THE ceremony could have been sombre, but instead it had an air of celebration.
On Saturday afternoon, a full house at Christ’s Church Anglican Church in Mandurah gathered to commemorate the life of Yaburgurt Winjan, an exceptional Noongar leader. The fact that the event recognised the 100th anniversary of his death attested to the fact that he continues to have a profound influence on society a century later.
“This is the church service we should have had in 1915,” community leader and historian George Walley told the rapt audience. “The amazing love and respect we have for this person … a greater love, a greater respect than they had in 1915.”
Yaburgurt Winjan was born in 1824 at a campsite near the old Mandurah traffic bridge called Koolin-Yinnup (Halls Head).
As a 10-year-old Yaburgurt, called George by the whites, survived the Pinjarra Massacre that killed his mother, brother and other members of his people. He survived many hardships brought about by colonisation, but eventually became a valued advisor and friend to some of the oldest settler families, especially the Suttons. He also was employed to carry mail, an important job that showed people’s respect for him.
But that high regard was barely strong enough to counter white resistance to Mr Winjan being buried in a Christian cemetery, as was his wish. His final resting place is in the corner of the Anglican Church’s cemetery, which is now marked by an elegant bronze plaque and was the centre of much of Saturday’s celebration.
Mr Walley was thankful for the foresight of some pioneering families in 1915 in preventing Mr Winjan from ending up in an anonymous bush grave. He sang a beautiful anthem he wrote, Djeuang Man, which refers to a good, generous spirit. He then introduced Elder Harry Nannup, who gave the Welcome to Country.
Mr Nannup praised the memory of Mr Winjan and the strength of character he showed in his long life.
“I wanted to do something for him at last. I am proud to be standing here today to celebrate this special man,” said Mr Nannup, who along with Mr Walley has worked on the Yaburgurt Memorial Project.
Along with the City of Mandurah and the Koolbardies Talking Group, the two have been compiling a history of Mr Winjan, in part to celebrate this unique man’s life and also to encourage residents to connect with the area’s history and heritage.
“People are trying to do the right thing,” Mr Nannup said, recalling previous experiences in which Aboriginal people were run out of town at dark. But he praised the efforts of many – including those at Saturday’s service – in correcting past wrongs.
“We don’t want to live in the past, but we must remember some to make it right,” he said. “I reckon Mandurah is a special place to bring your family up.”
A small group performed two dances and the Koolbardie/Madjitil Moorna Choir sand the joyous welcome song Wanjoo. Deputy Mayor Darren Lee, the Reverend Canon Father Darryl, the Rev. Sealin Garlett, former Mayor Paddi Creevey and Bishop Allan Ewing also spoke.
“Today the City of Mandurah would like to pay our respects to the traditional owners and we look forward to continuing our journey with you in celebrating the life and times of Yaburgurt,” CR Lee said, adding that he was pleased at the strong turnout. “We are proud to be part of the Yaburgurt Commemoration Project.”
The celebration culminated in a Smoking Ceremony, in which all were invited to inhale cleansing smoke to honour Mr Winjan. Mr Nannup laid native flowers on the grave, Bishop Ewing gave a blessing and the Rev. Garlett said a closing prayer.
In the church, the Rev. Garlett, too, had a hopeful message for Mandurah.
“There’s a barrier we see that I believe can be trampled down. It’s going to make wrongs of yesterday right,” he said. “There’s a togetherness in the bond when we work together.”