Arthur Head in the West End of Fremantle has a rich history. It is now less than one tenth of its original size. With the arrival of the British in June 1829 the newcomers started changing its topography. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans the local Beeliar-Nyungar (Aboriginal) people called that part of the world Walyalup. The actual old West End of Fremantle town with Arthur Head area in some sources is referred to as Manjaree.
According to the National Trust of WA, Manjaree (Arthur Head) for the Beeliar-Nyungar people (sometimes also referred to as Bibbulmun) was an important meeting place and trading place. Tracks from the North and South converged in the Manjaree-Fremantle area. Arthur Head was also an important place for the Nyungar dreaming story ‘Walyalup Dreaming’.
The Walyalup Dreaming was first mentioned in writing in the 19 century by F. Armstrong who in 1836 wrote:
“They state, as a fact handed down to them from their ancestors, that Garden Island was formerly united to the main, and that the separation was caused, in some preternatural manner, by the Waugal” (F. Armstrong 1836).
Below is one of the versions:
“The Walyalup (Fremantle) Dreaming story tells of Yondock, an ancestral crocodile that travelled down from the north, causing floods and disturbances, creating Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), Gnooroolmayup (Carnec Island), Derbal Nara (Cockburn Sound) and flooding the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) with salt water.
The Waagle or Rainbow Serpent, guardian of the fresh water, smells the salt and travels down the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River) to see what’s happening. With the advice from Woorriji (a lizard) from the Waagle cave in North Fremantle and strength gained from the freshwater spring at East Street Jetty, he fights the crocodile, bites off his tail and places the tail across the mouth of the river to prevent salt water coming up stream.The tail is secured with the hair from the armpits of the Waagle on the southern side of the river and with toenail from the crocodile on the north side of the river.
The rest of the crocodiles body remains as Meeandip (Garden Island) and dingoes watch from Cantonment Hill to make sure the spirit of the crocodile is not reunited with its tail. “
We can safely assume that the dreaming stories tell us of rising sea levels that happened 7000 years ago. Rottnest Island, Garden Island and Carnac Island were separated from the mainland back then. The rising sea level and then the separation of the islands from the land mass was all witnessed by the Aboriginal population.
A few years ago a documentary was made about the play Walyalup Dreaming. The ‘Making Walyalup Dreaming’ documentary explores how the play was created. For more information you can view a sample of this documentary here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9itXyRTL9c
The documentary features Trevor Ryan, James Webb, Trevor Walley and Sandy McKendrick, Produced and directed by Rodney Stratton.