Aboriginal people have nurtured and managed the natural resources of Australia for thousands of years and have strong spiritual, social and cultural connections to the land. The Northern Agricultural Region (NAR) is the traditional land of the Noongar (also spelled Nyoongah or Nyungar) and Yamatji (also spelled Yamaji) Peoples, distinguished by their distinct language groups and cultural practices.
Yamatji People are the traditional owners to the north of the region and Noongar people are the traditional owners to the south of the region, with an indistinct geographic boundary between them in the Leeman–Green Head area. At least six Yamatji language groups and at least two Noongar language groups are represented in the NAR.
The Yamatji Nation Claim consent determination and Indigenous Land Use Agreement was signed on 7 February 2020. This is an agreement between the State and the Yamatji Nation Southern, made up of five claimant groups – Hutt River, Southern Yamatji, Yamatji Nation (including descendants of additional ancestors of those who were not included in the original underlying claims), Mullewa Wadjari and Widi Mob. For more information about the Yamatji Nation Southern Regional Agreement, click here.
Noongar boodja (Country) covers the entire south-western portion of Western Australia. The boundary commences on the west coast north of Jurien Bay, proceeds roughly easterly to a point approximately north of Moora and then roughly south-east to a point on the southern coast between Bremer Bay and Esperance. The South West Native Title Settlement came into effect on 25 February 2021 and is the largest native title settlement in Australian history. The Settlement will affect an estimated 30,000 Noongar People and encompasses approximately 200,000km2 in the South West. For more information about the Noongar People of Western Australia, click here and for more information about the South West Native Title Settlement, click here.
The Badimia Native Title Claim to their traditional lands in the Midwest and Murchison regions of Western Australia was rejected by the Federal Court in 2015. Nevertheless, the Badimia people maintain their connection to country and are recognised as the Traditional Owners in practice by all groups working in the area. For more information visit Badimia Bandi Barna Aboriginal Corporation or Badimia Land Aboriginal Corporation.
The Nanda people were formally recognised in 2018 as the Native Title holders of more than 17,000 km2 of land in Western Australia, including the tourist town of Kalbarri, Kalbarri National Park, the Zuytdorp Nature Reserve and the Toolonga Nature Reserve. For more information about the Nanda Native Title Determination, click here.
The Aboriginal People of Australia have the oldest living cultural history in the world, dating back at least 50,000 and possibly closer to 65,000 years. Prior to European settlement in the 1800s, there were around 600 Aboriginal nations in Australia, with distinct languages, cultural practices and belief systems.
The area between Green Head and Jurien Bay has the largest number of Aboriginal midden deposits in Southwest Australia.
Noongar and Yamatji People have occupied the coastline of the NAR for thousands of years. Stone artefacts have been found in caves around Jurien Bay, and the area between Green Head and Jurien Bay is home to the largest number of midden deposits in Southwest Australia.
A recent history of Aboriginal experience in the Midwest is available on the Bundiyarra Aboriginal Corporation website. A detailed map of all registered Aboriginal Heritage places in the region, searchable by your Local Government Authority or street address, can be viewed at the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage website.
The Native Title claims process assesses Aboriginal people’s rights and interest in an area of land or water according to traditional Aboriginal laws and customs (WA Govt 2020). There are 19 Native Title claims in the Geraldton area, mostly represented by the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, and 12 in the South West region of WA, represented by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council. To view current Native Title Determined Areas and Native Title Claims in Western Australia, visit the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety’s interactive map.
Aboriginal people have a historical and spiritual attachment to natural resources, where land means the perpetuation of life. In some Aboriginal Mythology, particularly for historically inland language groups, the Rainbow Serpent, called the Wagyl (Noongar) or Bimara (Yamaji), shaped the landscape and created plants, animals and humans. The connection between snake and rainbow suggests the cycle of the season and the significance of them in human life. The Rainbow Serpent is the life-giver, due to its connection with water, and is both a symbol of unity and peaceful cooperation and of creation and destruction. It is believed that the creation stories associated with the Rainbow Serpent, known as The Dreaming, are among the oldest continuing religious beliefs in the world.
Dreaming stories are used to pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations. Aboriginal people use song, dance, painting and storytelling to express these Dreaming stories, creating a rich cultural heritage.
Aboriginal people all over Australia use astronomy to gauge the seasons and to plan natural resource management. Aboriginal people interpret the space between the stars, an approach which differs from Western astronomy where the location of the stars is used. In the NAR, the Emu in the Sky constellation was used to gauge when emus are mating and laying their eggs, and when it is an appropriate time to collect eggs.
Coastal dunes throughout the region were used as burial sites and skeletal remains have, on occasion, been exposed by dune blowouts. River mouths and estuaries have particular cultural and spiritual significance as ceremonial and initiation sites, traditional hunting and gathering grounds and as boundary markers.
Coralie Dann, Yamaji Elder. Taken from Marlaguwinmanha, Returning back to the bush 2016. Produced by Chris Lewis.
The word ‘Country’, when used by Aboriginal people, represents a specific part of the environment that is connected to the person through ancestral custodianship. The living environment is more than its physical elements and Connection to Country is a fundamental part of an Aboriginal person’s identity. The interdependence between Aboriginal people and the land is based on respect – while the land sustains and provides for the people, people manage and sustain the land through culture and ceremony.
Caring for our Country means promoting ecological, spiritual and human health on Aboriginal lands and seas and moving towards long-term social, cultural, physical and sustainable economic development in rural and remote locations.
To search all Registered Aboriginal Sites in WA, visit the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage Aboriginal Heritage Inquiry System.
Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is the knowledge that Aboriginal people have of their land and ecological processes, gained from living and moving about the country over thousands of years. Scientists and land managers are increasingly recognising the importance of TEK for natural resource management and are working with Traditional Owners to incorporate this information into the practice of NRM.
Almost all wetland plants and animals have some form of traditional use as food, fibre, containers, tools, weapons, transport, shelter and medicine (DAWE 2016). Many wetland species, including birds, animals and plants, have symbolic significance and are considered sacred by Traditional Owners. Right-way science, infusing traditional ecological knowledge with modern scientific knowledge systems, can lead to improved opportunities for Aboriginal peoples and improved outcomes for biodiversity, for example in invasive species management and revegetation. NARvis recognises the unique understanding and management skills Aboriginal peoples have in conserving our natural resources.
Wabarl (Badimia language for Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata). From left: Photo by Dave Curtis. Photo by Jarna Kendall. Artwork by Tayha-Marie Walley.
Mobilising Indigenous Knowledge for the Collaborative Management of Kimberley Saltwater Country; Report to the Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project (KISSP) Working Group, July 2017. B.J. Austin, C.J. Robinson, G. Lincoln, R.J. Dobbs, F. Tingle & S.T. Garnett.
Aboriginal engagement in NRM has consistently been identified as a high priority for investment by the NRM community in the NAR. Several regional Aboriginal Ranger teams are undertaking biodiversity conservation and Aboriginal Heritage Site maintenance across the region, empowering Aboriginal people to care for country. With funding from the Australian Government through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, participants undertake environmental projects around the NAR, combining traditional ecological knowledge with science-based NRM practices.
The first records of European mariners sailing into Australian waters occurred in 1606. European settlement of the NAR began in the early-1800’s when coal, copper, and lead deposits were discovered and pastoral opportunities identified in the region. Initially a free colony, Western Australia later accepted British convicts, because of an acute labour shortage on the new mines and farms. European settlement in the NAR continued to increase as more agricultural land was opened up. Massive areas of land were cleared for agriculture and various other purposes. This severely affected Aboriginal People by reducing the resources they relied on for food, shelter and other essentials, and introducing new diseases.
Modern Australian culture is influenced by the unique geography of the Australian continent, the diverse input of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and other Oceanian People, the British colonisation of Australia that began in 1788, and the waves of multi-ethnic migration that followed. As the majority of European immigrants to Australia are of British descent, their cultural influence has been larger than other immigrant groups. Evidence of a significant Anglo-Celtic heritage includes the predominance of the English language, the Common Law, the Westminster system of government, Christianity as the once dominant religion, and the popularity of sports such as cricket and rugby, all of which are part of the heritage that has shaped modern life in the NAR.
Aboriginal Heritage Enquiry System https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/ahis
Australian Heritage Strategy https://environment.gov.au/heritage/publications/australian-heritage-strategy
Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au
National Heritage Sites http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage