Historic reset

A NEW heritage study has revealed that more than 50 Aboriginal women and children were reportedly massacred at Hamilton Hill Swamp in the early 1830s.

Traditional Owners interviewed for the Hamilton Hill Swamp Early European and Aboriginal Heritage study, say the massacre was one of the first official “punishment raids” led by Captain Irwin, who was searching for Aboriginal leader Yagan. 

The raid was originally reported to have taken place north of Fremantle, but Traditional Owners explained that at that time the centre of Freo was located further south.

There is no documented evidence of the massacre, however Traditional Owners like Geri Hayden recall her great, great grandmother, Granny Sarah Bennell (nee Isaac) telling her about the massacre taking place during a women’s ceremony at Hamilton Swamp, with the story then passed down in oral tradition. 

These early raids eventually led to the Pinjarra Massacre in 1834, and were followed by the massacres in York in 1836.

Funded by the state Labor government, the $50,000 Hamilton Hill swamp study identified areas of cultural significance across the 12.5-hectare precinct, which is bordered by Rockingham and Healy Roads, and includes public open space, sports facilities and bushland.  

Key recommendations include Traditional Owners requesting the precinct to be registered as an Aboriginal site because of its cultural significance, the infilled swamp at Dixon Reserve to be re-vegetated and better connected to the wetlands, and the still-operational Randwick Stables to be preserved due to its significance within the racing industry.

Last Sunday in the lead-up to NAIDOC week, enthusiastic locals braved stormy conditions at the swamp to mark the release of the study, which included a fascinating walking lecture of the ceremonial, camping and mythological areas by Aboriginal guide Kay Walley.

Labour Fremantle MP Simone McGurk, who originally identified the need for the study in 2019, spoke at the launch.

“Having brought together the various threads of the Hamilton Hill Swamp’s past, this study will provide a valuable guide and resource as our community considers how the precinct should best be used and managed into the future,” she said. 

Traditional Owners also requested the limestone hills within the Aboriginal site boundary, and the women’s ‘high ceremonial grounds’ on the south side of Rockingham Road, should not be interfered with.

They noted that water, particularly underground streams connecting the chain of wetlands that Hamilton Hill Swamp is part of, are connected to Waugal’s energy, and to break this chain can make people sick or die. The site is also home to some fascinating early European history with Perth’s first newspaper press set up in bush at the swamp by Charles McFaull, who published the Fremantle Observer. He also planted the state’s first grapevines at the swamp in the 1830s.

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