The katitjin (knowledge) given to Nyungar by the Waakal or Nyungar Rainbow Serpent included all things connected to our boodjar. The Waakal gave us our knowledge about the sacred sites such as Boyagin Rock, Mandikan, Karta Koomba, Pinjarra, Mundaring, Walwalyalup, Waakal Mia, and the Darbal Yiragan or estuary, and our relationship to them. Waakal gave us our knowledge about Nyungar and our relationships, responsibilities and obligations to one another. The Creator gave us our katitjin about the animals, plants, bush medicines, trees, rivers, waterholes, hills, gullies, the stars, moon, sun, rocks and seasons, and their interconnectedness in the web of life. Of the six seasons in the Nyungar world four were used for fishing, hunting and gathering, one for law and ceremony, and the other one, the Nyittiny, cold times, for new home fires or camping grounds.
The Nyungar Rainbow Serpent also gave us our katitjin or knowledge about the spirits or wirrin in our boodjar, wirrin and moort in the cycle of life. Some Nyungar people were given boolyada or magical powers to heal or kill and to protect all things sacred created by the Waakal. The Cosmology also gave us our koorndarn or kaarnya – the fundamental and underlying principles that give all cultures their values and belief system or their “commonsense, respect and shame” (Bennell 1993; Winmar 2002; Kickett 1995).
The following profiles and stories, which are in keeping with our Nyungar oral tradition, were shared by Nyungar maam and yok from our boodjar. The speakers were active participants in this research project and we are very grateful to our people and say, “kaya noonar quopadar wangkiny ngulla katich nitcha” or “yes, you are very good speakers, we understand this. You are also the ‘Keepers of the stories’ and custodians of such ancient katitijin or knowledge”.
“Keeper of the Stories” Tom Bennell was the son of Kate Collard and Charlie Holland of Merredin. Some of his moort affectionately called him “Nutty”. He was married to Muriel (the daughter of John McGuire and Doorlak Bennell) and had a daughter, Elizabeth Jean. Yelakitj had this to say: “These stories I am doing, I am not going to give my history away. If these stories are not worth anything I’ll put them in the fire and burn them” (Bennell 1978 b).
As Nyungar moort who recognise the worth of the oral histories passed on by Yelakitj, we say:
yeye dembart – ngulluck katitjin noonar bulyada wangkiny. Today Pop, we understand the magic or power of your words. From all your moort.
My name is Dorothy Winmar. Yurleen is my Aboriginal name that I took from my grandmother who was Yurleen. My mother is Dolly Humes and my father is Richard Garlett. He was Yurleen’s son and they are from this area. I am proud to sit down and talk to you. It gives me the chance to speak about my family. Yurleen Garlett, her mother, was Yurleen as well and that lady is the woman Daisy Bates interviewed as part of her Swan River Nyungar history at the turn of the Century. That was my grandmother’s mother. My mother’s mother was Ada Bennell. Ada is Yurleen’s sister.
My name is Fred Collard. I was born in Brookton in 1928. My mother was Janie Shaw and she came out of the Mogumber Mission or the Moore River Settlement. She was sent out to work on the farms for five bob a week in the Brookton area and that is where she met my Dad and got married. His name was Fredrick John Collard and he was the son of James Joseph Collard. Mum and Dad had nine children and I am the eldest. We were brought up in Brookton. Most of our lives were spent working on the farms, clearing the land for the Brookton farmers because the government was giving land to the new settlers. My grandfather, uncles and aunties and my brothers and myself helped to clear all the Brookton farms and dig the blackboys out, chop the trees down and clear the land. That was most of the work we did, we also dug the wells on the farm and fenced the property. Most of that work was ten bob ($1) for one acre to chop it down and one pound ($2) to two pound ($4) an acre to clear the land, which was pretty heavy, maiden timber. So for most of my life was brought up there. I got married in Brookton when I was 19 to Elizabeth Jean Bennell and the Bennell family is an old family that goes right back to Lake Monger, where the Bennell family came from.
Joe Walley, I was born in Pinjarra in the 1930s. My mother was Mary Nannup who married Louis Walley. Her father was David Nannup who married Emily Jones. My father’s father was Stephen Walley who married Joanna Isaacs, which makes part of my family coming from Busselton, originally from Pinjarra. But I keep to the Pinjarra side. One of the first Aboriginal names on the Walley side was John Walley, who married Tundop. His son, another John Walley, married a Wallbanger, an Aboriginal woman. Great grandfather John and great grandmother Mary Rose Walley had a son, Stephen, who married Joanna Isaacs. They are my grandparents on the Walley side. Granny Mary Rose is buried in Pinjarra and Granny John in New Norcia. This is when they [the Walley’s] started branching into Pinjarra and although it’s the mainstay of our family, we got relations all over but the trunk of the family tree of Walley knowledge and learning is in Pinjarra. I got this knowledge from here.
I was born in the Mogumber Mission [Moore River Native Settlement]. My mother was Grace Wilkes and my father was Dave Gentle. It so happens that Joe Walley’s grandmother brought me into the world, in a tent at the settlement; the place where all the building were up high on a rise. Down by the bottom, there was old houses where the families lived. She [Joe’s grandmother] was a midwife. She was the woman who brought me into the world. I was born in 1935, on the 1st of January 1935. My mum was a Wilkes who had one brother, Edgar Wilkes, and two sisters. They all married to different people. Some passed away and some are still alive. So I am a real blood relative of the Wilkes. Then there’s the Corunna’s - all of the seven sisters and one brother, they all had children, at least, there were maybe two or three who did not have children. There is Mrs Hedland, that’s Aunty Cissy, who was my mother’s sister. Mrs Corunna, that’s Adeline. I can’t think of all the names. One of them was named Jane. I did hear them all, and I’ve got some papers and things at home. I have got a niece who lives in Midland. She gets all the files and things which she tells me about or sends them to me or I pick them up off her. Most of my life we never stayed long in one place. The settlement, when we left there I must have been around … I was about five or six years old and walked to farms around Walebing and Moora. [My family] headed that way out to Moora, shearing or root picking, whatever they could do [for a few years]. This probably was in the early 1940s. I was pretty young, about eight or nine, but we didn’t mind the walking my brother and I. He was about ten or eleven. There were only two of us. Irwin; he is now living in Meekatharra. I had other brothers and sisters but they have all passed on. In my family, we had mixed families. My father had another child by another woman, before he was with my mum. My mother was legally married to Uncle Frank Narrier and in the papers I’ve got at home, there is a reason they had a big fight. My father won. He, Dave Gentle, beat Uncle Frank Narrier. He, my father, married my mum, but she was legally married to Uncle Frank Narrier. I don’t think of that Wedjela way. I think of it Aboriginal way. Anyway, it’s funny but that is how it was. You know, we lived anywhere, we lived any place. Wherever we found a place to live, we stayed. It was all right on the farm because they had little tin humpies or some little place for the families to live in. Walebing, that’s just out on the other side of Moora and you get back on the main road that goes through to the north or back to Perth. On the Great Northern Highway. Yes, that’s it. It would be the one. That’s all I been doing, not stopping in one place for too long. I always wondered why we kept moving but today, to me, that was a good thing because I might have been one of those Stolen Children. So, my father must have got tired [of moving]. He said there was a lady at Lockridge who lived in a little house and helped looked after five to six children (wedjela kids). And she asked us if we would like to spend a night there. We said yes and Dad said that he will come back and pick us up in the morning; and he did. I don’t know what year it was. I was about school age. I didn’t have much schooling then because we were always on the road, all the time, I suppose. I was about eight. It was in the early ‘40s. This was after we lived in a little camp and tent out at Walebing. I was still pretty young then, you know. I remember sitting at the shearing shed door, where my dad was shearing and watching them shearing and throwing the fleece out on the table I liked watching that, you see.