‘A mighty Wagyl breathes here’

By Chris Thomson | posted on November 23, 2017

A NOONGAR Elder has warned that a five-star resort at Goode Beach would upset a mighty Wagyl she says comes up for air right there.

Local Noongar Elder Lynette Knapp said the project should not proceed as planned at the Lot 660 site that abuts Lake Vancouver, known to generations of her people as Naaranyirrap.

“Naaran is when you cup the water in your hands and you drink it,” she said of the lake’s pre-European name.

“That’s pure, fresh water there.

“You can’t build around it. You can’t clear around it.”

This coming Tuesday, Albany city councillors were scheduled to vote on whether a structure plan for the resort should be endorsed for approval by the WA Planning Commission.

However, as revealed in today’s Weekender, that vote will now not likely occur until February, after proponents took their plans off the table to address concerns raised by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

Ms Knapp said it was imperative that developers stopped building around pristine waterways such as Naaranyirrap.

“Aboriginal waterways are not just the swamp that you see there,” she said of the lake.

“It goes underground and comes up.

“It’s being fed with underground passageways, water coming through from somewhere else, and to the east of here, Limeburners Creek is continually running out with water, so it actually pushes right through and there’s a stream to the south-east of here that’s fed by these underground things.”

That stream is the heritage-listed Vancouver Spring, which, like the lake and planned ‘Vancouver Beach Resort’, are named after Captain George Vancouver, who in 1791 was among the first non-Indigenous people to sip from the spring.

“If you’re going to build around the lake, we believe that under the ground there’s a mighty serpent,” Ms Knapp said.

“A mighty Wagyl created all those passageways, and all these swamps are where he comes up to take a breath, and then he goes under and travels to the next air hole.

“It’s important not to build around those swamps because those underground waterways are going to be crushed and made to go dry, and the old spirits won’t be too happy.”

Ms Knapp said her family, and many other Noongar people around Albany, had a 70,000-year connection to the peninsula.

“We depend on that Wagyl to keep our fresh water going,” she said.

“There is an underground world down there.”

And it’s not just the serpent-like Wagyl beneath the ground that Ms Knapp said tourists staying at the lake would need to heed.

“Look out for tiger snakes, they’re everywhere down here,” she warned of the striped serpents that wind around upon the ground at Naaranyirrap.

“They’re our keepers of the wetland system and part of some people’s totems.”

She said a planned access road running along the west side of Naaranyirrap was “not good at all”.

“If they’re going to be building around the lake, they’re just gonna mess it up,” she said.

Ms Knapp’s alternative vision for tourism in the area is a panoramic one that takes in the whole Vancouver Peninsula, on which Naaranyirrap is the only freshwater lake.

“My dream is to have it used for Aboriginal cultural tourism, because at the moment we have over 200 sites that are registered on the place and it’s a place that’s currently open to everything and everybody to drive their vehicles,” she said.

“It could be a Mecca for Aboriginal tourism – lizard traps, gravesites, everything.

“We need to teach people that our culture is worth staying here for and coming out on to country and learning from Elders, or people that know the country where the Elders have passed it down, instead of going to Bali or elsewhere.”

Her plan for the peninsula does not exclude luxury accommodation, which she said would be “awesome” if sensitively built at the former Frenchman Bay Caravan Park.

“That’s the place they need to go,” she said of an idea recently floated by the Frenchman Bay Association (The Weekender, October 19).

“Just leave our bush alone.”

She said that removing the defunct van park’s exotic tree species and rundown infrastructure, returning indigenous plants, and developing the site as a genuine eco-resort, would help restore much of its pre-European splendour.

A submission by Goode Beach resident and eminent University of Western Australia biologist Stephen Hopper said the area might contain a Noongar camp site.

“The recent discovery of a mussel shell midden about 400m north of Lot 660 on the primary dune overlooking King George Sound is indicative of the potential of the site to contain archaeological material of significance,” Professor Hopper, who is working with Ms Knapp and other Elders to document cultural and biological aspects of the peninsula, wrote.

A submission by the Frenchman Bay Association said a thorough archaeological survey of Lot 660 would be essential before any clearing and earthworks were undertaken.

“The Frenchman Bay Association is of the view that the appropriate course of action would be for the Aboriginal community to be involved in the consultation process,” FBA president Tony Kinlay told The Weekender.

Ms Knapp stressed that other Noongar families had stories about the peninsula that differed in parts to hers, but which were equally valid.