Looking at Bibra Lake so full and brimming as we approach the end of winter, it immediately fills us with a sense of peace and tranquillity. The splendid birdlife, the abundant wildlife, the gentle sway of the rushes and the lush bushland beyond it – everything is picturesque and endearing.
For a host of others, from the Aboriginals – the traditional custodians who consider it sacred, to the later-day inhabitants who enjoy its rich bounty, Bibra Lake has always held special significance.
The Beeliar Tribe used the surrounds as an important camping site and archaeological evidence demonstrates that the area had been under Aboriginal use going as far back as 5000 years ago. A site older than the Great Pyramids! Indeed, the mythology of the ‘Waugal’ – the rainbow serpent, and dreamtime tales of the ‘Spirit Children’ have long been associated with this beautiful land.
There is also a great geographical significance. The Beeliar wetlands formed the major links for the journey along the coast providing shelter, fresh water, food and safety from the elements.
Around the 1800s the European settlement was taking effect. This impacted the local Aboriginal population that receded drastically. Soon traditional lands became land grants to new settlers.
In 1830 George Robb received 2000 acres of land through a land grant. His area stretched from Cockburn Road up to North Lake. Alongside Robb’s land, Benedict von Bibra was granted 320 acres in what is now a part of the suburb of Bibra Lake.
In this article, we sketch a picture of life around Bibra Lake in those days. We knit you a yarn about Benedict von Bibra and how our beautiful lake got its name – from Walubup, Walliabup, Bibra’s Lake, to now simply Bibra Lake.
About Benedict von Bibra
Benedict von Bibra came from Van Diemen’s Land to settle in the Swan River Colony in the early 1830s. His first impression of Perth was not favourable as it was still a relatively raw and rustic settlement. And his hopes of farming and earning his living by working the land were soon dashed when he found sand instead of soil everywhere.
However, that was not the only skill he carried! During his early days at “Coburg” (the name of von Bibra’s childhood home and property in Van Diemen’s Land), he had helped build the house and several outbuildings and had found a natural ability and inclination for carpentry. This was handy indeed as carpentry was a skill very much in demand those days.
He used the money he had collected from the sale of Coburg to establish a business together with a partner. But the arrangement was unsuccessful and the partnership dissolved in 1834.
During this period of dejection and loneliness, Benedict met Matilda Sarah Flaherty. After a brief courtship, Benedict married Matilda in April 1836 and the couple settled down in Perth. They had their first child in 1837 and named him Louis Edward. In 1838, they had a daughter, named Matilda after her mother and lovingly called Tilly, and in 1839, another son, James.
Benedict had found that he was especially adept at making shingles, an art the other carpenters were not particularly good at. He took this as a sign, putting all his energy in this direction to build a successful business. He had hit the mark and the business expanded swiftly.
In 1841 Benedict opened a new branch of his carpentry business in Fremantle together with a partner. This was also the year when he and Matilda lost their 4th child, Edwin William, who died of dysentery when only five months old.
A Little Bit of History
Little was known about the lake’s existence by European settlers before A. C. Gregory who chanced upon it while conducting a survey of George Robb’s land in May 1842. Gregory noted the Aboriginal name of the lake as “Walubup”.
A year later, in the summer of 1843, Benedict von Bibra conducted a survey of his own land that lay towards the southern shore. Benedict had bought this land to use for camping and to shorten his trip between his two businesses in Perth and Fremantle. That same year, Matilda and Benedict had another daughter. They named her Helen Amelia.
As he surveyed, he noticed that there was a feature – a wide depression at the edge of his land. He assessed from the stringybark trees that this basin would transform into a lake during winter months and that rainwater would fill it to a depth of seven to eight feet. He was right of course and this account gives us the historical verification that Bibra Lake has been a seasonal wetland for at least a hundred years.
He used the Aboriginal name “Walliabup” (‘up’ means place) for the lake and this version was used extensively for more than half a century. Von Bibra’s association with “Walliabup” was fondly recalled by locals who referred to the feature as “Bibra’s Lake”. The alternative name “Bibra Lake” was eventually adopted in place of the original name.
Life Around Bibra Lake
Between 1850 and 1870 development continued to occur all around Bibra Lake. Smaller lots of 10 to 40 acres became the norm towards the east of the lake and more substantial holdings occurred towards the south and north.
In 1848, Benedict’s household grew further to include another son whom they called Charles Frederick. Frances, nicknamed Fanny, was born sometime later and was their last child together. Matilda died in 1857 at only thirty-seven years of age.
Throughout the 1800s Bibra Lake came to be known as a local agricultural hub. Wheat, oats and maize crops were planted. The dairy industry was booming. Horse and cattle farming were fairly popular. Market gardeners, many of them Chinese, found lease opportunities from local landowners and thrived on the land allocated to them. Local vineyards and orchards also developed.
Considering the ever-growing popularity of the Bibra Lake foreshore, in 1898 the Fremantle District Roads Board declared Bibra Lake to be a reserve for recreational purposes only and actively opposed all applications to lease land. Tearooms were erected and the Reserve became a popular venue for picnics and sports gatherings. With these changing conditions, several of the activities – enterprises as well as farms, gradually relocated to better suited and more accessible areas.
In the 1970s the EPA identified Bibra Lake as an important recreational and conservation area and it was eventually rezoned for Parks and Recreation in the Metropolitan Region Scheme.
Today, Bibra Lake is the centrepiece of the Beeliar Regional Park. It has a Regional Playground, the Wetlands Centre and Native ARC and an Aboriginal Cultural Centre is planned for the near future. It is an important conservation category wetland where nature and wildlife coexist in the midst of a rapidly developing urban landscape. For many people, Bibra Lake is a quiet escape from city life – a quick getaway, a place to reflect and reconnect with nature.
- Bibra Lake, Western Australia. (2019). En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 31 July 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibra_Lake,_Western_Australia
- (2019). Vonbibra.net. Retrieved 31 July 2019, from http://www.vonbibra.net/files/TVBSChapt40001.pdf