I have written before about the work that stories do and their ability to move through country, people(s) and objects as they do this work. In the last few weeks I have come across a story that brings to light (for a broader circle of people) the ways in which stories in country endure.
The first story was told by the Adnyamathanha people whose ancestral estate takes in the northern Flinders Ranges. (Listen to the 2-part radio documentary, Yulu’s Coal, featured on ABC Radio National’s Earshot program, here: Part 1 and Part 2 . It is better if you listen to the Adnyamathanha tell these stories. I will only offer a brief summary here to help tell a bigger story). Adnyamathanha storytellers trace how their ancestral creator beings, Yulu (the Kingfisher Man) and two Arkurra (Giant Rainbow Serpents) formed the landscape as they journeyed through country, including a large deposit of coal near Leigh Creek. These stories belong to Yuramuda (a complex understanding of spiritual existence that is present in the landscape and how to live in harmony with country – akin to the Western notion of cosmology and ontology ‘the Dreaming’) and continue to inform the Adnyamathanha’s existence. Arthur Brady, an Adnyamathanha man, said that:
Without these stories Adnyamathanha people won’t be the people they are today. The thing that makes us who we are is our stories.
Stories are constitutional, they give meaning to people’s presence in, and experience of the country. The knowledge that is held within these stories is held within the people – who in turn belong to these stories. The knowledge contained within Yuramuda stories also highlights the relevance and important of Indigenous knowledges in understanding country. While some anthropologists and people in general may have, or continue to, interpret Yuramuda (or the cosmology/Dreaming of another peoples) as myths about creation, the Adnyamathanha, along with other Indigenous peoples on this continent, in partnership with geologists, are showing people that Yuramuda accounts corroborate with Western scientific stories about country (see another account: Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 years). On Yulu’s way to an initiation ceremony at Ikara (WilpenaPound), he lit a big bushfire near Leigh Creek to tell the mob further south to wait for him. The coals that were left behind in from this fire, form the large coal deposits that are present in that land today. The Adnyamathanha understood that Yulu left coal behind in that place long before geologists and mining companies set their sights on Leigh Creek.
There is a personal link here to a bigger story, one about the way in which people are assembled by stories. My ancestors come from a village in the Macedonian province of northern Greece. The name of the village, which has endured for a long time (not as long as Yulu’s story), means black spring and relates to the vast coal deposits that sit beneath the ground in that valley. The fields and homes, and all the other places where my ancestors dwelt, are soon to be disassembled and an open pit coal mine put in their place. The land will no longer endure as it has for millennia, in relationship with people. Soon, all that my family will have left of this place, as with the Adnyamathanha, are stories about the country, albeit different types of stories to the Adnyamathanha people. The stories endure when the land is gone, they can still live within the people, but there is an emptiness and a deep connection that is lost.