Aboriginal Culture

Perth City is located in the ancient country of the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, who have been the Traditional Owners of the south west of Western Australia for at least 45,000 years. The geographical features and natural environment that was fundamental to Nyoongar culture and sustenance, has been substantially transformed by development of Perth City over the last 200 years.

At the time of European settlement in 1829, areas surrounding what is now central Perth were known as Mooro, Beeloo and Beeliar by the Nyoongar nation – the Aboriginal peoples of the south-west of Western Australia. The Whadjuk Nyoongar, as the Traditional Owners of these lands, overlaid a rich culture into these places, which provided for everyday life.

Aboriginal place names 

The river is a sacred place for Nyoongar peoples and they preserved many stories of the Waugal, a water-serpent understood to be responsible for the creation and maintenance of the river and most of the water features around Perth. The Nyoongar peoples moved with the seasons, travelling inland in winter, then returning in late spring to capture game such as wallabies, kangaroos and possums. A main camp site was at what is now known as Kings Park (Mooro Kaarta). Aboriginal peoples also frequented the mud flats (Matagarup) which later became Heirisson Island as it was a productive fishing spot.

The Nyoongar peoples had contact with various seafaring visitors including the Dutch and the French before the arrival of Captain James Stirling who colonised the region for the British in 1829. Relations between the settlers and the Aboriginal peoples were not always harmonious as the latter were dispossessed of their land and subjected to sometimes harsh and unsympathetic colonial rule. Fast forward to December 2009 when the State Government signed a framework agreement with the representative body, the South West Aboriginal and Land and Sea Council, aimed at resolving through negotiation six Nyoongar Native Title claims over Perth and the south-west of Western Australia. The City is working closely with its Aboriginal community to deliver 71 actions in the City’s Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan which aim to build respect, relationships and opportunity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

  • Registered Aboriginal Heritage Sites

    In 2016, there were 18 sites registered under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 in Perth city. These are places of cultural and spiritual significance, linking the past and the present, where Whadjuk Nyoongar people met, camped, hunted and performed ceremonies.

    The 18 sites are listed below:

    Site Location Significance
    3502 Kings Park Scarred Tree Modified Tree
    3536 Swan River Mythological
    3589 Heirisson Island Mythological, Camp, Hunting Place, Meeting Place, Plant Resource
    3593 Gudinup Ceremonial
    3694 Claisebrook Camp Camp, Water Source
    3703 Spring Street Camp, Named Place, Water Source
    3704 Kings Park Waugal Ceremonial, Mythological, Plant Resource, Water Source
    3754 Mt Eliza Waugal Mythological
    3761 Kings Park Ceremonial, Hunting Place
    3767 East Perth Power Station Camp, Meeting Place
    3787 Mounts Bay Road Mythological, Camp, Named Place, Water Source
    3789 Perth Town Hall Camp
    3791 Matilda Bay Ceremonial, Camp, Water Source
    3798 Government House Skeletal Material / Burial, Camp, Water Source
    3799 Victoria Square Skeletal Material, Burial
    21621 Kilang Minangaldjkba Water Source
    29278 Midgegooroo’s Execution and Burial Historical, Skeletal Material / Burial
    37452 Wellington Square, the Old Recreation Reserve, Bunjie Park Historical, Man-Made Structure, Rockshelter, Meeting Place

    View a full list of Aboriginal Heritage Sites across Western Australia.

  • Walking Trails

    Karla Yarning: Stories Of The Home Fires

    The Karla Yarning maps enable visitors to take a journey to discover the importance Aboriginal heritage holds in the history of Perth city.

    Hard copies of the maps are available from the WA Visitors Centre, iCity Kiosk in the Murray Street Mall and Council House or you can download them to the right.

    The walks take approximately 1.5 hours each.

    The maps were initiated, researched and written by Professor Len Collard of UWA and Dr Tod Jones of Curtin University with input and advice from Cultural Advisors. The City would also like to acknowledge the project partners: Lotterywest, The Department of Planning Lands and Heritage and Curtin University.

    This city is Whadjuk country
    This city is Whadjuk country, explores Whadjuk Nyoongar history before the arrival of white settlers in 1829. On this walk participants will get a feel for the way Whadjuk people lived before white settlement.

    Fighting for families, country, rights and recognition
    The second Karla Yarning map, Fighting for families, country, rights and recognition, explores Aboriginal history in Perth after 1829. On this walk, participants can learn about important events and developments including the resistance of Whadjuk leaders Midgegooroo and his son Yagan in the 1830s, the Prohibited Area zone in place between 1927-1954, Aboriginal protest rallies held in the 1930s and 1940s and the establishment of important Aboriginal organisations.

  • Fanny Balbuk Yooreel

    In September 2016, the City partnered with the National Trust of Western Australia to deliver a project honouring the life of Whadjuk woman Fanny Balbuk Yooreel. 

    Balbuk was passionate about her country and ‘raged and stormed’ through her homelands as colonial Perth developed. Her story highlights the intersection of colonisation and the local Aboriginal people in 19th century Perth and how this manifested in the social, political and natural landscape.  Throughout April and May 2017, this collaborative project delivered a suite of publicly accessible activations for the 2017 National Trust Heritage Festival, including publication of a walking trail brochure.

    Through following the walking trail brochure, participants can walk the path of Fanny Balbuk Yooreel through the Perth landscape and connect to this Perth city in new ways. Guided by Whadjuk Elder women and their extended families, the map provides an experience informed by newly compiled research to mark the 110th anniversary of the death of arguably Perth’s most important and uncelebrated Whadjuk woman.  

    The information in this map was compiled through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and the National Trust of Western Australia in partnership with the City of Perth. 

  • Aboriginal Culture through Public Art

    The City of Perth regularly commissions Public Art in civic squares, streetscapes, parks and some unexpected places, recognising that the successful integration of site-specific art enhances the enjoyment of the city experience.

    The City’s current Public Art collection features works of six Aboriginal artists which all acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal culture, storytelling and traditions. 

    The City’s recently revised Art City Walking Trail features two Aboriginal artworks; First Contact by Laurel Nannup and Koorden by Rod Garlett, Fred Chaney and Richie Kuhaupt. 

    For a full list of the City’s works created by Aboriginal Artists please email: publicart@cityofperth.wa.gov.au