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Significance of wetlands to Aboriginal people

About this lesson

Students learn about the importance of wetlands to Aboriginal people and explore the history of wetlands in their local area.

Year level: 3, 4, 5

Theme: Water and the natural environment

Learning objectives

Students can:
  • discuss the importance of wetlands to Aboriginal People
  • investigate the history of wetlands in your local area
  • create a table of information.    

Curriculum links

Humanities and social sciences (geography)

  • The similarities and differences between places in terms of their type of settlement, demographic characteristics and the lives of the people who live there, and peoples perceptions of these places ACHASSK069
  • The importance of environments, including natural vegetation, to animals and people ACHASSK088
  • The influence of people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, on the environmental characteristics of Australian places ACHASSK112

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

  • OI.2: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities maintain a special connection to and responsibility for Country/Place throughout all of Australia.
  • OI.3: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have unique belief systems and are spiritually connected to the land, sea, sky and waterways.


  • OI.9 - Sustainable futures result from actions designed to preserve and/or restore the quality and uniqueness of environments.

Things you will need

Lesson description

Plan your lesson in consultation with Aboriginal staff or local community members. This lesson contains a fact sheet to be used as an example from a particular area of WA, but you may wish to make this lesson relevant to your local area. Please see our Western Australian Aboriginal language centre contact list.

Where possible invite Aboriginal parents/guardians or local Aboriginal groups to talk to students about the history of local stories and their relationship to wetlands.


  • As a class, identify and discuss names of wetlands in the Perth metropolitan, or your local area, and consider whether these names might be of Aboriginal origin (e.g. Mindarie Lake, Coogee Swamp and Nowergup Lake). Some other water bodies that have English names also have Aboriginal names such as Bibra Lake (Walliabup Lake) and Thomsons Lake (Jilbup Lake).
  • Read and discuss the History of Aboriginal people in the Wanneroo area fact sheet describing the importance of wetlands to these Aboriginal people. Focus on how these wetlands were used as meeting places during seasonal migrations of Aboriginal people.
  • George Grey led expeditions into the Wanneroo district in the summer if 1838. In his journals, he recorded what his expedition saw when they were resting for a night at Joondalup lake.  Read the following journal extract to the class:

    … they [local Aboriginal people] bought us a present twenty-seven fresh-water tortoises, the average weight of each was half a pound. They said that although the lake was called Moorloore, the land we were sitting on was Doonda-lup.

    We were sitting on a gently rising ground, which sloped away gradually to a picturesque lake, surrounded by wooded-hills – whilst the moon shone so brightly on the lake, that the distance was perfectly clear and we could distinctly see the large flocks of wild-fowl as they passed over our heads, and then splashed into the water, darkening and agitating it’s silvery surface.

    Source: S. Kennealy, Oral Histories of Wanneroo Wetlands: Recollections of Wanneroo Pioneers (Water Authority of Western Australia, 1994), p. 2


  • Ask students to sketch then paint the scene from the extract just read.
  • Create a table including: current name, variation(s), associations, suggested meaning, and importance of all the wetlands in the local area (or Perth if there are not enough local wetlands). For example Beenyup Lake means ‘digging place’ (abundant native potatoes).

    Useful reference for this part of the activity: A Noongar wordlist: from the south-west of Western Australia, compiled by Peter Bindon and Ross Chadwick, (2012).

Reflect & summarise

Discuss as a class how and why these wetlands need to be protected for the future.

Extension activities

Teacher background information

What is a wetland?

Wetlands are areas of land where water covers the soil, all year or at certain times of the year. They include: swamps, marshes, billabongs, lakes, lagoons, saltmarshes, mudflats, mangroves, coral reefs, bogs, fens, and peatlands.

Wetlands may be natural or artificial and water within a wetland may be static or flowing, fresh, brackish or saline. There are even underground wetlands.

Aboriginal significance

Wetland ecosystems are of material and cultural importance to Aboriginal people. Many have profound cultural significance and values.

Almost all wetland plant and animal species have some form of traditional use, particularly vegetation, crustaceans, fish, reptiles, mammals and waterbirds (particularly their eggs), or cultural significance, for example a totemic significance..

Wetlands with Aboriginal names
Many wetlands in Perth have Aboriginal names such as: Beenyup Lake, Gnangara Lake, Goolelal Lake, Joondalup Lake, Neerabup Lake and Pinjar Lake.


Did you know?

Wetlands can be made up of freshwater or saltwater.

Key vocabulary

  • Dreamtime: Time of the creation of the world in Australian Aboriginal mythology
  • Ecosystem: A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment
  • Migration: The movement of groups of animals from one region to another for feeding or breeding
  • Seasonally: Depending on the season
  • Totem: A natural object or animal that is believed by a particular language group to have spiritual significance and that is adopted by it as an emblem
  • Wetland: A low area where the land is saturated with water