19, June 2019   By: Wendy Caccetta

If you think you know all there is to know about our city, think again.

Local Aboriginal leaders Walter and Meg McGuire take visitors and locals back in time to the peak of the Noongar nation on cultural tours which have been named the best in the country.

Take away the buildings and imagine the land Perth city sits on as an ancient paradise of lakes, springs and wildlife, a jewel of the Noongar nation and a meeting place for the different tribes that comprised it.

There are ochre pits and burial grounds and life moves to the six seasons of the Noongar calendar.

Noongar Whadjuk leader Walter McGuire, 57, and his wife Meg help people to forget the office blocks and instead journey back to these early times which was lost to the Noongar people when Britain formed its Swan River colony on the same spot in 1829. 

Their tours, Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences, have been growing in popularity as more people look to find out about Australia's indigenous history and also took out the national gong this year when they won the gold medal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism at the 2018 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards in Tasmania.

McGuire is pleased with the success.

"It's about telling the Noongar story, the first story about the kings and queens and the old people who stood here prior to colonisation-settlement-invasion of Noongar lands by the British.

"I think the world is keen to know more about the Aboriginal culture," he says.

Walter McGuire giving a tourWalter McGuire on one of his tours

Noongar Perth

The homelands of McGuire’s ancestors included what is now the Perth CBD and stretched south to Fremantle, west to Rottnest, north to Joondalup and east towards Toodyay, in the broader Noongar lands of WA’s south-west.

The McGuires first began running their signature 1.5 hour walking tour at Elizabeth Quay (Goomup) back in 2016, catering to international and domestic travellers looking for cultural experiences.

They’ve since expanded to includes tours through Yagan Square (Goologoolup), Kings Park (Karr-gatup) and Rottnest Island (Wadjemup), and they're finding more locals booking too, wanting to become acquainted with our past.

McGuire's wife Meg is from the Kungarakan people of the Northern Territory's Finniss River but has lived most of her life in WA. She says the Perth CBD sits on what was a centre of Noongar life. 

"It's built on a vast number of inland lakes, small lake systems," she says. "It was rich in water, underground water as well as surface water. There was wildlife, the flora and fauna you can still see a bit of that remaining.

"I remember Walter years ago said 'The old Entertainment Centre, that was built on one of our freshwater holes'. His description of it was that cement was poured down its throat."

Across the city at Yagan Square, McGuire conducts one-hour talks dedicated to Noongar heroes such as the warrior Yagan who played a key role in early resistance to British rule back in 1833. After he was murdered, his head was sent to England where it remained until 1997 when it was returned to his people. 

At Kings Park, people learn about the Mt Eliza escarpment and its spiritual significance in a 1.5-hour tour that also includes a Noongar welcome, ochre ceremony, Dreamtime stories and songs. 

Walter giving a tour on RottnestWalter McGuire conducting a tour on Rottnest Island

The new 90-minute walking tour of Rottnest Island covers the island's place in the pre-Colonial Noongar world as well as its comparatively recent and sad history as an Aboriginal jail. 

"We tell the Noongar story of that island and the creation story of that island," McGuire says. "Wadjemup, Ngooloormayup and Meeandip. They are the three islands known as Rottnest Island, Carnac and Garden Island.

"Those islands were part of the mainland and the old people, where the ocean is today, actually walked on that land.

"So we tell the Noongar story, which is overshadowed by that shorter period of 100 years, but a very sad and harsh story of it being a prison from 1838 to the 1930s and how about 4000 Aboriginal men were incarcerated."

Growing up with culture

McGuire was born in Beverley and raised in the wheatbelt town of Kellerberrin, went to high school in Mount Lawley, got a degree in Applied Science in Aboriginal community management at Curtin University and then put that to good use as deputy chief executive officer of a 120-person Aboriginal medical centre in Kalgoorlie.

As a child he spoke his traditional language before English and culture was always a big part of family life, passed down through the spoken word. "The old people always talked," he says.


Walter giving a tour on RottnestWalter McGuire leading a tour on Rottnest Island


Meg McGuire also grew up with pride in her culture and a strong bent towards education. She says her mother was devoted to preserving and recording the traditional language of the Kungarakan, while her father was a headmaster. She has followed in their footsteps, putting her degree in Library and Information Science to use researching and recording the oral and written histories of the Noongar nation.

The couple had always dreamed of running tours where they could share the stories and culture, but waited until their two daughters were grown before starting the business.

On the tours, they make a point of sharing both the good and the confronting, such as the prohibition that prevented Aboriginal people from entering Perth without a permit from 1927 to 1954 and the lasting effects of the Stolen Generations where authorities forcibly removed children from their families.

"The city of Perth was prohibited for Aboriginal dwelling and habitation and traversing across the city without a permit until 1954, officially, but then it lingered a long way past that," says Meg McGure. "In the 70s Walt was told by his father 'Don't go into the city'. His father still had the impression that Aboriginal people weren't welcome in the city.

A tour at Yagan SquareWalter conducting a tour at Yagan Square

"It doesn't just stop on the day they repeal that law. It keeps on reasoning for a generation after. We might be in the 2000s, but this journey is still fresh."

However, running these tours and sharing the stories are part of the way we can begin to heal, says McGuire.

"It would be beautiful if the Old People (ancestors) could hear what we say," he says. "The story that we tell about them every time we do a tour...It's cathartic for us to know we are honouring our Old People by telling their story."

Tours range in price from $40 for a one-hour tour up to $120 for an extended three-hour tour. For more information visit http://gocultural.com.au

Photos supplied to RAC WA by Go Cultural Tours

RAC's commitment to reconciliation

Along with many other West Australians and organisations, RAC supports and continues to work towards reconciliation with our First People so we can work together for a better WA.