The City of Cockburn has a rich history, dating back 40,000 years. The City’s traditional owners are the Beeliar Nyungar people, who have strong historical ties to Cockburn's natural areas. European settlers arrived in Cockburn in 1829. It wasn’t until the 1890s that the City began to rapidly develop. Cockburn has evolved into a fast growing local government area.
The City’s traditional owners are the Beeliar Nyungar people. Beeliar Nyungar means river people and they are one of the clans of the Whadjuk, the Aboriginal people of the Perth metropolitan area.
Boodjar means land and provides the life, sense of identity and belonging for the Beeliar Nyungar. Their spirit will always be linked to Cockburn land.
Nyungar Language and Spelling
There are a number of alternative spellings in use for the word Nyungar – Noongar, Nyoongar, Nyoongah, Nyungah, Nyugah and Yunga. This is because Aboriginal languages are traditionally oral and not written, so linguists have interpreted the spelling in a range of ways. The City wishes to acknowledge all alternative spellings of Nyungar, which are equally of value. After consultation with the City’s Aboriginal Reference Group and other organisations (South West Land and Sea Council; Aboriginal Studies at UWA; Aboriginal consultants) the City agreed to use the spelling ‘Nyungar’.
Nyungar language is evident in place names, street names, interpretive signage and plants and animals found throughout Nyungar boodjar. The City engages with Aboriginal consultants on Nyungar language and spelling, and there are often multiple names and/or multiple spellings of similar names. If you would like to know more about a specific word, or spelling please contact the City, or join in an Aboriginal language class.
Nyungar creation stories tell us that the City’s chains of wetlands are symbolised by a rainbow serpent, the Waakal. The serpent twists its way from Fremantle to Mandurah. The Waakal creates the shape of the Boodjar, over, under and through the earth and gives foundation to the meaning of life in Cockburn.
Traditionally, the Beeliar Nyungar lived alongside the City’s chains of wetlands. There are sixteen identified Aboriginal campsites in Cockburn, mostly along the banks of North and Bibra Lakes. The Beeliar Nyungar created many well-worn trails to and from these lakes. These trails formed the main transport route between the Murray and Swan River Nyungar Groups and the area was an important place of trade activity for Aboriginal people.
Places in Cockburn, such as Coogee, are special to the Beeliar Nyungar as well as to Aboriginal people from other parts of Australia. Cockburn’s supply of natural resources including fresh water, vegetation and wildlife meant that the Beeliar Nyungar could sustain their way of life for thousands of years.
Beeliar Boodjar is introduction to the Aboriginal History of the City of Cockburn based on existing literature. A copy of the brochure is available for download in the related documents below.
This brochure is intended as an introduction to the deep and continuing history of Aboriginal people and culture in the area known as the City of Cockburn. The authors wish to acknowledge the many Aboriginal families who have long association with the Cockburn area and will have more stories to tell in the future.
We advise that this document contains names of deceased Aboriginal people. Their relatives have been notified about this project. We do not wish to cause any distress to Aboriginal people who follow a specific cultural protocol regarding such names.
To find out more about Aboriginal history review stories, and photographs, visit the Cockburn History website