Australian Native Peoples
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
|Transcription of Address by Susan Bradley at "A Night of Reconciliation"
I know, with my husband, what it is like to own pastoral leases - to live on 2 million acres and to love that land like no other. I know what land, droughts, floods and fluctuating markets mean to the pastoralist and their families, and I also know what it is like to have the bank manager breathing down your neck, with no certain knowledge that you're going to get through the next season.
I have also experienced living in outback Australia, in a very small community and having little contact with the majority of people in that area - the aborigines. Those who are a different colour, speak a different language, have a different culture and live on the reserve on the outskirts of the town - where they are out of sight. Those who have not assimilated into the life of the white structured society of the little town - because they were not invited in.
Thankfully for me, my husband and I started to question this segregated attitude of the local people, many of whom were friends. We began to listen and become involved with the Mirriwung Gadgerong people, who after years of friendship, have enriched our lives and changed our, and I'm ashamed to say, ignorant (or even slightly red necked) opinions that we had when we arrived in the Kimberley in the late sixties.
Tonight, as I stand here, I can promise you, that I firmly believe that pastoralists, cattlemen, graziers, and farmers can co-exist on their properties, with aborigines - if only they would open up their minds and their hearts, and invite the aboriginal people to sit down and talk with them - person to person. It is all a matter of talking honestly. They would find in many cases, that aborigines have the same concerns about the land, about their children, about their future, that non-aboriginal people have. They would find they had many things in common despite the scare mongering, fear tactics and ignorance of self-interest blinkered groups who have been working overtime and who have a vested interest in promoting division, and unrest, often for political ends.
I also know that in the Kimberley in February 1998, on many of the huge pastoral leases, cattle have more rights of movement and access, than the traditional aborigines. For this, I am deeply ashamed.
Australia as a Nation is currently being subjected to the greatest political weapon since the first British ships arrived on these shores 209 years ago. The weapon is Native Title response to the dispossession of aboriginal peoples of their lands. and the Prime Minister's Wik bill has the potential to extinguish an entire culture by stealth. The oldest known culture on this earth. Why should this concern us as we sit here in this hall?
The Mabo and Wik decisions of the High Court were made by OUR elders - our most senior lawmen, interpreting the British system of law that was brought to this country by our ancestors, and it has served Australia since white settlement.
If we allow traditional aboriginal law and culture to be subsumed into the fabric of the essentially western structured culture of Australia - we lose it for all time. At the moment, the Old Aboriginal Law is living, albeit, very fragile - and becoming more so as older aborigines die. It is uniquely born of this continent - it is at the very soul of this country and it is emerging as among the purest, and oldest cultural blueprints, with deep spiritual and land oriented beliefs that have served this continent for over 40,000 years. Surely as relative newcomers to this land, immigrants all of us, we need to look to these imprints and images to show us the way to develop as a healthy nation as we lurch along our pathway towards a Republic.
There is a great deal of our past to honour. There are some parts of our history of which we should not be proud - however history cannot be changed - only our future. We shall never be a truly independent and strong country until we accept our past and come to terms with our history. Whilst this ostrich syndrome barrier still stands, Australia will never truly be free.
I want to share with you some of the things I learnt from tribal aborigines during my many years in the Kimberley, and which I feel, have given me a much deeper understanding not only of this unique culture, but also how we can benefit from their wisdom.
One of the lessons I learnt from Aboriginal women is that women give birth to the new. Aborigines know it is the women who gestate, think about, let roll around in our psyches, sometimes for a long time, that which we are going to bring into life. Whether it be a child, an idea or a nation - we shape its world, and the world's relationships with it, whilst it is very young. Women define and give substance to the entire fabric of what has come into being. The Ngarinyin aborigines of the far north west of Australia also explained to me that it is the men who create and maintain the systems which afford the newborn, and develop their safety and protection. Men design responsive Law, and take action to ensure the viability of the newborn and its environment. Men do this in partnership with each other - that is now Men's Business and Women's Business is - separate, yet synergistically together.
I have also learnt from aborigines that their understanding of ownership of land is very different to our own - in fact, owning land from their perspective is quite foreign - they believe that the land "owns" us all - we come from the land, we return to the land (not unlike the beliefs found in the Bible) - and that aboriginal "ownership" as such is inclusive, rather than "exclusive" as our understanding of ownership is. In many instances, and where there is much controversy over land title, the aborigines only want right of access - mainly for ceremonial or cultural reasons, and not necessarily often, depending on the time of the year and the frequency of their ceremonies.
I have learnt that the whitefella or immigrant culture of Australia is not rooted in this earth, this landscape. The aborigines know this because the immigrants are constantly trying to change the land from what it is and what it yields, to something it is not, and cannot sustain. Aborigines have seen whitefellas break their backs and hearts in their efforts to recreate little Englands, Irelands and Italys. Australians since 1788 have been so busy cleaning the canvas of Australia's natural texture to create their own reflections, they have failed to see that the canvas was already painted with a complex and unique biodiversity, beautifully reflecting, the full meaning of life on Earth, in this isolated land mass. For the first few decades of white settlement, the traditional people watched, even participated (sometimes unwillingly) in the immigrant endeavour. But as they aged, and saw what was happening to their land and their people, they felt sad that these new settlers did not understand the land like they did.
I want to tell you a very simple story as told to me by a Ngarinyin tribal elder - a man whose life, power and whose wisdom has had an everlasting impact on me and I believe others who have had the privilege of knowing him and of listening to his stories as he took us into his country and shared his spirit and knowledge - Ngarinyin country - Worrora and Warnbmbul. As we sat around the campfire, this old man told us this - before whitefellas came, it was the tradition of aborigines that when strangers came into their particular country to hunt or to gather, or to just pass through on their way to other places, that the host aborigines would go out to welcome them. When they met, there would be the formalities of greeting. Part of the ceremony of welcome would be the men sitting around and talking men's business whilst the host women would take the visiting women and children to a women's site to talk women's business When this was completed. the two groups would join again, and the men would hunt for kangaroo, goannas or bush turkey, and the women would prepare an area for eating, gather firewood and berries, fruit, nuts and lily roots for a meal. Then the ceremonies - the corroborees or jumbas would commence, and the dancing, the singing around the fire could well go on, not only all night but sometimes for many nights in a row. Each jumba with message - each with its own story - men, women and children taking part. Whilst during the day, the visiting tribe would be taken and shown the sites of significance and be told the stories of the spirit of the land they would be passing.
In this way, the host aborigines believed by the end of the formalities, when the strangers were ready to move on - they would not be considered strangers but friends who had now the spirit of the country in their hearts - they carried the Wunggud with them - just like the people who lived there. They believed that once the spirit of the land was in their hearts, then those people would never damage the land - they would love it and care for it like those whose home country it was. The old man said sadly - whitefellas have never given blackfellas the opportunity of letting them welcome them to their country, to share their stories or to impart their knowledge of the spirit of the land. So whitefellas have never been able to understand properly the country - they haven't the spirit of the land - Wunggud in their hearts. This is very sad, he said - for both whitefellas and blackfellas. Whitefellas are always in too much of a hurry - there is never time. We want two-way learning, two way sharing - we want to give our gift to gudia (whitefellas) - that gift, the story of the land will give you new meaning - your belonging. But time is running out - sadly for us, and for Australia, his time ran out at the end of last year, and he was buried tribally in his spirit country.
Last year when the stolen children report, Bringing them Home, was released, it caused much debate and controversy in Australia. It was a very emotional time for many people particularly those directly affected - the stolen children themselves, and their deprived mothers and families. And I feel those non-aboriginal people, who at the time, participated in the process of taking children from their families for ever, in the belief they were acting in the best interests of the child and sometimes, the mother. The deep and lasting emotional scars have become evident as more aboriginal people spoke and told their stories which in many cases had never been told before. For many non-aboriginal Australians, it was the first time they thought about how aboriginal Australians had been treated, how they were affected and the problems and divisive issues that are facing us as a Nation today. It made many of us very sad that the Prime Minister on behalf of the country, could not apologise for these flawed policies of past generations and governments, and to acknowledge the pain and heartache that many aboriginal Australians felt. But what worries me even more, is that in the 1990's our present Governments have not learnt from the past and are making flawed policies and decisions that will impact adversely on future generations and Australia as a whole.
This time, it is not the children that are being taken away from Aboriginal parents, but it is their Mother - Mother Earth - their country, their soul, their land of Meaning and Belonging, the mother who holds all their spiritual and cultural beliefs, and to whom they are intrinsically tied. Surely we cannot let this happen in 1998. Do we want our children in 30 or 40 years time to be apologising for the misguided and ignorant laws that the so called Wik legislation (or Native Title Amendment Bill) will impose on Australia? Do we want our children and grandchildren to ask us what we were doing when this legislation was passed - legislation which has the power and intent to extinguish any rights aborigines have to land, even the right to negotiate? I do not believe we want to hand this legacy to our children. We all have a responsibility to Australia to prevent this from happening.
Governments can legislate all they like, however legislation won't change attitudes - that has to come from within the individual. That is why it is so important that nights such as this are held throughout Australia.
We have our society's future to re-vision. We have a new Nation, the Republic of Australia, waiting to be born. We want it to have a soul. An integral part of that process is to break down the barriers of recognition of Aboriginal Native Title. Reconciliation up-ends all political views and beliefs by showing that power in this process comes from the victims and is taken up by the people. It is traditional aboriginal people who give back dignity to the oppressors, who have compromised truth in their treatment of the first Australians, and it will be ordinary Australians like those of us in this hall tonight, whose acknowledgment of reality of the family of Australia will break through the barriers so that decency and integrity have a life - an enriched life - a life that is at the core of our becoming a whole society, a new, just and better, Nation.