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Story of defiance

Aleisha Orr -

Fanny Balbuk Yooreel is one of the most prominent Aboriginal women in WA's history.

The Whadjuk Noongar woman protested against the occupation of her land by settlers in the Swan River Colony in the 1800s.

Despite her place in history there is no acknowledgement of the location understood to be her final resting place, or any type of monument to her on the land she had such a connection with.

But Whadjuk Ballardong Noongar custodian Ingrid Cumming wants that to change.

Ms Cumming, who is a Noongar cultural adviser at Curtin University, was behind the nomination which led to her Ancestor being inducted into the WA Women's Hall of Fame last month.

"I'd say she's one of the most prominent women in WA's history and given that in the early colonial periods, (white) men would record what the Noongar men were doing, there's a lot of stories about female boordiya (leaders) that weren't recorded at that time and haven't been exposed and talked about," she said.

"She would go to what is Government House and in Noongar call out saying, 'You're standing on the graves of my Ancestors, get off !' It was literally like camping at Fremantle Cemetery for her, you know, it was where her grandparents were laid to rest," Ms Cumming said.

Her grandfather was Whadjuk Noongar leader Yellagonga, and her uncle the warrior Yagan.

"What she was trying to do was say that there are ways to do things and you're just being arrogant to it, so I guess in her way she was saying, 'I'm not going to respect your fences, I'm not going to comply because you're not listening to me, so we can move forward together'."

Fanny Balbuk Yooreel. Photo supplied by State Library of Western Australia.

Fanny Balbuk Yooreel is one of 23 Aboriginal women to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

WA Women's Hall of Fame chair Fiona Reid said providing recognition of the important roles women have played in the State is a primary objective of the hall.

Ms Cumming said Fanny's induction was timely.

"I think in a year where we are really focusing in on gender equality and equity, the important role that women play in all facets of life, I think it's quite timely that Fanny and hopefully many other women, whether that be from the 1800s or 2021, are recognised for the contribution they've made to WA society," she said.

Ms Cumming would love to see a statue of her Ancestor erected in Perth.

"How incredible would it be â€" particularly for young Noongar women and girls â€" to see a statue of a woman who had all the odds against her standing up there."

"I think it's time," she said.

While she was initially unaware Fanny's resting place was unmarked, Ms Cumming is hopeful in the future it will be better acknowledged.

It is understood Fanny was buried in an unmarked grave at Karrakatta Cemetery when she died in 1907 but despite her prominence, she is not mentioned on either of the cemetery's two historical trail walks.

In the 1960s, the area where she was buried was repurposed into a memorial garden and has plaques for people who have been cremated. There is nothing to recognise her burial.

A Metropolitan Cemeteries Board spokesperson said while there was a "lack of details" provided at the time of the burial, the available information "seems to point to the likelihood that the grave in question is Fanny's resting place".

"We would definitely be receptive to any approaches should anyone want to work through the formal necessities to formalise her identity," the spokesperson said.

It's understood Fanny did not have children, so any relatives are likely to be distant ones, which may explain why the cemetery did not have any up-to-date contactable family members listed with her burial details.

Fanny's story is included on a City of Perth walking trail brochure, but the city said it had no plans for a statue of her.

WA Governor Kim Beazley has said making Fanny's story known is a priority of his. A Government House spokesperson said Mr Beazley had been consulting with stakeholders to explore ways to commemorate her.

By Aleisha Orr


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