Fremantle Stuff > organisations > First People

First People, aka Aboriginal/Indigenous people

In the south west of Western Australia at the time of European settlement, there were approximately thirty separate tribes and for the land centring on the Guildford area and extending for about 2000 square kilometres there was a minimum of around 450 persons. In Charles Symmons’ census of Perth Aborigines taken in 1840 he lists the names of all those then living on either side of the Swan River and acknowledges them as the ‘original owners of the land’. For the area running from Mt. Eliza to just past Broun’s farm was the land of Monday and from Bassendean to the head of the Swan was, so Symmons tells us, the province of Wiap. (Carter 1986: 16)

Walyalup is the Nyoongar name for what the colonisers called Fremantle. The people who lived here were the river-plain people, the Whadjuk. The country south of Derbal Yaragan ( Swan) and Booragoon (Canning) rivers was called Beeliar. At the time of invasion, 1829, the most prominent of the people in that country were Midgegooroo and his son Yagan. They had both been shot dead five years later.

South of the main waterway (the Aborigines called it 'beela') lay the country of the Beeliar, a tribe which at time of settlement had Yagan and his father Midgegooroo among its leaders. (Williams: 2)


About thirteen Noongar groups or tribes then lived on the plains of the Swan River. Each tribe followed seasonal hunting trends as they moved within the traditional borders of their country. Countries like Mooro, Beeliar and Walyalup spread naturally across the landscape we now know of as Perth and its suburbs. Yellagonga, Munday and Midgegooroo were their leaders.
The Noongar people of this region were called Whadjuk. ... Midgegooroo and his wife led the Walyalup Aborigines when Stirling first brought his British gentlefolk to Fremantle. His son, Yagan, was then considered by the English as ‘not a chief’ but nonetheless ‘ranked amongst the princes of the country’. As frontier conflict mounted around the Swan River, Midgegooroo and Yagan led their people in negotiations with the colonists and in resistance to their dispossession. By 1834, though, Midgegooroo was dead - executed in Perth at a nod from Stirling while bound captive to a door - and the patriot Yagan was murdered by two white boys in his country near Fremantle. Gare: 9-10.

Terminological note. The term First Nation[s] [People] has become the accepted term now - actually during the year 2019, by my observation, replacing the earlier terms 'native', 'Aboriginal', and 'Indigenous [people]', as each successive term came to be seen as insufficiently respectful. Two points. First, the term 'First Nation people' is quite a mouthful. Second, it's inaccurate. The numbers of the first people were not large, as they lived subsistently off the land, which could not sustain large numbers. And they were not organised in anything remotely like what 'nation' usually means, but rather in small family and 'skin' (clan) groups. Estimates of all the people who lived south of the Swan and west of the Canning Rivers down to, say, Rockingham, were only a few hundred - where now hundreds of thousand (but not a nation) live. A third note: we've copied this term from - as usual - North America - the masters of our evolving language, as also almost everything else.

References and Links

Nyungar Wardan Katitjin Bidi-Derbal Nara (People's Ocean Knowledge Trail of Cockburn Sound and Districts).

Baines, Patricia 1987, The Heart of Home: The Intergenerational Transmission of a Nyungar Identity, University of Western Australia dissertation.

Bracknell, Clint, 2014, 'Kooral Dwonk-katitjiny (listening to the past): Aboriginal language, songs and history in south-western Australia', Aboriginal History, Vol. 38.

Carter, Bevan 2006, Nyungah Land: Records of invasion and theft of Aboriginal land on the Swan River, 1829-1850, research by Bevan Carter and Lynda Nutter, foreword by Robert Bropho, Swan Valley Nyungah Community, Guildford.

Dortch, Charles & Joe Dortch 2012, 'Archaeological evidence for early human presence in the western reaches of the Greater Swan Region, WA'Fremantle Studies, 7: 51-76.

Gare, Deborah 2014, 'The female frontier: race and gender in Fremantle 1829-1839', Fremantle Studies, 8: 1-18.

Lyon, Robert Menli [Robert Lyon Milne] 1833, ‘A glance at the manners and language of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Western Australia with a short vocabulary’, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 30 March 1833: 52. The second part [of four?] of the article was published in Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 20 April 1833: 63-4. Many of the first people's names for places above come from this source. The author's real name was Robert Lyon MILNE.

Williams, A.E. 1984, Nedlands: From Campsite to City, City of Nedlands.

Garry Gillard | New: 4 May, 2018 | Now: 30 January, 2020