Aboriginal people of the Dampier Archipelago
Aboriginal people knew the Burrup as Murujuga, meaning ‘hip bone sticking out’. The group inhabiting the Dampier Archipelago and the adjacent mainland are usually called the Yaburara. These people were part of the Ngarluma group in both language and culture. Although William Dampier anchored off one of the islands and saw smoke in 1699, it was Philip Parker King’s mapping expedition that first encountered Aboriginal people in 1818. The first sustained contact was not until 1861 when F.T. Gregory's ship the Dolphin anchored at Hearson Cove for nearly three months and Gregory established a base from which to explore the Pilbara.
European pastoral settlement in the region proceeded rapidly as a result of Gregory’s reports and the Dampier Archipelago became a base for whaling and pearling. Aboriginal people were exploited as indentured labour, and this, together with introduced diseases, had a devastating impact on their society. In 1868, the spearing of a police officer led to reprisal raids by a force of police and settlers, sworn in as special constables. This resulted in the deaths of men, women and children. We do not know the final death toll in what became known as the Flying Foam Massacre—it was certainly more than the five to ten of the official accounts and estimates range from 30 or 40 dead to more than 100. Whatever the number, the impact on the community was undoubtedly catastrophic. As a result, the Yaburara no longer exist as a distinct group, although some Aboriginal people in the region identify as Yaburara descendants. The Yaburara were also closely linked to neighbouring groups through family relationships and ceremonial ties.
Despite the destruction of Yaburara people, Ngarluma people, living now mainly in Roebourne, retain strong cultural associations with the Dampier Archipelago. The neighbouring coastal Mardudunera also have traditional links with the area, as do the Yindjibarndi whose country is mainly further inland.
There is no doubt that the Dampier Archipelago is part of a living cultural tradition. Aboriginal people believe that the petroglyphs are the work of the marga—ancestral creator beings—in the Dreaming. They are a permanent reminder of the Law and retain their spiritual power. Looking after the petroglyphs is an inherited and ongoing responsibility. Pilbara people have songs and mythology for many of the images depicted in petroglyphs on the Dampier Archipelago, as well as on the mainland and Depuch Island. Many of the images have cultural meaning over and above straightforward depictions and would likely have played a role in education and initiation.
Three overlapping Native Title claims in the Pilbara include the Dampier Archipelago. However, the Federal Court determined in 2003 that native title no longer exists over the Dampier Archipelago. The Native Title claimants have been in protracted negotiation with the State Government over industrial development on the Burrup Peninsula and a mediated agreement was reached in January 2003 (Burrup and Maitland Industrial Estates Agreement). This resulted in transfer of part of the Burrup to the Native Title claimants for joint management with the Department of Conservation and Land Management under a lease-back arrangement. Significant resources were also committed for developing a management plan and for management and development of visitor facilities, and for employment and training opportunities for the Aboriginal community.