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Living on the River

Group of Aboriginal women at Perth, including Fanny Balbuk (far right). Battye Library [25341P]
European explorers of the Swan River noted the presence of Aboriginal people, their huts, their wells and their fires, but they had no understanding of how the land and its waters had been managed, or of the deep and spiritual connections that existed between the Noongar people and their country. As the new settlers mapped and settled the land, clearing, fencing and dividing it, the Noongar people were progressively driven out from areas they had once occupied.

Aboriginal people relied on the land and particularly on the waters of the Swan River for their sustenance. They moved from place to place, as the seasons and hunting or fishing required: They hunted kangaroos, possums, pelicans, swans, ducks as well as fish of many varieties and collected frogs, grubs and a variety of plant resources such as yams and zamia. They did not appear to have used boats but were adept at spear fishing and relied particularly on the shallow waters around the edge of Perth Water, from the springs at the foot of Mt Eliza (Goonininup) to ‘the Flats’, the islands where they could easily ford the river on foot. The shallow area of mudflats (where the Causeway is now) is called Matagarup, Mata being the Noongar word for leg, Matagarup meaning ‘leg deep’.

Page last updated: Tuesday 23 November 2010