Thursday, April 8, 2010

Suburb No 30: La Perouse

It had to be La Perouse right? After Redfern and Waterloo had so successfully sparked my interest
in Aboriginal Sydney, I was hungry for more. So why La Pa? Well, despite being named after a 
Frenchman, it's "the only Sydney suburb where Aboriginal people have kept their territory from 
settlement until today, and its history is a story of the survival of culture in the face of European
invasion" (Dictionary of Sydney).

Translation: The British tried to kick them out on numerous occasions but failed. Not to say it's been
a walk in the park - far from it. But the Aboriginal people stuck it out and today there's a high
proportion living in La Pa who've been there for generations. Who, now that they don't live in fear
of being 'removed' while on their way to the shops for a loaf of bread, are quietly enjoying what
has to be one of Sydney's most naturally beautiful suburbs - the Pacific Ocean on one side, Botany
Bay beaches on the other, with masses of green in the middle thanks to a National Park and a golf
course. I don't know about the night life but five minutes in a car and you'd be somewhere with
bright lights for sure.

Some history (it's big, too big for this space, so if you're curious, check out that Dictionary of Sydney
entry). Okay, so the Kameygal were happily fishing away when one day (in 1788), Captain Phillip
swung into town. He wasn't impressed and continued north to Port Jackson. On his way out of Botany
Bay he met with a French ship who went on to spend a whole six weeks in the area. The name
of the navigator on this French ship? You guessed it - La Perouse. Nice in a way - although entirely
inappropriate given that this was Aboriginal land - because the poor man wasn't long for the world.
He and his entire crew, sunk, near Vanuatu on his way back to Europe.

Er, okay, so then, the British decided, crappy land but a good place to fend off any invaders.
So they built a watchtower and turned Bare Island into a fort (which would've worked had they
poured the correct amount of cement into the thing - they did not and it was a total disaster).

Around this time (1800s) if you got the pox or typhoid, you were sent to La Pa, isolated as it was
from the rest of the entire universe. Which must have been fun for the Aboriginal people, busy
fighting for their own survival. To begin with, most got the boot, with a few allowed to stay on a
special reserve. When they were all told to go, around the end of the 1800s and then again in the
1920s and 1960s, they just refused to budge. Finally in 1984 they got ownership and have lived
there ever since.

Today, day trippers come to La Pa to play tourist, fish, go scuba diving or just take in the scenery.
While they're enjoying a Mister Whippy ice-cream, they can watch the 'snake-man' do his thing
and maybe buy a boomerang, guaranteed to return to the thrower provided you throw the thing
correctly in the first place. (By the way, said snake-man, John Cann, from a long line of snake-men,
is only around for two more Sundays.)

Part 1: The French arrive - and leave shortly after - but not before naming the place

they did not

you are here

both landed on Frenchmans Beach, one long gone to the bottom of the sea

he could've done with the help of a few angels

Part 2: The British arrive - and build stuff

king of the castle

where everything's big except the people

the former Cable Station, now a museum

Bare Island

bare indeed

Part 3: Long traditions of snakes and boomerangs

red belly black snake

rainbow serpent :: 1

rainbow serpent :: 2

John Cann, snake man

Laddie Timbery, carrying on the tradition of his ancestors

all boomerangs made and flight tested by Laddie

Part 4: On Frenchmans Beach, an Aboriginal family I did meet

Jimmy runs a boat hire business on the bay. On the day I visited, it was school holidays, the sun was
out and there was no sign of autumn - so his kids and a few of their friends were beachside.

'Captain' Jimmy

Jimmy's 'fleet'

serious for only so long (Yareen, Shareen, Maui)

group hug


Jimmy and his two sons (Baree and little Jahra)

tiny beachcomber

summer in autumn (Ali Grace)

Looking at their photos now, I reckon I've photographed the three kids who were visiting for the day
(Ali Grace, Shareen and Yareen) before - in Surry Hills (the shot captioned, 'but old souls'). Weird how
I keep running into the same kids.

Part 5: Fish and birds

all set to go

 on the rocks

living off the land/ocean

catch anything?

sea eagle :: 1

A note about the image above. The beautiful Memorial Mosaic on the left-hand
side is called 'Spirit Soar'. Made with the school community at La Perouse Primary
School with community artists Angela Yeend, Ken Eminoni and Percy Cruz.

long shadows at the end of a long day


sea eagle :: 2

the Aboriginal and the Tongan Turtle

it was thiiiiiiiiiis big

Part 6: More hope

I met Illinya sitting outside on her house, fiddling with her mobile phone. She was so cool, calm
and collected - until she spotted her friends coming over to see what all the fuss was about.
Then she laughed madly - until I suggested I take a group shot - back to the composed Illinya.



strike a pose

three colours say so much

me, pick me, pick me!

Part 7: Ghosts from the past - the United Aborigines Mission

From what I've read, the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) was both a good thing and a bad thing
for the Aboriginal people. I stumbled on the old UAM building quite by accident. I think people
still live there but next door to it there's this old wooden church, the Colebrook Memorial Aboriginal
Evangelical Church. The ladies in the mission building told me it's been closed for ages but you can
see inside it through the broken glass - and it looks like it's been used yesterday. Spooky. The black
cat sitting right next to it just sealed the deal - ghosts, clearly.

the old mission


just hanging in there


Part 8: La Pa - place of old cannon balls and new shiny bullets

While Bare Island's cannons never saw any action, there's plenty of firing going on at nearby Cape Banks,
at the Sydney Pistol Club. As much as I dislike guns, I was intrigued when I drove past signs in the
national park, warning me to 'keep out' due to a 'pistol range'. I happened to visit when the Federal
Police were there - they kindly 'lent' me a gun and some bullets to photograph. The gun looked
too much like a toy and the whole atmosphere was eerie and odd. But at least I knew, if somehow
a bullet magically leapt into one of the guns and I was shot in the foot, I would probably be okay -
right next door being a 'Lifesaver Rescue' helicopter.

the car is shot

weapons, 100 years apart

your numbers up when it's up

Part 9: Two more things military

A beautiful piece of rust and a bus shelter in camoflauge (painted the same way as British ships
were in WW1 to confuse German U-boat torpedoists).

rusty beauty on Bare Island

the 'Razzle Dazzle Retreat'

Part 10: Two more blokes and a question

While in La Pa I met Gumaroy, an Aboriginal entertainer visiting from Moree. He explained how Aboriginal
people when they visit a place that isn't their home are still meant to ask the elders there for permission
to enter. Seems only polite really when you think about it.

Gumaroy from Moree, the other fella unknown

in uniform

his Maori totem, the hammerhead shark

if there could only be one, which one would you choose?

I'd never been to La Perouse before this week so I had no idea what to expect. But I certainly wasn't
prepared for how beautiful it is. Or how peaceful, which is kind of strange considering its history. But
there you are, with so much space around you, and so much sky above you, that you could easily forget
all your cares. Except one - do the Mister Whippy vans really re-freeze their ice-cream?

See you next week - somewhere north hopefully as it's been a while since we ended up on that point
of the compass.


  1. Louise, I feel like I've been right next to you as went through the day. What a great tour and with extras like snakes, boomerangs and a lot of history included. The artwork made a connection to the artwork and history of the First Nations people here in Canada and especially on this island I live on, Vancouver Island. So much common history. Love the seagull 2 shot, great motion, I do like seagulls.

  2. Oh Loooouiiiiise, you make me soooooooo hoooooooomesick!

  3. You have a wonderful eye and great connection to people. Great work and keep it up!

  4. Beautiful images Louise. The photographs of the children are gorgeous and Illinya is absolutely stunning. Can't wait for the next installment :)

  5. Helen - Interesting, the commonalities between them. And seagulls - often annoying but in La Pa's case, seemed more interested in flying free rather than stealing your chips.

    scream4noreason - Apologies, should I stop?!!

    Sylvia - Many thanks.

    iheartcamera - Thank you - and yes, the kids were fantastic - and Illinya, beautiful, but thankfully still such a kid too.


  6. I always love your posts, but IMO you've outdone yourself here. Some of these images are truly stunning. Thank you!

  7. Hi Louise. Absolutely gorgeous and inspired images and commentary. I love your work! Sam :)

  8. Beautiful, thank you Louise. I love the way you put it all together, I get totally immersed in it- Caroline

  9. Hi Louise, I've just done a post on your blog, over on my blog!

  10. Louise....

    I too have just put a signpost on my blog to come visit this excellent La Perouse post.


  11. Hi all - So glad you enjoyed this one. The history and the whole story has had my head spinning for days - still is really.

    And to Nat and Sophie, thanks so much for the blog love - it's always an honour to be posted on someone else's place.


  12. Hi Louise. Truly stunning - as always. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face. Not only that your images are beautifully shot, the story or meaning behind them is equally captivating.

    My favourites are "red belly black snake", "seagulls :: 3" and "if there could only be one, which one would you choose?". Looking forward to more masterpieces from you.

  13. Hi foodwink - Thanks so much - and I'm so happy to bring smiles to faces! Can I also tell you, that red belly black snake was WAY too close to my feet for my liking. Given I only use a wide angle lens on my shoots for the blog, I had to get uncomfortably close to it to get a shot - and this was outside the normal enclosure so he free to whip over to me if he'd felt like it. Creepy!


  14. This is your best post yet, in my opinion, you really tell the story so well. Great stuff.

  15. so fantastic. i love the way you edit your photos, the colours and the subjects. i live in maroubra so this was nice and close to home.

  16. I love the "Tiny Beachcomber" shot the most, but it all inspired me to want to pay it a visit as I have never been there either!

  17. sue rosly - Thanks so much - it's a subject that's pretty complex and challenging - but meeting some of the young Aboriginal kids gives you hope for the future.

    leanne1966 - Thank you. Maroubra is so close to La Pa yet so different - but then pretty much any other Sydney suburb is different to La Perouse.

    Indigo2087 - That little bub is very sweet indeed. Yes, go visit! (Snake man's last Sunday this week too).


  18. One of your very best Louise, thank you once again! I've just made my lunch and have settled in here to do a bit of a catch up which makes me feel a tad slack while you are out there and just doing it! :-)
    I thought I knew La Pa, as you call it, I did my nursing training at Prince Henry Hospital at Little Bay, as did my mother before me... but you have given me a whole new outlook on La Pa and I will revisit one day very soon! cheers Pennie
    P.S. PHH had a Leper Colony right down near Little Bay Beach, most of the patients were from Darwin, I don't think we have any Colonies in Aus any more. P.

  19. Hi Louise,

    it's interesting that Gumaroy's cap is embroidered with "Burramatta," yet he is from Moree. I'm not Aboriginal by any stretch, but I was under the impression that "Burramatta" was the traditional name for Parramatta.

    Anyway, your work here is, again, entertaining, enlightening and inspirational!


  20. Pennie - Thanks for all your great comments recently. Love the way you've lived or worked in so many of the suburbs I'm visiting. By the way, the old hospital site (now closed for years) is really spooky. There's a small museum in one of the buildings - I would've visited but even the two people who 'run' it were a little freaky!

    Nick - Thank you and yep, Burramatta does mean Parramatta - even though he's actually from Moree I guess he just liked it.


  21. Hi Louise
    I live in the area and LOVING your commentaries, I especially love the "Tongan turtle" as yes, I'm Tongan. Keep up the great work and I always visit your blog when I want to travel somewhere else, it reminds me of all the great suburbs I'm yet to discover right here in my backyard! Thank you!

  22. Hi Nasi
    Thank you, so happy you're enjoying your armchair travels!


  23. King of the castle
    Bare Island

  24. just to tell you i'm ali-grace from summer in autumn just felt like saying your photo's are fanstastic

  25. no pictures of happy valley or diving for coins at pier oh how i remember the humpies life was good