Before William de Vlamingh (The Dutch navigator who named the Swan River in 1697), the area of land was roamed and cherished by Noongar tribes. The Noongar tribes were quite the opposite of the European settlers when it came to the respect and admiration for the area now called the Swan River. The Europeans were said to be blind to the beautiful surroundings they were granted, whether the aboriginal people had a deep connection to the land.
The noongar tribes were divided into groups and given sections to hunt and gather knowledge of the land. The untouched lakes and estuaries provided supplies of fish and market days or ‘mandjar’ which was used for bartering goods.
Sustaining the land was extremely important to the Noongar communities. Their dependence with rivers and the surrounding landscape was much more than physical – the land and water were intrinsically linked to the very existence of the Noongars, it was said to be like a life force that created their existence.
As the noongars spent their everyday lives based around the river, of course they would grow a deep ownership of the land, which is why it was a devastation to have the Europeans come in and take over. Despite the significant changes to the landscape, the strong connection with the land is still significant to many Noongars.
Myth logically the River was created by the Waugals which were said to be giant serpents. They carved waterways and valleys as they made their way to the mouth of the river at Fremantle. Noongar people had a responsibility to protect and care for the land. It was a part of their spirit and culture.
A number of important Waugal sites are known along the Swan River. One of the most significant of Waugal site on the Swan River occurs at Rocky Bay (‘Garangup’) which is northwest of Fremantle. It is here that the Waugal is believed to have crawled into the limestone cliffs to sleep after causing a great flood that submerged the land between Rottnest Island (‘Wadjimup’) and the coast (‘Walyalup’).