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In Praise of Mokare the Peace Maker

The brig Amity  Photo, Albany, Australia

This is the story of Albany’s early history and the critical part played in its founding by Mokare a Noongar Aborigine. He held the respect of both his people and the British colonists. The information presented here comes from various sources including the Western Australian Museum in Albany and the plaque on the memorial statue of Mokare set up in his honour in the centre of Albany.

Exploration of the coastline by Europeans around what is now the regional centre of Albany began in 1627, when Dutchman Pieter Nuyts sailed the 'Gulden Zeepaardt' through the Great Australian Bight. Later explorers included George Vancouver who entered in 1791 and named King George III Sound. A decade later Matthew Flinders arrived here and, in 1803, Nicholas Baudin sailed his ship into King George III Sound, leading one of several French expeditions to the area. By the 1820s whalers and sealers working the Southern Ocean also visited the area. Frenchman Dumont D'Urville's visit in 1826 caused the British to formalize their possession of the area to prevent the French from doing so.

On the 9th of November 1826, Major Edmund Lockyer with convicts, soldiers, a surgeon and storekeeper, left Sydney aboard the brig Amity bound for King George III Sound. The Amity was a 148 ton two masted ship used in several notable voyages of exploration and settlement in Australia in the early nineteenth century before she broke up on a sandbar during a gale. The Western Australian Museum of Albany has a full size replica of her.

The Amity arrived on Christmas Day 1826. Lockyer selected the site now known as Albany for the crown and thus formed the first Western Australian settlement there - three years before the Swan River colony at Perth. Mokare a Noongar Aboriginal man from the south-west corner of Australia assisted the colony in its early development. He was a frequent visitor to the settlement and stayed with the government resident, Dr Alexander Collie.

He showed the Europeans the walking trails the Noongar people used and maintained. Many of these eventually became the roads of the region. He became a close friend of the surgeon-assistant J. S. Nind, with whom he often visited. In December 1829 Mokare guided Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson's overland expedition during which Wilson named Mount Barker and Mount Lindsay as well as Hay River, Denmark River and Wilson Inlet. Two months later Mokare served again as the guide for Captain Barker's expedition over the same area.

Mokare acted as a peacemaker, and an effective mediator between black and white communities. He died on 26 June 1831. The Aborigines and Europeans assembled at Collie's house and walked to a site selected by Mokare where the Europeans dug a grave and buried him with a buka cloak and personal artefacts. Collie died of tuberculosis four years later and had his dying wish to be buried alongside Mokare granted. Their graves are together beneath Albany Town Hall. A statue of Mokare now stands in the centre of Albany in honour of his peacekeeping role.

During the 1830’s Albany became the showplace of race relations. Fifty years later relations in Albany with the Aboriginals had weakened with conflict reached a peak as the local authorities turned a blind eye to massacres and mass murderers by the colonists. Disease also took its toll of the Aborigines. However now they are claiming back their rights!

At the Western Australian Museum in Albany you can see the Residency Building which was once the settlement’s convict hiring depot. Inside you can study the stories of the Noongar people and Albany’s natural history and biodiversity. The museum also has an early one teacher school and the Cooperative Building which was once the centre of life in the town of Mount Barker. As well as a replica of the brig Amity there is the Welcome Walls Albany which praise the many migrants who arrived through the port of Albany. Its design reflects the original town jetties.

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