Pelican and the author acknowledge the Whadjuk Noongar people as the Traditional Owners of the area discussed in this article, and pay respects to Elders past and present. These lands were stolen and never ceded.
This article has been developed in consultation with members of the Noongar community; however, it is important to note that Noongar words can have multiple spellings when reproduced in written texts.
Furthermore, the ‘Kings Park’ area spans numerous locations with Noongar names; the names used in this article are not authoritative or exhaustive, and have been selected in order to explore the concept of dual naming. For more information on Noongar names and spellings, the following sources may be a good starting point:
Words and photos by Linc Murray
Art by Hnin Ei Kyaw Win
In the spring of 2020, I began a study of Karrgatup/Kings Park as a Sociologist. I came with an open mind, hoping to learn the positioning of the park within Perth’s social landscape. I walked the pathways, read the signs, spoke to parkgoers, and blew the dust off many historical documents in search of a social identity for the park. Before I began, I searched for guidance on how to approach my study, asking myself; who would provide me with the best advice to take on such a task? I turned to local Indigenous academic literature in search of an answer to this question, and came across this passage from Wooltorton, Collard, and Howitz:
“Unless one acknowledges the land is alive, and that it has comprehensible messages, one cannot cherish its voice. We are saying that this place-based practice of deep listening, sincere observation and accumulative, experiential insightful learning; of intentionally coming to know one’s place as the subject of profound love, will gradually facilitate capacity to hear, recognise and heed the voice of Boodjar [Country].”
This quote acts as a guide for my study. It encourages me to slow my thinking and experience the park through immersion rather than trying to forcefully extract meaning from it. With patience I spend countless hours observing, listening, and reflecting upon this special place. This is a story of Karrgatup – the place of spiders.
Sincere Observation and Accumulative, Experiential Learning: An evening in the park
At first glance, all is well in 21st-Century Karrgatup/Kings Park. People are exercising, crafting social media posts, and sipping artisan coffee. In a relatively flat city, this modest mountain offers spectacular views of Perth’s CBD, the Swan River, and distant hills. The perfect backdrop for outdoor social life. An obelisk points to the sky, this memorial to fallen soldiers sits heavily upon the hill. As the sun sets the sky changes colour slowly, crossing the darker end of the rainbow spectrum before settling on the starry blackness of night-time. City lights become increasingly dominant. The names of mining giants burn at the top of the tallest buildings. The freeway produces a familiar roar, although it seems much louder when juxtaposed with the calmness of nearby bushland. To gain a deeper understanding of this place, I take the stairs down to the bottom of the landscape. The rain that falls on Karrgatup is filtered through its earthly body and flows into a sweet freshwater spring here. This is Goonininup. I remember learning that this is a resting place for the Waugyl, an ancient creation being that formed the hills and rivers of this country. I can feel the presence of greatness here in the depths of the park; the cultural significance of this sacred site endures. The night air is filled with energy. A raven perched in a nearby tree exclaims; “Ark… Aark…” with a melancholic voice.
I sit by Mounts Bay Road on the south-eastern edge of the park opposite the Old Swan Brewery and close my eyes. The sounds of cars whooshing past blends with the babbling of water from the spring, and the raven’s cries. My own memories of this place in 1989 come flooding back. The state government had decided to redevelop the dilapidated old brewery site despite strong opposition from the Indigenous community. In my mind’s eye I can see the crumbling buildings, their red bricks and rotting jarrah beams giving way to time. There are hundreds of protesters here, mostly First Australians, although there are quite a few non-Indigenous people here showing solidarity. Tents are spread out under the Moreton Bay Figs and campfires burn alongside the hopes of their creators. I can smell the smoke. Heavy construction equipment sits idle, deliberately pointed at its target in anticipation. Police watch the protesters as traffic slows to a snail’s pace. Our family car rolls through with me in the back seat, windows wound down, eyes wide open. I can hear some motorists shouting abuse at the protesters, others voice their support. One of the protesters is holding a sign: “ALWAYS WAS / ALWAYS WILL BE / OUR LAND.” Another protester looks at me and says, “The Waugyl lives here you know.” He points to the hill, slowly twisting his hand one way and then the other. Our car exhaust rumbles as we drive off. I open my eyes and it is 2020 again. The Redeveloped Swan Brewery and its manicured surroundings blush before me. History shows that the protesters were evicted from the site, some of them forcibly. I console myself by thinking that the protesters may have failed to block the redevelopment, but they had not failed to be heard. As I make my way back up the hill, I notice in the trees some of the spiders that give the park its name, spinning their webs of significance. As we all do.
A few days later I return to the park with a single purpose: to speak to as many parkgoers as I could about what the park means to them. I spoke to a wide variety of people, some friends, some strangers, some Indigenous Australians, and some non-Indigenous Australians. Each conversation was different; however, most began with a sentimental retelling of good times in the park. There were whimsical tales of picnics, family gatherings, catching tadpoles, guiding visitors, lockdown escapism, and camping with friends. A large part of the park’s social identity can be found in these stories. There is no doubt that Karrgatup/Kings Park is a great place to relax, enjoy nature, explore, and socialise. But you probably did not need a sociologist to tell you that. There is, of course, a flipside to this whimsy – parkgoers also spoke of war, colonialism, protest, the discovery of human remains, and the attempted erasure of Indigenous history. There is great value in the green expanses of the park, however, as with the majority of human activity complexity, entanglement, and conflict are present elements of the story.
This brings me to the central issue that this study has uncovered, that of dual naming. In my discussions with parkgoers, sometimes I would use the common name (Kings Park) and at other times I would use the Noongar name (Karrgatup). What I found in these two modes of presentation is that they generate quite different conversations. Asking someone about “Kings Park” was likely to conjure stories about picnics, café brunches, and socialisation. I do not seek to diminish the importance of these experiences; however, exploring these concepts amounts to little more than social commentary. Asking someone about “Karrgatup” results in a vastly different conversation. An acknowledgement of Indigenous Australia is established from the outset. This plants a powerful seed of thought that the respondent feels compelled to address. In this situation parkgoers tended to speak of Indigenous history, bushtucker, spirituality, sacred sites, and cultural rituals. Non-Indigenous parkgoers often approached these subjects with an awkwardness, telling me that they wish that they knew more about these things. This awkwardness can be attributed to the knowledge that Indigenous Australians have suffered greatly during colonisation. The subsequent will to learn represents a transfer of symbolic sovereignty, ‘handing the mic’ to our Indigenous compatriots. I sense in these non-Indigenous parkgoers a will to reconcile with uncomfortable truths and recognise traditional ties to our land through deep listening.
Heed The Voice: The Case for Dual Naming
Dual naming would raise awareness of Indigenous history and knowledge. If dual naming was considered, then a state-wide conversation would be entered into, paving the way for a new era of acknowledgement. This is how reconciliation is achieved, by having a conversation, reaching a consensus, and backing it up with meaningful action. Many would support the change; however, those who oppose the change would be welcome to continue using the name ‘Kings Park.’ Dual naming allows for such flexibility. Just as the mode of presentation influenced my conversations in the park, discussing the millennia-old name ‘Karrgatup’ would instigate similar conversations all over the state. I think the time is right for this move. The parkgoers that I spoke to all showed an appetite for such change and whilst my sample size was small, I sense that they represent the zeitgeist of contemporary Perth. There would be opposition for many reasons and these opinions should be respected, dual naming represents a choice, not an obligation. Nothing is lost and so much is gained. The 120-year-old name remains, and the ancient Noongar name is included. Presenting the park in this way acknowledges its Indigenous importance and paves the way for a conversation on traditional knowledge and history.
Uluru provides a comparable example of what can be achieved by dual naming. In 1993 the name was officially changed to Uluru/Ayers Rock and remains as such today. Despite controversy at the time, dual naming was applied, and few would argue against it today. Some naysayers remained defiant and continued to use the name Ayers Rock as a protest, although this faded with time. Fortunately, Indigenous names are more resilient. The name Uluru is now the common name for what is possibly the most iconic landmark in Australia. Uluru is more than a rock, it is a cultural homeland, an artistic cynosure, a natural wonder, and an Anangu treasure. To call it a rock is too simplistic, to call it “Uluru” embraces its true nature. All of these claims can also be made of Karrgatup, just as Uluru is an icon of Australia, Karrgatup is an icon of Perth. After the period of controversy and awkwardness comes honesty, and this is my hope for the park. This is my hope for Reconciliation. This is my hope for Australia.
Karrgatup is a powerful, ancient, and continuing Noongar name. The name Kings Park also represents a part of our history. Joining the two together would represent inclusiveness and raise awareness of Indigenous history and knowledge. The people that call Perth home have a special bond with the park, this is indeed a timeless tradition. We come here to relax, we come here to be with each other, and sometimes we come here to be alone. We have honoured it by sparing it from development. We have honoured it by commemorating our war heroes here. We have honoured it by bringing our visitors here. Now we can honour it further by recognising its history and embracing an old name. Karrgatup.