720 ABC Radio Interview with Dr Richard Walley and Russell Woolf, 2013.
Russell: ‘It’s NAIDOC week on Drive so I’m curious to learn more about the Aboriginal history of this city and I’m delighted to say that I’m joined by Doctor Richard Walley this afternoon. It’s lovely to be talking to you Richard.’
Richard: ‘Good afternoon Russell, it’s good to be back on your show again.’
Russell: ‘We’re blessed in this city to have a big park right in the middle of us called Kings Park. What does that area mean to Nyoongar people?’
Richard: ‘Oh it’s a very significant place to Nyoongar people and not only Nyoongar but people in general. The park itself was a ground where people were born, people actually lived there. Our people lived there. Our people had food and gatherings there so it was significant for a lot of reasons and still significant to our people today.’
Russell: ‘Does it have an Indigenous name?’
Richard: There’s a couple of different names, Kaarta Cumba was one which is a ‘hill of significance’, Mooro Katta and Kaarta Gar-up is another name for it. It was a gathering place for many different families but there was the place down the bottom down near the river, we walked across from near Heirisson Island area and went up to Mooro Katta up to Kaarta Gar-up which is the hill up top of the place.
So that was one of the more prominent names, but Kaarta Cumba is also very well known and as you probably found the carpark and road up there is named Wadjuk Way which is Nyoongar language and part of the Wadjuk community.
Russell: ‘My guess is Doctor Richard is teaching us a little bit about our heritage this afternoon on 720 ABC. But you said like a birthing ground, would women naturally gravitate towards it knowing it, I presume was a safe, comfortable place to give birth?’
Richard: ‘As you’d be aware, I can’t speak about women’s issues or nor should I, but there is a lot of significant women’s place up there. There are also men’s places up there, a combination of both. Lots of birthing grounds, the area still recognised as Pioneer Women’s Fountain is a women’s gathering area and another is called Yorkas Nyinning which is where Aboriginal women actually gathered. As us men, the best thing men can do is stay out of women’s business.’
Russell: ‘Yes. Can I ask you, was there always water up there?’
Richard: ‘There were waters and springs around the place. There were some places that had catchments of water around but there was significant springs that went through and around the hills aswell. And they were very, very clear, crystal sources of water. And even in the river itself, out into the beeliar there were springs that actually filtered into the river and that was beautiful, clear water aswell. Wonderful for drinking.’
Russell: ‘My guess is Doctor Richard Walley, maybe there is something you would like to know about Perth’s Aboriginal history? You can call if you like.’
There would have been kangaroos and all sorts of wildlife there. Was it a good place for a feed?’
Richard: ‘It was a good place for a feed, and there are some older, my older uncles and aunts and older people that I know, that know far more than I. Like most people I get information handed to me by my elders and pass it on. There was significant places. There was a place where they actually chase kangaroos and cornered them on the cliff. The idea was to catch them and corner them at the cliff, not to as some of the legend says to chase them over the cliff and get them as they fall to the bottom as you have damaged meat down there. Our people were very fine hunters and we didn’t have to chase things over the cliff, we actually cornered them and speared them there. But if any kangaroos went over the cliff they weren’t wasted, you’d actually go down there and we didn’t waste any food, so we’d get those aswell and cut and distribute them so all the kangaroos that was hunted there was used.’
Russell: ‘Richard, I wonder if you would be happy to take a question from George?’
George: ‘Well I’ve been curious for a long time about how Aboriginal people went fishing. Clearly they didn’t have lines, hooks and bait like us and they didn’t have torches at night, I especially wonder if they caught shellfish like prawns and crabs? Or they were that plentiful that they could just catch them during the day?’
Russell: ‘I wonder. What’s the answer there Richard. How did you fish?’
Richard: ‘Well there’s a couple. For the bigger ones, we had traps or stakes we had put in the ground and you go where the river is at its narrowest. You’d put the stakes in the ground and the fish swim around that. There are photographs in the museum where you can see some of them. Then you’d have the small area in between that where the fish would swim in between with the tides. Then you’d stake between those staggered areas so they’d slow down to swim between and you’d spear them. A giji is a two or three prong spear and that is Nyoongar fishing spear. We also had this and of course in those days the sand bars crossed which kept fish in pools aswell and the shellfish that gathered – there were many different ways of catching those. In the upper rivers, particularly in the southern parts where there’s lots and lots of marron caught in places like Murray, we had the vines. So you’d put the vine on a stick like a loop but you’d also swim down and dive and grab them. And the crabs were caught with an old fork stick method or hook stick. The fork stick where you’d hit the crab between the eyes when it’s looking at you and put your hands behind to pick it up. Or you’d have a hook stick which hooked the claw as you’d do it. So we had those tools to help us to fish and crab in those days. And I still do it and my sons and nephews still go to Mandurah and catch crabs with the fork stick and hook stick as my uncles and aunts and fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers did. We still practice that today as more of a keeping the heritage rather than a convenience as you’d catch more with a net of course but just fantastic using the old methods.’
Russell: ‘I love it, it sounds fantastic. It’s brilliant that the heritage lives, that’s the thing and that’s what’s so wonderful about Aboriginal culture. Robert Isaacs is a Nyoongar elder and has called into the program. It’s nice to be talking to you.’
Robert: ‘Good afternoon to my good friend Richard.’
Richard: ‘How are you Robert?’
Robert and Richard begin to talk in the Nyoongar language.
Robert: ‘Now I’ve loved hearing the stories of our people. In the last two days I’ve been busy with NAIDOC week. I’ve went out to the police academy yesterday, raised a flag there, I’m doing a big one tomorrow and I tell the story of the river people, of the Nyoongar people of this area, the Whadjuk, the Bibbulmun people and Wardandi people which is my mob in the south-west also. We’re just so happy that Richard, you, you really promote our people’s culture whether it’s in the media, the fabulous work that you do and that’s why you really give us heart, you give us warmth and you’re telling the community of this country. Also telling the migrants that are coming into this country, you’re telling the story, why this land is so precious to us, why you should walk softly on this land and do what Nyoongar people do to look after the land.’
Richard: ‘Thank you very much. Like Robert there are a lot of us out there. We are a people, not one person or a family. You can give another 5 or 6 other people who speak the same as we, Robert and I, you can get lots of us, that’s the beauty of us as people that have different ideas and people but we know that we are one under the one sun, we have to look after this earth and we all know that. And we have respect for nature; we have to respect the river and the plants. The plants are the most vulnerable and we have a responsibility to look after them aswell. That’s why places like Kings Park are very important as it’s got all the connection to plant life and some of those plants and those magpies and those crows. They’re also descendants of their ancestors who’ve been there for thousands of years aswell, as well as us as people. So we are descendants at one stage, but respect the other descendants - the plants, the animals and the birds aswell and that’s the greatest message we can send to everyone.’
Russell: ‘Robert Isaacs thank you so much for calling up and sharing your thoughts there and I’m thrilled that you did. Richard Walley, always, I just love talking to you. I feel your stories are quite empowering and wonderful to hear and we look forward to hearing more of them in the future. I appreciate you spending the time with us on Drive today.’
Richard: ‘I’ve been blessed ‘cause my mother, father, uncles and aunts. I’ve got two good uncles and aunts who driving me today - that’s our lifeblood is our elders and we’ve also got our youth that is coming through now that will guarantee our future.’
Russell: ‘That’s fantastic to hear. Thank you so much Doctor Richard Walley, my guest on Drive.’