Research Stream


Len Collard (2017)
The University of Western Australia

A Sense of Place: Nyungar Cultural Mapping of The University of Western Australia and Surrounds

A cultural mapping of eight placenames in and around UWA that reveals the cultural and emotional significance invested in Nyungar locations, at the same times as providing historical relevance and Indigenous worldview.


Derbal Yiragan/ Derbal Yarragon/Derbal Yaragan 600x300

"Nitcha boodjar koonyarn nitcha koori buranginy boodjar karluk maya koonyam wah. Deman deman and maam wiern kia moort koonyarn. Deman and maam noonookurt, boodjar koonyarn karla koorliny. Koorlongka boorda gneenunyiny."

Translation: "This is my country where I belong. This is deman and maam, my grandmother and grandfather’s land, this is their land where their spirits move now. Boorda or later on, this is going to be the responsibility of my children and my children’s children, their home and this place will always be linked to their spirit." - Garlett, Sealin. Oral Interview in 2002, transcribed by Len Collard.

Approximately 30,000 students, staff and visitors walk through the University of Western Australia campus each year, admiring its beautiful landscapes and heritage architecture. The University's website boasts a history of the campus and grounds from 1913, but little is documented on the place and land prior to this date. While recognising that the University is situated on Nyungar land, what do we know of the Nyungar history of the place?

This projects aims are to deliver a Nyungar history of the land that the University is built on and surrounding areas. Research findings will enable non-Aboriginal people to learn more about the contribution made to history by Australia's Indigenous people while allowing Indigenous peoples to identify, record and write their own histories of people and Country. The project identified six sites on UWA campus and two nearby sites such as Pelican Point and Kings Park. Contemporary Western-named places and associated cultural understandings will be identified and mapped and then overlayed with ancient Nyungar place names and significant cultural interpretation. This cultural mapping will invest each location with deeper cultural and emotional significance, while providing historical relevance and Indigenous worldview. As an interpretive exercise, the project with explore history, social, cultural and language diversity.

Project Team

Project Highlights, Outcomes, Outputs, Discoveries

  • The research applied lived Nyungar knowledge and documented interpretation to eight Nyungar placenames in and around the University of Western Australia to determine cultural and historical meaning.
  • The research team documented an approach and model/framework that can be used for future interpretive projects on Nyungar placename research.
  • This research drew on eight Nyungar placenames in and around the University of Western Australia to determine meaning through oral and written translation. The research examined information interpreted and documented by colonists and linguists alongside lived Nyungar experience to reveal cultural and economic significance that is tied to Nyungar language. In breaking the placenames down to word segments (each segment containing specific meaning) we found that only with the incorporation of Nyungar lived experience (Professor Len Collard) could the placename reveal emotional, familial and spiritual connections. We therefore determined that three levels of knowledge are required to reveal a true and full meaning of Nyungar placenames: 1. Nyungar placename, 2. documented interpretation, and, 3. lived Nyungar knowledge.

    The placenames are:
    1. Derbal Yiragan/Derbal Yarragon/Derbal Yaragan Beeloo
    2. Goordaandalup/Gurndandallup/Goordandalup 
    3. Boolahdalalingup
    4. Boodjar Gapalingup/Boodjar Kepaalingup
    5. Kaart Geenunginyup Bo
    6. Birritt
    7. Mandyooranup/Mandyuranup
    8. Margamangup/Margamongup
    The research has produced an interactive cultural map of these eight locations, UWA grounds and surrounds, which the team anticipates will be published on the UWA School of Indigenous Studies website.
  • View interactive map
  • Download research report

  • The researchers aim to further develop the essay for presentation and future publication.
  • Conference Presentation. Professor Len Collard incorporated findings in his presentation for The Indigenous Mapping Workshop held on 7 November 2018 at Google, Sydney. The workshop was delivered by Google in partnership with the University of Technology Sydney, Tarruru Pty Ltd, Digital Navigators Ltd, and the Firelight Group. It was the first Indigenous Mapping Workshop in Australia.
  • The researchers anticipate that the resources delivered from this project will be used as part of their future teaching. 

Research Impact

The research will inform future research into placename meanings – Nyungar and other Indigenous. The research team hopes that their triangulation model will provide a framework for future placename research and that their approach will direct future research in the area. More broadly, they anticipate greater understanding of Nyungar and Indigenous historical and contemporary culture and connection to country as demonstrated through placenames and their meaning.  

* Paulina Motlop left the university and withdrew from the project.

Image: Aerial view Derbal Yiragan/ Derbal Yarragon/ Derbal Yaragan. Courtesy of NASA.