The Noongar people have inhabited the area known as Wadjuk and Balardong in this region for over 40,000 years. Today scientists have found evidence that suggests this may be as early as 60,000 years ago. This makes the Noongar culture part of the oldest living and evolving culture in the world today.
The area was, as many elders remember it as being, "all in place", a harmonious existence. Contrary to the first settlers' belief that Indigenous people were 'savages' and recording them as 'flora and fauna', their society was well established and structured. The strong link with Nidja Boodja (this land), mother earth, is still central to all Aboriginal groups. Indigenous people are the traditional caretakers of the land.
"Our spirits are in the trees and the hills and the rocks and the animals. When you're born you come from the land and when you die your spirit goes back to the land. The Spirit ancestors from the Dreaming gave us this Law. This is our heritage. It doesn't change." (Ralph Winmar, "Walwalinj: The hill that cries")
There has always been a strong focus on family and extended family. The community consists of Elders both male and female, spiritual leader, family groups and children. The Law and Dreaming is passed on through stories, dance, painting and corroborees.
The area in which Perth now stands was called Boorloo, which formed part of Mooro, the tribal lands of Yellangonga, a Noongar leader and elder, whose group was one of several collectively known as the Whadjug, who were based around the Swan River. The Wadjug was a part of the greater group of 14 which formed the south west socio-linguistic block still known today as Noongar ("The People"), or sometimes by the name "Bibbulmun."
The Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) holds a deep significance to the Noongar people as being created by the Waugal (a Dreamtime Creation Spirit in the form of a giant snake). Elders taught Noongar people that the Waugal made its way creating valleys, waterholes and creeks along its journey to the ocean. Bennet Brook, also created by the Waugal, is believed to have a cave deep in the water where the Waugal rests.
An important site is Python Bridge, which crosses Bennett Brook 200 meters from the Swan River. The bridge is a site that is believed to be the home of an evil and dangerous spirit. Bennett Brook was an area where Noongar people camped, dug wells for fresh water and caught fish in traps. Munday Swamp and Nyibra Swamp were areas where turtles and fish were caught.
The first historical record of European (Wadjulla) people settling in Noongar land was Captain James Stirling, who came by boat up the Swan River. Guildford was founded in 1827. The first main building, a church, was constructed in the middle of Stirling Square, formerly a meeting place for local Aboriginal groups, in 1836.
One of the first records of Noongar people working in the Guilford community is from 1841. Two Noongar people, Molly Dobbin and Djoogan, became constables. In the 1860s, many Aboriginal people worked as laborers in the large estates around Guilford.
In 1841 Aboriginal people were forced to camp in areas around Guildford that were unoccupied by white settlers. By the turn of the century, there were defined campsites established. However, war, disease and dispossession dramatically reduced the number of Aboriginal people in the Guilford area.
Success Hill is situated right on a bend (known as "Nanuk" by Noongar people) of the Swan River, which gave the Noongar people a great vantage point looking up and down the river. Here, they could camp, hunt and fish. A fresh spring provided a constant water supply. "In the summer time the tribes for sixty miles around assemble... they entertain each other with dances and chants of the corroboree." (Armstrong, Perth Gazette. 1836).
In 1831, Guilford residents began to use the fresh water supply and later, in 1960, Success Hill became a sand pit for construction work. The Aboriginal Elders' concern for the destruction of the land was not regarded, as the Aboriginal Heritage Act had not come into action at this time.
In 2001, a project grant supported by the Commonwealth of Australia recognized and acknowledged the Noongar people, and Success Hill became a public park.
In 1829, a chain of lakes was given the name "Third Swamp" by the Europeans. In 1899 it was renamed Hyde Park.
In 1843, Yellagonga died, and his group began to disintegrate after being dispossessed of their land. They retreated to the area of Hyde Park, and this area continued to be a main campsite for the remainder of the Noongar people.
In 1855 and 1883 the principal lakes had been drained, and by 1897 the Noongar people were not permitted to camp at Hyde Park and surrounding areas because it had been handed over for residential development and recreational use.
It has been noted that while the original white settlers of Guildford accepted the Aboriginal people, those who came later raised objections from time to time.
The colonists realized the potential of the rich fertile soil in the Swan Valley and began to farm and build out further. This further impacted on the Noongar people, who began to lose their hunting and gathering country and camping areas. They were forced to camp in areas outside the town. According to the South-West Land and Sea Council, Western Australia, it is said that the fertility of the land that forms the basis for the Swan Valley wine region is due to the alleged resting place of the Aboriginal warrior, Yagan.
A book written by Michael J Bourke, "On the Swan: A History of The Swan District, Western Australia", records the first known serious conflict between the settlers and the Noongar. In the late 1830s, Captain Irwin detached a military party consisting of a corporal and four privates to the Upper Swan District. Here a conflict occurred resulting in a leader of an Aboriginal group being 'shot dead'.
Captain Irwin reported the incident to his Commanding Officer in London. "Tho' loss of life in the Recounter is to be deplored, I trust the issue will prevent further bloodshed, teaching those savages our friendly disposition as well as ability to retaliate their hostility; the Detachment therefore mentioned is now stationed in a central situation for the protection of the settlers, on the right bank of the Swan, where a substantial Barrack has been erected, distant from hence about 14 miles by Land, and 25 miles by Water." This negative attitude was common amongst the early settlers and caused continued conflicts. A military barracks was built in Mahogany Creek near Mundaring in 1839 to protect travellers from the 'savages'. The Government of the day dealt with resistance from the Noongar people by forcibly removing them from their land, imprisonment and corporal punishment.
During conflict with the settlers, many Noongars were killed. In 1831, records show that a massacre occurred in October. It is believed this took place near Success Hill. In 2001, a Centenary project initiated by the Bassendean Preservation Group in consultation with local Noongar people funded the development of a series of informative signs that were placed in the park for people to read and remember the history of the area.
"You came to our country... you have driven us from our haunts and disturbed us in our occupation as we walk in our country... we are fired upon by the white men, why should the white men treat us this way?" ("Yagan: The Swan River 'Settlement'" by Ken Colbung).
In 1832, Yagan, a Beeliar Noongar warrior, was killed in the Upper Swan. Yagan is known today as an early resistance fighter. He objected to his family and group being forcibly removed from their land and his opposition to the law came at the cost of his own life. Two teenage boys (aged 18 and 13) killed Yagan and received a 20-pound reward that was offered for his capture.
After his death, his head was brutally severed from his body, smoked, documented in a drawing, and sent to London for display. His body is believed to be buried somewhere within the Swan District region.
In 1894 the head was passed on to the Liverpool City Museum, where it was exhibited until 1964, when it was buried in the Everton Cemetery. Noongar Elder Ken Colbung, a descendant of Yagan, was instrumental in finding the head and having it exhumed.
The Spirit of Yagan can now, according to Noongar belief, be able to join the Dreaming and could perhaps live on in a new body. The fighting spirit and resistance against injustice live on in our history.
A Native and Half-Caste Mission was opened at Middle Swan in 1888, under the direction of the Church of England Orphanage Board. The Mission was housed in a building now known as Cornwell House, part of the Swanleigh Anglican Hostel. Sister Kate and Sister Sarah established Parkerville Children's Home in 1903. "Missions and homes were deemed desirable from the point of view of separating these ' part-white' children from the influences of Aborigines" ("My Place", Sally Morgan)
The Aboriginal population in Guilford increased in 1921 as a result of dispossession of Aboriginal people from other areas. However there were semi-official campaigns to remove Aboriginal people from the area. "... in April 1918... forty-five Guilford aborigines were rounded up by police and sent to Moore River in their own interests". (Historian Peter Diskup)
The Commissioner of Native Affairs, Francis Bray, wrote to the Swan Roads Board in July 1941, that any Aboriginal person who broke the following laws was to be sent to the Moore River Settlement:
F.E. Bateman conducted an enquiry into Aboriginal Affairs in 1947. He recommended the improvement or abandonment of the government Native Settlements and the inclusion of Aboriginal children in State Schools. This came into effect 78 years after all other children were already attending schools.
Allawah Grove Aboriginal Settlment, the only non-institutionalised Aboriginal Settlement in the State, was located in South Guilford from 1958 to 1969. This 25-acre site was identified as an ideal site in 1958 by a group of local Aboriginal women who acted under the incorporated name of the Coolbaroo League. They approached the Native Welfare Department for permission to house homeless Aborigines. "Within a decade, the residents of Allawah Grove had its own Progress Committee, Women's Committee and Advancement Council and these groups took steps to improve conditions for Aboriginal people all over Australia and contributed to a growing global interest in Aboriginal affairs."