By Tess Macallan, Journalist, Council Magazine
For more than a decade, the City of Melville has been working with Whadjuk Traditional Owners and Elders, and the community, to develop a plan to revitalise the Goolugatup Lowerlands. The City recently held a public program that showcased project designs and illustrated how input from Indigenous communities can play a pivotal role in guiding the maintenance and design of public spaces, supporting the preservation of culture, history and the environment.
Situated to the south of Perth and bordering the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River), the Goolugatup Lowerlands hold significant cultural and spiritual value for the Whadjuk Noongar people. The area is on the river foreshore and encompasses a flat and de-vegetated parkland, including a pocket of wetlands that is thought to mark the original water’s edge prior to 20th century land reclamation.
Goolugatup is associated with the Waugal water spirit – a central figure in Whadjuk spiritual beliefs that is believed to reside in the river and underground waters, imbuing the waterways with profound importance. For the Whadjuk Noongar people, the site was sacred ground, a key site of learning and initiation.
Goolugatup was also used for hunting, camping and meeting. Noongar Elders have noted that the area was also utilised as a lookout point by Midgegooroo and Yagan, who were prominent leaders of Noongar resistance to European settlement. Goolugatup was one of the landing and camp sites of Captain James Stirling during his survey of the river in 1827.
The area was named Point Heathcote after one of his crew members and initially used by settlers for grazing cattle. In the 1920s it became the site of a mental health facility, which closed in 1994. Following strong community sentiment, the City of Melville commenced discussions with the Western Australian Government to restore the site for public use and the land became part of a heritage precinct of conserved and reused buildings.
In the current revitalisation project, the significance and history of Goolugatup will continue to be recognised. Community members are coming together and understanding the land’s history.
Bridging the past and present
As Australia continues its efforts towards reconciliation, councils can play an important role by actively engaging Indigenous communities in urban development planning. For the City of Melville, the Goolugatup Lowerlands project embodies this endeavour.
Following 12 years of work and consultation with Traditional Owners and Elders, the community and key stakeholders, the City is transforming the site into a community and recreation space that celebrates reconciliation, culture and heritage.
The revitalisation will reconnect Goolugatup Lowerlands with the cultural and heritage precinct Goolugatup Heathcote, through landscape and interpretation design. City of Melville Mayor, the Hon. George Gear JP, said the Goolugatup Lowerlands renewal project was an exciting community-driven initiative with a long history of consultation.
“This is a project that has reconciliation at its heart, with the Whadjuk Traditional Owners and Elders collaborating and guiding its development,” Mayor Gear said.
“It is an example of how we’re working to meaningfully support ongoing reconciliation in action.”
New design on display
At the Goolugatup Heathcote Collections Gallery and AH Bracks Library and Creative Space, exhibition visitors were shown new designs alongside stories about how culture and history came together in the creation of the plans.
The enhancements include a range of features such as new barbecues, an outdoor kitchen, a large stairway with landing lookouts, yarning circles, healing gardens, seating, toilets, lighting, planting and cultural storytelling through signage and trails.
“As this project develops, we are looking forward to creating new places for families and friends to gather and cook barbecues, learn about the history and culture of the site, and enjoy our unique plants and animals on the banks of the river,” Mayor Gear said.
More than just a place
To celebrate the project, the Whadjuk community, City staff, residents and the wider community came together for a smoking ceremony, accompanied by storytelling, music and the design reveal. More than 250 people attended Karla Boodja Bilya Djinda (Fire Land Water Stars) on Saturday, 20 May 2023, kicking off a public program that ran throughout May and June, which included a design reveal exhibition and talks on the history of the site.
“We are delighted to be a step closer in the revitalisation of this special site to fulfill its enormous potential,” Mayor Gear said.