FREMANTLE council has voted to rename Kings Square to Walyalup Koort – a Whadjuk Noongar name meaning Heart of Fremantle.
As flagged in last week’s Herald, the council approved Walyalup Koort at this week’s monthly meeting and will now refer it to the state’s Geographic Names Committee for ratification.
Elder Noel Morich sat on the working group that oversaw the council’s consultation on the name change and said the collaboration between Whadjuks and Wadjellas should be a template for a broader shift in thinking.
“Imagine what Perth could look like if we undertook this collaborative approach more often,” Mr Morich said.
“Even in terms of public infrastructure, why do we have to have concrete bridges – why can’t we have art.”
Mr Morich said dual naming and Indigenous references built into the city’s infrastructure had the potential to make Perth a world leader and go-to destination, but it also had a more practical outcome.
“We have been asking for a long time about more involvement in these projects in terms of our heritage, in looking at procurement and employment in order to help ‘close the gap’,” he says of the scorecard which measures disadvantage faced by Australia’s First Nations people.
Mr Morich said the decision was being hailed by the Whadjuk community.
“They are saying that for once there was a proper process and the broader community have listened to the wishes of the local people.”
Mr Morich said during the working group’s early meetings, a lot of alternatives such as naming it after colonial-era Noongar leader Midgegooroo were discussed, but in the end it was a quiet voice from the side that won everyone’s heart with Walyalup Koort.
Diana Pontin wasn’t officially a working group member but had come along to listen one day.
“I attended and heard people talking about piazzas and squares and things like that, and I thought I would chuck my two cents in,” said Ms Pontin, who’s not fluent in Noongar but understands it reasonably well. A Ballardong woman, her Gosnells hairdressing salon was one of Perth’s first Aboriginal-owned business.
“Kings Square is in the middle of Fremantle and it’s the heart of Fremantle, and koort means heart,” she said.
While the renaming undoubtedly has a lot of sentiment attached, Mr Morich (who’s Linkedin account lists a business law degree from Charles Darwin University) said the group was thinking beyond that.
“When we heard it, we thought it had a good marketing jingle about it,” he said.
Deputy mayor Andrew Sullivan said the name was a clear winner.
“The time is right to reinvigorate the heart of Fremantle and we want everyone to feel welcome here,” Cr Sullivan said.
“The city’s colonial roots can be seen everywhere and the former names Kings Square and St Johns Square will be commemorated.
“The past is important and a lot more truth telling is required.”
But Fremantle Society president John Dowson slammed it as a “patronising name” because the square had no historical significance for Aboriginal people.
Some work still trickled on in the square this week despite the collapse of Pindan, which was building the council’s new admin centre.
The council told the Herald it may even have a better indication early next week of how it could get the project back on track.
CEO Philip St John told the Herald the council had taken possession of the site.
The Herald also heard that the council had reinsured the site under its own name, and warranties would automatically transfer from Pindan under the terms of the contract, removing two possible impediments.
A subbie on site told the Herald there were a couple of people cleaning up in the building, but he’d also heard those involved in the project from the start had been retained. On the flip side, he understood the glass contractor had gone into administration, affected by the fatal collapse of its roof at Curtin University and the lockdown of Wuhan, where it was sourcing its glass.
by STEVE GRANT