Ngoolarks have high cultural significance

This page presents information from engagement activities in 2022 and 2023 as part of the Keep Carnaby’s Flying – Ngoolarks Forever project, to hear and share Elders’ and senior Noongar people’s perspectives on the cultural significance of Ngoolarks (Carnaby’s cockatoos). The page was developed by Barb Hostalek, the project’s Cultural Engagement Lead. All quotes from Elders and seniors are presented in their own spoken words.


Cultural sensitivity warning

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this page may include the words and names of deceased persons.


Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honor their Elders past and present. We respect their deep enduring connections to their lands, waterways and surrounding kinship systems since time immemorial. We cherish the richness and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the expression of their cultural values.


Keep Carnaby’s Flying – Ngoolarks Forever is taking place on various strong and healthy boodjar (lands) of the Whadjuk and Bindjareb Noongar people, and honours the participation and sharing of Elders and Senior Noongar people’s perspectives on the significance of Ngoolarks.

baby carnaby

Noongar perspectives on the significance of Ngoolarks

The information below is from this project’s cultural engagement workshops, and is offered in support of grassroots community action to advocate for the survival of Ngoolarks. This information may also inform any agencies, organisations and groups which are interested to collaborate with Noongar perspectives and work together to help change Ngoolarks’ status as an endangered species.

Diversity of views and stories

Keep Carnaby’s Flying – Ngoolarks Forever acknowledges the efforts of the Ngangk Yira Institute for Change Elders Council and Winjan Aboriginal Corporation delegates in sharing perspectives of the cultural significance of Ngoolarks for Noongar people. We recognise that there is a lot of diversity within Aboriginal cultures, and appreciate that within Noongar Nations, there is diversity of culture and knowledge. We respect the views and stories shared by Noongar people as belonging to them, handed down from their families before them.

Noongar Elders are knowledge holders and knowledge keepers

Noongar Elders have significant responsibilities to share Noongar culture, and are the custodians of culture. They are wise people within the Noongar community who have been identified as having cultural knowledge and who can speak with authority and contribute to decision-making within the community, as well as performing ceremonies such as Welcome to Country for spiritual health and wellness.

Ngoolarks live on Noongar boodjar (country)

Noongar Country is “beautiful Country” (kwobidak boodjar). It is an internationally-recognised Global Biodiversity Hotspot, and the only home of the Ngoolark.

"I grew up learning about the struggles my parents went through to keep us happy, strong and healthy. Our feet were always on the ground – Mother Earth, our Boodjar"

Janet Hansen, Noongar Elder (cited in the book ‘Ngangk Waangening’; 2021, pg. 43) 


“Very important to know Country, know Noongar Country. get out on Noongar Country and look at things. Learn skills relevant to Noongar Country…birds and animals of this Country, Noongar Country.”

Mort Hansen (Noongar Elder; Elders Yarning Circle; 2023)


Saving Ngoolarks means saving Country

Noongar people have occupied and managed their lands, home of waters, sky and animals, for over 45 000 years. During Keep Carnaby’s Flying – Ngoolarks Forever engagement activities, the Elders from Ngangk Yira Council of Elders and Winjan Aboriginal Corporation expressed concern and support to save Ngoolarks by saving the last remaining bushlands and woodlands, planting more trees as homes and food sources for the birds, and leaving old forests alone. They expressed concern that mining and land clearing should not include ongoing loss of places for Ngoolarks to live. The Elders spoke of the need to listen, to watch and to learn from the past, mindful of actions now, so that future generations of people and animals can live safely.

For more information on Noongar Country, with an interactive map, please visit the South West Land and Sea Council website

Cultural significance of Ngoolarks

Birds have multiple meanings. Aboriginal people recognise the visits of birds, and their numbers and interconnections with other signs, as spiritual messengers informing the ‘passing’ or ‘life’ of people or children. Birds can also be a family (moort) totem or guardian, so that a family or person has delegated responsibilities for the care and wellbeing of the bird and its habitat. This requires that certain responsibilities and duties must be maintained to ensure the longevity, health and wellness of the bond. To see harm, loss or death of these animals can be a sign of detriment to health and wellbeing of people, as one is not independent of the other.

“…birds have special meanings…like the djiti djiti [willie wagtail]. You know. All our mob know that whenever the djiti djiti comes either bring a message, you know could be sad, something sad or something. So that’s all part of our culture.”

Doreen Nelson (Whadjuk/Ballardong Elder, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


“…we always got kulbardis, djiti djitis, waardongs, you know, you name it they are there.”

Mort Hansen (Noongar Elder, Elders Yarning Circle 2023) 


The meanings of Ngoolarks

Ngoolarks as rain carriers

“You know, you know years ago, years ago, I was told that when black cockatoos flew south they brought rains, and when they moved went flew back north they took the rain away, but unfortunately now that’s not happening.”

Franklyn Nannup (Noongar Elder and Winjan Aboriginal Corporation Director, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


A sign of changing seasons

Ngoolarks may signify important seasonal changes, such as the movement of salmon to feed the family, or the start of rain, or location of water.

“Growing-up with black cockatoos, I can’t imagine not seeing them around.  I’ve always seen them around, always heard them.  When you first hear them, it’s around Easter time. It used to tell me, the salmon are coming around to where I am in Mandurah. They tell me that. But now I’ve noticed them [the salmon] down on the flatlands more and earlier, and they seem confused.”

Franklyn Nannup (Noongar Elder and Winjan Aboriginal Corporation Director, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


“Ngoolarks tell Noongar people about the six Noongar seasons. Traditionally, everything needed to be done cyclically, listening to and working with the seasons, to understand the patterns of flora and fauna, and water distribution.  Noongar people consider the presence and the absence of all animals and plants together. The interrelationship with the six seasons is pivotal to survival and living with the land – all matters are considered holistically, inclusive of respect for the environment, reciprocity and sharing of resources.”

George Walley (Bindjareb Noongar Elder and Winjan Board Director, Elder Yarning Circle 2023)


Ngoolarks, spirituality, and ‘how things came to be’

“…They’re very clever. [and] it’s about the fact that spirituality of the bird has been lost and we need to revive that …who are sharing these stories.”

Marie Taylor (Whadjuk/Ballardong Elder, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


Noongar people have been sharing stories for millennia on ‘how things became to be’. Noongar man Derek Nannup (DBCA Education Officer, Yanchep National Park) shares the “Tail of two cockies”

“Karrak the red-tailed black cockatoo acquired its red tail markings on the tail from Ngo-lak [Ngoolark], the white tailed Carnaby’s cockatoo. Tradition says that Ngo-lak was trying to defend a dingo which was attacking Djitty djitty the willy wagtail. Mulal the swamp hen was feeding at the time on a sedge, the roots of which ooze red sap, and he cut a reed and struck Ngo-lak across his back. When Ngo-lak spread his tail to defend his back, Mulal threw lumps of red sap at his tail. Ngo-lak became so hoarse from screaming that he could only vocalize "karrak" instead of the Carnaby’s' call of "wola" and turned into Karrak, the red-tailed black cockatoo.”

Sharing stories to learn about the birds

“We all come from different parts of this Country. We know our Country, we know the animals of our Country…But these birds we want to learn, learn, learn.”

Jade Maddox (Senior Bindjareb Woman, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


Importance of Ngoolark conservation

“Once they’re gone, you can’t get them back”.

Franklyn Nannup (Noongar Elder and Winjan Aboriginal Corporation Director, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


Conversation between Franklyn Nannup and Brett Hill (Noongar Elders and Winjan Board Directors; Elders Yarning Circle 2023)

Brett Hill: “The challenge to all families, households… We all go camping, go bush… How do we first connect, what do we hear, if we listen? And if some of that natural environment is gone…”

Franklyn Nannup: “[then] you hear nothing…”

“So the challenge is to look at all development, [even at] schools, home, before you cut down a tree. Think about the significance of that tree, to our kookaburras, to the Carnaby’s, to our birds. If they’re gone, it’s all gone. So the challenge is to plant a tree. Think twice.”

“The black cockatoo, one with a red tail, one with a white tail. Seeing them fly around is a normal part of life growing up as a kid and now as an adult. Their welfare is a grave concern, their lifestyle being impacted on by the destruction of the land whether it’s through development for housing, suburbia. The Southwest is a precious place on the planet, with animals and plant life and we as Noongar people have been here 50 000 years in human existence. Our intention here is to remind people that ‘how we have managed’ the land has been second to none.”

George Walley (Noongar Elder and Winjan Board Director, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


Noongar people caring for Country and showing love for boodjar by giving back

“I went out, me and my wife was out there with the Activating the Wheatbelt mob [revegetation NGO] and then in one week we planted over 200 000 trees.”

Mort Hansen (Noongar Elder, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


Ngoolark conservation, connection to country, and links to health and wellness

“Our spiritual health, our health and wellbeing – all of that connected with the land and connected to plants, sky, water ways. Everything you see and experience from growing up right through to adult is part of it.”

George Walley (Noongar Elder and Director Winjan Aboriginal Corporation, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


Many Aboriginal Australians believe the land owns them and their health and wellness is directly related to and entwined with the health of the land. There are responsibilities to care for land and everything that emanates from it, so that if the Country is taken care of, Country will take care of you. A separation of the people from the land, or from their responsibilities to care for land, will directly impact on the social and emotional health and wellness of the person and community and as well as Country.

The ability of Elders to continue to share in the transfer of respectful land and environment practices, including protecting Ngoolarks, is considered essential to support sustainable, non-harmful living practices. Personal and familial experiences, knowledge and practice have traditionally been shared orally. Today, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities are engaging in written and technological forms of communication to maintain language, culture and knowledge transfer. This Keep Carnaby’s Flying – Ngoolarks Forever cultural engagement is an example of this effort.

Noongar groups’ and individuals’ direct efforts to help protect Ngoolarks

“The Carnaby’s project [Keep Carnaby’s Flying – Ngoolarks Forever] is important. Winjan Aboriginal Corporation’s involvement in supporting the project is very important, and a serious matter for our community. We grew-up with the birdlife, the birds, and once you see them go, you miss it. And this project is a collaboration involving revegetation, put in…water stations, looking at important revegetation opportunities, working across the metro area on Noongar Country.

We all, as a collective and full community, need to take full responsibility. To us as Noongar People, this is a bird that is part of life. And seeing the destruction of that as part of clearing of land is a concern… Being part of a community [we] take responsibility through education awareness with the shires we will be working with, and the wider community.”

Brett Hill (Noongar Elder and Winjan Board Director, Elders Yarning Circle, 2023)


[reflecting on how to change the 1950’s mindset of suburbs with water-greedy lawns and non-Australian flowers]

How do we get them to appreciate a native garden.”

Derek Nannup (Noongar man and DBCA Education Officer, Yanchep National Park, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


[reflecting on planting native gardens, which provide food for Ngoolarks]

“I’ve got the yard ready to go…the council should step in and say if you’re willing to put in a native garden, give us the plants we want…there’s bush medicine, there’s bush tucker.”

Chelsey Thomson (Whadjuk/Ballardong Woman, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)


Hope for Ngoolarks, if the community helps them

“I can not imagine a time when they won’t be around.

…with all these other tribes involved in being Caretakers, I believe this will not happen”

Franklyn Nannup (Noongar Elder and Winjan Board Director, Elders Yarning Circle 2023)

Contact us

If you would like to know more about black cockatoos and how you can help them, please contact us.