The Traditional Owners of the South West: the Noongar People
Today is a momentous day for Western Australia. 26 February 2014. Today will see the tabling of the Noongar Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Bill 2013. It is likely the first time that the Western Australian parliament will be presented with a bill containing Noongar language and certainly the first time a bills name has included it. The English translation of Schedule 1 reads:
This is our country, we have always been here. We have survived. We will continue to be here. Nothing can take away from who we are. It’s still in our hearts, in our blood –this is our country. We, the Noongar people, are the Traditional Owners of South West Western Australia, and have been since before time immemorial.
As the First People of South West Western Australia, we continue to practise the laws and customs of our culture. Through this culture, we continue to hold rights, responsibilities and obligations to our people, traditional lands and waters. We, the Noongar people, are the largest single Aboriginal cultural bloc on the Australian continent.
We belong to one of the oldest surviving living cultures on this earth. As a people we have a common ancestral language, and a similar history and spirituality. We know that our traditional country is beyond south-east of a line from Leeman in the northwest to beyond Cape Arid in the south-east, and that the spirit of this place can never be conquered. Noongar culture, spirit and economy have always depended on the resources of Noongar boodjar. Families still return to the biddi (paths) of our ancestors. Our people continue to refer to natural landmarks, especially hills and waterways, when describing which families belong to different areas of Noongar boodjar. Although barriers may exist it’s still in our hearts, in our blood, it’s still our country.
Our living culture which is long and continuing in this part of the world begins with Noongar people. This is the opportunity for all Western Australians to experience the ancient tradition of respect, relationships and reciprocity with Noongar people. We have survived.
Make no mistake, this is a powerful moment. I have seen people brought to tears when discussing this bill. Too often can white fella’s be unwilling to act to recognise the traditional owners of this boodja. This year on Australia day I wore a shirt with an Aboriginal flag on it and I was amazed at the indignant attitudes I faced from white people, who somehow thought that by recognising Aboriginals I would be offending them. Tell that to the survival day mob. Too long have white fella’s been afraid to actually engage in discussion on Aboriginal issues because they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
Today marks the day that all people can come together and join the push to recognise Noongar’s, and hopefully shine the light on what is one of the most important issues in our State. Today is the day when everyone can join in the good work that others have done in this state to work towards reconciliation.
Although just a bill, I hope it will inspire more people to act. The South West native title settlement is being negotiated between the State Government and the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) on behalf of the Noongar people of WA. Even if you only use this opportunity to let your local member know how important that settlement is to you as a voter or to let your federal member know how important constitutional recognition of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is to you, you will be taking important action. To vicariously quote senior Australian of the year Fred Chaney “You will not regret a single minute that you have devoted to furthering the reconciliation cause”.