The Bibbulman Noongar existed for more than 40000 years on the land and many of us can imagine how beautiful it was. Crabs, prawns, oysters, mussels, kangaroos , birds, fresh water and more. When settled by the white people, a simple view would be the black fella took what he required to live off the land and the white fella did the same when he arrived be it his own salted pork, flour and biscuits or the local kangaroo, fish and birds until his own crops and livestock began to establish themselves. To the white fella, sheep, cattle and crops were a commercial prospect but to the black fella, they were tucker just like the kangaroo.
The settlers had landed in 1829 and proclaimed the Swan River Settlement but by 1832 the colonies prospects had stagnated. Whilst Captain Stirling was absent, Captain Irwin resorted to The English military method of control, employed for the most minor acts of theft.
In the diaries of George Fletcher Moore , you gather a reasonable white man’s account of day to day life in the new settlement but he is reluctant to give a positive indication to anybody to follow in his footsteps. ”Despatched James this day with potatoes, cauliflowers, turnips, and cabbages, to market. A servant of the Governor passed to-day, and told a fine budget of news, about an attack of the natives on the Government House. I do not believe it; but the natives have undoubtedly made sad havoc among the flocks of sheep in the neighbourhood; they took eleven from Mr Brown, nay worse, speared his cow, and afterwards being fired at for this offence, came stealthily and killed his shepherd; and as a grand finale, drove away no fewer than sixty-seven sheep, belonging to Mr. Bull, of which, though hotly pursued, they slaughtered forty-seven, enroute. These wholesale doings must be checked by the presence of a body of yeoman cavalry, when horses can be procured, which it is the intention of the Government to supply to those persons who shall enrol themselves. I intend to serve either as a private or an officer, I care not which. Additional magistrates have been appointed since I was here, in order to act with the military on any sudden emergency; and a party of soldiers has been stationed on the hills at the head of the Swan.”
Jeremy Marten said in his blog http://historysnapshot.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-execution-of-midgegooroo-in-perth.html, ”It was the increasing number of bloody confrontations between settlers and Noongar communities that presented the most serious threat to the stability of the colonial state during Stirling’s absence. By the early 1830s the expanding British settlement had seriously restricted indigenous people’s access to and use of land in and around Perth. Hints of ‘impending unrest’ had first emerged in 1830 when the theft of flour and potatoes, and the spearing of pigs and sheep, resulted in a skirmish between a colonial militia and a Noongar group near Lake Monger.
By 1832, continuing indigenous opposition combined with settlers’ anxiety and uncertainty about the colony’s future ‘brought tension to a flash point’. Bloody attacks were followed by even bloodier reprisals and over the following two years several settlers and scores of Noongar people were killed. The ongoing conflict clearly had the potential to undermine the authority of the government, and Captain Irwin had little compunction in employing drastic methods in his efforts to crush indigenous opposition and curb settler vigilantism.
Irwin concentrated his attention on breaking the back of Noongar resistance in Perth and in the process overlooked many atrocities committed by colonists. Furthermore, he frequently dispensed with legal procedures altogether and resorted to summary justice.
The bravery of Yagan is well known as was his betrayal and murder at the hands of two young white men, The Keats brothers in the Swan Valley but it is Yagan’s father Midgegooroo we speak of today, the leader or elder of The Beeliar people. It was noted by early colonists Midgegooroo took care of the women and children of the tribe and refused the white man any casual labour would be performed by his people. He continued to travel with his people throughout the white mans settlement. I have seen two accounts leading up to the deaths of two white settlers two miles beyond Bulls Creek in 1833 which saw a reward proclaimed for Yagan and his father Midgegooroo. One being after an incident where a Noongar was fired upon in Fremantle overnight. A group of Aboriginal people, including a brother of Yagan named Domjun, broke into stores occupied by Mr. Downing. William Chidlow, who lived nearby: “… perceived two or three natives in the act of breaking into the stores; he aroused some of his neighbours and each being armed, they surprised the natives in the act, Chidlow fired and Domjum fell; the guns of the persons who accompanied Chidlow were discharged at the natives, as they fled. Domjum was conveyed to the jail where he received medical attendance; the ball lodged in his head, and although the brains were exuding from the cavity, he lingered for three days before he expired. Yagan had gathered his men at Point Walter and after selecting their targets on the third wagon the following day, proceeded to spear the two men , Thomas and John Velvick many times each. Midgegooroo was arrested within days on the 17th of May and with no trial the Executive Council issued a death warrant after briefly considering a series of depositions presented on 21 May. It was only on the day of Midgegooroo’s execution that he realised what was occurring and he began to struggle but was overcome by force, pinioned, blindfolded and taken to the gate of the Perth gaol to be tied to it as volunteers of The 63rd Regiment gathered with their rifles. It was Irwin who gave the order to fire, the Beeliar elder died of 3 balls to the head and one to the body.
Only this week we learned of the discovery of Matthew Flinders remains during the construction of a new railway in Britain. Flinders had circumnavigated Australia in 1801 with Bungaree, the first Aboriginal man to do so (?) Matthew Flinders remains along with many others will be treated with dignity but the same cannot be said for Midgegooroo’s. His people were refused his body and he was buried in an unmarked grave inside the grounds of the jail to teach his people a lesson.
A skull and bones were found in 1923 and presumed to be Midgegooroo’s but were lost and recent earthworks at the old prison site uncovered remains possibly of Midgegooroo. What upsets me is the remains are scattered amongst cables and pipes added as recently as the 70s. Surely seen by the contractors but covered up so as not to draw attention?
I’ve learned nothing of the outcome of this discovery, has there been closure as yet for the descendants of Midgegooroo and his people?