Ngatj baranginy ngulluckiny koorliny derbal yirigan bilya: Take me to the place the estuary that place on the river that rises and falls
Place of Publication
Perth, Western Australia
Long standing collaborators and co-authors Len Collard, Dave Palmer, Clint Bracknell and Grant Revell were invited to prepare an intercultural reading of the Perth City Foreshore and immediate surrounds by Julian Bolleter and UWA Publishing. Whilst their international contributions to the academic and professional worlds of Indigenous education, landscape architecture, cultural ecology and community development are well established, their conspicuous readership is often intrigued by the different shared ways of knowing place and their enculturated life-worlds with an ethical emphasis and clear priority of knowing Nyungar. We appreciate the invitation.
The Derbal Yirigan and its city foreshores are poorly understood from a Nyungar perspective. This ‘care-full’ identification and sharing of Indigenous knowledge – both in historical and contemporary terms of knowing the urban design experience of Perth and its city setting, remains surprisingly inevident. Why is this so? Spatial knowledge theorist and artist Paul Carter would suggest that this is a critical discourse that needs to happen more in Australia because of our ‘abysmal’ practices of clearing, mapping, and wiping out our land’s histories. We need to propose new artful practices ‘by generating new aesthetic forms that forge encounters with the memories, voices, meanings, and imaginings occluded by the spatial practices of colonisation’ (in Rutherford, 2010, p. 7). The recent history of design and use of the Perth foreshore has been shaped by a range of disciplines, political ideals and planning sensibilities. They display none of what Carter suggests as ‘new artful practice’. Rarely has the influence of Nyungar place-names, ontologies, land-use traditions, knowledge systems and intermediaries been considered in contemporary Perth. In part this is understandable. Building an understanding of Nyungar design ideas and translations takes a complex cultural shift of thinking, a transformative scholarship and ethical commitment to a different way of knowing. Conventional sources of information are either partial or offer little illumination. Relying exclusively upon the archival record offers almost no insight into how Nyungar think, act and do about treating bilya (the river), boodjar katitjin (knowledge of the area) and kanya wangkiny (speaking with respect).
This chapter seeks to interrogate the lived experiences of the Derbal Yirigan and place the often-absent first-person Nyungar scholarship and felt presence to these forgotten landscapes. As a preface to this work we believe it is justly important to understand that too many scholars and practitioners of misplaced authority try to write about the Nyungar river alone. Their work remains a neo-colonial practice of disrepute. In turn, these cultural beliefs and values dominate the unethical colonial landscapes of the river today – contorted into a carefree sense of amnesia, anaesthetised and bounded by their physical urban cosmetic manifestations as simple extensions of this ongoing colonial power and control. A prevailing ‘snatch ’n’ grab’ mentality, if you will. Consequently, the renaming, reclaiming, and rebuilding commercial ‘floorspace’ landscapes such as ‘Betty’s Bridge’, ‘Harry’s Hole’, or ‘Elizabeth Quay’ are disrespectful urban entities of the worst kind as they reinforce this colonial foreign ownership, this inept Eurocentric way of being an ancient-modern city. In an attempt to move well away from this Western caricature of knowing the commercial landscapes of Perth, to respect the Nyungar voice, we offer two critical – omni Nyungar – narratives and accompanying image-texts to this book.