The Noongar (alternate spellings: Nyungar/Nyoongar/Nyoongah/Nyungah/Nyugah), [ [ Norman Barnett Tindale] South Australia Museum. Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] are an indigenous Australian people who live in the south-west corner of Western Australia from Geraldton on the west coast to Esperance on the south coast. Their country extends from Jurien Bay in the north to the southern coast, and east to Ravensthorpe and Southern Cross. 'Noongar' is also the name for their common language. Their name, in the various original dialects is thought to mean "people". In the south, the spelling 'Noongar' is preferred, reflecting a broader accent.


Prior to European settlement, the Noongar people, comprising some thirteen dialectal groups, shared a common language and culture. Newcomers noted that the Noongar people could be identified by two common factors: :* they used a word similar to "Noongar" to describe themselves; :* unlike most indigenous Australian peoples, they did not circumcise their male children. The Noongar comprise five cultural sub-groups:

Perth type

Matrilineal moieties and totemic clans. Patrilineal local descent groups. Includes Amangu, Yued, Wadjuk, Binjareb, Wardandi, Ganeang and Wilmen.

Nyakinyaki type

Alternate generational levels similar to Western Desert type, with patrilineal local descent groups. Includes Balardong and Nyakinyaki.

Bibelmen type

Patrilieal moieties and patrilineal local descent groups. Includes Bibulmen and Mineng.

Wudjari type

Similar to Nyakinyaki except they have named patrilineal totemic local descent groups.

Nyunga type

Similar to Wangai with two endogamous named divisions (Bee-eater and Kingfisher), in which marriage took place within one's own division but children were in the opposite, modified from the Western Desert system. Includes Nyunga. Since colonisation, Noongar have maintained identification with regional groupings and awareness of kinship within the community. Noongar people and their culture have been substantially affected by the colonisation and development of Western Australia.


"(see Aboriginal History of Western Australia)"

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Noongar population has been variously estimated at between 6,000 and some tens of thousands. Colonisation by the British resulted in both violence and new diseases, taking a heavy toll on the population. [ [ NOONGAR HISTORY AND CULTURE] Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] Nowadays, however, according to the Noongar themselves, they number more than 28,000. The 2001 census figures (ABS) showed that 21,000 people identified themselves as indigenous in the south-west of Western Australia. In 2006, the community claimed to number over 28,000 people. [ [ Commitment to a New Relationship] Retrieved 20 September 2006. ]

Traditional Noongar made a living by hunting and trapping a variety of game, including kangaroos, possums and wallabies; by fishing using spears and fish traps; as well as by gathering an extensive range of edible wild plants, including wattle seeds. Noongar people utilised quartz instead of flint for spear and knife edges and developed a now-lost art of working quartz crystals.

The Noongar considered themselves of superior culture, especially in comparison with the invading British. Reflecting this attitude, they called the newcomers "Djanga" (or "djanak"), meaning "white devils" [ [ BEASTS ARE DA BESTof the Southern Right Whale] 7 February 2005 Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] . From early on, the Noongar were wary in their dealings with the Europeans, having had unfortunate contact with sealers kidnapping and marooning Aboriginal women on the south coast. The Noongar were horrified by what they perceived as the waste and slaughter whites brought to the lands that were their home. The Noongar lived in large extended family groups and, historically, their way of life included a respect and reverence for the land that fed them.
Yagan arose as one of a number of leaders of the Noongar at the time when British settlers first arrived in the Swan River area in 1829 and Captain James Stirling declared that the local tribes were British subjects. Although at first the Noongar traded amicably with the settlers, rifts and misunderstandings developed as land seizures went on, and attacks and reprisal attacks soon escalated. An example of such misunderstandings was the Noongar land-management practice of setting fires in early summer, mistakenly seen as an act of hostility by the settlers. Conversely, the Noongar saw the settlers' livestock as fair game to replace the dwindling stocks of native animals shot indiscriminately by settlers. Yagan participated in a number of food raids and in killing settlers in retaliation for the deaths of Noongar at white hands - notably, he warned nearby whites repeatedly that one white life would be taken for every Noongar killed by a white. He was shot by a shepherd boy and is now considered by many to have been one of the first indigenous resistance fighters. [ [ Yagan: an Aboriginal resistance hero] Green Left Weekly, Craig Cormick Retrieved 20 September 2006. ]

From August 1838 ten Aboriginal prisoners were sent to Rottnest Island (known as Wadjemup to the Noongar, possibly meaning "place across the water" [ [ Wadjemup (Rottnest Island)] ( Retrieved 24 January 2007] ). After a short period when both settlers and prisoners occupied the island, the Colonial Secretary announced in June 1839 that the island would become a penal establishment for Aboriginal people and, between 1838 and 1931, Rottnest Island was used as a prison to transfer Aboriginal prisoners "overseas". In "pacifying" an Aboriginal population, men were rounded up and chained for offences ranging from spearing livestock, burning the bush or digging vegetables on what had been their own land. It has been estimated that there may be as many as 369 Aboriginal graves on the island, of which five were for prisoners who were hanged. Except for a short period between 1849 and 1855, during which the prison was closed, some 3,700 Aboriginal men and boys, many of them Noongars, but also many others from all parts of the state, were imprisoned [Green, Neville, & Moon, Susan (1997), "Far From Home: Aboriginal Prisoners of Rottnest Island, 1838-1931" (Perth)] .

From 1890 to 1958, the lives and lifestyles of Noongar people were subject to the Native Welfare Act. Two state-run "concentration" camps, Moore River Native Settlement and Carrolup (later known as Marribank), became the home of up to one-third of the population. It is estimated that 10 to 25% of Noongar children were forcibly “adopted” during these years, in part of what has become known as the Stolen Generations [Haebich, Anna & Delroy, Anne (1999) "The Stolen Generations - the separation of Aboriginal Children from their Families in Western Australia", (Western Australian Museum)] .


Infobox Language
name=Nyunga / Noongar
region=Western Australia
script=Latin alphabet
The FATSIL (Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages) website states that out of thirteen dialects spoken by the Noongar people at the time of European settlement, only five still remain. [ [ LANGUAGE OF THE MONTH SERIES (number 11)] FATSIL. Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] The word “Noongar” can be roughly translated into English as “human being".

A number of small wordlists were recorded in the early days of the Swan River Colony, for example Robert Lyon's 1833 publication "A Glance at the Manners and Language of Aboriginal Inhabitants of Western Australia". Serious documentation of Noongar language began in 1842 with the publication of "A Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language of the Aborigines" by George Fletcher Moore, later republished in 1884 as part of Moore's "Diary of Ten Years Eventful Life of an Early Settler in Western Australia". This work included a substantial wordlist of Noongar. The first modern linguistic research on Noongar was carried out by Gerhardt Laves on the variety known as “Goreng", near Albany in 1930, but this material was lost for many years and has only recently been recovered. Beginning in the 1930s and then more intensively in the 1960s Wilfrid Douglas learned and studied Noongar, eventually producing a grammar, dictionary, and other materials. More recently Noongar people have taken a major role in this work as researchers, for example Rose Whitehurst who compiled the "Noongar Dictionary" in her work for the Noongar Language and Culture Centre.

Today the Noongar language is regarded as endangered, with few fluent speakers, although there has been a revival of interest in recent years. The Noongar Language and Culture Centre was set up by concerned individuals and has now grown to include offices in Bunbury, Northam and Perth. However, the language generally referred to as “Noongar” today, bears questionable resemblance to what was spoken by indigenous Australians before white settlement, and the original "Nyungar" language is listed by ISO 639-3 (code "nys") as extinct.
Ethnologue treats Nyungar and Neo-Nyungar (a term coined by Wilf Douglas [cite book|author = Douglas, Wilfrid H.|year = 1976|title = The Aboriginal Languages of the South-West of Australia|location= Canberra | publisher=Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies|id = ISBN 0-85575-050-2] to refer to Nyungar people's English) under the same heading, [ [ Nyunga - An extinct language of Australia] SIL International, 2006. Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] [ [ English - A language of United Kingdom] SIL International, 2006. Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] suggesting that any Nyungar that is spoken today consists of isolated words mixed in with English, and thus no longer constitutes a full-fledged language. For comparison, the opening remarks of a research paper [ [ Research and development in Kurongkul Katitijin] Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] were presented in both Noongar and English by self-described "Nyungar" at research" Leonard Collard of the Kurongkul Katitijin School of Indigenous Australian Studies at Edith Cowan University in Perth.

Visitors to Western Australia invariably notice the many placenames ending in "-up", such as Joondalup, Nannup and Manjimup. This is because in the Noongar language, "-up" means "place of". For example the name Ongerup means "place of the male kangaroo". [ [ "Place of the Male Kangaroo"] Albany GateWAy Co-operative Limited, 28 July 2006. Retrieved 20 September 2006. ]

Many words vary in a regular way from dialect to dialect, depending on the area. For example: the words for bandicoot include "quernt" (south) and "quenda" (west); the word for water may be "kep" (south) or "kapi" (west).

Noongar words which have been adopted into West Australian English, or more widely in English, include the given name Kylie ("boomerang"), the marsupial quokka, "gilgie" (or "jilgie") a freshwater crayfish similar to the yabbie, and "gidgie" (or "gidgee"), meaning "spear".


Noongar people live in many country towns throughout the south-west as well as in the major population centres of Perth, Bunbury, Geraldton, Esperance and Albany. Many country Noongar people have developed long-standing relationships with "wadjila" (white fella [man] ) farmers and continue to hunt kangaroo and gather bush tucker (food) as well as to teach their children stories about the land. In a few areas in the south-west, visitors can go on bushtucker walks, trying foods such as: kangaroo, emu, quandong jam or relish, bush tomatoes, witchetty grub paté and bush honey.

In Perth, the Noongar believe that the Darling Scarp is said to represent the body of a Wagyl, a snakelike being from the Dreamtime that meandered over the land creating rivers, waterways and lakes. It is thought that the Wagyl created the Swan River.

Also in Perth, Mount Eliza was an important site for the Noongar. It was a hunting site where kangaroos were herded and driven over the edge to provide meat for gathering clans. In this context, the “clan” is a local descent group - larger than a family but based on family links through a common ancestry. At the base of Mount Eliza is a sacred site where the Wagyl is said to have rested during its journeys. This site is also the location of the former Swan Brewery which has been a source of contention between local Noongar groups (who would like to see the land, which was reclaimed from the river in the late 19th century, "restored" to them) and the title-holders who wished to develop the site. A Noongar protest camp existed here for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Noongar culture is particularly strong with the written word. The plays of Jack Davis are on the school syllabus in several Australian states. Kim Scott won the 2000 Miles Franklin Award for his novel “Benang'.

Yirra Yaakin [ [ Yirra Yaakin Noongar Theatre] Retrieved 20 September 2006. ] describes itself as the response to the Aboriginal Community’s need for positive self-enhancement through artistic expression. It is a theatre company which strives for community development and which also has a drive to create "exciting, authentic and culturally appropriate indigenous theatre".

Many local governments in the south-west have developed “compacts” or “commitments” with their local Noongar communities to ensure that sites of significance are protected and that the culture is respected. Elders are increasingly asked on formal occasions to provide a "Welcome to Country" and the first steps of teaching the Noongar language in the general curriculum have been made.

In recent years there has been considerable interest in Noongar visual arts. In 2006, Noongar culture was showcased as part of the Perth International Arts Festival. A highlight of the Festival was the unveiling of the monumental 'Ngallak Koort Boodja - Our Heart Land Canvas'. The 8-metre canvas was commissioned for the festival by representatives of the united elders and families from across the Noongar nation. It was painted by leading Noongar artists Shane Pickett, Tjyllyungoo (Lance Chadd), Yvonne Kickett, Alice Warrell and Sharyn Egan.

The Noongar Ecology

The Noongar people occupied and maintained the Mediterranean climate lands of the south-west of Western Australia, and made sustainable use of seven biogeographic regions of their territory, namely

* Geraldton Sandplains - Amangu and Yued
* Swan Coastal Plain - Yued, Whadjuk, Binjareb and Wardandi
* Avon Wheatbelt - Balardong, Nyakinyaki, Wilman
* Jarrah Forest - Whadjuk, Binjareb, Balardong, Wilman, Ganeang
* Warren - Bibulmun, Mineng
* Mallee - Wilmen, Goreng and Wudjari
* Esperance Plains - Njunga

These seven regions have been acknowledged as a biodiversity hot-spot [ [ Biodiversity Hotspots - Australia - Overview ] ] , having a generally greater number of endemic species than most other regions in Australia. The ecological damage done to this region through clearing, introduced species, by feral animals and non-endemic plants is also severe, and has resulted in a high proportion of plants and animals being included in the categories of rare, threatened and endangered species. In modern times many Aboriginal men were employed intermittently as rabbiters, and rabbit became an important part of Noongar diet in the early 20th century. The Noongar territory also happens to conform closely with the South-west Indian Ocean Drainage Region, and the use of these water resources played a very important seasonal part in their culture.

The Noongar thus have a close connection with the earth and, as a consequence, they divided the year into six distinct seasons that corresponded with moving to different habitats and feeding patterns based on seasonal foods [ [ Noongar Seasons] ] . They were:

*"Birak" (December/January)—Dry and hot. Noongar burned sections of scrubland to force animals into the open for easier hunting.

*"Bunuru" (February/March)—Hottest part of the year, with sparse rainfall throughout. Noongar moved to estuaries for fishing.

*"Djeran" (April/May)—Cooler weather begins. Fishing continued and bulbs and seeds were collected for food.

*"Makuru" (June/July)—Cold fronts that have until now brushed the lower south-west coast begin to cross further north. This is usually the wettest part of the year. Noongar moved inland to hunt, once rains had replenished inland water resources.

*"Djilba" (August/September)—Often the coldest part of the year, with clear, cold nights and days, or warmer, rainy and windy periods. As the nights begin to warm up there are more clear, sunny days. Roots were collected and emus, possums and kangaroo were hunted.

*"Kambarang" (October/November)—A definite warming trend is accompanied by longer dry periods and fewer cold fronts crossing the coast. The height of the wildflower season. Noongar moved towards the coast where frogs, tortoises and freshwater crayfish were caught.

Native Title

On 19 September 2006 the Federal Court of Australia brought down a judgment which recognised Native Title in an area over the city of Perth and its surrounds, known as "Bennell v State of Western Australia" [2006] FCA 1243. [] . An appeal was subsequently lodged and was heard in April 2007. The remainder of the larger “Single Noongar Claim” area, covering 193,956km² of the south-west of Western Australia, remains outstanding, and will hinge on the outcome of this appeal process. In the interim, the Noongar people continue to be involved in Native Title negotiations with the Government of Western Australia, and are represented by the South-West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council.

Justice Wilcox's judgment is noteworthy for several reasons. It highlights Perth's wealth of post-European settlement writings which provide an insight into Aboriginal life, including laws and customs, around the time of settlement in 1829 and also into the beginning of the last century. These documents enabled Justice Wilcox to find that laws and customs governing land throughout the whole Single Noongar Claim (taking in Perth, and many other towns in the greater South West) were those of a single community. The claimants shared a language and had extensive interaction with others in the claim area.

Importantly, Justice Wilcox found the Noongar community constituted a united society which had continued to exist despite the disruption resulting from mixed marriage and people being forced off their land and dispersed to other areas as a result of white settlement and later Government policies. If it survives the forthcoming appeal, the decision is likely to have major implications for other native title cases across Australia, and Noongar claimants may seek compensation from the government for vacant and unallocated crown land within the claim area which was alienated after 1975.

In April 2008 the Full Bench of the Federal Court upheld parts of the appeal by the Western Australian and Commonwealth governments against Justice Wilcox's judgment.


Since the Noongar are largely urbanised or concentrated in major regional towns studies have shown that the direct economic impact of the Noongar community on the WA economy was estimated to range between $500 million and $700 million per year. [ [ A Study of the Impact of the Noongar Community on the Western Australian Economy] Duncan Ord, 19 June 2006. Retrieved 20 September 2006. ]

Current issues

As a consequence of the Stolen Generations and problems integrating with modern westernised society, many difficult issues face the present day Noongar. For example, the "Noongar Men of the SouthWest" gathering in 1996 identified major community problems associated with:
*Alcohol and drugs
*Diet and nutrition
*Language and culture
*Domestic violence
*Father-and-son relationships

Many of these issues are not unique to the Noongar but in many cases they are unable to receive appropriate government-agency care. The report that was produced after this gathering also stated that Noongar men have a life expectancy of 20 years less than non-Aboriginal men, and go to hospital three times more often.

The Noongar still have large extended families and many families have difficulty accessing available structures of sheltered housing in Western Australia– [ Paper on Housing] . The West Australian government has dedicated several areas for the purpose of building communities specifically for the Noongar people, such as the Swan Valley Nyungah Community.

The Noongar themselves are tackling their own issues, for example, the Noongar Patrol, which is an Aboriginal Advancement Council initiative. It was set up to deter Aboriginal young people from offending behaviour and reduce the likelihood of their contact with the criminal justice system. Most people in Perth would associate this with patrols run in the entertainment hotspot Northbridge. The patrol uses mediation and negotiation with indigenous youth in an attempt to curb anti-social and offending behaviour of young people who come into the city at night.

ee also

*Noongar classification relating to kinship and intermarriage among the Noongar.
*Mount Henry Peninsula
*Indigenous Australians
*Indigenous Australian seasons


Published sources

*Green, Neville, "Broken spears: Aborigines and Europeans in the Southwest of Australia", Perth: Focus Focus Education Services, 1984. ISBN 0-9591828-1-0
*Haebich, Anna, "For Their Own Good: Aborigines and Government in the South West of Western Australia 1900 - 1940", Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1992. ISBN 1875560149.
*Douglas, Wilfrid H. "The Aboriginal Languages of the South-West of Australia", Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1976. ISBN 0-85575-050-2
*Tindale, N.B., "Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits and Proper Names", 1974.

External links

* [ AusAnthrop - Resources for Research]
* [ South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council website.]
* [ Web-site on the Indigenous People of Australia.]
* [ Culture, Race and Identity: Australian Aboriginal Writing] (pdf)
* [ Designing a Virtual Reality Nyungar Dreamtime Landscape Narrative] (pdf)
* [ Noongar (Nyungar) Language Resources]
* [ Orthography used in the Noongar Dictionary]
* [ Bennell v State of Western Australia (re Noongar land claim)]
* [ West Australian Government history of Noongar in the South West)]

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