2020 Aus Walter and the Nyungar People
Walter and his Nyungar People
(Day pod Tuesday 31st March
I tried to contact the camping trip Adventure Company direct yesterday only to have emails pinged back as their addresses were closed; a victim of the shut -down. Just as well we booked the trip through Perth YHA and the manager there, Mel is systematically working through the mountain of refunds. Somewhere in that pile is our claim.
We went for an evening stroll yesterday and there were few others around. Just a few fishermen and a pair of pelicans. They are such magnificent birds, big and beautiful with their oversized beak and mournful eyes. I awoke this morning thinking that if they can live here and be happy so can we, simplistic I know but it’s a base line to start from. Later in the evening we watched two episodes of A Handmaid’s Tale followed by the first episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo just to balance the horror with a little humour.
The overnight rain and low cloud cover is now being burned away by the sun, so we’ll be off for our exercise soon. Stay well, look after each-other and have a good new day.)
Twelve days ago seems like an age now, as historian Lord Peter Hennessy suggests, BC (Before Coronavirus as opposed to AC), and the 19th March dawned another beautiful day as if the weather was in defiance of the global crisis. We took part in this defiance by walking towards Kings Park or Karrgatup, the elevated 400 hectare area of natural bushland and cultivated gardens with wide vistas still beloved by the Nyungar people, including Walter McGuire.
To get there we explored lightly populated public areas of the city centre, self-isolating in the CBD almost and then came to Mount Street, a very steep street otherwise and more accurately known as Cardiac Hill. On both sides were upmarket homes and apartment blocks, homes of the rich freshened with sweet scented flowering frangipani trees and luxuriant low level bushes. Puffing I reached the top and the formal avenue of trees of the park stood tall before us.
Around the back of the commercial area of restaurants and Aspects, a craft and design shop, is the car park where we would meet Nyungar elder Walter McGuire. I think I mentioned to you that our friend Tyronne Bell from Canberra suggested we get to know him and we were delighted to spend two hours with him along with a lady from Perth called Pauline. He and his wife Meg run the Go Cultural Tours and he straight away told us his two daughters were both away from home. One daughter was literally on a flight back from her sturdies in Canada and after our time with him he would be driving to the airport to collect her. He was clearly looking forward to this reunion with happiness and relief.
He is a traditional owner of the lands on which Perth now stands and he has a very pragmatic view of the first nation experience since the arrival of the first Europeans. “It has happened, it is history and there were misdeeds on both sides.” His view of Perth is one through the eyes of pride in ownership and title and his vision for the future is one of tolerance and benevolent humanity. He is a warm and welcoming man who loves to tell of his history but also of the culture of his people today which he is determined to keep alive and is of relevance right now as he told us that after all the cancellations he has recently received we will be his last tour until the global epidemic is sent packing.
A question was formulating in my mind but I didn’t want to break his train of thought so we went on listening to his softly spoken story. Pauline read out the terms of the Certificate of Exemption whereby First Nation people were invited to throw off all aspects of their original identity in order to become part of European Perth life. It was dated March 1951, the year before I was born. The injustice of it for me was made less serious by the fact it is no longer relevant or applicable and there is some recognition of the Nyungar people as being the first, present and ongoing guardians of the land. Tongue in cheek he told us of how the high rise city buildings are built on the many lakes you see in the picture and how the water beneath the buildings has to be pumped into the Swam River constantly.
I imagined the view from Goodinup and Goonininnup without the modern high rises, when sunlight glistened on the waters as the aborigines paddled their canoes and fished in the clean waters of the lakes. Walter’s great great grandmother lived then and would have been a little girl in one of the canoes or splashing on the foreshore with her siblings. She was the last Queen of the Nyungar and was called Fanny Yooreel Balbuk and is the lady in white on the right hand side of the photo. Walter had a delightful story to tell us about her. As she grew up so the first European settlers arrived to make a life in this harsh but beautiful land to which they were not suited.
As a grown woman she resented the white picket fences that were erected to enclose homesteads and land across the ancient pathways her people had walked for thousands of years. So on her daily perambulations she would kick the fences, uproot the posts and cast them aside in disgust, much to the obvious annoyance of the newcomers.
Her actions have become a part of the Nyungar folklore and became the basis for their claim to title of the lands when they submitted it to the Western Australian Government. The terms of the title are still being worked out and the fear is that the longer it takes the more watered down they will be.
However it was good to see Walter was making a good business out of telling his stories, or had been rather, which brings me to my question.
“Walter with all your tours cancelled what will you do now?”
“I will take my family and we will go into the bush. We know how to survive and hunt there and that’s where we will be until this is all over.” I was glad for him and impressed by his versatility.
He finished his tour by singing us a farewell song accompanied by clapping two boomerangs together, then he climbed into his maroon 4X4 and sped off to the airport.