What’s in a name – story of Weeip and remembering his legacy

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The City of Swan’s New Junction precinct is located on land known as a meeting place by the Whadjuk Noongar and other Aboriginal peoples within the community.

In recognition and celebration of its continuing significance to the community and traditional owners of the Midland area, the City of Swan investigated an appropriate Noongar name for its most prominent public open space, which is anticipated to be open to the public by August 2020.

Following consultation with local Elders and their families who have called this land home for tens of thousands of years, in December 2019 the City of Swan Council unanimously decided to name New Junction’s major public open space Weeip Park.

Weeip was the traditional leader of the Boora Clan (Boya Ngura people) who were responsible for the Swan area during the first decade of European settlement.

Weeip Park is the first dedication to this significant Whadjuk leader.

The consultation process

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Pictured left to right: City of Swan Aboriginal Partnership and Development Officer John Mogridge, traditional owners Bella Bropho and Vanessa Corunna, and City of Swan Mayor Kevin Bailey at the future site of Weeip Park.

In 2019 the City consulted with representatives of the traditional owner families of the Midland area after confirming they were supportive of Whadjuk Noongar language being used in the public open space naming.

The consultation included facilitating discussions with representatives of the traditional owners, and this group was responsible for considering and suggesting appropriate names for the park.

Two consultation sessions were held and a unanimous decision was made for the recommendation of the name Weeip Park.

Bibbulmun man and City of Swan Aboriginal Partnership and Development Officer John Mogridge coordinated the consultation process and meetings with the Elders.

John is passionate about celebrating the rich culture of Australia’s First Peoples and helping young Aboriginal people to understand who they are and where they are from.

“You serve your community as both a young person, and as an older person, particularly if you become an elder,” he said.

“That’s why for me working here is awesome. The naming is honouring them and their elders and my own for that matter…the park being named Weeip is one project, a part of a bigger picture, and it’s exciting.”

Artist, anthropologist and traditional owner Vanessa Corunna, whose family’s traditional country encompasses the New Junction development, originally submitted Weeip’s name for consideration to the group as she felt she needed to put his name forward and explain his and his people’s importance.

Vanessa is a descendant of Yagan’s family. Her grandmother born by the Swan River in 1898, less than 70 years after European settlers began occupying the land now known as Perth metropolitan area.

“I’m hoping it will be a chain reaction where we can hear more about him,” she said.

Vanessa explains that developing consultation relationships with the appropriate traditional owners is critically important for properly respecting Aboriginal protocols and to ensure the right people continue to speak for country.

“Being traditional to the area and being able to be a part of naming a place is really important because it helps us to bring back important knowledge and memories of the people of our country and its leaders, and in this case Weeip,” she said.

“He was the Yoolin (a leader or Councillor) for that area, so it was really important bringing his name back to that place to be remembered again.

“That’s part of Aboriginal inclusion too, and the healing process and reconciliation, being able to bring back our stories of our people who we knew were right there when colonisation happened here.”

Traditional owner Bella Bropho also played a significant role in selecting the name. Bella’s family has an ancestral line with Weeip on her mother’s side.

“So I was very proud to come here, because that’s my family connection, and to acknowledge my ancestors,” she explains.

The man behind the name

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Painting named Bo-yang (Corunna, V, 2013) Swan River warriors looking out watching the arrivals

Weeip was the traditional Clan leader of the Nyoongar Whadjuk Boora Clan (or Boya Ngura people) in the 1830’s when British settlers established the Swan River Colony.

Weeip’s territory spanned from South Guildford, the Swan River and Ellen Brook, extending far up into the Swan Hills.

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Map of Weeip Territory – Green, 1984

Weeip was a Yoolin of the of the Boora Clan of the Boya Ngura (Turtle Springs) people based normally in South Guildford, the Helena Valley, Blackadder Creek, Henley Brook and the Upper Swan. The area can be understood today as Greater Perth’s central northeast area.

He was described as a very important leader and family man who sought and acted to reduce the severity of the effects of imprisonment and attacks on his people and family during early European settlement.

He held important negotiations with Governor Stirling, both before and after the Pinjarra massacre in October 1834.

Bella Bropho explains her people are representing their ancestors through the naming consultation.

“We must protect where we’re from. I think it’s really up to us because they’re gone and we’ve got to protect and speak up for culture and country as they did in the past,” she said.

How Weeip contributed to the community we know today

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Kalla (Corunna, V, 2013) means fire. This is Swan River peoples and their campfires.

Weeip was recognised then as one of the most powerful Whadjuk totemic Clan leaders after Yellagonga and Midgegooroo. He had had previously negotiated with the British through Magistrate Moore for the release of his older son.

After the execution of Swan River leaders Midgegooroo and Yagan in 1833 and the imprisonment and release of Weeip’s older son Coondebung, the Whadjuk Nation’s people stretching from Gingin to Pinjarra and from Mandurah to Toodyay needed a leader like they never had before.

In mid-1834 the British had also taken and continued to hold Weeip’s younger son hostage in Fremantle Prison.

The British settlers were feeling increasingly insecure because of their small population, economic difficulties and their increasing understanding of the capacity for traditional owners to respond to common settler aggression if they wished to.

In August 1834, while his young son Billyoomerri was still held hostage in prison, Boora Clan leader Weeip and his emissary Tongun negotiated a truce with Governor Stirling, assisted by Stirling’s translator Ellis, that aimed to reduce the settler’s feelings of insecurity and to better meet Weeip’s clan needs for improved relations with the settlers.

History recounts that the truce was settled with a handshake between the two leaders. It also records Stirling’s published remarks to Yoolin Weeip that seem chilling and threatening today:

“In case of any future misconduct, the punishment will be different to what it had been, that a great number of men would be mounted on horses, whose business it would be to ride through the Country punishing with severity, any of the blacks who molest the white people, and offering protection to the blacks so long as they behaved well. But if the black man committed any violence, or robbery, he would not leave one man on this side of the Hills” (Green, 1984; 97).

Following this agreement, Weeip’s young son Billyoomerri was returned to his family.

Following the subsequent Pinjarra massacre, Weeip was again communicated with to confirm that the truce Stirling made with the Clan and Weeip as its leader was still active.

The negotiations and agreements meant people in Swan fared better than the totemic Clans and family at Pinjarra. Weeip ultimately laid the foundations for a better negotiated and shared future for his people in multicultural Perth.

Vanessa thinks it is entirely appropriate that Weeip and his people are remembered and celebrated both for their continued traditional custodianship of this land, and their significant but also very difficult contributions to our shared history.

History highlights the extent to which Whadjuk totemic clan leaders were called on to exhibit extraordinary leadership during early British settlement.

“Success meant the survival of their people. Failure meant the death of their people,” she reflects.

“There were extraordinary male and female leaders that to date most histories have chosen to disregard or not to remember. Weeip was one of the most important of these leaders.

“Today that 1834 handshake is celebrated again. This celebration honours the Boora Clan leader Weeip and his Boya Ngura people as traditional owners, and their continuing respectful relationship with the City of Swan.”

The importance of a name

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Painting named Eagle Warrior (Corunna, V, 2013) this art represents the Spirit of Yagan.

City of Swan Mayor Kevin Bailey said the City is proud to see Weeip incorporated in New Junction for future generations to remember him and how his people contributed to Australia today.

“The name Weeip sets the stage for remembering Weeip’s leadership and celebrating our local Whadjuk Noongar culture and its incredible history dating back more than 60,000 years,” he said.

“I hope it will stir peoples’ curiosity to learn more about our First Australians and their connection to country, and promote pride in Australia’s Indigenous history and culture.”

“The descendants of all the Whadjuk totemic Clans are deserving of gratitude from today’s citizens and visitors for the gracious and generous way they continue to welcome people and seek to responsibly share their culture and country.”

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Vanessa explains the importance of bringing back the Whadjuk Noongar leaders by honouring and respecting them within their country.

“He was not only a leader but had relationships with the people of the time, so he was very much communicating for his people and their needs,” she said.

“Weeip’s name hasn’t been used anywhere else – he’s noted in history but he’s not well known today.

“It really is wonderful that the Council is allowing his name to come back and for us to share who he is with the wider community so everyone can enjoy the true history of this country.”

Significance of the land and culture

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When asked what makes the land around Midland unique, Vanessa explains it has always been a gateway and a meeting place for people.

“Everyone’s coming from those major highways into our country, so we’re sort of welcoming them into Perth,” she said.

Bella adds to this, painting a picture of a time where her ancestors camped around the land surrounding New Junction, the Perth Hills, the airport and the old Midland abattoir.

“The stories should always be here for education – culture was very significant in this part of country,” she explains.

Anticipated to open in late 2020, Weeip Park is designed to be a place to tell stories, catch up with friends and play, and will include a grassed kick about area, a dedicated youth zone, a climbing wall, basketball goals, public art and landscaping.

The City is also working on incorporating displays that tell the story of Weeip and his people for visitors to the area to learn and discover.

The design concept of the children’s play space is based on the habitats of 11 insects unique to Western Australia, and designed to inspire play, discovery and curiosity about our natural environment.

When asked what people visiting the Weeip Park should know about local Whadjuk Noongar culture, Vanessa underlines her people’s ancient and profound knowledge of their land.

“We want a celebration of culture – we want people to be educated around our country and how we actually managed the land and the environment, we knew how to live with it and make it sustainable.

“We’re talking about an ancient cultural group of people who have survived 60,000 years of continuous culture, which never broke, unlike other civilized societies throughout time like the culture of ancient Egypt.

“We can manage to continue even through the harshest times in the environment here. Just imagine the land during the ice age. That’s how sophisticated our people were.”

“And here in the South West, we have the largest diversity of plant life and our land is being destroyed at a record rate.

“It really is a biodiversity hotspot, so we really need to be looking at how we can preserve what we have, have a balance with our environment so we can hand it on for the next generation. Not take everything.”

Vanessa and Bella both emphasise the need for everyone to better respect the land, particularly around the waterways where the spirit of the Waugal still lives.

According to the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, the Waugal means soul, spirit or breath.

The Waugal are major spirits for Noongar people and central to traditional religious beliefs and customs. The Waugal are rainbow serpents and special earth serpents that are recognised as the givers of life, and are associated with the healthy living surrounds of salt and fresh water sources and the Perth Hills.

It was also the Waugal that made Noongar people custodians of this land.

Bella’s message to those visiting her people’s land is: “enjoy the country but don’t destroy it. Look after yourself and others.”

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Thank you

The City of Swan would like to formally acknowledge the contributions of the following key members of the consultation process, as well as their extended family members and partners who were also present at the consultation sessions.

  • Bella Bropho
  • Gwen Corunna and Vanessa Corunna
  • Richard and Olive Wilkes
  • Muriel Bowie
  • Elvis Yarran
  • Vita Warrell
  • Kelvin Garlett

The City gives special thanks and recognition to Vanessa Corunna and Bella Bropho for their comments and insights.

Thanks is also extended to Vanessa for her permission to use the artworks from her Spirit of Yagan is Alive and Well Exhibition.

Thank you also to Dr Alan Hill for his advice and research on Weeip and his people.

Further reading information and references

Moore GF (1884) Diary of Ten Years Eventful Life of an Early Settler in Western Australia and also A Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language of the Aborigines, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1978.

Hammond J E (1935) Winjan’s People: The Story of the South West Australian Aborigines, First Published 1933 reprinted 1980, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park.

Green N (1984) Broken Spears Aboriginals and Europeans in the South West of Australia, Focus Education Services, Perth.

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