Nyoongar people have maintained a close connection with the Swan River – known to them as Derbal Yerrigan – for more than 40,000 years. This connection forms the basis for much of their cultural and spirituality identity. Freshwater Bay was an important camping place, a source of fresh water from springs, a fishing and trading area, and above all a spiritual place.
The Nyoongar word for the bay itself Minderup – means place for alleviating sickness.
Since European settlement Freshwater Bay has been regarded as a healthy place, one for recreation and enjoyment. It was once a popular holiday, camping and picnicking spot for the many thousands brought by steamers and other river craft to enjoy its beauty and the safe swimming: as noted in the West Australian on the 31st of December 1936:
Freshwater Bay, which from most angles resembles a great lake, has few peers along the river for sheer beauty. The beautiful homes capping the northern highlands bear witness to the loveliness of the scene. Then down the river, beaches have one great asset and charm not possessed by their northern sisters – the shady and graceful Peppermint tree.
It was these native riverside Peppermint trees which inspired the name Peppermint Grove. The majestic Moreton Bay figs were planted here later – in the early twentieth century – and remain important for shade. At one time destroyed for camp fires, the trees are now appreciated and protected.
The beach at Peppermint Grove is also home to the black swan, Cygnus atratus, the symbol of the Swan River and after which the Swan River Colony was named. Loss of riverine habitat resulted in a significant reduction in the once abundant swans, but their numbers are slowly increasing