Perceptions of the country
Original inhabitants
Before European contact
First contact with Europeans
After European contact
Native Title Today

First contact

Several colonial explorers of the 1860s noted in their journals, maps and photos that there were Aborigines in the Mongers Lake to Lake Moore region.

After a few attempts by Europeans to explore the country by themselves, Aboriginal guides were used to assist their survey and exploration work. This generally made travel through uncharted country safer by ensuring access to water. It also meant that the usual dried and salted food rations were supplemented with native game or bush foods and that usually (but not always) there were friendly relations with the inhabitants and contact was made with the families and tribal contacts of the Aboriginal guides.

The explorers with guides also recorded the Indigenous names of waters and landscape features. In the Badimia country which surrounds Charles Darwin Reserve, these names are often recorded with variations of the word-endings 'gabbi' or 'karpa'.

Contact between the Aboriginal inhabitants and the newcomers was, however, not always on such mutually co-operative terms.

19th Aug “…Saw three natives to-day, but could not catch one, as they saw me first, and made into the thickets in a most precipitate manner. Camp 11”

N.W. Cooke 1868 Journal of an expedition in search of land fit for pastoral use, to the eastward of the Upper Irwin, Extract from The Inquirer and Commercial News, Wednesday October 14, 1868, Exploration Diaries 1865-71 Vol 6 PR 5441 Battye Library

In 1868 the Monger brothers took Jimmy Mungaro and two other ‘natives’ as their guides and had easy passage through the country. Monger does not record having met anyone on the two-week journey through the region.

John Forrest in 1869, also using ‘Jemmy’ Mungaro as a guide, met with hostility in country further inland from Lake Moore, but contacts in the Lake Moore to Mongers Lake area were friendly, thanks to Mungaro. On 26th July 1869 Forrest’s party camped in the vicinity of what is now Lemon and Melon Well on Wanarra Station, about 8 km north of Charles Darwin Reserve:

Here we met two natives, whom we had seen on our outward track at the Warne Corroboree. They were of course friendly, and slept at our camp … They informed us that a native had come from the eastward with intelligence relating to the encounter we had with the large tribe on May 31, adding that we had all been killed, and that all the natives in this vicinity had cried very much on hearing the news.

John Forrest, Journal of proceedings of an exploring expedition in search of the late Dr Leichhardt and party, undertaken, by order of the Government of Western Austalia by John Forrest, Government Surveyor, 1869, in  Explorations in Australia  Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle, London, 1875

The next day at Damperwar Spring:

Met a party of friendly natives here.

Again, on the 28th July at Murrunggnulgo on the western side of Mongers Lake about 15 km west of Charles Darwin Reserve:

The native Jemmy, in company with some of his friends, stayed behind to-day in order to catch opossums, and did not join us this evening.

Further to the south-west of the reserve at Wandanoo on the 29th July:

Jemmy did not put in an appearance to-day, but sent on a native to say he would join us in a day or two.


One of the consequences of the first contacts between Aborigines and the British colonial explorers was the recording of tracks which enabled the country to be ‘opened up’ by the pastoralists. The colonial explorers depended on either finding or being shown these paths if they were to cross the country safely. Their diaries and routes indicate where some of the main tracks lay. Those without guides with local knowledge struggled to find their way through the thick shrublands in the region.

The aboriginal guides also provided the traditional names for landmarks and waters, and the explorers also made a few ethnographic observations.

Forrest was meticulous in recording the Indigenous names for the water supplies, a policy followed by subsequent government surveyors.

Records of those explorers suggest that a network of what were known as ‘native tracks’ surrounded Charles Darwin Reserve but did not appear to cross it. These tracks connected waterholes, soaks, springs and rockpools, where water could to be procured even in dry seasons, no more than a day’s walk apart. They wound their way through the clearer parts of the vegetation, avoiding the dense shrublands.

In 1868, J.H.Monger, guided by Jimmy Mungaro, followed a track from Lake Goorly on the southern edge of our area of interest through to the springs at Nyingaarn (Mt Singleton). It has been suggested that this was the route subsequently surveyed and mapped in 1887 by G.D. Robinson, from Jibberding Spring in a north-easterly arc through Karpa Spring and Beanthiny. Monger leaves no doubt that the ease of the party’s travel through otherwise dense country and across the salt lake barrier was entirely due to his Aboriginal guides.

“Sept.13, saw from an ironstone hill our destination – a large hill called by the natives ‘Ninghan’. Crossed with difficulty guided by the natives, a large salt lake, in which the horses sank deep into the sediment mud composed of gypsum and salt; should never have got through had it not been for the natives who were acquainted with the firmer tracks; camped at night in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm, with plenty of food and water.”

JH Monger, Extract from Perth Gazette and W.A. Times, October 9, 1868. Exploration Diaries Vol 6 1865-71 PR 5441 Battye Library

To the north of Charles Darwin Reserve a main track from Mt Singleton crosses Mongers Lake at Lucky Crossing and heads to Damperwah Spring on Karara Station. Both the Monger brothers and John Forrest followed this route, and soon after the springs along the way were taken up as the first pastoral leases in the region.  

To the west of Charles Darwin Reserve a track follows the eastern side of Mongers Lake, from Jibberding Spring to Kourigee Swamp and through the Dalgary Rockhole to Wanarra Rock. It became the Dalgary Road, which is now abandoned. A track branched off to the east and headed through Banawar Soak to the Whitewells homestead. Here a scatter of stone artefacts suggests the homestead creek held water at times and was a campsite.

To the east of Lake Moore a major crossing of the lake was marked by a line of standing stones across the lake bed. This crossing between springs on either side of Lake Moore was so well worn that it was misinterpreted from aerial photography and drawn on the official topographic map as a fence line.

After an excursion from Mt Singleton to Coodingnow Pool, the Mongers struck west from Mt Singleton across Mongers Lake at Weedagabby (Lucky Crossing) to Damperwah Hill and Spring. Monger’s site descriptions include Aboriginal names for waters and hills. It has not yet been determined which languages all these names originate from, and what they mean, and in some cases where they are, as Mongers’ route has not been confirmed. The Ninghan hill (Mt Singleton) is Nyingaarn the Echidna, in the language of the Nyoongar people to the south.

The next descriptions of the tracks in the area come from Surveyor John Forrest on his 1869 visit to the area. Forrest also had Mungaro as a guide. He approached Mt Singleton from the north, then struck out west following the Mongers’ route to Damperwah Spring then turned south along the western side of Mongers Lake via Murrunggnulgo South.

July 26th 1869 “ … Here we met 2 natives, whom we had seen on our outward track at the Warne corroboree, who were of course very friendly and slept at our camp. They had a great many dulgites and a opossum which they carried in a net bag, made out of the inner bark of the ordnance tree which makes a splendid strong cord.”

July 28th 1869 " … we encamped on a small grassy spot with plenty of water in granite rocks called Murrung-gnulgo, situated close to the west side of the lake, which I named Lake Monger. My native Jimmy stayed behind to-day in order to catch a opossum (in company with some of his friends) and did not join us this evening.

John Forrest, ibid

Unfortunately little more was recorded of the traditional owners’ vast knowledge and skills of living with country, and the newcomers learnt little from them, to the detriment of the land, and with the subsequent loss of much of that knowledge.

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