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Relations with Aboriginal People

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Aboriginies by the Swan River
March 1827 Stirling's Boats from HMS Success glide along the Swan River towards the future Guildford. Courtesy of West Australian Newspapers uncredited images from archival and contemporary sources.

The wetlands and fertile riverbanks of the Swan estuary were resource-rich, with freshwater springs and a diversity of plant and animal foods. They supported relatively large populations living a more settled way of life than in other areas of the South West, with the exception of King George Sound.

The Swan Coastal Plain is Noongar land. Colonists recognised Yellagonga as the owner of this area and Yellagonga could hunt on wetlands north of Perth because of his connections to that land. Yellagonga's people moved within their territory according to established cultural and seasonal patterns. Tracks and paths linked people to each other and to resources in Noongar country. Seasonal abundance of staple foods allowed for gatherings of up to 400 people for social, ceremonial and economic activities such as hunting, and trading of goods like ochre.

Noongars used fire to manage and farm the land. Cool fires cleared away regrowth and forest litter making movement through the bush easier and safer. Germination of fire-sensitive food plants was assured and the flavour of certain root foods improved. Grassy pastures created by regular firing attracted kangaroos and other game. Fire was also used to drive these mammals into open areas where they could be easily hunted.

With curiosity overcoming fear, first interactions between the settlers and the Noongar people were amiable. However, frustration developed as the colony developed and expanded, driving the Noongar people from their traditional lands by force and exclusion.

The settlers fenced the land and denied them access to their traditional living areas, traditional food sources and traditional access routes. The settlers killed the native wildlife but would not share their livestock with the Noongars. Tensions between the new settlers and Noongar people developed and conflict soon followed.

175th TRIVIA

Aboriginal leader Yagan was declared an outlaw in 1833 with a reward on his head. He was shot in the back by a young shepherd William Yeats. In retaliation, Weeip spears him. Yagan's head was severed and ignominiously impaled on a fencepost before being taken to England by Ensign Robert Dale.

Department of Indigenous Affairs