Yagan Square in Central Perth [Western Australia] recognises Yagan, the son of Midgegooroo, the leader of the Beeliar tribe, a territory on the southern side of the Canning River and within the greater metropolitan area. He was born about 1800 but remembered only for his brief interaction with the British settlers who began taking up land at the Swan River in 1829. Yagan’s recorded history is limited to the years 1831 to 1833 yet since then, as seen in the bibliography filling the last pages of this booklet, he has generated more books, articles and letters to the Press than any other Indigenous Australian of the 19th Century. In the final months of his life he was described as the Wallace of his Age, a reference to the Scottish Patriot, William Wallace whose head was displayed in the London.
Yagan was shot for a reward by a boy he had welcomed as a friend and the preserved head was taken to England in 1834. The second part of this booklet covers the 20th century search for Yagan’s skull and its discovery and triumphant return to Western Australia.
The author, Dr Neville Green, first read about Yagan in 1961 and the following year completed a short thesis on the Aborigines of the Swan and Canning Rivers; Yagan’s territory. In the years since Aboriginal history has been a life study and in 2012 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his contribution to Aboriginal history and Aboriginal education.
Publisher: Focus Education Series
Publication date: 2016
I was drawn to this book because it was short and was about an aboriginal person I hadn’t heard of before. I thought that it would be a super quick read due to the fact that it was short but I was soon to be proven wrong. It may be a little book but it is so jam packed with information and details about Yagan and his family it leaves one wondering how so much can be included in such a short book.
I was really excited about reading this book once I began largely because it mentioned the Swan River, Midgegooroo and other familiar places in and around Perth. I was particularly interested in Midgegooroo because we have a couple of roads around where we live that are named after this man. This book covers the life of Yagan and his family from its humble beginnings to when they encountered white people and how that didn’t work very well, up to and including, the process of getting Yagan’s skull back from London and the debate that surrounded this and the matter of where the best place to position a sculpture of Yagan would be. As with anything like this there was political wrangling going on as well as the need to adhere to cultural beliefs and ways of doing things in order to ensure that the skull was collected by and brought back by the most suitable Aboriginal people.
The differences between the Aboriginal and white Australian communities, and the efforts of a number of people to make Yagan and his family known to the general populace, were highlighted very well in this short book and as a result the reader goes away with a better understanding of just one aspect of Perth’s history. This book takes a while to read mainly due to the denseness of its content even though it is broken up by pictures. The time invested in reading it though is well worth the effort.
Recommend for: Adults mainly