Balbuk Yooreel

Standing proud in Government House Gardens you will find a statue dedicated to Balbuk Yooreel, considered the most important Whadjuk woman of the 19th century.

It is the first statue dedicated to a woman in the Perth CBD and it was unveiled at Government House in 2022. The statue was designed and developed under the guidance of a committee of family members and Aboriginal history and culture experts and pays tribute to Balbuk’s advocacy for her people and her opposition to European settlement.

Born around 1840 at Matagarup, Balbuk was a strong and passionate Whadjuk boordiya yorga (elder, woman), who lived an extraordinary life.

Her story is a compelling record of the impact of the new Perth colony on the area’s Traditional Owners and their Aboriginal lands, sites of significance, culture and family life.

Balbuk’s traditional hunting lands stretched as far north as Gingin, south to Fremantle and along the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River), and she was strongly connected to Perth’s original families as the granddaughter to Whadjuk Mooro leader Yellagonga, and niece to warrior Yagan.

As Perth settlement grew and areas of land were claimed and fenced, Balbuk was a loud and fierce opponent to the loss of traditional lands as food sources, and for family and community gatherings.

According to historian Daisy Bates – who recorded much of Balbuk’s life story in the 1900s – “If a house was built in her way she broke its fence-palings with her digging stick and charged up the steps and through the rooms.”

Balbuk was also regularly seen walking from Matagarup to a swamp area near what is now the Perth central railway station, gathering gilgies (freshwater crayfish) and vegetables. When construction and fences blocked her path she continued defiantly to break through, fighting for as long as she could to protect her traditional way of life.

She would also often walk along what is now St Georges Terrace gathering fruits from the Bayoo or Zamia plants, some of which still exist in the Government House Gardens today.

The gates of Government House were a frequent stop for Balbuk, where she stood protesting the fence that stopped her from walking across the country where her family had walked and gathered for generations. Balbuk also believed that these lands near Government House included the site where her grandmother was buried, and she would complain loudly to the officials and demand access.

Her significant knowledge of Whadjuk Country and traditional ways before settlement recorded by Daisy Bates, went on to help inform the Native Title Claim of 2006.

Balbuk Yooreel

The Government House statue depicts Balbuk as seen in her later years. It is erected above a plinth that shows the path Balbuk would walk, with her Wanna (a digging stick used by Aboriginal women) along the Derbarl Yerrigan. The natural curves of her trek followed the arc of the river and the land, and stand in stark contrast to the rigid gridlines of the early city.

In 1903, as settlement grew, Balbuk along with many other elderly Noongar people, was moved by the Chief Protector of Aborigines Henry Prinsep to Maamba/Welshpool Native reserve where she lived for her remaining years.

She passed away in Royal Perth Hospital on March 20, 1907, with her husband Doolby by her side. The cause of her death is recorded as cardiac failure.

Balbuk was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery on March 21, 1907 in a pauper’s grave.

The statue in Government House stands in tribute today to a proud Noongar Yorga who lived across two worlds, defiant and determined to protect her culture and her country. It is a lasting reminder that her people’s connection to this place endures.

If you’d like to know more about Balbuk Yooreel or follow in her footsteps around the city then click here for more detail from the National Trust Western Australia.

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