Settlers occupied Western Australia and changed the
land introducing religion, laws and new diseases. Their actions disrupted Indigenous people’s lives. In the 1890s, Perth’s
railway station was built on a swamp like 15 other wetlands reclaimed by the white fella per the attached diagram where Fanny Balbuk had gathered eggs and caught turtles and fresh water crayfish as had her people for 1000s of years.
Fanny Balbuk (1840-1907) was a prominent Noongar woman, born during the early years of British settlement on Matagarup (Heirisson Island) along the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) in Perth, Western Australia.
Balbuk provided information about Noongar culture and history to anthropologist Daisy Bates which can be appreciated today painting a picture of the black fellas way of life.
Fanny’s father was Coondebung, and her mother was Joojeebal/Doodyeep. They were well-known in the white community. For example, on an excursion north of Perth, the farmer George Fletcher Moore came across Balbuk’s parents and travelled with them for a few days. Moore published an account of this in the Perth Gazette on 14 May 1836. Doodyeep’s cheeky sense of humour and Coondebung’s skill at travelling and hunting on his own country are vividly described in Moore’s account.
Sadly Coondebung died in November 1840 after being imprisoned on Rottnest Island for taking flour. It is unclear what happened to Doodyeep.
Balbuk is renowned for protesting about the occupation of her traditional land around Perth. Daisy Bates recalled that:one of her favourite annoyances was to stand at the gates of Government House, reviling all who dwelt within, in that the stone gates guarded by a sentry enclosed her grandmother’s burial ground. (Daisy Bates, 1938)
Fanny Balbuk witnessed the devastation of her traditional lands by the early Swan River Colony. She would walk through the area of the city of Perth, naming every feature and tradition of the land and recall the part played by her mother and grandmother in the kangaroo hunt at King’s Park.
She gathered zamia fruit on St Georges Terrace. In the 1890s, Perth’s railway station was built on the swamp where she gathered eggs and caught turtles and crayﬁsh.
However, Fanny Balbuk was adamant to stick to her traditional rights of way. On finding that white men had built houses, and laid fences, on her traditional land, she would break down the fence with her digging stick, or walk right through any house and yard that had been built in the way.
Daisy Bates wrote of Fanny Balbuk at the time;
“To the end of her life she raged and stormed at the usurping (take (a position of power or importance) illegally or by force.
“Richard usurped the throne” Synonyms: seize, take over, expropriate, take possession of, take, appropriate, steal, wrest, arrogate, commandeer, annex, assume) of her beloved home ground. ….. Through fences and over them, Balbuk took the straight track to the end. When a house was built in the way, she broke its fence-palings and charged up the steps and through the rooms.”
Balbuk’s grandmother, Moojorngul, is buried in the grounds possibly under Government House, or Kooraree. Balbuk never let the settlers forget whose land they had taken. She would stand at the gates of Government House – where her grandmother’s burial ground lay – cursing those who lived inside.
In 1907, Fanny Balbuk attended a luncheon at the Karrakatta Club, an exclusive club for women in Perth. Daisy Bates introduced Balbuk to all present as their landlady, since she was the original owner of the land on which the club stood.
Thanks go to The Nyoongar Tent Embassy for Fanny’s story.