In most Australian cities, you will often find an aboriginal cultural centre. And to my surprise, there was one in Fremantle, too: the Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Centre. It was quite tricky for me to find because I didn’t even know I was looking for it, to begin with. The only reason I found out about its existence is that I had learnt somehow (most likely on Google) that there were city tours led by indigenous guides. I was curious to see what the tour would offer and what perspective it would focus on. So one morning, off we went to visit the Fremantle Info Centre.
Pin it now and come back to it later!
Once at the info centre, I asked about indigenous-led tours, but the only response I got was a confused look from the desk lady. By the look on her face, she might as well have heard “where are the elephant tours?”. They had no idea what I was talking about. To add to my frustration I could not pull up the information from my previous web search. (Mental note: remember to get a local sim card when you travel overseas; don’t listen to your inner self, or partner for that matter, who will assure you that you can get by with free wifi spots. It’s a lie.) I then asked about indigenous activities in general and they pointed out the local aboriginal cultural centre. One step closer.
Finding the aboriginal cultural centre
Well, getting to the aboriginal cultural centre was another grand task. I forgot to download google maps and had to go by with verbal directions from the poker-face lady. It was fine until I reached the Round House. Then, I had to turn to the right but I could only see what looked to me like private houses. I was expecting to find a big sign or a lot of people coming in and out, but the area was empty and quiet.
I entered the house with the aboriginal flag, treading cautiously, afraid of being accused of breaking into someone’s home. The door was open, I called “hello?”. Nothing. Then a little louder. Nothing again. I walked into a room full of maps and information about the seasons. There were other rooms with displays of indigenous tools and pictures of locals. I knew then I was in the right place but somehow it was empty; I went back and forth and nothing… Had people left the office for the day and forgot to lock the door? Suddenly, I noticed a room that I hadn’t checked before. I peeked in and saw two young people in full concentration mode. They had headphones on, that’s why they couldn’t hear our loud voices. The moment I stood by the door frame and saw them, I felt a sense of relief. Finally!
Finding someone to ask questions
I spoke to Tiara, the young and cheerful indigenous girl, and she confirmed with me that, indeed, they offered tours. Yay moment here. She was curious to know how I had heard about the indigenous centre, so I told her about my morning endeavour. Her face turned grim when I got to the Information Centre part. “We’ve told them about our tours, how can they not know…” Tiara complained in a mildly aggravated voice. At that moment, I also felt upset. Not only because of the inconvenience of not finding a service that I knew existed but because of the low visibility to the only indigenous educational space in the city.
The Noongar people inhabited Fremantle before colonisation, so there is plenty that we can learn from their culture and history. I get the feeling, though, that this goes unnoticed for the average visitor, especially foreigners. My conversation with Tiara lasted around 10 minutes. She told me that there was a scheduled tour the following day and I signed up for it. I left the premises with a smile on my face, glad that my stubbornness and determination had given fruition.
Walking tour with the aboriginal cultural centre
I came by the next day and joined the little group that had formed: two national visitors from South Australia, Tiara, who had decided to join the tour, and Brendan, our guide. Now, Brendan was not really the guide, but the original guy became unavailable, so Brendan, who works in the City Council if I remember correctly, took us around. We started off at the Round House and the surrounding area. We learnt about bush tucker, seasons and migration patterns of the Noongar people. Of course, Brendan also talked about the history of colonisation and what it meant for the local aborigines.
The tour was supposed to last for 2 hours, but it was cut short. I believe that’s because Brendan did not know all the ins and outs that the proper guide would have been acquainted with. It was okay, though, because we ended up going to a nearby cafe and there we chatted some more under the shelter of a patio umbrella and a cold drink in our hands.
Chillin’ with the group
The atmosphere became cosy, more intimate, and more personal questions started to arise. It was insightful to hear unfiltered (but always respectful) opinions from Australians; both Brendan and Tiara as locals, and the two ladies from South Australia. I also had the opportunity to share my experience living in the Northern Territory, a fond memory. Before the group parted for good we went back to the Centre one more time. There, Brendan showed us the artefacts on display and some of the art. Then, it was time to go.
And that’s the story of how I found a hidden gem in the city of Fremantle. Despite the lack of visibility of this centre, it is apparent that they are quite active. You only need to look at their program. Besides the walking tours, they also have an interesting workshop offer that varies depending on the season. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything during the days of my stay. I may have to come back.
Wherever you go in Australia, honour its traditional owners. Learn about their way of life and their stories, so that they will not be forgotten.