Perth Festival to showcase hidden massacre of Noongar people at Lake Monger

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When Ian Wilkes was a child, his father would point out the window at Lake Monger whenever they drove past and say “something bad happened there”.

The popular lake in Perth’s western suburbs, which is flanked by the Mitchell Freeway, attracts thousands of visitors every week to use the walking track and see the bevy of black swans on the shore.

But few people know the full history of the place the Whadjuk Noongar people call Galup — place of fire.

Now, an interactive walking tour created for the Perth Festival will offer a window into Galup’s past, including the little-known massacre that took place in the early months of the Swan River Colony.

Two elderly people on a park bench are flanked by one man and a woman, while a man with a beard stands behind smiling.
The performance will include Nan Doolann Leisha Eatts, second from left, who told Ian Wilkes, far right, about the massacre.(Supplied: Perth Festival)

In creating the performance, lead artists Ian Wilkes and Poppy van Oorde-Grainger first had to uncover the history themselves.

“Dad knew that something bad happened there. He didn’t know much, but he always drilled it into us whenever we were around that area,” Mr Wilkes recalled.

Water at Lake Monger.
Lake Monger is known as Galup to Whadjuk Noongar people.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

The pair started by seeking out Noongar elders, then delved into archival documents to put together a picture of what happened.

“We first went and spoke to different elders and they all said ‘Go and speak with Nan Doolann Leisha Eatts’,” Ms van Oorde-Grainger said.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

“We spoke with her, and she told us this incredible story that her grandmother had told to her, and then we also went and spoke with a lot of academics from different universities.”

The story that emerged was of a massacre on May 3, 1830 led by the British Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Irwin, leader of the colony’s soldiers.

Man jogging at Lake Monger.
Now a popular jogging and picnic spot, most people are unfamiliar with the lake’s place in Noongar history.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

Mr Wilkes said it started in Kings Park when a Noongar man was shot for “grabbing a blanket from a farmhouse or something”.

“… The Noongars were starting to get aggressive back and then they ran, eventually, down to Lake Monger to hide in the reeds and use the lake as a way to hide from the colonisers and settlers [who were] shooting and firing at them.

“Eventually night came and militia were called, and Irwin came and there were two parties that surrounded the lake, knowing that all the Noongars were in there somewhere.

“They waited it out and created a bit of a siege and said ‘We’ll go and finish the job in the morning’.

“Then they wrote in their letters and journals that no-one was there.”

Paperbark tree and reeds at Lake Monger
According to Indigenous elders, Noongar men were chased to Lake Monger and killed by British militia.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

While the record was obscured and various documents state there were no deaths, an article about the incident published in the London Literary Gazette in December 1830 reported that there were seven deaths of Aboriginal people.

“A lot of Noongar elders, when we talked to them said the same thing — ‘I’ve heard a lot of Noongars died there’,” Ms van Oorde-Grainger said.

It’s this story, among others, that the resulting Perth Festival show Galup will tell in an intimate walking tour at Lake Monger in February 2021.

But it will also tell the stories of how special the place was to the Noongar people, pre-colonisation, when the lake was part of a series of swampy marshlands that made up what is now suburban Perth.

Reeds and water at Lake Monger.
Galup [Lake Monger] is now a park surrounded by houses.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

“In the summer it would crack and dry like many other lakes in Perth, and Noongar people would camp out there in the summer, out on dry muds and in the bush,” Mr Wilkes said.

As the leader of the one-man theatre performance, Mr Wilkes said he was excited to share the stories of Galup with a wider audience.

“I notice that a lot of Noongars don’t know this story as well. We all need to come together to share it, and accept it, and that’s what this show does,” he said.

“We don’t end with an audience feeling white guilt or anything else.

Once a seasonal swamp, Lake Monger is now an irrigated lake
Once a seasonal swamp, Lake Monger is now an irrigated lake surrounded by grass and willow trees.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

The performance will involve audience participation and also includes Nan Doolann Leisha Eatts, who first told them the story of the massacre.

But it also includes humour, which the creators believe is the key to sharing difficult stories.

“I sing, I speak in Noongar language, I have fun and I guide and try to get the audience comfortable,” Mr Wilkes said.



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