Celebrating NAIDOC – Voice, Treaty, and Truth long overdue

NAIDOC Nominations Updated 1
Image from the official Naidoc site https://www.naidoc.org.au/get-involved/2019-theme

Warning: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people are advised this post may contain names and images of deceased people.

I couldn’t let this week pass without celebrating NAIDOC, especially since the message is such an important one for all Australians to heed.

We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. The Indigenous voice of this country is over 65,000 plus years old.

They are the first words spoken on this continent. Languages that passed down lore, culture and knowledge for over millennia. They are precious to our nation.

It’s that Indigenous voice that includes know-how, practices, skills and innovations – found in a wide variety of contexts, such as agricultural, scientific, technical, ecological and medicinal fields, as well as biodiversity-related knowledge.  They are words connecting us to country, an understanding of country and of a people who are the oldest continuing culture on the planet.

And with 2019 being celebrated as the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, it’s time for our knowledge to be heard through our voice.

For generations, we have sought recognition of our unique place in Australian history and society today. We need to be the architects of our lives and futures.

For generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have looked for significant and lasting change.

Voice. Treaty. Truth. were three key elements to the reforms set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. These reforms represent the unified position of First Nations Australians.

https://www.naidoc.org.au/get-involved/2019-theme

 

map aboriginal australia.jpg
map of Aboriginal Australia and the different ‘countries’, First Australians Gallery, National Museum Canberra

Unfortunately, because of circumstances beyond my control, I haven’t attended any events this year as in the past, but as I continue to organise the house in preparation for full retirement, I unearthed newspaper clippings and articles on various subjects, that I kept for research or out of interest.

Revisiting this treasure trove stirred a lot of memories of connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since my university days and involvement in the first Aboriginal Embassy, 1972.

I’ve spent several days of reflection thinking about what I’d write today.

It’s sobering to remember that it was only in 1975 that the one-day acknowledgement of National Aborigines Day became a week-long celebration with diverse activities to acknowledge our past, examine our present and hopefully look toward a better future.

Whose Voice?

Among the pile of paper, I must decide to scan or throw out, there are many book reviews, opinion pieces and essays written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as well as academic or investigative reports by non-indigenous writers.

However, the realisation that there has been some progress made is tempered by the current Federal Government’s reluctance to consider a true voice in parliament for First Australians and its outright rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Broaden Your Knowledge About Australia and Its History/Herstory

Aboriginal language map.jpg
Aboriginal language map

This is also the International Year of Indigenous Languages – a United Nations observance in 2019 with aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world and to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation.

The traditional owners of Melbourne are people from the Kulin Nation, with surrounding groups including the Woiworung and Boonwurrung (the Mordialloc traditional owners) and you can learn some words here.

Please check out two blogs I follow for reviews of the work of current indigenous authors and plenty of other interesting information: Lisa Hill’s ANZ LitLovers LitBlog and Bill Holloway’s the Australian Legend.

Last year, I visited Canberra and the National Museum, which has some great exhibitions as a starting point for those seeking knowledge and understanding:

empathy, not sympathy; acceptance not tolerance.

4 galleries story of australia.jpg

At the entrance of the National Museum is a magnificent set of sculptures of the Bogong Moth, acknowledging the cultural traditions of the Aboriginal peoples who lived in the ACT prior to the European invasion and settlement.

 

 

What do our First People mean by Country?

Almost every public ceremony at all levels of government now includes a ‘welcome to country’.  If you wonder why or don’t know how to explain it to visitors, an explanation follows.

first australians.jpg

Country’ is more than just the name of a place. When used by the Aboriginal people it is about a connection to all aspects of the land; landscape, ecology, spirituality, seasonal rhythms, people and culture.

peoples personal feelings shared.jpg
a wall capturing the thoughts of Aboriginal visitors

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For most of us, everything we read about our First People is either white/colonial/European perceptions of Aborigines or Aboriginal perceptions of themselves.

To read Aboriginal writing allows Aborigines to speak for themselves and state their view of Australian history.

In 2019, there is a wealth of Aboriginal writing to choose from including poets, creative writers, non-fiction and academia.

Albeit almost two decades ago, in his book, Writing from the Fringe: A Study of Modern Aboriginal Literature, Hyland House, Melbourne 1990, Mudrooroo Narogin divides Aboriginal history into five periods:

  1. From the Beginning to 1788: the time of the dreaming, before the coming of the Europeans.
  2. The Time of the Invasion(s): Aboriginal culture is threatened and is forced to adapt.
  3. The Utter Conquering of the Aboriginal Peoples: many of the old ways of communication are destroyed or drastically changed.
  4. The Colonial Period: outright oppression gives way to paternalism, then to assimilation.
  5. The Period of Self-Determination: dating from the Referendum in 1967 and the Whitlam government in the early 1970s – still continuing…

quote about spirituality.jpg

Evidence of early Aboriginal habitation of the continent includes bones uncovered at Lake Mungo in south-eastern Australia and the sites of volcanoes, such as those at Tower Hill, near Melbourne.

The oldest continuing culture in the world dates back 50,000 – 60,000 years depending on what archaeological discoveries you choose to focus on.

What we know now is that Aborigines comprised many language groups, each with their own country. They created a network of overland commerce, developed ingenious ways of finding water and food in deserts, were expert trappers and fishers, skilled herbalists and farmers with a hundred different plant foods to supplement a diet of meat, fish, eggs and insects.

map of different languages.jpg

Colonial Invasion Without a Treaty

From the late 18th century, British and other Europeans arrived on the shores of this continent, some willingly, others with no or little choice: – officers, soldiers and sailors of the Crown, convicted felons, free men and women searching for economic opportunity and a new life or fresh start.

They built towns on Aboriginal land tended and shaped over thousands of years and so began the Frontier Wars and decades of conflict over the sovereignty of the land.

There never was a treaty or proper recompense for the shameful land theft but hopefully, this will be rectified soon. At least the State of Victoria is working towards a treaty.

Aboriginal writers of note during the 1960s and 70s argued for Aboriginal land rights and self-determination. People like Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) and Kevin Gilbert brought an Aboriginal voice to wider audiences. Both of these wonderful poets died in 1993 – a tragic loss to Australian writing.

Truth Telling

A newspaper clipping I have from The Sunday Herald, August 20, 1989, has a story by Brett Wright titled, Our Forgotten War. This challenges the lie that Aborigines didn’t fight for their country or were always the victims.

” John Lovett, Aboriginal Advisor and former elder of the  Kerrupjmara clan, surveys the stony ruins of a lost culture.

“This is one here,’ he says, standing in a ring of weathered rocks, barely discernible in a volcanic landscape strewn with boulders. Further afield, at the edge of a drained swamp known as Lake Gorrie, are the remains of stone fish traps, used to catch eels when the lake flooded.

Historians say the ruin is almost certainly the base camp of a group of Aboriginal guerrilla fighters who fought the squatters in the black version of Vietnam: the Eumeralla War of the 1840s.

Records show the resistance to white settlement was intense and bloody in Victoria’s Western District. The 1838-39 drought left the Aboriginals short of food and water, and they were forced to drive off the squatters.

In 1842, two clan leaders, Tarerarer and Tyoore, nicknamed Cocknose and Jupiter, led attacks on stations around Eumeralla River, near Macarthur. They attacked shepherds and took their sheep for food.

The Eumeralla War had begun. An unknown number of lives were lost on both sides, as the attack led to fierce reprisals by the settlers. One of the raiding parties from the Nillangundidji tribe numbered 150.

“The tactics used were very similar to those used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War,” Mr Lovett said.

… concentrating their attacks on settlers who had taken up land around sacred sites, the Lake Gorrie guerrillas were very successful… the campaign continued for two years until native police killed Jupiter and Cocknose. With the leaders gone, the resistance movement faded.

“What we were fighting for was to survive, to maintain and keep our traditional areas,” said Mr Lovett …(who) believe sites such as Lake Gorrie should be recognised. “It’s relevant for white and black people to know the history of Australia.’

Fast forward 20 years and a lot more truth about how the invasion and settlement of Australia played out debunks peddled myths that the Aborigines didn’t fight for their land or try and repel the invaders.

For more on Eumeralla and other Victorian sites of massacres and conflict check out this website on Australia’s Frontier Wars.

Wikipedia has more information specifically on Eumeralla and an article from The Sydney Morning Herald, August 10, 2013, A Forgotten war, A Haunted Land.

Perhaps the greatest lie that I was taught at school regarding Aborigines was that there were no Aborigines left in Tasmania after Trugannini died. The National Museum has a fantastic exhibition detailing the cultural heritage of the Tasmanian First People.

explanation tasmanian aborigines.jpg

 

 

There are many stories showing the diversity and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and the most compelling are those of resistance, resilience, cultural adaptation, creativity and leadership.

your footprint is the mark of your presence.jpg

Yarning Circle

There is a lot to take in when you walk through the galleries devoted to Australian history and culture and so it’s a relief to sit and rest in a special place designed to help you relax, reflect, and yarn. And yes, you can recharge your mobile phone, if like mine the battery is low because the camera worked overtime!

 

 

Yarning circles and gathering circles are important places. They are where stories and knowledge can be shared in a caring environment that’s relaxed and comfortable. With our bodies, we include ourselves in the listening and learning that is being gifted.

Nancy Bamaga, Thabu/Samu

We could do with yarning circles in every home and community.

 

 

Songlines Exhibition Celebrates Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Culture in Kingston

Spnglines explanation.jpg
Entrance to Paola Balla’s exhibition

Today was the beginning of NAIDOC Week, celebrations held across Australia each July

to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The national NAIDOC theme for 2016 is: Songlines: The living narrative of our nation.

As Kingston Citizen of the Year, I was invited to attend the opening of a wonderful exhibition by the artist Paola Balla, a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman of the Day & Egan families, which is part of NAIDOC activities in Kingston.

Paola is of Italian and Chinese heritage and is a mother, artist, curator, writer, speaker, educator and cultural producer whose work includes developing Footscray Community Arts Centre’s Indigenous Cultural program, lecturer at Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit, Victoria University, Senior Curator of the First Peoples’ Exhibition at Melbourne Museum and in 2015 curated Executed, honouring the freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener for the City of Melbourne.

Currently, Artist in Residence for Moondani Balluk, Victoria University, Paola is conducting research into trans-generational colonial trauma as a Creative Thesis PhD.

pasted-image.jpg

 

Interpreting this year’s national NAIDOC theme of ‘Songlines: The living narrative of our nation’,  Paola presents a series of new photographic and site-specific works as a love letter of respect and awe to her Aboriginal family and the strong, beautiful women within it. There are paintings, photographs, poetry, sculpture and a slide show with country music audio – a veritable feast of creative talent! 

the artist Paola and grandmother's poemgrandmothers poem

Paola’s work is driven by a commitment to justice, addressing trans-generational colonial trauma, creating spaces for people to have ownership and voice through de-colonising practices and the assertion of sovereignty. She puts the gaze back on whiteness and colonisation by asserting her identity as a sovereign woman and as the descendant of matriarchs.

Her work addresses colonial injury and celebrates Aboriginal female beauty and strength.

the artist Paola Ballaexplanation of the gown

At her Artist Floor Talk on Saturday 16 July at 2pm, there will be a fantastic opportunity to learn about the artist’s Aboriginal heritage and her inspiration for the exhibition.

mayor opening Naidoc exhibtion
Tamsin acknowledging Country with a series of canvas paintings in the background.

 

sign for storyboards

 

mayor opening NAIDOC
The Mayor opening the exhibition

 

Mayor Tamsin Beardsley opened the NAIDOC celebrations acknowledging the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land. This is the seventh year running, Kingston Arts celebrates NAIDOC with a month-long program featuring a range of arts and cultural activities including :

Clock Tower Projections by Josh Muir INTEGRITY, LOYALTY, RESPECT: Screening nightly from Sunday 3 July, 6-9pm . Josh is a Melbourne-based multimedia artist and proud Yorta Yorta/ Gunditjmara man. He painted an illuminating picture of Aboriginal people of Victoria during Melbourne’s White Night celebrations and now his stunning artworks will be projected onto the Kingston City Hall Clock Tower.

clock tower
Tonight once it gets dark the passersby will be in for a treat!

 

The history and development of NAIDOC Week can be read here and a timeline downloaded and a full explanation of the theme Songlines: The living narrative of our nation

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are today using digital technologies and modern mediums to record and celebrate these ancient Songlines or dreaming stories.

Dreaming tracks crisscross Australia and trace the journeys of our ancestral spirits as they created the land, animals and lores. These dreaming tracks are sometimes called ‘Songlines’ as they record the travels of these ancestral spirits who ‘sung’ the land into life.

Songlines are intricate maps of land, sea and country. They describe travel and trade routes, the location of waterholes and the presence of food. In many cases, Songlines on the earth are mirrored by sky Songlines, which allowed people to navigate vast distances of this nation and its waters…

Aboriginal language groups are connected through the sharing of Songlines with each language group responsible for parts of a Songline.

Through songs, art, dance and ceremony, Torres Strait Islanders also maintain creation stories which celebrate their connection to land and sea. 

Songlines have been passed down for thousands of years and are central to the existence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are imperative to the preservation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices…

Through learning more about Songlines and how they connect people to Country and the Country to people – we celebrate the rich history and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures – the oldest continuing cultures on the planet.

 

 

The artist and arts officers
Paola with Kirsten Freeman and another member of the Kingston’s Arts & Cultural Services Team with Paola’s Photograph of  her country in the background

sign for large photograph

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF WELCOME TO COUNTRY

Aunty Carolyn Briggs, a Boonwurrung Elder from Victoria who is recognized as a keeper of the history and genealogies of her people welcomed us to Country. She complimented the Mayor on her pronunciation of Aboriginal words and explained the Kulin are the five language groups who are the traditional owners in the Port Phillip region.

The language groups were connected through shared moieties (divided groups) — the  Bunjil (wedge-tailed eagle) and Waa (crow). Bunjil is the creation spirit of the Kulin and Waa the protector of the waterways.  Their collective traditional territory extends around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys.

  ‘It’s about the strength of families, our heritage and the sense of belonging to place.’

The ‘Welcome to Country’ is only given by a Traditional Owner – a descendant of the first people living in an area. The Traditional Owner will welcome people to their land at the beginning of a meeting, event or ceremony.

Aunty Caroline Briggs
Aunty Carolyn Briggs

For the Aboriginal people, the land has a spiritual connection; it is mother. The human spirit is born from land and returns to it upon death. The land supplies everything necessary for living.

Outside, Carolyn’s grandson also offered traditional Welcome to Country with the Smoking Ceremony (Tanderrum). Green leaves from plants are placed on a small fire. The smoke is used to cleanse the area and people present.

smoking ceremony introduction

This traditional way of welcoming people to their land and of cleansing your soul involved three plants for the ceremony. The purification ritual is always undertaken by an Aboriginal person with specialised cultural knowledge.

Aunty Carolyn Briggs reminded us that smoking ceremonies are common in countries throughout the world.

The Black Wattle (Muyan) representing the elders, vital to local clans. Symbolic of the Elders’ strength and what they pass onto the future generation. The wattle (its seed, bark, wood, and gum) was used to provide nutrients, food, and warmth.

River Red Gum leaf ( Biel) – representing diversity within the community – more than 500 different eucalypts throughout Australia just as there are more than 500 different indigenous language groups or clans. Symbolic of the entire community and offers respective access to the land and its resources.

Cherry Ballart- (Ballee) – represents children (bubup) needs a host plant just as children need a guardian or Elder to grow. Symbolic of youth, strong and resilient but requires support when young and never really disconnect.

smoking ceremonyjpg

There was difficulty getting the fire to light because of the wind so modern technology (cigarette lighter) was harnessed amid much laughter, but we were all able to circle the fire (children first, then ladies, then men) and inhale the smoke to cleanse our souls.

fire at smoking ceremony

The atmosphere in the exhibition (despite serious subject matter) and outside was friendly and uplifting. A great buzz as people chatted and shared stories.

When Paolo spoke about her exhibition she mentioned Mok Mok,  an old woman, ‘a hag’ who she was told to fear as a little girl because she steals children and kills and chops up men.

Always watching and waiting for people to break laws Mok Mok was written about by the esteemed Elder and author, Aunty Margaret Liliarda Tucker, one of the first Aboriginal women to write her autobiography: If Everyone Cared, published in 1977.

Mok Mok is angry about how women and children are treated, too much male violence and too many children being stolen.

The assorted photographic images, slideshow and audio relating to the story of Mok Mok are thought-provoking and provide a strong message:

Our Elders and matriarchs keep family stories, genealogies, connections, nurturing ways, child raising, teaching, singing, language and culture and teach me how to be an Sovereign Aboriginal woman. I respect these lessons by quietly listening, passing on knowledge to my children and creating works that reflect the strength of our women so they are not forgotten.

I hope people take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to connect with Paola and her art and for further information and interaction with Aboriginal Australia during NAIDOC Week, visit Lisa Hill’s blog and take part in her great initiative for Indigenous Literature Week.

The Kingston Arts Centre is easy to access by public transport, being a short walk from Moorabbin Railway Station. A selection of buses also stop outside and there is a carpark at the back.

When I was preparing to write this post, I reflected on many years of involvement with various groups fighting alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as they struggled for recognition and respect. I’m so glad that the Andrews Government in Victoria has started negotiations for a Treaty. Recognising Aboriginal Sovereignty has to be the first step in true reconciliation.

I rummaged through a box of old posters in the shed – many already enjoyed by silverfish – and was reminded of events, people and places from the past, 1970 – 2000.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unfortunately, some of my Aboriginal friends died far too young and although we now see the Aboriginal flag above council offices, and many officials are mindful of Welcome to Country protocols, there still needs to be more appreciation of the cultural significance and contribution of Indigenous Australians in the wider community.

How easily memories are triggered and stories beg to be retold and retained.

 

aboriginal badge