The First People in the Frenchman Bay Area

We would like to acknowledge the Menang people who are the traditional custodians of this land. We would also like to pay our respects to the elders past and present and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal people who may visit this website.


Very long time ago the only living person was an old woman named Arregain who had a beard as large as the garden. She was delivered of a daughter and then died. The daughter was called Moenang and grew up in course of time to be a woman, when she had several children, (girls and boys), who were the fathers and mothers of all the black people.
(Aboriginal guide Mokaré to Collet Barker, 1830)


Indigenous people have lived throughout the South-West of WA for 40,000 years or more. Excavations at a crossing on the Kalgan River near Albany, suggest that a quartz artefact found in 2012 could be about 25,000 – 30,000 years old.

Archaeological evidence such as lizard and fish traps, gnamma holes and grindstones
on coastal granite outcrops near Frenchman Bay, also attest to a very long history of occupation and activity in the area.


Collet Barker, who was the Commander of the garrison settlement at King George’s Sound (1829 – 1831) :

came to recognise and respect the complexity and dynamism of Mokarés’ world, remarking that its intricacies made it difficult for a European to comprehend.  He noted that, names for mountains, hills, river and the coastline, ‘change at short distances’, and were not always drawn from ancient mythological pre-historical times, but sometimes recalled recent events experienced by still living people.[3]

The Aboriginal people who originally inhabited the area around King George’s Sound, are generally thought to be part of a larger Noongar (Nyungar) group who lived and roamed over a 1200 kilometre area from the west to the south coast and have been variously called the: ‘Moenang’, ‘Meananger’, ‘Minang, or the ‘Menang’ people(s). There are multiple explanations for the origins of these words, including as examples: Norman Tindale’s association with a specific socio-linguistic grouping of the south-west [4]; or Dr Isaac Nind’s conclusions in 1832 that: ‘The inhabitants of the Sound and its immediate vicinity are called Minanger, probably derived from mearn, the redroot … and anger, to eat” [5]; or as possibly originating in the story of ‘Moenang’, cited above – the ‘name of the female creation spirit of the Aborigines who [once] lived around King George Sound’.[6]

People familiar with the locale of Frenchman Bay would recognise ‘Torndirrup’ as one of the most commonly utilised Indigenous names in the area. The Torndirrup National Park which occupies much of the Vancouver Peninsula was gazetted as a ‘Reserve’ in 1918 and was re-named in 1969, also for (some) of its ‘original inhabitants’.[7]  This word was also documented variously in several phonetic forms in early colonial ethnological and other literature as: ‘Tondurup’,‘Tdonderup’,‘Tdondarup’,‘Tordnerup’ and ‘Tondorop’[8], with similar conjecture about how, to what, and/or to which, people(s), this particular term related. The British anthropologist James Frazer, who drew upon George Grey’s Vocabulary of the Dialects of South Western Australia (1840), suggested for example, that:

two of the names of  [WA] clans, namely Tdondarup and Mongalung seem clearly identical with Torndirrup and Moncalon … as names of exogamous divisions, whether classes or totem clans among the tribes near King George Sound; [9]

while the early ethnologist and genealogist Daisy Bates proposed that:

the Southern class names appear to have totemic meanings: Wordungniat are crows; Manytchmat are cockatoos; Ballarruk are Bootallung, pelicans; Nagaraooks are W-e-ja, emus; Tondarups are Doudurn, fishhawks; Didarruk are Didara (or Wadarn), the sea. [10];

The First People

In her ‘ethnographic’ history of 2009, Tiffany Shellam points out that another name used by the respected intermediary and guide Mokaré, and his family for the area around King George’s Sound in the early 19th Century, was ‘King Ya-nup’.[11] She also states that: ‘Tondirrup’ translated both as ‘white sandy’ as well as the name of the King Ya-nup ‘camp’ to the west of the garrison settlement.’[12]  In this work she notes the significance of a long track around the Princess Royal Harbour to the current location of Frenchman Bay. This pathway, referred to by Shellam as: ‘Talwyn’s path’, apparently took the King Ya-nup around the edge of Princess Royal Harbour to Chinjannup (current Big Grove)[13] a thickly wooded forest, to Narinyup (the current area around Frenchman Bay across the peninsula to Geake Point), and to Torndirrup, or ‘white sandy’ the area of white sand hills in the vicinity of the current Torndirrup National Park.[14]

Coolbun, (an uncle to Mokaré, Nakina(h) and Talwarn or ‘Talwyn’) – the three Aboriginal brothers noted to be the traditional owners of a large area around King George Sound – which included Narinyup, was recorded to have inherited the land of Bald Head after his father, Dr Uredale, had died.[15]  Narinyup was also documented by Commander Collet Barker in his journals, as a place where Mokaré and his family, particularly liked to burn off and hunt for ‘wallabi’, to catch and eat snakes and to spear fish – not far from the water’s edge.[16]  Rather than walk the entire distance on Talwyn’s path however, Collet Barker recorded that large parties of Minang people, including Mokaré, Talwyn and Coolbun, often requested to be ferried across to Narinyup in the Europeans’ boats, to do their hunting.[17]  It is well-documented that pre-European contact, these people were not eaters of shellfish and traditionally neither swimmers, nor seafarers – preferring land-based pursuits.[18]

The European arrivals inevitably impacted upon the traditional activities of Indigenous people. The woodlands, and especially waterways – the coastlines, lakes, rivers and estuaries were known to be the areas which Aboriginal people frequented most often, and which were interconnected by a maze of well-worn tracks.   In the warmer months of the year hunting, gathering and fishing activities were focused on coastal areas, while during the winter months, people would move inland and do more hunting of kangaroos, wallabies and possums.[19] This activity continued until around the beginning of the Europeans’ shore-based whaling which disrupted the patterns of inland migration, due to the increasing availability and accessibility of remnant whale meat.  Also the expansion of the newly named town of Albany in the early 1830s, the arrival of more immigrants, the redefinition of land as a commodity, the impact of employment in whaling, the payment for cooperation and casual work with European foodstuffs, and the huge toll taken by introduced disease would dramatically affect the population of the area’s Indigenous people. The fact that European contact and dispossession did not completely annihilate central important aspects of a dynamic and continuing culture is a very remarkable story – and the subject of ongoing discussion. [20]

Della Foxglove (2014)


Conversations with Robert Reynolds, South-West Heritage Officer – Dept of Indigenous Affairs Albany; Historian Dr Murray Arnold and local Elder Lynette Knapp – assisted with the preparation of this section.


[1] Mokaré told this myth to Captain Collet Barker after he enquired on the Aboriginal beliefs on the beginning or origins of man,(Barker 1830, in Mulvaney and Green, 1992, cited in Goode et al, p.46).  Mokaré’s  family land ‘included the entire west and south shores as well as the north shore of the harbour and the shores of King George’s Sound for some distance east of Frenchmans Bay’. (Ferguson 1987). For biographical details of Mokaré, see Neville Green: [retrieved 8/09/2013].

[2] The date of 40,000 + is a figure frequently cited with regard to the entire continent of Australia for Indigenous habitation and although there is no current extant archaeological evidence for this long dating around Frenchman Bay/Torndirrup, it must be accepted that due to extreme sea level changes any ancient evidence of an ‘early’ coastal material culture would be virtually impossible to find. The evidence which does exist however is compelling and indicative of long occupation. See Goode et al, p.50 passim, and regarding the Kalgan site.[retrieved 11/09/2013]

[3] Mulvaney and Green (1992), cited by Mary Ann Jebb in a review of Tiffany Shellam’s Shaking Hands on the Fringe Negotiating the Aboriginal World at King George’s Sound, UWA Press, (2009). 2009.,+2012/10311/review-scott.html [retrieved 9/09/2013].

[4] Goode et al., p.42.  ‘The southwest of Western Australia is considered to form a distinct cultural bloc defined by the distribution of the Noongar language. The Menang of Albany were one of thirteen ‘tribal groups’.  Tindale (1974) identified in the southwest based on socio-linguistic boundaries and minor dialect differences.  See N. B. Tindale, Aboriginal Tribes in Australia. University of California Press, Berkeley, U.S.A. This work has, however, now been heavily revised.

[5] Isaac S. Nind, (1832), p.49, cited in Goode et al., p.42.  For example, the Albany historian Dr Murray Arnold settles on the ‘Menang’ version as most recently agreed upon by local Aboriginal people. pp.56-7. cf. Tiffany Shellam (2009), who contends that the term ‘Mineng’ and its variations had: ‘vastly different meanings’ in various contexts, and suggests that it ‘is not easy to find the accurate origin and meaning of the name’.  Shellam also claims both the terms ‘Mineng’ and ‘Nyungar’ have relatively ‘recent’ (cf. pre-contact) origins. pp.31-32.

[6] Shellam, p.32.

[7] The park was first gazetted in 1918, and the first ranger was appointed in 1973. The park is the most often visited park in Western Australia, with approximately 250,000 visitors per annum.  [retrieved 11/09/2013]

[8] See for example: I.S. Nind, ‘Description of the Natives of King George’s Sound (Swan River Colony) and adjoining country’, communicated by Robert Brown, Royal Geographical Society, vol.1, 1831, 1832, London, pp.21-51.; Nathaniel Ogle, The Colony of Western Australia: A Manual for Emigrants to that settlement …’ (1839); George Grey, Vocabulary of the Dialects of South Western Australia (1840), p.73, and James Frazer, Totemism and Exogamy, Vol.1, (1st pub. 1910), (Cosimo, 2010).

[9] James Frazer, ibid., p.556. fn. reference to Grey ibid., p.547.

[10] Daisy M. Bates, (1905-6), p.47.  It has been commented however, that Daisy Bates’ genealogical and ethnographic research ‘disregarded Aboriginal people of mixed descent’ … ‘as  she deemed them not to be ‘authentic’ Aboriginal people’. See John Host with Chris Owen, Preface, xvii (2009).

[11] ‘Mokaré was highly regarded by those who befriended him and is listed among eminent early Australians.’ Murray Arnold, p.13, citing, W.C. Ferguson (1987). See also Note 1 above.

[12] Shellam, pp.33, 39 and 44.

[13]  ‘Yongirrup’, now known as Little Grove and ‘Chinjannup’ or today’s Big Grove, were two names also recorded by Mrs A. M. Bird of  ‘The Old (Strawberry Hill) Farm’(‘Barmup’) in 1890, in her book of ‘native words’ learned from the people who frequently camped at Strawberry Hill.

[14] Shellam, pp. 35 and 39, citing Collet Barker’s Journals,18 January 1830-26, 4 February 1831 & March 1831. See also her Map. # 2 for the general location of ‘King Ya-nup Country’.

[15] Goode et al., p. 83. ‘Dr Uredale was a senior ‘Mulgarradock – medicine man/sorcerer’, Shellam  describes Dr Uredale  as Coolbun’s ‘brother’ rather than his ‘father’, p.218.

[16] Barker in Mulvaney and Green (eds.), p.385.

[17] Goode et al., pp.44 & 59, citing Barker’s Journals of 1831, ibid.

[18] This interesting and rather surprising fact is also discussed at length in Collet Barker’s journals.

[19] Goode, pp.194-5.

[20]   Some have argued that the impacts of deaths from diseases and epidemics have been over- emphasised, and arguably, support elements of the ‘extinction’ thesis popularised by early ethnographers such as Daisy Bates and the anthropologist Catherine Berndt.  See John Host with Chris Owen (2009), p.99 and passim for a challenging discussion about these important issues. 


ARNOLD, Murray, ‘A Journey Travelled. Aboriginal-European Relations at Albany and the surrounding region from first contact to 1926’, PH.D. Thesis, UWA, 2012. 

BATES, Daisy, ‘Marriage Laws and Some Customs of the West Australian Aborigines, Victorian Geographical Journal XX111-XX1V (1905-6), p.47. Reprinted: 1906 ‘The West Australian Aborigines.’, Western Mail,  (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 14 April, p. 61, ,[ viewed 19 June, 2013]

FERGUSON, W.C., “Mokare’s Domain”, in Australians to 1788, D.J. Mulvaney and J.P. White (eds.), (Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, Australia, 1987).

GOODE, Brad, IRVINE, C., HARRIS, J., THOMAS, M., ‘Kinjarling’ The Place of Rain The City of Albany & Department of Indigenous Affairs Aboriginal Heritage Survey, (2005).

HOST, John and OWEN, Chris, It’s Still in my Heart, This is My Country: The Single Noongar Claim History, ( UWA Press & SWALSC, 2009).

MULVANEY, D., and GREEN, N., (eds.), Commandant of Solitude: The Journals of Captain Collet Barker, 1828-1831, (Melbourne University Press, 1992).

SHELLAM, Tiffany, Shaking Hands on the Fringe: Negotiating the Aboriginal World at King George’s Sound, ( UWA Press, 2009).