animals, took over the land and stopped access to traditional hunting and gathering places.

Chris Pease, Land Release 3 2008. The artist shows how British land tenure was imposed on Nyoongar Country.  City of Perth Cultural Collections
Chris Pease, Land Release 3 2008. The artist shows how British land tenure was imposed on Nyoongar Country. City of Perth Cultural Collections

Nevertheless, over the years Whadjuk Nyoongar have continued to fight for recognition and asserted traditional ownership of the area where the city stands. 

The Aborigines Protection Act of 1905 gave power over all aspects of Aboriginal people’s lives to a ‘Protector’. This included employment and wages, where they could live, who they could marry, and often children were taken away from their parents to be brought up in institutions such as Moore River Settlement. From 1927, central Perth was a prohibited area. Aboriginal people needed permits to enter the city and were arrested if found there after the 6pm curfew. 

A permit allowing the holder to be in the prohibited area
A permit allowing the holder to be in the prohibited area

City of Perth Elder Margaret Culbong remembers those days.

We hardly went into Perth because we were only allowed in parts because of the racism and discrimination. My Dad worked on the railways and got a free pass on the train into Perth. That street that ran past the station, we were really only allowed to go. The corner of Barrack Street and Wellington is where we used to sit. Dad and Mum did business and went to Perth for medical business. We would sit on the seat and watch all the traffic go past.

We only went down Barrack Street if we went to the government garden. We had to walk on one side of Barrack Street past the Town Hall, not the other side. Weren’t allowed to do that. We went into the government gardens. Walking on the right side, never on the left side of Barrack Street. Because of all those restrictions. Racism and oppression.

City of Perth Elder Margaret Culbong

Over the years, various Aboriginal organisations, mostly based in East Perth, such as the Coolbaroo League formed in 1947, provided social services and campaigned for Aboriginal rights. When the prohibited area was finally abolished in 1954, the Coolbaroo League lost no time in reclaiming the City of Perth by hiring the Town Hall for their Royal Show Gala Ball.

Today, the City of Perth acknowledges that it is on Whadjuk Nyoongar land and City of Perth Elders have contributed to developing the content for this exhibition.

Crochet shield in Aboriginal colours, by City of Perth Elder Margaret Culbong.

I do a lot of crocheting – beanies and that sort of thing. Get the cheaper wool when I can pick it up. I had this wool left over and I thought maybe I should make something with it. I thought the City of Perth had all their coat of arms whatsit things. I thought I’d do one too. Thought I might as well crochet a shield. At the time it didn’t really mean anything and no real significance, but then as I went along with the crochet it did begin to matter. It became something. It mattered. It had the white man’s shape and size but it was putting our mark and our claim on our country.

Margaret Culbong

City of Perth Cultural Collections. 

Find out more about Aboriginal culture and heritage in the City of Perth at Perth Online

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