Yamatji (or Yamaji in the orthography of Wajarri) is a name commonly used by Aboriginal people in the Murchison and Gascoyne regions of Western Australia to refer to themselves, and sometimes also to Aboriginal people generally, when speaking English. The word comes from the Wajarri language where it has the meaning "man" or "human being". It is usually used to mean "Aboriginal person", but when being more specific the particular language group name will often be used, where this is known. Although each of the main Aboriginal languages of this region (as a group, known as the Kartu languages) have their own words for "man/human being", Yamaji has come to be used throughout the region, probably because Wajarri is the strongest remaining language and was always the most widely spoken language.
Yamaji country stretches from Carnarvon in the north, to Meekatharra and Sandstone in the east, and to Jurien in the south. The area covered by the Yamatji includes parts of the following Biogeographic Regions:
There are about 130 Aboriginal Heritage sites registered with the Department of Indigenous Affairs associated with the area, which include open shell middens along the shoreline, quarries, rock shelters, artefact shelters, burials and stone arrangements.
Archaeological research has been conducted at several sites across the Shark Bay Yamatji area and collections have been made from several sites including Useless Loop, Monkey Mia and Eagle Bluff. Kate Morse has also excavated at the Zuytdorp Cliffs near the Zuytdorp shipwreck. The Silver Dollar site near Eagle Bluff provides the oldest and most detailed evidence of Yamatji occupation of the region and was occupied for two periods, firstly between 30,000 and 18,000 years and secondly between 7000 and 6000 years. Rockshelter sites at Eagle Bluff and Zuytdorp are dated at 4000 to 4600 years before present.
The Aboriginal people of the Murchison-Gascoyne region were instrumental in assisting early settlers in the area identify permanent water sources, and worked in the pearling, pastoral and fishing industries. Especially in the early period their suffering as a result of the contact with the settler community was illustrated in 1885 by the Rev J. Gribble, who when arriving at Carnarvon found 36 men chained by the neck to a tree. His subsequent publication "Dark Deeds in a Sunny Land" portrayed the suffering of the Yamatji.
From 1908 to 1918, Dore and Bernier Islands, off the coast of Carnarvon, operated as Lock Hospitals for the isolation of Aboriginal people suffering from leprosy, tuberculosis and venereal disease. Often not knowing the reason for their removal, they were kept on the island until they either died or recovered.
Native Title claims
Native Title interests of the Yamatji people are undertaken by the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC).
The Yamatji land claims include the following various groups:
The Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation is a native title representative body recognised pursuant to the (Commonwealth) Native Title Act 1993. There have been four Executive Directors of the YMAC: Wayne Warner (1996-1998); former AFL footballer Clinton Wolf (1998-2001); Roger Cook (2001-2003) and current CEO Simon Hawkins (2003-present). YMAC is co-chaired by Pilbara representative Doris Eaton and Yamatji Representative Ben Roberts. Mrs Eaton was recognised as the NAIDOC Female Elder of the Year in 2009.