Following freedom fighter Fanny’s footsteps through the city of Perth

Fanny Balbuk Yooreel
Fanny Balbuk Yooreel © State Library of Western Australia

I have just walked in the footsteps of Perth resistance fighter Fanny Balbuk Yooreel. 

Born around 1840, the Indigenous Whadjuk woman has been raised from obscurity by the National Trust of WA with an ingenious walk trail around Perth. 

Fanny has also been included in this year’s inductees for the Western Australian Women’s Hall of Fame. She is now getting the recognition she deserved for her and her people.

The National Trust of WA says Fanny is remembered: “for her unwavering commitment to maintaining her land rights in the earliest days of the frontier wars in Western Australia.”

Most West Australians would know very few early-day Indigenous names outside the legendary Yagan. But that is changing as we recognise and bring to light more about our State’s true history, largely ignored or glossed-over in our education.

Fanny, Yagan’s niece, walked through the developing Perth city “regardless of any new obstacles, buildings or fences which would spring up in her path as the colony grew.”

Daisy Bates, friend of Aborigines, wrote: “One of her favourite annoyances was to stand at the gates of Government House, reviling all who dwelt within, in that the stone gates guarded by a sentry enclosed her grandmother’s burial ground.” 

Noongar Elder Noel Nannup said: “She just kept going and didn’t take any notice of the new city going up. That’s a story of defiance and determination.” 

National Trust WA released a walk map to mark the 110th anniversary of the 1907 death of arguably Perth’s most important and uncelebrated Whadjuk woman.

The public is invited to walk the path of Fanny through the Perth landscape and connect to this unique city in new ways with eight venues.

1. Perth Railway Station, built in 1881, constructed over wetlands that were a key source of food collected by Fanny (eggs, turtles and freshwater crayfish) and drained in the 1840s to alleviate flooding in the colony. 

2. Liddelow Butcher, Murray Street. Fanny was arrested, fined and jailed many times for disorderly behaviour. Fanny told the court that her employer, Mr Liddlelow, would pay the fine.

3. Bon Ton Café. Fanny was invited to tea by Daisy Bates, self-taught anthropologist, at Bon Ton Cafe in Hay Street during their city walks (two plates of cakes were consumed). Information given to Bates by Fanny later supported Noongar Native Title claims.

4. City of Perth Library. Fanny is recognised in a range of quilts by WA Inspired Art Quilters, also showing historic locations, maps, flora, fauna and bush tucker.

5. 57 Murray Street. From this building, the Chief Protector of Aborigines controlled the lives of Aboriginal people.

6. Colonial Hospital, Murray Street. Fanny died here in 1907, aged about 67, from cardiac failure, with husband Doolby by her side. She was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

7. Government House. Fanny protested outside the gates here “cursing those within.” Her great grandmother, Moojurngul, is buried here, a recognised Aboriginal site.

8. Bishop’s Grove, St Georges Terrace. The west central business district is linked to the resting place of Fanny’s grandmother, Yabben. During building works in 1938, “a skull, yellowed with age, was discovered.”

According to Whadjuk Ballardong elder Theresa Walley: “Fanny was an angry woman because everything in this life was taken from her family, her country, her lifestyle… especially her lifestyle, the way she wanted to live, was taken from her.”

For more information visit National Trust WA