Arrentre, your land was my birthplace. Mparntwe you call it, this place that sits low in the red dirt and silver grasses of the desert. Your secret spirit stories thread through the MacDonnell ranges that sprawl like fiery caterpillars to the East and the West, protecting the town and its people. It was a safe and sturdy home for my family.
Larrakeyah mob, your land was my childhood. A verdant green place of dense foliage, mangroves and crocodiles, tidal beaches with black slug sea cucumbers and sea wasps, gigantic lizards, green ants and green frogs. A place of hot torrential rain and wild cyclones. A place of pain and trauma in my family and some of your families; a place of lost adults and lost children. You care for the land and water, your salve heals the wounds of your people, even as progress attempts to denude, destroy and dispossess.
Eora people I traversed your lands as I sought adventure and risk, stomping over your hunting grounds, your middens, your places of pain and suffering, of anguish and misery. I was propelled by impulse and desire with no ear to your voices deep within the earth. I had no history so how could I know yours.
Wiradjuri, I spent the year of my first child in your company. I carried my baby along your broad streets in the place called Wagga Wagga. The place of many crows. A land of tall gums, wide river beds, rich dirt flats and wooded hills. My baby grew and thrived on your land.
So brief our time together, Bindjali. On the Terra Rosa rust soil of your place of wild honeysuckle, Coonawarra. The vineyards hardly made a scratch on your ancestral lands which stretched across the Mosquito Plains into the Wimmera country. Our relationship ended abruptly, cut short by a ute, a Stobie pole and a shattered windscreen. This became a place of sadness and grief for me and a small reflection of your sadness and grief at land, people and culture lost.
Ngadjuri I felt the weight of your grief in that circle of She-oaks Kooringa where three of my children were born. The heaviness that hung over the town like a black cloud, spoke to the decimation of your land and your people massacred and struck down by smallpox and measles, the few survivors herded onto mission land at Point Pearce. I felt glad to escape.
Bama rainforest people, I was privileged to be in your presence for a time of endings and new beginnings. My children had the important experience of an indigenous culture that still thrive and they knew the humility that comes of being a white person on black soil.
Kamu/Gamor people, we are connected by blood. My nephews are your descendants. A history of such violence and loss, the 1883 massacre that spared no one, man woman or child. Extinct they called you. Just two people known to have your language in the 60s. Still you survive today, your story documented in film, your language detailed on paper that you may grow and thrive in culture and connection.
Kaurna and Peramangke I live now on your flat plains, by your sprawling coastline. Myponga meaning ‘high cliffs’. There are so few of you left here. In all the places I have lived on the Fleurieu, Willunga ‘place of green trees’, Aldinga ‘much water’, Mclaren Vale with no mention of you. I have not found you here easily. I have sought you out in the ways I am able, in my reading, in my listening, in my work. Through your art and through your music.
COLONISATION and DECOLONISATION
I mourn the lost opportunities to know you in your fullness. Even as we lived next door to each other, even as we played together, even as we went to school together, even as I visited your traditional lands, even as I heard the ancient sounds of your voices, of your singing. I was oblivious, ignorant, disinterested. I am part of a culture that saw you as uncivilised, untamed, savage and wild. I am part of a culture that tried to destroy you; that caused you disease, dispossession, destruction and death. I am part of a culture that raped and pillaged and maimed and incarcerated. I am part of a culture that stole your land and your identity.
I still belong to a culture that has little understanding or empathy; that does not seek knowledge or education; that continues to see you as less than; that allows you to live on the margins; that perpetuates your suffering.
I am thankful for the times I was in your presence and was touched by your culture. I am thankful for the wisdom keepers who crossed my paths as a baby, a child, an adult. I am thankful that, despite everything, you survive and are strong. Your voices are powerful and I hear your call.