The broad term Aboriginal Australians includes many regional groups that often identify under names from local Aboriginal languages. These include:
- Koori (or Koorie) in New South Wales and Victoria
- Ngunnawal in the Australian Capital Territory and surrounding areas of New South Wales
- Murri in Queensland
- Murrdi Southwest and Central Queensland
- Noongar in southern Western Australia
- Yamatji in central Western Australia
- Wangkai in the Western Australian Goldfields
- Nunga in southern South Australia
- Anangu in northern South Australia, and neighbouring parts of Western Australia and Northern Territory
- Yapa in western central Northern Territory
- Yolngu in eastern Arnhem Land (NT)
- Tiwi on Tiwi Islands off Arnhem Land
- Anindilyakwa on Groote Eylandt off Arnhem Land
- Palawah (or Pallawah) in Tasmania
A Focus on the Noongar tribe
Ngaala Maaman Waangk
Ngaala Maaman ngiyan yira moonbooli Moodlooga.
Kooranyi noonak korl. Noonak waangk, yoowarl koorl,
birdiyar ngaala boodja noonook woorn noonak kooranyi kaalak.
Nyinyak ngaalang nidja kedela ngaala mereny.
Nyinya nyinyak ngaalang ngaala wara waarniny.
Ngaalak nyinya nyinyak, baalang ngiyan waarn wara ngaalang.
Yoowart koorl ngaalang moort-moort djooroot. Maaman maar barang ngaalang, Noonak waangk birdiyar. Noonak moorditj, noonook ngaangk yira.
The Noongar (also known as Nyungar) are Aboriginal people who live in the south-west corner of Western Australia. Their name, in the various original dialects is thought to mean “people”. Archaeological evidence from Perth suggests that the Noongar people have lived in the area for at least 45,000 years. The oldest evidence of their existence in the area is at Devil’s Lair where the Noongar people lived over 38,000 years ago. The 2001 census figures showed that 21,000 people identified themselves as Aboriginal in the southwest of Western Australia. In 2006, the Noongar people themselves estimate that there are about 28,000 people who identify with the tribe.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Noongar population has been estimated at between 6,000 and some tens of thousands. However through the introduction of disease and violent encounters with the British, colonisation took a heavy toll on the population. The Noongar saw the arrival of the Europeans in 1829 as the returning of deceased people and they called the newcomers ‘Djanga’ meaning “white spirits”.
It is reported that on their arrival, the British invaders made the obvious observation that the Noongar people ‘seemed angry at the invasion of their territory’. The settlers killed many of the local small animals, particularly kangaroos, for meat and skins. These were not only part of the Noongar Culture, but also formed a significant part of their diet. When the Noongar people started to take the settlers stock for food they were often sentenced to harsh jail terms for what was considered a criminal offence. From 1890 the lives and lifestyles of Noongar people were subject numerous discriminatory policies. Two state-run camps, Moore River Native Settlement and Carrolup, became the home of up to one-third of the population. It is also estimated that between 10% and 25% of Noongar children were forcibly removed as part of the ‘Stolen Generations’.
The Noongar people believe the Waagle, or Rainbow Serpent, dominated the earth and the sky creating waterways and people. It is a central figure in Noongar culture. They believe the Waagle gave life and food to people, who in return became guardians of the land. The Darling Scarp in Perth represents the body of the Waagle that meandered over the land creating rivers, waterways and lakes. It is also thought that the Waagle created the Swan River in Perth.
Noongar or Nyungar is the language of the Noongar group of the Pama-Nyungan language family. There was no standard Noongar language, but a number of dialects. About 8,000 people speak a creolized form of the eastern dialect of Noongar, known as Neo-Nyungar. It is estimated that out of thirteen dialects spoken by the Noongar people at the time of European settlement, only five still remain. Today, the Noongar language is regarded as endangered, with few fluent speakers, although there has been a revival of interest in recent years. Individuals who were concerned about the survival of the language set up the Noongar Language and Culture Centre in Western Australia. The first steps of teaching the Noongar language in the general school curriculum have also been made. This has come as a result of tireless work by members of the Noongar community in reviving their language. The name ‘Kylie’, meaning ‘boomerang’ is an example of a Noongar word adopted into English
‘On the coastal plain, they hunted kangaroos (yongka), emu (waitj), possums (coomarl), snakes (land snakes, not water snakes), lizards (karder, and yoorna), turtles and their eggs, honey, birds like rosellas, bronze-wing pigeons and ducks and their eggs, and the bardi grubs which could be eaten raw or cooked in the coals. Their vegetable and fruit intake included edible tubers, quandongs, berries and nuts and a type of grain which could be crushed and made into a kind of damper.’
Rosemary van den Berg, Nyungar researcher http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/multimedia/nyungar/menu9.htm
For the Noongar People in the Perth area the main source of food came from the sea and the Swan River. Further south and east the Noongar people lived off the resources of the Karri and Jarrah forests. Traditional Noongar made a living by hunting and trapping a variety of game, including kangaroos, possums and wallabies; by fishing using spears and fish traps; as well as by gathering an extensive range of edible wild plants. The Noongar culture has a complex relationship to the land and pays respect to the seasons and the bountiful supply of food.
Music and Dance
Aboriginal dances that relate to sacred ceremonies are to be viewed only by sections of that language group: some are only for men, others only for women. Noongar people have traditionally used music and dance as part of sacred ceremonies. An example of a traditional Noongar ceremony is a smoking ceremony which cleanses and heals when you walk through it. Smoke from balga (grass tree), wattle and other native plants are used to take away bad spirits.
Through a modern day revival, the community has established numerous Aboriginal theatre and dance groups. Yirra Yaakin meaning, “stand tall” in the Noongar language is a theatre company which was set up in 1993 in response to the demand from Aboriginal youth to take part in ongoing Youth Theatre programs. Outreach community performance projects were undertaken using access, participation and equity as the guiding principles. Yirra Yaakin is known as one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal theatre companies, employing over 500 Aboriginal theatre workers and has reached over 400,000 audience and participants.
For the Noongar people, the land has special significance, and features strongly in most Noongar artwork. Changes to the Noongar culture, which came about after the European settlement of Western Australia in 1829, are also regularly reflected in the Noongar arts. Noongar artwork is also influenced by their six seasons – Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba and Kambarang – which relate to the traditional quest for food and shelter.
- To check out some examples of Noongar art and the artists behind it see: http://noongarart.com.au/The%20Noongar%20Story
- Go to http://www.noongar.org.au/noongar.php for an extensive history of the Noogar people
- http://www.yirrayaakin.com.au/ is the website dedicated to the ongoing work of Yirra Yaakin. Look out for the videos showcasing previous productions