Unstoppable force

THIS Naidoc Week we profile Whadjuk resistance figure Balbuk (1840 to 1907), whose traditional land covered much of what is now Perth’s CBD.

Known by a newspaper of the era as “The Last of Perth’s First Citizens,” Fanny Balbuk Yooreel was born in the sacred birthing grounds of the Matagarup shallows, near what’s now called Heirisson Island.

She was known to walk a track between her birth site and the wetlands where the Perth railway station now sits, gathering eggs, turtles and crayfish from the rich swamp.

• Balbuk. Battye Library [25341P]

Over the decades, Perth started to grow. In 1881 the train station was built over the wetlands, and houses sprung up along her path.

Out of habit, and protest, she kept walking the same route, “through fences and over them”.

A lot of Balbuk’s history was recorded by Daisy Bates, whose histories have been undermined by inaccuracies. Taken with a grain of Anglocentrism, Bates described Balbuk’s “powerful, sturdy frame and quick, strong, and somewhat domineering temper”.

Bates wrote that Balbuk had a prodigious knowledge of plants and wildlife and Noongar lore, she loved beer, and wrote “to the end of her life she raged and stormed at the usurping of her beloved home ground”.

• A group of Aboriginal people on a trip to the zoo. Battye Library [25341P]

Her grandfather was Yellagonga, leader of the area north of the river when the colonials arrived. She had four powerful maternal ancestors who Bates describes as “grandmothers”, or demmangur.

Bates wrote: “Balbuk often related a tradition concerning four women who “came from the east – Beverley way”, and who, her mother had told her, were the progenitors of all the Swan River natives”.

One of her grandmothers, Moojorngul, was buried beneath Government House.

Bates records that Balbuk would “stand at the gates of Government House, reviling all who dwelt within, in that the stone gates, guarded by a sentry, enclosed her grandmother’s burial ground”.

While Bates’ histories were flawed and paternal, the information she recorded from Balbuk was used in the 2006 native title claim which recognised Noongar connection to the land.

Balbuk died in 1907, and had no children. She was recorded in the newspaper of the day as “the last female representative of the Swan River natives”.

by DAVID BELL

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