GRAEME HARWOOD has been working, hanging out and bringing up kids in Fremantle for the 30-odd years. He’s got a bachelor of arts with a major in Indigenous studies and is passionate about the community and its connection to a rich Indigenous past. He also volunteers with Ngalla Maya, an Indigenous not-for-profit organisation focussed on training and mentoring Indigenous people who have been through the justice system. And, of course, he’s the proud owner of a Dingo T-shirt.
AS a resident of Fremantle I have watched with interest the steady increase in the popular Dingo Flour T-shirt being worn by kids through to Baby Boomers, or local business branding products with the “Dingo” motif; but it wasn’t until I found that the image had evolved from a populist brand icon to that of body art worn proudly on the shoulder of a millennial on South Beach that I wondered whether its significance is perhaps not truly understood.
The Whadjuk people have had a close connection with the Fremantle area (Walyalup) for tens of thousands of years, a place of plentiful resources as well as a place of spiritual meaning where ancestors have walked, camped, hunted and fished.
As the traditional owners of the Walyalup area, the cultural and heritage beliefs of the Whadjuk people are important and their story, one of the oldest oral traditions in human history, tells of times when the land once extended past Rottnest before being inundated by the sea.
“The Walyalup Dreaming story tells of Yondock, an ancestral crocodile that travelled down from the north, causing floods and disturbances, creating Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), Gnooroolmayup (Carnac Island), Derbal Nara (Cockburn Sound) and flooding the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) with salt water.
The Waugle or Rainbow Serpent, guardian of the fresh water, smells the salt and travels down the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) to see what’s happening. With the advice from Woorriji (a lizard) from the Waugle cave in North Fremantle and strength gained from the freshwater spring at East Street Jetty, he fights the crocodile, bites off his tail and places the tail across the mouth of the river to prevent salt water coming up stream. The tail is secured with the hair from the armpits of the Waugle on the southern side of the river and with toenail from the crocodile on the north side of the river, the rest of the crocodiles body remains as Meeandip (Garden Island).
The Waugal knew that if the taiand body of the Spirit Crocodile were ever re-joined, there would be serious trouble, so he told the Dwert – the Dingo – to watch over the coast and its waters to make sure the spirit of the crocodile is not reunited with its tail “ (source: Historical Knowledge and Understanding – National Trust of Australia)
To the Whadjuk people, the Dingo represents a mythology of watching over and protecting our wonderful river and home.
Nowadays, the Dingo Flour sign, a stylised and silhouetted Dingo in red, signifies the site of a heritage-listed flour mill in North Fremantle and a well known trademark stamped on T-shirts, tea towels and beer cans.
However before all this, the red Dingo was the mark on flour bags sent north and distributed as food rations to the First Nations Peoples.
Aboriginal people of all ages were taken from their homes and sent to work on cattle and sheep properties across Australia, schemes run by successive state governments, theoretically to “protect” Aboriginal Australians from mistreatment.
These rations acted as both compensation and a means of influence to a people denied access to their traditional country and resources.
Just like the Dingo motif, the long-standing significance of the Southern Cross constellation to the First Nations People is arguably not appreciated.
Long before the Southern Cross tattoo became a form of national pride stamped onto the bodies of our most patriotic, it was a constellation that the First Nations People looked at and lived under for over 2000 generations.
When I discussed with the young man at South Beach the history of the Dingo, he was surprised and listened enthusiastically – happy to learn that his tattoo not only reflected the Fremantle spirit but also had a deeper meaning in Aboriginal culture.
More time needs to be spent communicating and having conversations about the stories behind the symbols and trademarks.
It’s these conversations that will make our collective Aussie pride shine a little brighter.