A very important and provocative article published in yesterday’s The Guardian online: What if Aboriginal people helped all Australians to connect to country?
A beautifully produced radio documentary by ABC’s Earshot – Unmapping: Big Sky. Both country and Aboriginal people making ancient and ongoing people-place connections visible.
A wonderful article came up in my news feed a few weeks ago and I haven’t made time to write about it. In lieu of a proper post, here is a link to the article Sacred sites: Alice Springs Aboriginal elder leads tours in bid for better understanding published on the ABC new website. The words of senior Arrernte woman Doris Stuart, who is featured in this article, resonate deeply with me. She, like many other Indigenous elders around the Australia continent, are sharing their stories for country with non-Indigenous people. My own experience of walking country with elders and hearing dreaming stories is that it has opened up for me new ways of seeing and relating with the land.
Doris says this about being with her country:
“You could feel that power coming out, you know, because that was your connection, you had your identity … Family had to close their eyes because these are family we’re talking about, they’re not just trees; we’re one and the same.”
“Ancient rock carvings on the Burrup Peninsula are among more than 1,000 sites the WA government removed or blocked from its Aboriginal heritage register in the last two-and-a-half years. In 2012 the government created a narrower definition of sacred sites. The Supreme Court has thrown out those changes, but the government now wants a single public servant to determine sacred sites. Sarah Dingle investigates.” (ABC Online)
Click here to listen to ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing program.
Image source: The Guardian online. A painted ‘elf door’ in Selfoss, Iceland: the country’s rocky landscape is said to be home to many ‘hidden people’. Photograph: Bob Strong/Corbis
I came across an article today which caught my eye, it’s not everyday that you see mainstream media outlets publishing stories about elves, planning authorities and road builders. Far from being trivial, the article, In Iceland, ‘respect the elves – or else’ (by Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian online), sheds light on the ways in which some Icelandic people relate and listen to the land and entities that (might) dwell within. The claimed presence of elves, dwarfs and ghosts, which live in parallel communities to humans, is at the heart of several communities’ attempts to redirect developments which would otherwise affect the dwelling places of these entities. Wainwright writes,
The rock, known as Ófeigskirkja, has been at the centre of an eight-year battle to stop a road being built through this 8,000-year-old landscape, a spectacularly barren and evocative terrain a little to the north of Reykjavík, which some believe is a site of supernatural forces.
I am interested in what underlies these beliefs, or more subtly, a lack of denial of the presence of more-than-human land-dwelling entities. There is an interesting conversation to be had about the function that fairy tales and folklore serve in maintaining balanced relationships between people and the land. Many of us left behind the notion that the land is enchanted when we stopped reading fairy tales, if not before. Folklore stories must hold real currency and exert agency in Iceland if people continue to relate to the land in this way. Or, perhaps other stories that lead to a disenchanted view of the land never quite gained as much power as their predecessors… Stories have the power to hold together truths, just as they have the agency to disassemble them. I am not particularly tied to any story in this instance, I am more interested in which ones are BIGGER and hold people and place together in particular ways.
In relation to people’s relationship with the land, Terry Gunnell, a researcher from the University of Iceland suggests that,
It’s about respect for nature, which is something Icelanders know is very much alive … When your house can be destroyed by an earthquake, when you can can be blown over by the wind, when boiling water from your taps tells you there’s lava not far beneath your feet – then you don’t mess with nature.
And at what cost do people ignore these entities? Wainwright recounts,
In Kópavogur, south of the capital, a rock known as Elfhill has caused disruption since the 1930s, when attempts to build a road through it were abandoned after a series of accidents. Plans to level the hill re-emerged in the 1980s, but problems recurred and workers refused to go anywhere near it. Even TV crews said their cameras failed to record anything when pointed at the rock.
The approach now taken by some developers in Iceland is one of caution. In some way, the voices of the elves – who can literally be heard by some and interpreted through significant happenings by others – are being heard and the enchantment of the land is allowed to exist.
This beautifully crafted animated documentary retraces the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail from the Goolarabooloo community in the Western Kimberley region of Western Australia
This expires later today but will be screened on SBS later in the year.
What to write about PM Tony Abbott’s recent comments regarding remote Indigenous Australians and his view that being connected with country and living on ancestral estates is a ‘lifestyle choice’? I will let the rest of this blog (the archive of stories about Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’s deep connections with country) speak for itself on such matters. I would prefer to highlight some of the perspectives from Indigenous peoples on this issue; why they affirm that they must be allowed and supported to maintain their ancestral connections with the land and the entities that they are custodians of.
Yuin elder, Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, who is also the Director of Culture for Life, said this about Abbott’s recent comments:
By dismantling the Communities of remote Australia this Prime Minister is attempting to make the current generation of Elders the ‘Last Generation’. This is not about money and so called ‘lifestyle choices’, it’s about cultural genocide and destroying the linkages our communities need to maintain our connection to country and title over our ancestral lands. Abbott’s colonialist mentality and obsession with a foreign monarchy is widening the gap. Hold tight – it’s going to be an ugly ride until he is gone.
Indigenous educator Chris Sarra makes some very pertinent points in his recent article , Without connection to country, Australia is a shallow nation. That’s what Abbott doesn’t understand, (The Guardian), including:
If we cut or stifle this tremendously deep human connection to country we will be left with something so incredibly shallow.
The best way for all Australians to forge a deeper sense of belonging to our country is to enable such ancient human connections to be sustained. With that, all of us are better placed to respectfully embrace those descendants and the ancient rituals they offer us to be a part of something that has been occurring here for many thousands of years.
As Uncle Max suggests, there is a broader agenda underlying WA Premier Colin Barnett and PM Tony Abbott’s moves to centralise service provision for Indigenous peoples to larger town centers and cities. Getting traditional owners off their ancestral estates and into larger towns and centers (see ‘Outstation message: Closing remote communities with ‘finish Broome”) will have huge ramifications on people-country connections: how and whether these can be maintained, people’s health and wellbeing post-dispossession, the health of the country without its people living with it, social fracturing in communities that would receive dispossessed peoples, housing shortages, the list goes on.
In my view, inherent in Abbott’s comments is a blindness towards the ancestral connections maintained by Indigenous peoples on this continent, how those connections shape people’s realities and why they are so necessary for cultural survival.