Fremantle is a special place for people all over the world but few of us understand its significance to traditional owners, the Whadjuk Nyoongar people that has sustained them for over 50 000 years.
The City of Fremantle has completed an important consultation process with traditional owners of Fremantle or Walyalup as it is known, that speaks about this significance.
The stories are told of the area known as Walyalup which means the “place of the Walyo or Woylie” or kangaroo rat. It’s a place of strong social, spiritual, cultural and historic significance to the Whadjuk Nyoongar people.
Bidi (trails) lead people from inland camps to Walyalup where they conduct ceremonial and cultural business, hunt, camp and fish.
Manjaree (meeting place and camp) is acknowledged by the Whadjuk Nyoongar people as the place where trading valuable items and families of people gather for kinship and law making; where mothers, fathers, and old people get together; and where young men and women whom have ‘come of age’ meet future husbands and wives.
One of the most important bidi (trails) was the sandbar or limestone rock bar crossing at the mouth of Derbal Yaragan (Swan River). This crossing facilitated seasonal travel based on the Nyoongar seasons and for cultural and ceremonial activities.
Walyalup was a shared space between many Nyoongar people and was an important place of trade and exchange. It was also a place where Nyoongar people held their funeral rites.
The Nyoongar people had their traditional camping grounds in and around the area including on sites known as Fremantle Park, East Fremantle Oval, Tradewinds Hotel, Fremantle Cemetery, South Beach and Coogee Beach.
Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Centre (WACC)
The cultural centre on Captains Lane in the Bathers Beach Art Precinct showcases Aboriginal art, culture and history. It’s a place where you can connect with Whadjuk Nyoongar people and culture.
The centre runs a program of workshops to coincide with the Nyoongar seasons including language classes, movie screenings, exhibitions, bush food workshops and art classes. Check fremantlestory.com.au for the latest program and centre opening times.
Dwerda Weeardinup (Cantonment Hill)
Dwerda Weeardinup, place of the dog (dingo) spirit, provides some of the most spectacular views of Fremantle overlooking the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) and Fremantle Harbour. It’s located on the south side of the river at the intersection of Queen Victoria Street and Canning Highway.
According to the traditional owners Dwerda Weeardinup is one of the seven hills of Walyalup (Fremantle) associated with the dreaming story about the Seven Sisters. This dreaming story is one of the widest ranging song lines in Australia that extends from the Central Desert to the West Coast of Australia.
Due to quarrying of limestone in Fremantle, Dwerda Weeardinup (and Clontarf Hill in the South) are the only two of the seven hills left, although other traditional owners say that the dreaming hills are still there and still connects people to their dreaming stories.
It is also associated with the Walyalup dreaming story about the Waugal and the Yondock. The story tells of Yondock, an ancestral crocodile that travelled down from the north, causing floods and disturbances, creating Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), Ngooloorayaup (Carnac Island), Derbal Nara (Cockburn Sound) and flooding the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) with salt water.
The Waugal (rainbow serpent), guardian of the fresh water, smells the salt and travels down Derbal Yarragan to see what’s happening. With advice from Woorriji (a lizard) in a cave in North Fremantle and strength gained from a freshwater spring at the East Street Jetty, the Waugal fights the crocodile, bites off his tail and places the tail across the mouth of the river to prevent salt water coming up stream.
The tail is secured with hair from the armpits of the Waugal on the southern side of the river, and with toenails from the crocodile on the north side of river (the site where the Dingo Flour Mill sits). The rest of the crocodile’s body remains as Meeandip (Garden Island) and dingoes watch from Dwerda Weeardinup (Cantonment Hill) to make sure the spirit of the crocodile is not reunited with its tail.
Note: The information, stories and names in this article have been sourced from Statements of Significance for the Fremantle Area and Registered Aboriginal Sites prepared by Moodjar Consultancy for the City of Fremantle, March 2016. View the document document at fremantle.wa.gov.au/statementsofsignificance