The processes surrounding the Western Australian Government’s 1.3 billion dollar native title offer through the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) continue to be challenged but by no-one as so deeply as Toogarr Morrison. Long-serving cultural researcher and artist, Mr Morrison says the map the State Government and SWALSC are working with is incorrect and leaves custodians and descendants stranded and confused.
Mr Morrison has disputed the cultural and demographical definitions and references around the deal, saying there are no ‘Noongar nations’ but a Bibbullmun nation, with the term ‘Noongar’ meaning ‘man’, while a ‘Yorgah’ is a woman and children are ‘Koolungah’. Mr Morrison says the Bibbullmun nation is made up of 23 States, rather than the commonly-used Noongar map of 14 clans.
“What is a clan?”
“There are no such words in our language as clans, these are White people’s words,” said Mr Morrison.
“The SWALSC has no business negotiating this deal with the Government when they do not even understand who they are representing.”
In a recent documentary – Displaced Voices – SWALSC CEO, Glen Kelly conceded that claimant boundary lines were not drawn up in accordance to traditional boundaries. “If the opportunity were there we would do it differently. I don’t actually know what inspired the original claimant boundaries.”
But if Mr Morrison is correct and there are 23 Bibbullmum States rather than the 14 clans designated more than 100 years ago by Norman Tindale then indeed peoples are missing out, not only in terms of natural rights but also in terms of their historical identity and heritage.
Mr Morrison is the youngest child of 22, born in the South West’s Katanning on a reserve. “We had never heard the word Noongar, we were Bibbullmun. I heard the word Noongar for the first time when I was 16 years old, when I had come to Perth and I said ‘what is a Noongar?’ It is a White man’s word, not ours but for far too many it’s stuck.”
“Bibbullmun is our mother, it is the dirt that we stand on, that our feet walk on, and Yilgarn is the granite rock underneath the Bibbullmun. The story goes that Bibbullmun came up from below the dirt and sat on the granite. As a people, we are people of the Bibbullmun. But even our own people when they go to university and become academics, or think they are anthropologists when graduating in that field, they learn from the White man’s books and interpretations and to graduate they bow down to them and then sadly teach what is untrue to our people and the young begin to learn as fact what never was nor should be.”
Mr Morrison has an undergraduate degree and a Masters in the Fine Arts but he has never compromised “what was passed down to us from the old people, not from the academics.” His art is true to the Bibbullmun nation and peoples.
For the last several decades Perth has been touted as being on Noongar Country that is of the Whadjuk clan but Mr Morrison said “Perth is not Noongar Whadjuk and instead is Bibbullmun of the Waaluukin peoples.” Mr Morrison said that because of the rapacious expansionism of the invaders and the apartheid dispossessions and practices that many peoples were generationally disenfranchised of their heritage. Many who are from other parts of the Bibbullman nation or from other parts of the State cannot be sure of their direct heritage even if they are claiming to be senior Elders, or even with some who claim ancestry to the Noongar Whadjuk (Bibbullmun Waaluukin) warrior Yagan.
“There are so many now who claim descent from Yagan but most of them are not related, yet they speak for Country as if they are related to Yagan, as if they are from this Country. Yagan died in his early thirties and he had only a couple of kids. When did Yagan have the time to have spawned all these descendants who now speak as his heir?”
“We had 23 States, each belonging to the Bibbullmun nation which was occupied by two skin groups, which again were divided, by law, into four skin groups.”
SWALSC needs to stall the native title negotiations and examine the map it has been working with and indeed may have to return to the State Government with a map of 23 States and claimant groups who are Bibbullmun and not Noongar.
Mr Morrison has traced his ancestry to Jeringah, who was born around 1786, in what is now Perth, near the Swan River. He had a son, Boogapinna, born in 1807. His son was Kingigichup born in 1830 in the Stirling ranges region, soon after the invaders had arrived. Kingigchup’s daughter Maggie was born in 1860 and partnered William Morrison, and were parents to Toogarr Morrison born 1898, who at 52 years old fathered his 22nd child, Toogarr.
“Religion to our people was bound up with the environment. We were probably the largest nation of peoples on this continent before the White man. For many thousands of years we did just fine on our lands. Since the invasion we’ve endured genocide, and it continues today in many other forms.”
“A Koolang is a baby, Koolungah are children, Bunngarn is a young girl, Coolon is young boy. Till initiation you are female or male, Beedawong or Moolyeet, after initiation you are a woman or man, Yorgah or Nyoongah. Before marriage you are a Mandiggara – spinster – Culanmede – bachelor. After marriage when you have a family you are a mother – Nunngan , father – Mamarn and when the children bring children, you are a Moyran, grandmother or Temmen, grandfather,” said Mr Morrison.