(Warning: Indigenous Australians are advised that the content and some of the links from this blog include images or names of people now deceased.)
NAIDOC WEEK 2017 – 2-9 July
NAIDOC – National Aborigines & Islanders Day Observance Committee organises celebrations every year in the first full week of July.
This year the theme “Our Languages Matter” emphasised and celebrated the role that indigenous languages play in cultural identity by linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.
Last year, encouraged by my good friend, writer, and award-winning blogger, Lisa Hill, I reviewed books in the ever-increasing catalogue of indigenous literature. Lisa hosts an Indigenous Literature Week on her ANZ LitLovers LitBlog.
This year, I’ve just returned from overseas and missed the deadline but because of travelling, I decided to review Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia, A Traveller’s Guide.
The book is a treasured part of my home library.
Most people I know who travel Australia will not have read this 1988 publication. It was an expensive coffee table book years ago but well-produced with an intensity of detail and gorgeous coloured photographs of iconic Aussie landscapes!
Some of the information is confronting, but all of it enriching. Adding to that important store of human knowledge. I guarantee it will change the way you look at the landscape of our continent and of many of the places you already know, and perhaps you may look differently at many of the debates around Aboriginal Land Rights, Australia or Invasion Day and the importance of retaining and teaching language and culture.
The book is –
A pictorial guide to Highway One, Central Australian and Tasmanian sites and places important to traditional and contemporary Aboriginal life; includes history, art, religion of particular clans, present communities and organisations, biographies; many archival photographs.
Here is a snippet about Hamilton near Geelong, the map showing many different language groups in that corner of Victoria alone – nine clans – how many of these languages left?
To learn about the history of our country from those who have been caretakers for thousands of years, to learn about the spiritual places holding their sacred stories makes it a special traveller’s guide. A book worth reading again and again. To be read for understanding and appreciation, not for directions or entertaining experiences.
It is not a Lonely Planet guide or RACV road atlas!
However, it’s worth putting in the caravan, camper trailer, or four wheel drive if you’re touring ‘grey nomads’ or a family that tours together. This is the history not taught in our school curriculum, or just beginning to be included.
Not necessarily bedtime reading (unless you have a big bed and plenty of elbow room) but sitting around the campfire or when having a BBQ in a campsite, you can share the knowledge and/or book.
The book tells of many nations, clans and groups adapting to life in temperate coastal regions, tropical rainforests, living by inland waterways or mighty rivers, travelling wild coastline and surviving the desert by trading with other clans.
… the Mitakoodi people in the Cloncurry district used a small type of net which they obtained in trading from the Woonamurra people who lived to the north. The Kalkadoons acquired kunti (porcupine or spinifex grass gum) from the Buckingham Downs region to the south.
(Visit the Kalkadoon Cultural Centre located at Rotary Hill.) page 144
Sadly, some of the massacres and horrors detailed in this book have never been given enough national attention although a new map recording massacres during the frontier wars appeared in the news recently.
Burnum Burnum’s Guide was published in the year White Australia celebrated its Bicentenary and a year the author, an activist but “warrior for peace”, mirrored the theft of Aboriginal land in 1788, by planting a flag at the base of the White Cliffs of Dover on January 26, claiming possession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal ‘Crown’!
Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia is the first book ever to offer a personal, Aboriginal vision of this, the world’s greatest island.
Through over 300 stunning colour pictures and 150 black and white archival photographs, many of which have never been published before, and through the words of one of this country’s best-known and most respected Aboriginal people, this unique book takes the reader on a journey around the continent, an unforgettable journey that reveals an Australia rarely experienced by its white inhabitants.
Creation stories are told and although most Melburnians are aware of Bunjil the eagle it’s fascinating to read slightly different versions and explanations for Port Phillip Bay, Mornington Peninsula, and the River Yarra’s twisting trail from Warrandyte.
This extract about ancient bones discovered in 1965 rivals the speculation about burial sites in Orkney and Shetland, where I just spent two weeks exploring.
I was 12 years old in 1965 but can’t remember hearing about this at school or university when I studied Australian history.
(For updated information on the Frontier Wars, prioritising indigenous input, a friend’s website created several years ago is an excellent resource. I’ve known Jane since Aboriginal Embassy Days. Her research scrupulous and commitment to sharing information comes from the heart and not reliant on funding or becoming embroiled in politics.)
Jane and I knew Burnum Burnum in the 1970s although he was first introduced as Harry Penrith. We saw his transformation after seeking to get closer to his Aboriginality he researched his family and took his Grandfather’s name.
A member of the Stolen Generation, he could finally be himself – Burnum Burnum!
Here is part of the Foreword…
For me this book represents a lifetime’s work, a journey to find my own roots in this great country. I was born in 1936, under the family gum tree at Mosquito Point, by the side of Wallaga Lake. But, under the policies of the day, I was seized by government officials and separated (at 3 months) from my family. For the next ten years, I grew up on a mission near Nowra, before being moved to the Kinchela Boys Home, near South West Rocks, where I became the first Aborigine to gain a bronze medallion in surf life-saving. My sister was sent to Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Home, separated from me by more than 1600 kilometres…
This book is… an attempt to give the traveller a chance to view this extraordinary country as it was seen by the original Australians… Modern ecology can learn a great deal from a people who managed and maintained their world so well for 50,000 years.
… Australians are gaining a new pride in their real heritage, the one which covers 2000 generations. The story has an inevitable edge of sadness, as we understand the process and pattern of dispossession suffered after 1788. This material has been included not to provoke guilt, but to give a perception of the extraordinary differences between the original Australians and the invaders who came in 1788.
In most areas of early contact, they were greeted warmly by the Australians, who had no idea that these strange white people intended to stay…
In Europe, as people developed their civilisation from the caves to the cathedrals, they left clear evidence of their achievement for future generations to admire. In Australia, the land itself is the cathedral and worship is not confined to any four walls. Each step is a prayer and every form in the landscape – and everything that moves in it – was put there specifically for the people to use and manage…
I hope the reader will find no bitterness in the story; the past cannot be turned back… The challenge of the future is… an acceptance of the past, the first step to a positive future… no one people have a sole franchise on the ability to feel an affinity with this timeless landscape.
This book resonates more with me now than when I bought it all those years ago because of the special connection to Harry/Burnum Burnum. I’ve finished a personal trek myself, returning to my birth country (touched upon in a previous post).
My father was Scottish and my mother Irish, and I visited Scotland and Northern Ireland retracing their childhood influences, and my own.
Here are Burnum Burnum’s thoughts:
All around Melbourne, the spirit of my great great grandmother is written on the landscape. When I drive through eastern Victoria I do so with a great sense of reverence, dreaming my way through the landscape of my ancestors and my birth, I can feel the spirit of my ancestors in many places.
This book weaves a rich tapestry of people, places, flora, fauna, history, mythology, reality and Dreamtime.
Forever relevant, it will earn its keep on your bookshelf for generations.