Benedict von Bibra And The Story Of Bibra Lake

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.

References

  1. Bibra Lake, Western Australia. (2019). En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 31 July 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibra_Lake,_Western_Australia
  2. (2019). Vonbibra.net. Retrieved 31 July 2019, from http://www.vonbibra.net/files/TVBSChapt40001.pdf

Welcome to “Narma Kullarck” Boardwalk & Bird Hide

Narma Kullarck Boardwalk at twilight

The first thing everyone experiences as they enter the floating boardwalk after the winter rain is that sensation of walking on water – feeling the gentle swell and sway of the wetlands lapping around the boardwalk. And they carry this feeling in their spirit as they connect with nature and feed their souls on its beauty.

The floating pontoons afford a surreal view – tucked away in a thicket and emerging with the bird hide on Bibra Lake. Together, the boardwalk and bird hide, are shaped like the long neck and oblong shell (respectively) of our endearing oblong turtle. And the aerial view shows off the turtle’s form spectacularly. As a symbol, this is apt. Oblong turtles are native inhabitants here.

The boardwalk and bird hide have been named – “Narma Kullarck” – an Aboriginal Nyoongar phrase that means “family place”. And it is truly that. A place for people from all walks of life and all corners of community to intermingle and connect.

A place of meditation and exploration, where you can delve into the thriving environment and ecosystem, as well as find your roots, develop and strengthen your bond with nature. A celebration of our culture of inclusivity and openness. And an ode to the rich and vibrant Aboriginal heritage, the people on whose land the structure stands.

A satelite view of Narma Kullarck Boardwalk
An aerial view of the boardwalk, showing it’s distinct “Oblong turtle”-inspired shape.

 

Staying True to Aboriginal Values

The North Lake “Coolbellup” and Bibra Lake “Walliabup” sites within the Beeliar Regional Park have longstanding cultural and historical ties to the Aboriginal people.

Evidence collected from these sites has included more than 2000 artefacts made of clay, glass, quartz and fossilised sedimentary rock called “chert”. Of these fossiliferous chert dates back to the last ice age, more than 6000 years ago, when it could have been found on land that has since become the seabed. This evidence suggests that the sites are at least 5000 years old! To put this in context, the sites are older than the great pyramids.

The Narma Kullarck Boardwalk and Bird Hide have been constructed on Aboriginal heritage land. In order to maintain the sanctity of the ancient connection, in the initial planning phases, support was sought from the Aboriginal Community and the Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA).

The City of Cockburn initiated a consultation process that included inviting native title applicants and other senior members of the Aboriginal Community to share their views on the design, location and construction of the boardwalk and bird hide. Anthropological and archaeological reports were also commissioned in order to establish constraints.

 

Developing the Initial Plans

In 2008, the City of Cockburn engaged consultants to develop a plan for the development and management of recreational and conservation facilities at Bibra Lake. The council adopted the plan in early 2010. The plan was also subjected to full community consultation including consultation with the Wetlands Centre Cockburn, prior to adoption.

Very early on in the process, plans were altered to avoid sinking piles into the lakebed as this was considered unacceptable to Aboriginal beliefs and values. However, DIA gave permission to construct a floating boardwalk and a design for floating pontoon structures using prefabricated systems was approved.

A side view of the boardwalk's pontoons
A side view of the boardwalk pontoons showing passages enabling fauna movement

It was critical that the pontoons did not restrict fauna movement in any way. To meet this special requirement, a central access channel was designed to run underneath the entire length of the boardwalk. Numerous access points have also been incorporated for wildlife to move under the boards seamlessly.

The native paperbark wetland environment posed further challenges to the design, with poor site accessibility due to thick vegetation and its propensity for seasonal inundation. This meant that the contractors working on the project would need to be specialised with intimate knowledge of the wetland environment and an ability to work under varying conditions.

 

Project Specifics, Facts and Figures

Jarrah timber has been used for the decking. The timber decking is better (compared to GRP open grating) because it is more in keeping with the aesthetic surroundings of Bibra Lake. And the bird hide has been created out of recycled timber.

Image of kids dip netting for macroinvertebrates

The 70-metre-long floating boardwalk has been built as close to the ground as possible and is designed to lift with the water when the area floods. There aren’t any visually intrusive handrails, and at the same time, the boardwalk is wide and stable. At 2 metres wide it allows for easy access for wheelchairs and prams.

The bird hide includes viewing slots at both heights for children and adults on each of the three walls and there is ample bench seating everywhere – inside as well as outside.

There are wooden steps at a few places along the way that make working in the surrounding wetland possible for volunteers and staff during planting season. And there are metal steps at the bird hide that lead to the water’s edge for school children who come to visit the Centre during the school holidays and need to collect samples for their study.

The whole project cost a little under $650,000 to complete.

 

Opening Ceremony

The Narma Kullarck boardwalk and bird hide were officially opened on the 13th of October 2012, at a short mid-morning ceremony. The beautiful structure is a labour of love and hard work, staying true to every expectation.

Picture collage of Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk
Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk

As a family place, it reflects the hopes and dreams of Aboriginal Elder and Chairperson of the City of Cockburn’s Aboriginal Reference Group, Revd. Sealin Garlett. Traditionally, the site has served as a place for Aboriginal families to meet, gather and exchange knowledge. And it was his hope that the new boardwalk and bird hide would continue to serve the community in similar ways.

Together with Revd. Sealin Garlett, the City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett cut the ribbon. In our case (and appropriately so), it was a braid of red, yellow and black threads woven with gum leaves in place of the ribbon.

 

Narma Kullarck Today

Volunteers after a planting event
In high spirits: Volunteers form a “pot snake” after a huge revegetating event around the boardwalk

The boardwalk and bird hide are incredibly popular with the public who come here to appreciate nature, contemplate and rejuvenate.  The vegetation is thriving. And it isn’t hard to spot some wildlife – turtles, frogs, birds and bandicoots, casually enjoying Narma Kullarck too.

 

Link to Boardwalk Inaugural Picture Gallery: Courtesy, City of Cockburn.

References

Cockburn.wa.gov.au. (2012). Summary of Minutes of Ordinary Council Meeting Held On Thursday, 9 February 2012 At 7:00 pm. [online] Available at: https://www.cockburn.wa.gov.au/getattachment/4b883dd7-e570-44f2-990d-59660740a2ea/ecm_4205509_v1_minutes-ordinary-council-meeting-09-february-2012-pdf [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

NARMA KULLARCK (FAMILY PLACE) BIBRA LAKE RESERVE BOARDWALK & BIRD HIDE Project in Bibra Lake, WA – Cordell Connect. (2019). Cordellconnect.com.au. Retrieved 13 June 2019, from https://www.cordellconnect.com.au/public/project/ProjectDetails.aspx?uid=1295319

Shaw, M. (2013). The Urban Bush Telegraph. [online] Bushlandperth.org.au. Available at: https://www.bushlandperth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/UBTMay2013.pdf [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

Wahlquist, C. (2015). Indigenous site ‘older than pyramids’ in Perth freeway’s path taken off heritage register. the Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/23/indigenous-site-older-than-pyramids-in-perth-freeways-path-taken-off-heritage-register