Native Title

WITH proposals for a tavern at Arthur Head sitting before the WAPC, Swan Valley Ngungah Community representative
HERBERT BROPHO has penned what he says is a rare chance for Aborigines to tell their side of history, and why the raising of the English flag by Captain Fremantle on that small stretch of beach makes it such a significant site for them. He says the repercussions of that act are still relevant today. This is the first in a three-part series.

AFTER approval had been given to James Stirling to colonise the Swan River, Charles Howe Fremantle was instructed to take formal possession of “all that part of New Holland which is not included within the territory of New South Wales.” He arrived in late April on the Challenger and raised the British flag on Arthur’s head on May 2.

His diary entry on that day includes: “We rowed up the river a considerable distance & saw & heard natives on both sides, who halloa’d to us very loud & appeared to cry out ‘warra, warra’ which I supposed to be ‘go away’.”

When Stirling arrived a month later he set up his first base (Sulphur Town) on Garden Island, which prompted Fremantle to comment in his diary: “Captain Stirling determined to make his first establishment there. I think it a loss of time, as he must eventually move to the Main.”

When other ships started to arrive in August with colonists and Stirling was still on Garden Island, Fremantle wrote on August 24: “The Governor has much to do to divide & survey the Country, as all the Settlers are very anxious to be put in possession of their grants of land, and at present the Surveyor General Mr Roe has done nothing.”

Did Fremantle know that Stirling’s instructions included: “His Majesty has granted me ‘the power to make all necessary locations, and to grant unoccupied (note unoccupied) lands within the aforesaid territories’?”

Stirling included Garden Island in his grant and it was not until September 28 he called all persons entitled for grants to meet him in Perth and began parcelling out land as described by Barratt-Lennard [letter dated October 13, 1829] before any surveying had been done.

Many of the first colonists were very uneasy occupying land owned by the local people but only Robert Menli Lyon walked off his property for that reason.

There are many references in the colonial records to the need for the Aboriginal people to be compensated for losing their land.

In 1836 the matter was discussed by the Legislative Council and George Fletcher Moore’s contribution to the discussion is recorded in Millendon Memoirs: “There are great discussions here to the propriety of purchasing from them their interest in the land. I consider it a matter of justice that some recompense should be made to the natives, but I consider it is part and duty of the British Govt to do this.

“Surely it would appear very strange between individuals if the vendor sold an estate as if it was his own & then after some years coolly told the man who bought it that he must now pay the rightful owner of the land for his interest in it.” [p409 17 September, 1836]

While many early colonists recognised Aboriginal land ownership it was not until 1992 with the High Court ruling in the Mabo case that Government officially recognised their prior ownership of country.

The Swan Valley Ngungah Community has been particularly harshly treated.

Having gained title to land in 1994 the Western Australian government passed the Reserves Bill 2003 and removed their title to the land.

Over 50 people were evicted from their homes and their requests to have their land returned to them has fallen on deaf ears and the 11 houses have now been knocked down.

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