The town of Narrogin is firmly situated in Gnaala Karla Booja region in Noongar booja (our home country). Noongar have lived in this part of booja since the Nyittiny – creation times.
Ask a Noongar person how long they have been here and they will tell you ‘from the beginning of time’…
Noongar occupation of the Dryandra Woodland – Wilgadiny, 22 kilometres north-west of Narrogin, dates to pre-European contact. Several Noongar sites have been recorded in the area, including an ochre quarry, a scar tree, stone arrangements, rock art and artefact scatters. [i]
“When the wind blows we hear more than just the rustle of leaves or the sound of falling bark. We hear and feel the presence of our ancestors“. Noel Nannup. Sounds of Dryandra Woodland radio drive trail, DEC.
The town site of Narrogin is located in the great southern agricultural region, 192 km south-east of Perth and 32 km east-north-east of Williams.
Narrogin is a Wilman Noongar name, first recorded in 1869 as “Narroging” for a pool in this area. The meaning of the name is uncertain. Different sources state that it means “bat camp”, “plenty of everything” or it derived from “gnargagin” which means “place of water”.[ii]
The Great Southern Railway Line was opened and Narrogin was one of the original stopping places. The railway was purchased by the government in 1896, and in 1897 Narrogin was gazetted as a government town site. [iii]
Narrogin ‘Native’ Reserve was opened. The reserves gave police greater control over Noongar people. Yet Noongar families ‘associated with a particular town reserve were usually related by ties of kinship and marriage and they shared a strong sense of common identity’.[iv]
A ban was placed on possum trapping and hunting, which increased pressure on Noongar’s means of survival:
‘Their principal means of existence was opossum hunting…Since settlement has gone on so quickly the people are erecting fences and there is no employment shepherding. Since the close season for possums they have done a little mallet bark stripping but this is now over until next year.‘ [v] See Impact of Laws
The government introduced restrictions on mallet bark stripping to preserve the trees.[vi] This further constricted Noongar people’s ability to earn a living.
Noongar people continued to live and work on the land in extended family groups. Author, O.E. Pustchkuchen remembers the Ugle family living at Gerralying Station near Narrogin: ‘Ernie, Alf and Bevan Ugle; They were all good shearers. I took them on in friendly rivalry, and shore my biggest tally, but I think they all beat me.’[vii]
Pustchkuchen also remembers the Narkles, Kellys, Harts, Alec Nipper, Twicer Dicker and Beaufort Dinah – ‘the big boss, a very able fighter in the ring’ – the Kicketts, Ninyettes, ‘with their descendants about today’ and Jack Parfitt, ‘a fine footballer’.[viii]
July 2nd, 1926: ‘King George Jerong Dinah’ died at Boyalling. Six hundred white people, including a brass band, attended the Boyalling Camp, where some eighteen Noongars resided.
A corroboree was held and George’s eldest son, Beaufort Dinah, was proclaimed the new king. The Mayor of Wagin presented him with a document in recognition of his succession and the councillors placed a chain of ribbons around his neck.[ix] Reports of the ‘coronation’ were published across Australia.[x]
During the Great Depression, Noongar people struggled but we continued to survive. Camps of up to two hundred permanent Noongar residents were recorded in the south-west towns of Narrogin, Gnowangerup, Williams, Wagin, Pingelly, Badjaling, Brookton and Beverley.[xi] Corroborees were still held at the Narrogin Reserve.
Emmet Abraham described one arranged by the ‘Nor’ West blokes’:
‘They painted themselves, bit o’ flour, chalk somethin’ white. On the forehead, nose, bit o’ black on the top here. They got something that was blacker than them someplace. They put flower things in their hair.‘[xii]
In 1944, the shortage of European labour resulted in a record year of employment for Noongar people. Noongars contributed greatly to the development of the region and the war effort in general.[xiii]
Noongar women were not allowed to stay in hospital to give birth to their children, but often gave birth on the verandah of the Narrogin District Hospital.[xiv]
In 1953 The Narrogin Observer published an article about the Native Reserve outside the town. The Narrogin District Native Council planned to replace the ‘typical native humpy’ with 15 ‘neat asbestos, wood and iron huts’, as part of the assimilation policy.
The paper reported that the first hut was given to Frank Mippy and his wife, who had ‘celebrated their Silver Wedding anniversary with members of the council and their native friends…on Saturday night…’ [xv]
In 1954 The Westralian Aborigine reported that The Coolbaroo League hoped to start a branch in Narrogin. The first dance, held in the Narrogin Lesser Town Hall, was a ‘big success’, with one hundred and fifty Noongars from Narrogin and the surrounding areas in attendance.[xvi] There was a four-piece orchestra, and Miss Eunice Smith of Narrogin ‘gave the evening a boost with her singing.’[xvii]
In July 1962 The West Australian recorded the death of King Beaufort Dinah. In his younger days, he was one of the best boxers in the state. Dinah was often seen at agricultural shows over a long period of time.[xviii]
Between 1964 and 1967 meetings aimed at the advancement of Aboriginal rights were held in Narrogin.
On 29th October 1964 a conference on Aboriginal matters was held by the Aboriginal Advancement Council of WA in Narrogin.[xix] Housing, trade training, child care, assimilation and integration were discussed by Noongar people. Malcolm Bolton, Mrs Bolton and George Abdullah reported on the discriminatory treatment of Noongars in the Narrogin area.[xx]
An article in The Daily News spoke about the growing self-confidence and activism of Noongar people:
On 15 February 1967, The Daily News reported the visit of George Abdullah and Jack Davis to Narrogin. The Noongar men were members of the newly formed ‘Aboriginal Rights Committee’. Both men reported on discrimination against Noongar people in the Narrogin area. The newspaper reported that: ‘they claim that none of the town’s hairdressers is willing to cut Aborigines’ hair and there is segregation in hotels. One hotel refused to serve Aborigines at all…A subcommittee [of the Perth based ‘Aboriginal Rights Committee’] is now being formed in Narrogin.’[xxi]
On 17 February 1967, following complaints from George Abdullah, the Police Commissioner called for an inquiry into the treatment of a Noongar woman by Narrogin police.[xxii]
Brian Colbung, a railway shunter from Narrogin, joined thirteen other Noongars to form the ‘Black Power of WA’ (influenced by the American resistance group, ‘Black Power’).The organization’s aim was to act positively for Aboriginal people and to lobby the government to get things done and improve conditions. [xxiii]
In 1998 the ‘Gnaala Karla Boodja’ native title claim was lodged. The claim encompassed the towns of Narrogin, Wagin, Harvey, Collie, Pinjarra, Mandurah, and others.
In 2005, Local artists Ross Storey and Rita Ugle worked with school children in Narrogin to create a mural, telling stories about Noongar and wadjela culture, and reconciliation.[xxiv]
In September 2006, the successful Single Noongar Claim handed down by High Court Judge Justice Wilcox, recognized that native title has not been extinguished across Noongar country.
[i] Department of Conservation and Land Management, Dryandra Woodland Management Plan 1995-2005
[ii] Landgate, 'Narrogin', History of country town names, Western Australian Land Information Authority, http://www.landgate.wa.gov.au/corporate.nsf/web/History+of+country+town+names+-+n (accessed 29th March 2010)
[iv] A. Haebich, For Their Own Good: Aborigines and Government in the Southwest of Western Australia,1900-1940, University of Western Australia Press 1988, p. 239
[v] Department of Aborigines and Fisheries, 75/1911 quoted in A. Haebich, For Their Own Good 1992, p. 27.
[vi] A.Haebich, For their Own Good,1988, pp. 27, 28
[vii] O.E. Pustchkuchen, The Way Through; The story of Narrogin, Perth, Artlook Books Trust for the Town of Narrogin, 1981, p. 24.
[viii] Ibid, pp. 24-25
[ix] Wagin Argus, 9/7/1926, cited in Mary Anne Jebb & Dawn Wallam, 'Dinah, Robert Beaufort (1898? - 1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, Melbourne University Press, 1996, pp 2-3, available online http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A140003b.htm (accessed 1/4/2010).
[x]See Aboriginal Royalty: "Coronation" in The West', The Argus 9/7/1926; 'King of the Blacks Proclamation Ceremony', The Mercury, 9/7/1926; '"King" of the Aborigines', The Queenslander, 17/7/1926.
[xi] A. Haebich, For Their Own Good, 1988, p. 292.
[xii] Emmet Abraham. Oral History, 1985, in A. Haebich, For Their Own Good, 1988 p. 241.
[xiii] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Native Affairs, 1944, p. 51.
[xiv] Received from GKB working party on 5 May 2010
[xv] 20/3/1953, 'Narrogin Native Reserve; Show Place Planned', Narrogin Observer, p.1 and p. 22.
[xvi] 'Coolbaroo League May Start Branch at Narrogin', The Westralian Aborigine, February 1954, Issue 2, p.2.
[xvii] Ibid p.2.
[xviii 'Native King Dies', The West Australian, 19/7/1962.
[xix] 'Allegations at Meeting; Natives Claim Discrimination - Victimisation', Narrogin Observer, 29/10/1964.
[xxi] Daily News, 15/2/1967.
[xxii] 'Inquiry over allegation', The West Australian, 17/2/1957.
[xxiii] 'Aboriginal says Clash is inevitable', The West Australian, 25/12/1971.
[xxiv] Narrogin Education Office, 'Narrogin Education Office News', Edition 11, 21/11/2005, p.1 http://www.det.wa.edu.au/education/DEO/NARROGIN/docs/004NEON%20EDITION%2011%2018-11-05.pdf (accessed 15/3/2010)