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Save the Dreaming: A simple plan to rescue Aboriginal culture and make Australia

Save the

Dreaming

 

A simple plan to

rescue Aboriginal culture

and make Australia great

 

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Brian Morgan

 

***~~~***

 

Dedication

Dedicated to my paternal grandmother, who came to me in a dream while I was writing this book, 65 years after telling me: “You have Aboriginal blood in you, and you should be very, very proud.” Sarah Ann Annabel Morgan (Bridge), Grandma, it took me a long while, but I have tried to make you proud at last.

 

Acknowledgement of Country

The author and publishers wish to acknowledge that the Aboriginal peoples are the traditional owners of the lands of Australia upon which this book will be read. We would also like to pay our respects to all the elders of this land, past and present.

The author wishes to acknowledge the elders, past and present, of his own people, the Biripi people; the Darkinjung people, on whose lands this book was completed and published; and the Dharawal people, on whose lands the book was conceived and initially researched. In particular, he wishes to acknowledge the elders, past and present, of the Mardudjara people, whose story is told as part of this book.

The author and publishers acknowledge the important and increasing role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must continue to play within the Australian community. We respect their strength, resilience and capacity, and, in particular, we acknowledge their spiritual relationship with their country.

 

***~~~***

This Shakespir eBook edition first published for world-wide distribution in 2016 by The Writers Trust. Copyright 2016 Brian Morgan and The Writers Trust. The right of Brian Morgan to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

This book is distributed by Shakespir and is associated with the author’s website and Facebook page, located at www.brianmorganbooks.com and www.facebook.com/Savethedreaming.

Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. Please also encourage your local or school library to download the book from their favourite ebook retailer or Shakespir.

Thank you for your support.

A print version of this book is also available.

 

***~~~***

 

What if…

 

The Aboriginal people of Australia have struggled for more than two centuries for justice in their own land and for an end to abuse. They have fought for an apology for stolen children and stolen land, for recognition, reconciliation, a treaty, constitutional change, for land rights and more.

What if we could resolve all of these matters in one fell swoop, once and for all?

What if, in doing so, we could make Australia a truly exceptional place on the world stage, admired everywhere for our compassion and our wisdom?

What if Aboriginal people, for the first time in more than two hundred years, could feel honoured and accepted and recognized. What if we could start to mend broken hearts?

What if every living Australian could achieve a sense of self-worth and pride in righting the wrongs committed for so long?

What if we could do all this and much more with one simple plan?

What if…

Come. Please. I have stories and a vision to share.

Brian Morgan

 

***~~~***

The Story of the Bloody Big Cart

(This little story will serve as a preview of what’s in the book)

 

The Aboriginal people have a cart. A Bloody Big Cart. It has to be big, because it holds all their culture, traditions, history and spirituality. Everything they treasure.

And it also holds other stuff. It holds all their hopes, dreams, wishes and demands. Demands for justice, recognition, reconciliation, land rights – for everything that’s been taken away from them since 1788, and is still being denied them. You know the stuff I mean. There’s been endless talk about it.

It’s a Bloody Big Cart.

Now, as you know, a cart needs four wheels to work, to get anywhere. And, for two hundred years, the various whitefella governments have been saying:

“You want wheels? Of course. You can have as many as you want. There’s a wheel for land rights, for stolen children, for constitutional change, for deaths in custody, for reconciliation, recognition, a treaty – as many as you want.”

Every time people started to talk about, say, land rights, governments said: “Sure, here’s a wheel for that. Push it around as much as you want.”

And the Aboriginal people, with whitefella help, pushed and pushed and the wheel went round and round. But the wagon, with only one wheel, went nowhere.

Every time the subject changed – to say, deaths in custody or a treaty or whatever, a new wheel was rolled out and the previous wheel pushed out of sight behind the shed.

Out of sight, out of mind.

With only one wheel at a time, the Bloody Big Cart, with its heavy load of Aboriginal pleadings for justice, went nowhere.

For 230 years, that cart got nowhere.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, someone had a brainwave: “Hey, why don’t we try four wheels at once?”

And someone said: “Hey, what about using the four parts of the Save the Dreaming plan as the wheels?” And there was great rejoicing among the people, because, here, at last, was a way to get the Bloody Big Cart working.

They said: “Yes, let’s get the cart working and going places, then we can make it better as we go. We can give it a lick of paint or a bit of grease – whatever we need to make it go better.”

So, in 2016, 228 years after this land was usurped for the British Empire, whitefellas and blackfellas came together to force the government of the day to hand over the four wheels needed to get the Bloody Big Cart moving all over Australia.

And everyone wondered why on earth that cart had never been allowed to work before.

 

 

***~~~***

Table of Contents

Author’s note

Introduction

BLACKFELLA STORY

The dreamtime of creation

Living in the Red Desert

The Decision and the Chase

Alone but together in a savage land

A desert dying in the drought

The desperate search for the djirlbi

WHITEFELLA STORY

Our shame. Our disgrace

A plan to save the Dreaming

Land rights (Step 2) are crucial

Why we need a treaty (Step 3)

What might a Treaty (Step 3) look like?

The Republic of Australia must be inclusive (Step 4)

We need a new mindset

Our link to antiquity

A truly Australian culture

MESSAGE STICKS

Message stick for blackfellas

Message stick for whitefellas

Let’s do it!

A call to action: Save the Dreaming

Can you share this vision?

APPENDIX

[+ Resolution for an inclusive Republic of Australia+]

[+ UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights+]

[+ UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples+]

[+ Kevin Rudd’s Sorry Speech+]

The long road to a republic

A Song of the Republic: Henry Lawson

Our National Anthem

[+ Selected Bibliography+]

Acknowledgements

 

***~~~***

 

Author’s Note

This book has been in my head for many years and, through circumstances beyond my control, its message is now urgent and vital. I’ll explain that later. If you are Australian, please forgive me if I grab you by the collar and drag you into this book with me. It’s a trip we should all take together, and, as you’ll see, it’s something we must all do together, and quickly.

I want us to take this country from good to great, and to do so with a clear conscience – something that has eluded Australians since 1788. In one decisive moment in our history we can absolve the shame of how we treated the First Australians and, together with them, set Australia on a path we have not dared to dream before.

I have a vision to share and I want you to help make it happen, and to change history, because one person cannot.

I have stories to share. Please come with me.

 

It’s a fact: many white Australians just don’t “get” Aboriginal people and the way they sometimes have to live. I want to help white Australians better understand black Australians, as my small way of saying “sorry” to all Aboriginal people for the wrongs they have suffered for more than 200 years. But, more importantly, I want to offer my vision of a plan to very simply end the “recognition” and “reconciliation” and “treaty” and other endless debates, restore Aboriginal culture, and make this nation truly great.

I should state that, though my skin is white (and I have the skin cancers to prove it), I carry Aboriginal blood in my veins. I might be the whitest Aboriginal in the country, but I am proud to belong to the Biripi (Birpai) people of Taree, though life’s pathways kept me from living with them.

I didn’t discover this until I was about 10. My grandmother on my father’s side told me, emphatically and often, that I had Aboriginal ancestry “from up Taree way”. Taree is on the mid-north coast of New South Wales and I have relatives up there on my grandmother’s side and my grandfather’s side.

“That Taree mob is in your blood, and you ought to be very proud of it,” my grandmother said. She never lied to me.

And, indeed, I am mighty proud of my Aboriginal ancestry, even though I was brought up in a white family that always denied, vehemently, any Aboriginal connection. These were the days of the White Australia Policy. But it’s time for me to declare my Aboriginality and I repeat my grandmother’s words to my own descendants.

In 1976, a council of Aboriginal tribal elders proclaimed that all Australians with even the smallest amount of Aboriginal blood should consider themselves part of the Aboriginal people. Well, I have Aboriginal heritage dating from my grandmother to my great great great grandfather – and I am delighted.

My story does permit me to see Australia through both the blackfella’s and the whitefella’s eyes.

However, fragments of knowledge do not amount to full knowledge. I am not an initiated elder, so I am not entitled to reveal certain secret, sacred stories and rituals of the people I am writing about. I have told what I could, in whatever way I could, to tell the story, but not offend.

And I have to advise that some people named in this book have now passed on.

This book, in various forms, was in my head for many years, during which I learnt much about Aboriginal culture. Along the way, I read a great deal, from the early anthropologists to many Aboriginal writers, and learnt a lot directly from Aboriginal people themselves. I learnt some of the skills of hunting and gathering, of finding food (bush tucker) and water in various terrains, but, most of all, I learnt about the Ancestral Spirits and about how people lived, how they revered the land and everything that grew and lived upon it, and how it was vital to protect the land and every sacred thing and being on it.

At a young age, I was conscious of the then unmet need for an apology to these dispossessed peoples for the theft of their land and of their children, and for the many injustices and horrors inflicted upon them, both intentionally and unintentionally. I remember a few clashes with teachers over it in the days of white Australia. At first I could not see how Aboriginal people could ever accept reconciliation with those who had made them suffer so much. However, as I learnt more about their nature, their culture and their spirituality, I realized that real impediments to reconciliation sat squarely on the side of attitudes within white Australia.

Very gradually, I came to a determination to use everything I had learnt, every skill I possessed, to tell the story of the beauty and strength and character of Aboriginal culture. And I invite you to leave behind any values, beliefs or prejudices that might colour your view, and to step into the Dreaming with me, eyes wide open, because that is where we’ll find the Aboriginal people.

We cannot live now as Aboriginals lived, but we can embrace their history and we can embrace their culture – and we should. We must. And I believe the sad and sorry state of many Aboriginal people right now is a direct result of being dragged, one way or another, from their culture, their belief systems, their “country”, and left, defenseless, in the white world, which offered very little of value for them at that time.

There are a number of concepts I have used in this book, which will not ring quite true to Aboriginal people, but they are necessary to help white people understand the original Australians. And language and spelling is always a challenge.

Even the name of the Aboriginal people whose story I tell is a matter of conjecture. Some say Mandildjara (Bill Peasley) or Mardidjara or Mandudjara or Martu, while I’ve chosen Mardudjara, as used by anthropologist Robert Tonkinson, who lived with them at Jigalong in Western Australia.

When I speak of Aboriginal people, I include, of course, Torres Strait Islander people.

But details are not a real concern in light of my major objective – to show what the real Australia could be – if we have the heart for it. We must reconcile our differences and share the vision of a great Australia. And we must start now. Please, come with me.

There is a real sense of urgency about this, and all we need is a fresh mindset and a plan.

 

 

***~~~***

 

Introduction

This book is in two parts, which I’ve called Blackfella Story and Whitefella Story. I unashamedly call this an important book, because it links the Australian need for a republic with the way to end, at last, the endless gabfests about Aboriginal recognition and reconciliation and treaties and land rights and justice and constitutional change.

The solution is simple, if we have the right plan. There is still much to be done, but Aussies will do the work that will create a beautiful future for this country. There is, however, a real urgency about this now and the time for rhetoric is over.

The really hard yakka has already been done; we just need to finish the job.

The Whitefella story is the most vital part of the book, but the Blackfella story tells the story of Aboriginal culture and tradition so that non-indigenous Australians can understand the sad and terrible history and current plight of Aboriginal people.

Every Australian should know the history of the people whose lands, customs, beliefs and lifestyle we tried to destroy 230 years ago, and are destroying still. We have had a shameful part in the almost total destruction of a proud and blameless people. After long and unbelievable abuse, we now have the opportunity to change the course of Australia’s history and strive for forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed.

All of us.

To tell the story of the Aboriginal people, I’ve chosen to write about the last two Aboriginal people to live as nomads in Western Australia’s Gibson Desert, and their heroic and epic struggle, alone in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world, to keep the traditions of their people alive. It’s a story that stunned me when I first heard it.

I think all Australians should know this story.

The fate of the Gibson Desert people was set in motion when explorers and prospectors crisscrossed this country to find pasture land and gold. At least five explorers crossed Mardudjara lands – Warburton (1873), Forrest (1874), Giles (1876), Wells (1896) and Carnegie (1896). Prospecting expeditions came in, but found nothing to excite their interest at that time, except at Wiluna, far away to the south.

Early in the twentieth century, a series of “permanent” wells was established across the desert – along what is still known as the Canning Stock Route (mainly disused now, except for 4WD enthusiasts). This stretched for 1600 kilometres to bring cattle from the Kimberley district to the railhead at Wiluna. This had a dramatic impact on Aboriginal people, who now had access to the whitefella’s wells – and their isolation began to break down.

Aboriginal people began to make contact with drovers pushing cattle south through the desert, and a movement out of the desert began, and quickly gained momentum.

Once they left their land, few returned.

By the middle of the 20th century, small bands were still wandering over tribal lands, but Federal Government policy was to encourage or force all to settle on reserves and mission stations, off tribal lands.

Many were brought out of the desert to be “civilised”. Many came out of the desert without encouragement and drifted into settled areas.

Most who stayed behind were old and did not share the younger generation’s curiosity about what the whitefella offered.

Life became tough, because there were not enough young people to take care of the old.

It became impossible to continue the ceremonies and rituals that were necessary to ensure that rains fell and that animals and food plants remained fertile. Aboriginal culture that had survived for 60,000 years or more was disintegrating.

By the mid-1970s, there were no Aboriginal people living in the desert, except for two people, Warri and Yatungka. They were the last nomads and they were alone in the wilderness.

The Whitefella story tells of the tragedy and heartbreak suffered by the Aboriginal people at the hands of non-indigenous people since 1770, when Captain Cook’s sails appeared off our east coast.

We can never be truly absolved of shame over our early history since British times, but we can, as a nation, begin to right the wrong, embrace Aboriginal culture and become the kind of country that is the envy of the world.

The Whitefella story, the vital part of the book, contains “message sticks” to all Australians, both black and white, that are very important.

But the plan to Save the Dreaming is the key message of this book. It’s a simple plan that can change our history and take this country from good to great.

Yes, we can change the world.

 

 

***~~~***

 

Blackfella

Story

 

***~~~***

 

The Dreamtime of Creation

Long, long ago – in the time before time began – giant Ancestral Spirits strode across the face of the earth.

The earth was not yet properly formed, nor the skies above, nor the waters below, nor the vast mysteries of the universe. The earth was an endless, featureless, murky plain. The sea was grey and the sky grey, and the earth was lost in a dim, dusky half-light. Nothing moved on the plains. No life stirred. A primordial soup, containing the essence of life, spread across the depressions in the ground, thick and murky.

But, beneath the crust of the earth, the Ancestor Beings slept through the ages, undisturbed in their isolation. They slept there for an eternity.

Finally, the time came when they began to stir. With the stirring came a restlessness and a need to create and to bring into being. The Ancestral Beings knew all, and knew what they must do.

They could see with eternal vision and dream of eternal things. Only they had the power and the wisdom to create a world to match their vision.

They broke through the surface and began to walk. The spirits looked around them, and began the work that continues to this day – creating, shaping, forming, colouring, naming – until the world as we know it slowly came into being. As they walked across the earth, they pushed up hills, they dug out the water courses, they pounded sand dunes, they began to shape all the earth.

Each night, they slept and dreamt the journey and the deeds that would follow the next day, a process Aboriginal people have tried to follow ever since. Then they moved across the barren land, as their descendants have done ever since, hunting, fishing, making camp, fighting and making love – and as they travelled, they shaped the land and named it, and the landscape was formed as a home for all living things.

They sang all over the world – on mountaintops, along river beds, on the ranges, sand dunes and claypans. All over the world.

They made the sun and the moon and the stars to create a universe only they could dream of.

They made the insects, the ants, the grasshoppers, the emus, the wallabies, the kangaroos, the wombats, the koalas. They made lizards and snakes in the many forms they saw in their dreams.

They made the fish and all manner of creatures in the rivers and billabongs and oceans – more varieties than have yet been discovered.

And they made the birds of the air: the parrots, kookaburras, gulls, crows, magpies – all manner of birds large and small, colourful and plain, some raucous and some able to voice the songs of creation.

They made a world of wonders, and so all things of beauty and value were created by the spirits.

Seeds slept in the brown earth, seeds of countless grasses and plants and trees. An infinite profusion of seeds waited in the dark earth to germinate and produce the roots, leaves, flowers, vegetables and fruit that lay dormant within.

The Manguny beings, Dreamtime beings, knew the power that slept in the seeds and, one by one, as needed, they unleashed this power, and plants of all kinds began to flourish wherever they were needed.

They made humans and formed them into tribes and clans and bands and moieties – and taught them how to live.

In the Gibson Desert, two mythical lizard-men, Wati Kudjara, created much of the terrain – the hills, the creeks and rock holes that sometimes held water, and the spinifex plains. They created sacred places where they sang and danced the story of creation. They sometimes used grey-white stones to mark such places so that the Mardudjara people would know where to continue the ceremonies.

Everywhere they went, the ancestors left their footprints. The very shape of the land – its mountains, hills, riverbeds and rock formations – and even the unseen vibrations beneath, echoed the events that took place in that creation time.

Everything that was formed remained wedded to the origins of that place, that country, and to the Ancestral Spirits, so that the whole earth became sacred in a process now known as the Dreaming.

In this way, according to the old people, the world was “sung” into existence, to be honoured and cared for in every age.

And, everywhere the Spirits roamed, they left the songs and the songlines that were to be sung and followed for all time.

After the long process in which the Creative Ancestors made and remade and remade everything on the land and in the water and in the air, they grew weary. They slid back to a place of rest – in the ground, in the air, in the water, in the animals and in the plants, yes, even in the humans – and their vibrations can be felt to this day by those initiated into the ways of the ancestors and the Dreaming. From time to time they awaken and the creation process continues.

The epic creation journeys of the Dreamtime have been preserved in the rituals, the ceremonies, the symbols, the songs and dances, and even the way of life of the Aboriginal peoples. Every aspect of daily life reflects the Dreamtime stories of long ago that were created in that place. Every day is lived in remembrance of a time before time began, when that place and everything in it came into being.

Thus, every day is sacred, and every day brings forth memories of the profound poetic beauty of Creation.

This is the way of the Aboriginal people.

~~~~

The Ancestral Spirits watched the slow progress of people across the Indonesian islands, across New Guinea and into Australia. It was one of the most extraordinary treks in human history.

In the epoch when New Guinea and Australia were isolated from the rest of the world by an impassable sea, the Spirits sent giant marsupials to roam the land. There were giant kangaroos, wombats and emus, and they towered over the first Aboriginals. But the people not only survived, they prevailed.

Eons passed, and the Ancestral Spirits who created the Aboriginal people began to show them how to find many food plants and plants that offered healing of mind and body.

They showed places to quarry for ochre and stones that were suitable for seed grinding and for weapons and tools. There was much to learn about life and about living, and the people learnt it all and passed the knowledge to their young.

The people were never asked to believe in an invisible god. They believed in the Spirit Beings and could see proof of their existence all around them.

They saw what the Spirits had done to the earth. They observed plants and animals and how they were as laid down for them in the Dreamtime. They watched the weather, the sun, the moon and the magic of the stars in the sky, and they knew. They knew that everything they had been told from generation to generation since the dawn of time was true.

No doubts. No confusion. All life was one, as created by the Spirits, and they were part of it, always and forever.

~~~~

The people learnt much, and did everything they could to please the Spirits.

The Spirits showed the Mardudjara how to find the most treasured possession of the desert – water. They pointed out the creeks, pools and soaks, often hidden away in secret places. And they even showed how to tap water from certain plants in times of drought.

People learnt how to make fire and how to use it for cooking. They learnt to use smoke for ceremonies, and to repel insects with it. They used fire to regenerate the land and preserve it for future generations.

And they used it when the sun went down and bitter cold descended on the desert, and they simply wanted to be warm together.

The Ancestors showed the Mardudjara how to track, find, catch and kill birds, reptiles and animals, big and small, to provide the nourishment they needed in this savage land. They showed how to read the clouds and observe the moon and the stars to forecast tomorrow’s weather for the hunt.

They learnt the ways of the nomad, walking from sacred site to sacred site, where they found water and food, according to the weather and the season. They learnt when plants matured, and in what weather. And learnt the breeding and migratory habits of birds, reptiles, insects and marsupials.

The people were not always on the move, but no camp was permanent.

Over a period of 60,000 years or more, people learnt to cope with and survive in a wide range of temperatures and land conditions. They coped when the country was much bigger and the deserts much wider, when rainfall was higher and when it was lower, when summers were hotter and winds stronger – they coped whatever the climatic conditions of the era.

They survived the last ice age, and the rising seas that came after it.

Aboriginals watched the sun rise and fall more than twenty thousand million times. They witnessed volcanoes erupting and the frightening red hot lava flowing down mountain sides. They watched the seas rise and fall again.

But the Mardudjara were given the country far from the sea, where red desert sands drifted in the wind and spinifex stung the legs of nomads as they walked under a fierce, unforgiving sun.

The land was given for all time, for generations yet to be born.

And everywhere, and at all times, Aboriginal people, including the Mardudjara, remembered the Ancient Spirits and cared for country. They did not have to think back to the Dreamtime, because the Dreaming was here. Now.

They loved the land they were given and knew they could never leave it.

~~~~

As the centuries passed, the Spirits passed on great knowledge of plants as healers or remedies for many ailments.

Some were used as intoxicants, sedatives (some of them poisonous), wound and sore ointments, cough and cold relief, and even as diarrhea relief or contraceptives. Some were found to be effective and authentic, while others seemed to rely on the patient’s belief. Sometimes they worked; sometimes they didn’t.

But the Mardudjara learnt to recognize grasses, plants, flowers and trees – acacia, grevillea and eucalyptus among them – that they valued as being very useful in one way or another.

When rare cold weather swept in, or periods of rain after long seasons of debilitating heat, acacia was prized as a cure for coughs and colds, and even laryngitis. The women would mash and soak the roots to make a thick syrup. The bark and leaves of eucalyptus were used for anything from stomach and digestive troubles to heart complaints. And the smell of eucalyptus oil was a familiar one in every camp.

A native tobacco, though available only by trade in the Mardudjara area, was chewed, like a small ball of grass, but usually not smoked, and could be highly intoxicating.

Such was the knowledge passed down from generation to generation that brought much comfort to those suffering, without help, in a remote and harsh environment.

~~~~

Aboriginal kinship classifications were not created in recent times to suit the circumstances, they were created in the Dreamtime, when all of the Law was created, for all people not yet born, wherever and however they might live. And the Law does not change.

Kinship conventions were all-pervasive and all-powerful to settle personal disputes. No other law enforcement was necessary. There are no headmen or chiefs or kings. Elders are respected, but do not rule.

The desert people have no word for warfare. The Mardudjara people have long settled private disputes by a method called the “dark argument”. The dispute is settled at night, after the members of the band have separated into their campfire groups. Those involved in the dispute begin to yell abuse from campfire to campfire, often at quite a distance from each other. They scream and air their arguments, often wailing their grievances. Under the cover of darkness, they give full vent to their emotions and feelings, and it is highly unlikely that a weapon will ever be thrown. The screaming and shouting can go on for hours, but eventually the participants grow weary long before dawn, and fall asleep. By next day, when they finally drag themselves from their shelters, they’ve lost all interest in the argument and life returns to normal.

Occasionally, the dispute does result in fighting between men, but it often ends with three or four women screaming and hanging off the necks of the men to prevent the violence. By the time the men shake off the women, they’ve usually lost the urge to fight, and, again, peace is restored.

Disputes are like the willy-willy. Sometimes the spirits play tricks with the wind. There will be peace and quiet in the camp, when, without warning, a dark, twisting column of red-brown dust will sweep in towards them. It’s a willy-willy, and it sometimes screams in, sucking up grass and leaves and spinning them into the sky. It roars into camp, causing great panic and then it’s gone, as quickly as it came.

Sometimes it was more complicated, but this was how disputes were usually settled in the Mardudjara camp – gone as quickly as they came. Any attempt to rekindle the conflict would then be unthinkable, because this method of resolving disputes had been handed down by the Dreamtime Beings.

~~~~

In the Dreamtime stories, the ancestors developed the customs, the skills and the behaviours that told the Aboriginal people, wherever they lived, how to live. The lessons in those stories became the Dreamtime Law and were reflected in the simplicity and beauty of the Aboriginal way of life.

And that way of life involved preservation and respect for the land, care for country, and care for all living plants and creatures on it. Both the visible and the invisible aspects of the created world must be preserved – what can be seen and what can be felt.

For perhaps 100,000 years, the Dreamtime stories sustained a culture in harmony with nature and full of vitality and vigour and joyousness.

Then the sails of the whitefellas appeared off our eastern shores.

 

 

***~~~***

 

Living in the Red Desert

As dawn breaks, a gentle golden glow softens the dusty desert plain, and spinifex grasses wave and whisper in the slight breeze. The camp is still sleeping and even the dogs have not stirred. Silence has fallen in the night like a blanket, producing an air of stillness and serenity and peace.

But not everyone is asleep. Two women, without the need for words, gather certain provisions and quietly slip out of the camp. They walk quickly, surprisingly quickly for two such different women. For one is an elderly, yet strong and agile grandmother and the other a young, pregnant woman, not long married. The woman is in the early stages of labour.

They walk a big distance, the woman groaning softly from time to time, until they reach an area where only women are allowed and where a small rock pool gleams darkly in the early light.

The golden light gradually gives way to the red of the desert and the woman is very alert and noticing everything, despite her discomfort.

The grandmother digs a shallow hole in the earth and gathers spinifex for a fire, and tells the woman to straddle the fire so that the smoke covers her naked body, to connect her with the Ancestral Spirits. She leads the pregnant woman to a smooth rock and tells her to squat. She firmly massages the woman’s lower back.

The woman now backs onto the rock and leans into it. She begins to push down, letting the empty world know of her pain. Using small stones, the grandmother scrapes out a shallow place between the woman’s legs to receive the baby. The old woman must be able to see the newborn clearly. If it is weak, or deformed, or born too soon, she might decide to cover the baby and bury it at the place of birth.

But this baby arrives whole and animated and noisy enough to wake the spirits. The grandmother bites the umbilical cord to sever it. She scoops the baby boy out of his birth cradle in the earth and buries the placenta right there, to mark the place where the child was born.

Thus the baby Warri Kyangu is forever tied to this spot, and his obligations to the ritual care of this place, this country, forever determined.

The grandmother holds him face down in the smouldering spinifex fire to introduce him to the spiritual, then rubs his body with sand and warm ashes, to represent death. She whispers his sacred totem names so that evil spirit-beings will not hear them and harm the child. She takes a sharp stone and cuts part of the unbiblical cord to make a necklace for the baby’s neck.

Everything she does in governed by the Law. In this way, Warri is given a path to the language of his people and to the sacred knowledge that will, in time, make him an initiated man. Thus he is connected to the Ancestral Spirits and to all the mysteries of the Dreamtime.

The grandmother wraps the baby in soft bark and places him in a pitchi, a curved wooden gathering dish, in his mother’s arms.

Thus is born the last man to walk this desert and care for country as his ancestors have done since the dawn of time.

~~~~

Warri was fed at the breast until he was five years old, until his young body could digest the desert diet, but his training began before that came to an end. By the time he was four years old, Warri was catching small lizards and other animals and gathering food to feed himself and contribute to the family meals. It was a time of fun, exuberance and fledgling independence.

He learnt to gather the materials he needed to make small hunting tools, and learnt to read footprints and to track game. In this way, he gradually became skilled in all aspects of survival and life, even in a hostile environment.

When he was learning to track, he loved finding goanna tracks, because, at the end of the track, there would always be something good to eat – eggs or gawi, meat. He learnt to distinguish the different lizard and snake tracks. The Blue-tongue was different because his feet turned a little bit backwards, almost like an echidna.

There wasn’t much rain in the desert, but Warri learnt which way it had blown by which side of the tree was wet or dry, or which side had been washed down. He learnt about weather. He’d look for the side of a tree that looked lighter in colour or with colour almost gone, and that was west, because that’s the side of the hottest sun. He learnt many such things.

He learnt the passage of time at night by which way the Southern Cross was leaning. He could divide up the night that way.

The old men taught him to watch the moon, too.

“You watch,” they’d say. “When there’s a ring around the moon, that means rain’s coming. Big ring, big rain. Little ring, little rain. If the moon is not exactly in the centre of the ring, that’s wind coming.”

When there was a death nearby, he learnt to be quiet for a month. He and everyone else had to stand in the smoke of a fire so the spirits wouldn’t bother them.

Death meant a heavy, sad time for everyone, including the children.

The old men warned him about death, too.

“If you walk near where someone died,” they’d say, “the dead will follow you to your camp and torment you in your sleep, because the place of their death has been disturbed.”

So everyone stayed away from a place of death.

But, even more important, Warri spent much of his time with the old men of his people, who taught him the stories, the dances and the rituals that had been part of life since the creation time.

When he was seven or eight, he joined the other unmarried males in giridji, the “bachelors’ camp”. From then until his circumcision, he was a marlurlu, after Marlu the Kangaroo-spirit, who first took a novice on a long pre-circumcision Dreamtime walk through the desert.

During the initiation, Warri was told secret-sacred stories about yurlubidi, the Law, the truth of what life is all about. It is powerful and dangerous and can never be divulged to the uninitiated.

It was a time of serious learning, but he also learnt about emotions and feelings from both men and women. He remembered the first emotion being cultivated purposefully in him was compassion. His grandmother, especially, spoke of this often, telling him that sympathy and empathy were a necessary and natural part of living in such a tight-knit tribe. He learnt to observe and to listen, so that he would know when someone was suffering.

“Unless you can see and feel the need to help others,” his grandmother said, “and unless you show emotions, you are no better than a rock”.

Even sorrow and grief are freely demonstrated in Aboriginal society, with both men and women wailing and crying out in grief long after the death of a family member. Warri learnt that sometimes bloodletting was also necessary, usually a slashing of the thighs.

The blood and sorrow flows until the person becomes “empty of grief”. The grieving is not only to express their personal loss, but also to show compassion for others who are suffering.

Learning came slowly, in a process of watching, observing, and listening quietly, of experiencing and absorbing. This is the best way to learn, and it was the way the old men liked to teach.

Aboriginal people don’t waste words. Warri knew that, if he asked a man about a feature of the landscape, he’d likely reply: ”This is my country.” But if he waited, and listened carefully, deep levels of understanding might be revealed.

Warri was rarely punished as a child, and never physically. Aboriginal children were treated with kindness and tenderness. Adults rarely punished a child physically. Why punish them when they’re too young to understand why they are being punished?

If he was sick or injured, on the other hand, all family members lavished love and attention on him until he was well.

Mothers wouldn’t let people pick up their babies before they could sit up straight because they were afraid the babies would be hurt.

All of life was a series of ceremonies for Warri as he grew older. Life itself was looked upon as a ceremony.

Hunting, gathering, making fire, healing, looking after country, sexuality and even birth, initiation and death were all taught and valued through ceremony. Pain and pleasure, the never-ending quest for food and water, and the transition from birth to youth to old age were all living ceremonies and rituals that Warri had to learn.

Many ceremonies related to conflict in one form or another. In this way, he learnt about threats, fighting, aggression, betrayal, lust and violence – all of which lead to conflict.

He learnt about conflict resolution – Aboriginal style and tribal style.

And all of these rituals taught him how to live, how to behave, what was expected of him. He was never in doubt about what was right and what was wrong in life, because yurlubidi, the Law, was plain. He learnt that there were rewards and punishments for good or bad behaviour, and that even the Spirit Beings had erred at times, just as humans have done ever since.

The old men taught Warri that the land was sacred and the wellspring of all life.

“The earth is the mother of all Aboriginal people,” they said. “The mother nourishes all living beings. The earth is in our own blood, our own bones.

“The whole earth is sacred, and so is the Mardudjara country – the land where the Mardudjara were dreamed by the Aboriginal Spirits.”

This was the land of Warri’s birth, his inherited custodial land.

As he passed through a succession of initiations, Warri was given ever-increasing knowledge of the origins, importance and potency of places in his surroundings. The more he travelled with the men, the more he learnt of the Ancestral Spirits, of cultural wisdom, and the necessity to care for country. As he listened to the songs and watched the dances, the songlines seemed to flow as the blood in his own veins flowed, until he was as one with his country. When he occasionally left his country and later returned, he could feel his own country in his blood, in his very being.

“I can feel it in my bones,” he’d say.

Country was vital to him, and he was vital to country. He never spoke of owning his country, but of “holding” it to care for it and maintain it.

At that time, he was not to know just how vital he was to his world in the desert.

 

***~~~***

 

The Decision and the Chase

“What can we do?” Warri sat in the red earth, head down and absently scratching in the sand with a stick. The woman beside him raised her head to the skies and a tear rolled down her cheek. Her face was distorted in the agony of a decision too wretched to think about.

Some dilemmas are impossible. When moral values clash with intense personal feelings, sometimes they are beyond human resolution.

Who knew that love could cause such devastation?

When he fell in love, Warri fell into an abyss that he could not escape for the rest of his life. He was a good man. He obeyed the Law. He honoured the Ancestral Spirits. He did everything expected of him as a Mardudjara man.

But sometimes feelings rule. Love rules.

And love dictated that Warri Kyangu commit a grave breach of the Ancestral Law. Could he break the Mardudjara rules of marriage? Such a breach could be punishable by death.

Within the Mardudjara, Warri was born a Yiparka man. The woman he loved, and who loved him, was Yatungka, and she was a Burungu woman.

This placed her in the same section as his mother and the same moiety as himself. And she already had a bilyur; she had been promised to another man.

Aboriginal people cannot marry within their own moiety and remain with their own people. The Law was very clear and there was no ambiguity. Mardudjara elders would swiftly move to judgement.

Yatungka would be taken away from him and given to the other man. And they could order severe punishment or even death for Warri.

“What can we do?” Warri repeated.

Again, Yatungka could not answer.

Should they, could they, adhere to the Law, as was expected of them and of every Aboriginal man and woman?

Should they, could they, break the Law and leave their people? Leave their families, their loved ones? Could they live a life isolated from the Mardudjara people, forever hiding from the elders, trying perhaps to live with neighbouring people who might shelter them? Could they leave their traditional country? How angry would that make the Ancestral Spirits?

Yatungka wanted to say what she thought, that she wanted to live with him, needed to live with him, but it was his decision to make and she would accept what he decided. She moved closer and stroked his arm.

“Do what is right for us,” she thought. “I have to be with you. My place is with you.”

She put her head on his shoulder, but he could not make the decision then, and not for a long time. But, in the end, he knew what they must do.

In the night, as the camp slept, Warri and Yatungka left Ngarinarri and slipped away into the darkness. They made haste in great sadness.

It was unlikely that they would ever see the land of their birth again.

The spinifex scratched their legs as they tried to put as much distance between them and the camp as they could in the dark. This was dangerous. The many desert snakes made walking at night perilous. And, when they were missed, a punitive party would be quickly sent out to find them and return them to the elders for judgement.

And so it was that Warri’s childhood friend and hunting companion, Mudjon, was chosen to track down the fleeing couple. Short, but strong, Mudjon was selected because of his great endurance and his strict adherence to the Law. He and Warri had passed through the initiation ceremonies together. And he was as good with tracks as Warri was.

Mudjon did not look forward to the task. If Warri resisted, and he was sure he would, the tracker was instructed to use force, so he carried spears and hoped he didn’t have to use them on his friend.

He followed the tracks south-west and saw that the couple was travelling fast. In the low hills of Kata Kata, the tracks led north-west to enter the country of the Budidjara people. They continued towards the Paragoodingu rock hole. Warri was clearly seeking a good water supply in the Moongooloo hills.

Following as quickly as he could, Mudjon came to a place where low, gravelly undulations grated under foot and a scattering of mulga trees offered shelter to people camping at the Birrill rock hole, deep in Budidjara country.

Mudjon approached cautiously. He was very wary now.

He had seen smoke hovering over the trees as he crept near. Edging over a rise, he found the Budidjara people camping, and with them, Warri and Yatungka. The fleeing couple seemed to have been accepted by the Budidjara, and to be on good terms with them.

The hunter knew he risked attack by Warri and also the Budidjara men, but he knew his duty. He would have to be bold.

He strode briskly into the clearing and, in a strong voice, challenged Warri and Yatungka to come back to Mardudjara country.

The response was swift. Spears rained down on him from Warri and the Budidjara. Some were off target, but he deflected some with his shield, and threw a couple of his own. No-one was injured in the exchange.

Both sides began to shout and wave their spears, hurling insults and threats. Mudjon stood his ground and demanded that the Budidjara hand over Warri and Yatungka. He was not a big man, but his task was clear and he was determined. More spears were thrown.

“You have to come back with me,” Mudjon said, as the shouting subsided.

“No,” said Warri. “We will not go back. I will not give up Yatungka, no matter what you say. Yatungka will be taken away. She will be punished and given away to another man.”

There was more shouting and arm waving and arguing, but eventually, weary, they decided to talk again in the morning.

But, when Mudjon awoke, the pair had fled, heading west at a quick pace, deeper into Budidjara country. He knew he could not follow and sadly turned back to Mardudjara lands.

He was distressed because the Law had been broken and that must be punished, especially after Warri and Yatungka had rejected Mudjon’s entreaties to return. But, more, he had lost an old friend and would never see him again.

~~~~

Warri and Yatungka were in exile for many years. Three children were born and two of them, strong sons, survived in the desert, but the couple could find no happiness outside their own country, the land of their birth.

Finally, feelings for country could not be denied, and, with heavy hearts, they returned with their children to face the elders. Whatever their reaction might be, the exiled couple could no longer live outside their own country.

“What will happen?” Yatungka asked.

Warri could only shrug and continue his long walk home. He could lose her and he could be punished. At the very least, they would be humiliated before family and friends, so they walked with heads down towards the land of their birth.

They reached Mardudjara country, and found no-one. They kept walking from waterhole to waterhole. They found artifacts, weapons, tools, dishes – but no people.

Eventually, they were forced to face the facts. Their people had left the desert. They could find no-one. Mardudjara country was now empty, except for the family now facing a terrible tragedy.

The exile was over, but the loneliness continued.

As they wandered the land, they did, in time, find small bands of people, but little effort was made to uphold the Law. There were no elders left in the desert, so people could not be punished for what they did, or did not do.

But there was still the punishment of continued isolation. This was not the home they had left. No more would Warri join others to hunt the malu (kangaroo), djakapiri (emu) or papanguyama (dingo). No more would Yatungka wander with the women gathering food. There would be no more large gatherings around camp fires. No more initiation ceremonies.

Who, now, would honour the Ancestor Spirits?

And, in time, the last remnants of the Mardudjara people walked out of the red desert and headed south to Wiluna, and the sons of Warri and Yatungka went with them. There was nothing else they could do. The boys had to go where they could be initiated and become Mardudjara men. And this is where they could seek wives. They had to go, and, in the end, they chose to stay in Wiluna.

So Warri and Yatungka were alone again. They were the last people alive in Mardudjara country and in all of the Western Gibson Desert. Two alone in the vast, empty desert.

And that is how they remained for the next 30 years.

 

***~~~***

 

Alone but together in a savage land

In many ways, the food gathering, usually performed by women and girls, was harder and more difficult than the hunting, usually done by men and boys. And the women usually collected a greater proportion of the daily food needs.

But Yatungka loved to be busy and loved to contribute to the food supply and the cooking. Even when she had her babies and young children, she could be seen with a baby on one hip, a digging stick in the other hand and a pitchi gathering dish balanced on her head as she walked.

She loved the shimmer of spinifex in the morning light, or the soft purple haze of a claypan that she knew had been formed by the sleeping bodies of the wayurda possum-people in ages past.

She would scoop out a hole in the ground and light a fire in it. She’d let it burn until the hole had a layer of hot ash and embers. This was the way her mother and her mother’s mother had taught her to cook roots and root plants.

She thought of the Dreaming stories as she worked, often women’s stories, and sang the old songs softly. If she had a daughter, she would teach her, she mused sometimes, but she usually pushed the thought away. It was never good to think of sadness when you were alone.

However, the thought often came back and she’d imagine herself teaching the girl how to gather the seeds from the wild grasses and trees, and how to process the grains – the winnowing and grinding. Such were the ways of the women since the creation, passing knowledge from generation to generation through shared experience in stories, song, dance and ceremony. Even by drawing in the earth with a stick or finger.

Yatungka had many skills she could have passed on to a daughter.

She used mulga resin or spinifex to make gum in her pitchi tray. Mulga was best for this, but not always near. The gum was used in many ways to bind and repair cooking implements and pitchi dishes, and even hunting tools for Warri. The sticky resin was even used to bind sharpened stone to wood for cutting and chopping.

She stopped walking and absorbed the beauty of the morning. The sky was a shade of blue that only came after rare rain, and colours under the sky were sharper and clearer than they had been for many months. There was something in the air, too.

She sniffed into the faint breeze. Clear, clean air, that’s what it was, with a fresh scent of sweetness. Very light, but not the stale scent of the desert she knew so well.

Beautiful.

Her sharp eyes searched around her. She could see better in the clear air. She began to see where she would find seeds, nuts and kernels, ready to be gathered. Sometimes, in distant parts of the desert, she could find the honey ants that stored nectar in their extended abdomens. Warri loved the sugary taste, as did she. Sometimes in spinifex country, in rock crevices near dry creek beds, she might find the fruit known as bush bananas.

In wooded areas near Mardudjara country, she might see the light-coloured creeper that stood out against the dull colour of the host tree, and there she would find yams and dig long and hard to reach them.

The Ancestor Spirits were so good to provide such food and show how to find it. The desert might seem empty and inhospitable to visitors, but for Yatungka, these lands were created by the spirits, which gave the country rich spiritual meaning, as well as sustenance.

She ate her fill on that glorious morning, when she loved her aloneness and her solitary life and there was now no trace of regret in her. She walked slowly to absorb the joy of it all, gradually filling her pitchi with grass seeds, tree seeds, nuts and even mayi vegetables, as she nibbled her way through the spinifex.

She found a few berries to pluck, and sucked the nectar from a grevillea bush. Sometimes she collected the blossoms of the wattle and the grevillea when she found them to make the sweet drink she loved as a girl.

She remembered one still, clear morning, when she heard the slow warble and then the sharp “tock” of a honeyeater in a wattle tree. She let the bird have her fill and then sucked nectar from the wattle herself. There were other honeyeaters as well, and she had learnt as a girl to distinguish the different calls.

She remembered many happy hours as a girl, wandering with the other women and children, eating, laughing, and playing. Even as a child she could grab a snake, sleepy and stiff from the early morning cold, and quickly snap its neck. She knew how to make the sap traps that caught birds and small animals, although the Mardudjara did not like to use traps.

She spent time looking for a particular acacia tree, whose roots hid the nutty-tasting witchetty grubs. They were a delicacy and Warri loved them, partly because they were descended from ancient Creation Beings who burrowed and created paths for underground water channels.

Often it took great digging to find them, but there were none today.

But even sand dune country yielded tiny nutritious seeds. A big, wide smile spread across her face. She would grind the seeds and nuts back at the camp, and she could almost smell the hot cakes she would have ready when Warri came back from the hunt. Her heart was full.

On the way back to camp, the dog picked up the scent of a goanna on a tree branch. She very swiftly killed it by swinging its head against the tree. No matter how Warri went on the hunt, they would eat well this evening.

Sometimes he was not happy if he found no food, but Yatungka secretly didn’t mind this. It gave her the chance to do things for him and to change his mood as the stars blinked above. She would rub his body with goanna oil after eating to take away the dryness of the skin.

She smiled. She felt good about living in this harsh land with the man she had chosen above all others.

Much of what Yatungka did would have been done in the women’s camp in the old days, but now she was alone here. The lone woman. All alone. And she was suddenly struggling to keep her spirits high.

Sometimes she couldn’t manage to do it, but she always tried to never let Warri see her cry.

~~~~

The mulga tree was not old, but dying. Warri walked all around it, inspecting it closely. The time was right. The tree was right.

He found the side he wanted and, using a sharp-edged stone, carved two cuts on the tree the length of his arm apart. He slashed the cuts to make them deeper and began to cut upwards from the bottom cut.

It was hard going and sweat was running down his trim body as he worked. He checked the cut again and grunted, satisfied. Good. The cut extended in solid timber upwards about a hand’s width and a finger’s depth inside the outer bark.

Warri gave no sign of tiredness or muscle fatigue and worked relentlessly on the tree, hitting upwards in the cut. This was hard but familiar work and, in times like this, his mind wandered.

He smiled and then laughed out loud as he remembered some of the things he and Yatungka had to do because they were alone, with no-one to help. There were no men to help him and no women to help her, except for the rare occasions when they came into contact with other clans as they wandered to the far reaches of their country.

His hair had been a worry to him, until he finally convinced her to pluck his facial hair and forehead hair. She had fidgeted and giggled and hurt him when she first tried, and he quickly remembered he should have induced a trance-like state in himself before the hair was plucked. Eventually, they managed to trim his beard and raise his hairline to give him the appearance he sought. He had wanted to look better for her, and he secretly wished to have the appearance of a man of high degree.

Warri worked all day on the wood, cutting and shaping until the spear-thrower emerged from the side of the tree. He grunted with satisfaction.

This would make hunting kangaroos much easier.

If the wood was suitable, he liked to make them shaped like a long, narrow bowl, because a spear-thrower, like most tools, had to serve more than one purpose. This one could also help Yatungka, because it could carry water-soaked roots and other plants, which could be sucked for moisture or later cooked. It could also carry seeds and lizards, and serve many other needs.

But its main purpose was to double the length of his arm for throwing spears, and that was important in the endless desert, where hiding from prey was difficult. Possible, but difficult.

He was aching from his labours, but happy with his work. He headed back to camp, with only a goanna over his shoulders. He hoped Yatungka had some food cooking and perhaps seed cakes. His day always ended well when he arrived back at camp, back with Yatungka.

~~~~

When need drove Warri and Yatungka into a neighbouring area, or people from other areas came into Mardudjara country, it was a time for great joy, though tinged with caution at first. But, when no animosity was shown on either side, it was time for a celebration and more singing and dancing.

Part of the ceremony involved an exchange of gifts. Gifts might include food or weapons or tools or artifacts. Ochre was a common and much appreciated gift, because ochre was necessary for ceremonies and not available in all areas.

Life is a constant stream of ceremony, ritual, dance and song for all Aboriginal men, women and children. In this way, they celebrate all the mysteries of life and their origins in the great Dreaming of the creation time.

They painted themselves with the colours of ochre, when they could be found: red, brown, orange and yellow. They used pipeclay for white and grey, and charcoal for black. These were the sacred colours of the earth. They were given to the Aboriginal people in the Dreamtime. In the desert, dry kangaroo dung yielded a dark yellow-green colour, mainly used for painting rock surfaces, and this was offered as a gift to visitors.

They used these colours to create the art that told the story of Aboriginal Creation and culture.

The gifts being offered were always displayed to please both giver and receiver. There might be stone or timber tools, dilly bags, pitchi dishes, beeswax, grinding stones, resin adhesives, hair belts or other decorative objects.

It was more praiseworthy to give than to receive, and the act of giving was more important than the object given.

Warri had extra spears in each camp, so that he was prepared for a quick hunt in a new area, but also so that he had spears to offer as gifts to visitors.

On special occasions, like when visitors came who were great friends or who had helped Warri and Yatungka in the past, Warri might disappear for several days. When he returned, the visitors soon learnt his reason for leaving them. He might return with a throwing stick, carefully carved with a sharp stone and decorated with ochre.

Sometimes the design was secret-sacred and could only be given to those who could receive them.

A ceremonial exchange of gifts was a solemn and social obligation. The gift said: “For all time, until we die, we are together as one people.”

This, also, was the Law, because the Ancestral Spirits had taught how to give freely and with open heart.

~~~~

Warri and Yatungka sat quietly beneath the great, black, velvet canopy above them. No sound could be heard, except that of the dogs scratching for food or rodents and playing in the cool of the night. The night was splendid; stars glittering almost within reach.

They talked of the stars that shone so brightly in the clear desert air, of what the Mardudjara had named the most prominent of them, of the great Milky Way above them and the stories associated with the heavens. The stars were the camp fires of the Ancestral Spirits.

Warri remembered the story of a Dreamtime man who died. No-one knew why he died, but Wirjara, the Moon-man, found the body when he was walking with his dogs. He began to drag the body, but parts of it began to fall off. So the Moon-man, who was a clever magician, would put the pieces together again. But people started to laugh at him and ridicule him. This made him very angry, and he yelled at the people: “From now on, you will die and stay dead forever.”

If people had not ridiculed the Moon-man, Warri said, human beings would not have to die. However, the spirits were compassionate, and death was only physical. The spirit lives on after death. It cannot die, because it is of the same essence as the Ancestral Spirits.

Yatungka decided it was time to lighten his mood.

“I’ll tell you some women’s business,” she said.

“What?” Warri looked startled. Women’s business was women’s business. Not his.

“Look up there, to the Milky Way,” said the mischievous one. “See there is a black smudge that looks like an emu?”

“No,” he laughed.

“Look closer. Women can see it.”

Finally, grudgingly, he agreed he could, maybe, see the smudge.

“That is magic,” she said. “When you can see that emu shape clearly, that’s when emus are laying eggs.”

“What?”

“How do you think women became better than men at finding emu eggs?”

They both laughed and settled back to study the night skies. There was magic there.

Above them on this night, there was no moon, but the vastness of the Milky Way illuminated the earth and they were humbled by the sheer number of stars. Their spirits soared as they absorbed the stillness and the majesty of the night, and the nearness of each other. Alone on this vast earth, they yet shared a closeness and a happiness that few would understand.

Suddenly, Warri stiffened, lifted his arms to the sky and rose to his knees.

“They are here,” he said.

“Who are here?” said Yatungka, but, even as she asked, she knew.

“The old people. The old people. The ancestors. They are here. I can feel them.”

Yatungka shuddered. She could feel their presence also.

Slowly, they both rose and began to sway to a beat heard only by them. Gradually, the beat intensified and they began to dance, stamping up small clouds of dust. They were fearful of the might of the ancestors, yet each was acutely aware of their duty to the Dreamtime still unfolding around them.

Yatungka beat the clap-sticks to a steady rhythm.

They settled into a pattern around the camp fire, beating out a rhythm as feet thudded into the earth. Warri began to chant and Yatungka joined in, and the singing and dancing continued for several hours, while the stars swirled in the heavens to their own rhythm.

Eventually, man and woman sank to the ground, gathered the dogs to them for warmth and crawled into their shelter to sleep as only those with an exhausted body and a clear conscience can sleep.

The ancient spirits had been honoured and remembered, and the stories of old retold in song and dance.

Deep peace descended on a camp unknown to the world beyond.

~~~~

The sun was a blazing fire-stick in the sky, and Warri knew it was time to light his own fire.

He always knew when it was the right time to burn. The Spirits had taught the signs. Sometimes the arrival of birds told him. When many blossoms set seed on the black acacia wattle trees, the birds swooped for a feast, and Warri knew a hot, dry year was coming. Burn now, or risk a big fire later.

The wind was low, but steady, and he wanted to get it done before the wind died. He watched the clouds gathering, and he had seen white ants carrying eggs out of the dry creek bed and up to higher ground. Rain was coming. Good. It would put out a big fire.

He had already found a dry, dead mulga branch and split it lengthways. He anchored a split branch against a tree stump while holding the other with his foot. He began to rub the sharp end of his throwing-stick crossways in the split timber.

Warri rubbed with a fury, and the friction began to heat the mulga wood. Very soon, a small amount of kangaroo dung in the split began to smoulder. It began to glow softly, and he added a few blades of dry grass, and the grass quickly lit.

He began to blow gently and add a little more kindling, and grunted in satisfaction as the small flames grew. The breeze carried puffs of smoke away from the burning spinifex, and Warri lit more clumps to ensure a good burn.

This, he knew, would please the Ancestral Spirits. He had done well today.

Warri loved fire. And he loved Yatungka for carrying the fire-stick between camps when she could, and for having hot embers ready for him when he returned from the hunt.

The fire-stick ranked with water as his most prized possession. Fire deterred evil spirits from approaching the camp at night. He had heard it said that a fire-stick flame could make the rain cease or stop the wind from howling. But he rarely wanted the rain to stop and wind rarely howled in the desert.

Fire, though, helped them find wood for the camp at night in safety. It repelled insects and chased snakes from grass and spinifex before the nomads set up camp. It encouraged the growth of fresh, young grass shoots, which the kangaroos loved. And goannas could be caught when they came back to scorched earth to feast on rotting, burnt animals.

But most of all, Warri and Yatungka loved fire because it lit up the area for ceremonies. It created a magic spell on the ground beneath a sky ablaze with wonder. Then, when the dancing and singing drew to a close, to sleep beside the fire was a blissful and serene end to the day.

Warri shook himself out of his thoughts and watched the thick, black smoke billow away from the spinifex fire. This was good. There would be plenty of hunting tomorrow after the fire did its work.

~~~~

The man and the woman had no real concept of time, but, in every cooler season, they moved slowly westward until they eventually reached a range of low hills covered in stunted shrubbery. Here there were lizards and snakes and small marsupials, so there was always plenty of tucker. In addition, Yatungka had many berries and seeds and roots to be found with her practiced eye. She hunched over the seeds for hours to grind them into flour to make small, flat cakes, to be sweetened, occasionally, with wild honey, so they ate well here. The earth’s natural fertility, even in this harsh place, nourished them. And there was water in a spring nearby, which trickled into a small pool, in which they could bathe.

There were also caves here, and, in the caves, drawings done by the ancestors, the old people of this place. In this sacred place, both Warri and Yatungka spent many hours every cool season caring for country, trying to preserve the cave art and simply just looking and listening as they felt the presence of the Ancestor Creators and the elders of the old days.

Their long walk here was but a prelude to a greater journey, to the most distant memories of an age-old race – to the Dreamtime.

Here, also, they loved to perform a lamentation ceremony, in which they cried out and wailed and stamped their feet to welcome the spirits back to their beloved country. Their grief in such ceremonies was deep felt.

Tears streaked their dusty faces and they tore at their hair and beat their bodies.

Everywhere these barefoot nomads trod, they held a vision in which land and spirituality were inseparable. There was both profound sadness and exuberant joy here.

There was always much work to be done here, caring for country and showing the ancestors that the rituals were still being performed, their memories intact, even though there was no-one else left to do these duties. The nomads told each other that all was right with the world, as long as there was someone to remember, someone to appease and please the Ancestor Creators.

Within them the spirit of the ancestors lived on, and they had known from childhood that they were part of everything that had happened since Creation. The dawn of every day, therefore, was the same as the dawn of the universe, and they had an obligation to care for the land and for all living things on it.

This is what it meant to be alive.

~~~~

The hunt. Everything about the camp revolved around the hunt. And this was men’s business, Warri’s business. It’s what made him want to get up in the morning.

He had plenty of weapons. Like all Mardudjara, he knew about boomerangs, but didn’t use them. He did, sometimes, if he could find something suitable, use a curved throwing stick to bring down an animal, but such sticks did not return.

But his most important hunting weapon was his spear. They could be twice his height and he often carried four or five. Most had wooden heads, but he sometimes had, and treasured, a stone-head, serrated at the edges.

A spear was much more effective with a spear-thrower. Warri held it high, gripping it with his fingertips. When he hurled the spear, he kept hold of the thrower, which guided the spear’s flight.

But the greatest weapons of all for Warri were his knowledge, his skills, his techniques. He learnt to avoid being seen on the hunt by becoming part of the terrain. He would stand perfectly still on one leg, supporting himself on his spear, or his spear-thrower, so that an animal did not see a two-legged human. Or he would crouch to resemble a tree trunk, and he would become invisible to animals.

He could mimic the sounds of birds or animals to draw them closer. A snake’s hiss might draw a small marsupial out of a hollow log. He could fling his curved throwing stick and the movement in the sky could freeze a goanna in its tracks.

He might smear his body with sand and earth or ochre and slowly approach a kangaroo into the breeze, and the roo would never know. He could never catch garlaya, the emu, who was flightless and could run like the wind with a bouncy, swaying gait on long legs. Garlaya has a booming, grunting voice and can be menacing. No-one could catch him on foot, but Warri learnt tricks to attract the bird’s strong sense of curiosity, and draw him near.

A Mardudjara man was clever, and skilled, and the Spirits were always with him on the hunt. Sometimes Warri scanned the skies and watched for the Black Falcon. If he saw one hunting, he would hunt there, too. Sometimes he was drawn by its deep, harsh chattering or its slow, whining calls.

If not hunting, the bird’s flight was slow, but, on the hunt, it was swift, and the hunter moved quickly, also, to see what had attracted the bird’s interest.

Sometimes, there would be a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring on long, upswept wings. Its feeble yelps and squeals belied its fierce and savage hunting skills.

Before a hunt, Warri sat up long into the night watching the dogs. When a dog growled and thrashed about in sleep, he knew the dog was dreaming of the prey they were about to track down and capture, and that dog was chosen for the day’s hunt.

Warri sometimes smeared kangaroo or goanna fat on the dogs, because the old people said this made them hunt better. The dogs were great hunters and knew only one real enemy, the Wedge-tailed Eagle. But there were few eagles here, and Warri had to protect the dogs anyhow, because they were part of the family around the camp. They were pets, but also watchdogs, ready to rouse them at the stealthy approach of an enemy in the night. They liked to stay close to people, who welcomed their hunting and watchdog skills and tolerated their long, high-pitched howls in the quiet of the night.

The Mardudjara people have two kinds of ritual: mangunydjanu, the kind that come from the Ancestral Spirits, and bardundjaridjanu, which come to a man during sleep by his dream-spirit, bardundjari. There is also a type of song, called nyirbu, which is composed by men or women from what was happening in their lives.

So Warri’s first duty in the morning was to walk off into the desert alone to create a song about the dreams he himself had had in the night about the hunt. He knew that animals and birds would hear that song and help him in the hunt. He also believed that even the stones on the ground held crystals within, which they used to listen to the songs. If he had not dreamt, he would still sing the songs of this place and of the animals who lived in this country.

“The stones contain the spirits of the old people,” he told Yatungka as if she didn’t know. “They are lonely and wait a long time to hear songs sung to them.

“When I was a child, if I accidently kicked a stone, an elder would make me pick it up and replace it exactly as I found it. I ran away once, but they got me when I came back, and I never ran away again.”

He laughed at the memory, but he had learnt respect.

As he did before every hunt, Warri walked alone, yet not alone, because he was in the presence of the old people and the ancestors, and he had much to say to them and much to learn from them. No hunt could be successful without the help of the spirits.

In this way, every hunt had its own song, its own dreaming.

~~~~

Warri stood motionless on one leg, the sole of the other foot resting on the knee and thigh. He held a spear in one hand and the spear rested on the ground. The bent knee sat on a spear thrower, which was also resting on the ground. His standing leg, the spear and the spear thrower gave him three points of contact with the earth, and his balance was assured. He could stand thus, perfectly still, for hours and no prey would recognize him as a two-legged hunter.

He also turned his head sideways and looked up, so that his two eyes were less noticeable to the roo.

In this way, the hunter stood, his body connecting earth and sky, while he watched for food to come his way. While he watched and waited, he was seeing his country and hearing the Dreamtime stories from this sacred place.

When he saw an echidna, he’d remember the story of Manganya, the Echidna-spirit, who was hit by many spears in a fight with Gadabuda, the Lizard-man. In a dry creek, he’d remember Gunagalyu, the Snake-man, who left the winding creek bed in his wake.

The stories were many, and each connected to the place in the desert where they occurred. If other Mardudjara people were here, stories would be told by many who were initiated and allowed to tell those stories. However, there were no others here now, and Warri and Yatungka felt the great burden fall on their own shoulders. If the stories were not to be lost, they had to be told, even if they would not, in normal tribal life, be authorized to tell them. And even if there was no-one to hear. But even if they could remember all the stories and sing and dance them, what of the future? Who would sing the songs or draw blood for the sacred ceremonies?

Sometimes the responsibility was overwhelming.

Stories were connected to other stories from place to place and would normally be told by different elders or small hunting groups as the stories stretched into “songlines” that crisscrossed the Gibson Desert and spread out to join others in adjoining tribal areas. But all Warri and Yatungka could do was to sing the stories and dance and honour the ancestors in all the places they travelled through in search of food and water.

What else could they do?

These were the thoughts that consumed Warri on his hunt and while he waited patiently for prey to appear. Was he doing the proper thing in caring for country as he did? Was he making the ancestors angry? Sometimes it seemed so, especially when drought came, or searing, unrelenting heat, or often both drought and heat.

The stories are what guided the nomads as they wandered. They were not really nomads, in the sense that they did not wander aimlessly looking for food or water. No matter how great the need for food or water, the stories told them where to go and where to stop, according to season and weather. The ancestors had dreamed the stories, and the old people from ancient times had travelled this country often, and told the stories that would guide all generations in this place.

Warri could only do what others had done before him. By listening to the songs and energies and vibrations of the earth, he could hear the voices of the universal Dreaming and live by them.

Such was the Dreamtime Law.

~~~~

The Mardudjara lived so in tune with nature that they chose the most painless way to kill prey. They did not use snares or traps (except for a bird trap of sticky gum) because this could cause long suffering in the desert.

Warri, on a good day, could spear a big red kangaroo at 100 paces. But he didn’t do that anymore, after one roo was wounded badly and suffered for too long. Marlu the kangaroo, loved the open plains and it was difficult to get close, but, if he couldn’t kill it quickly, now, he’d rather go hungry and eat seeds. Rock wallabies loved the stony gorges, and were easier to kill quickly, though there were few of them to catch.

“The elders told me snakes and other animals are our kin,” Warri said one day, when both he and Yatungka were hunting together. “We must be kind, or the spirits who made the snakes will be angry.”

He and Yatungka often spoke in this way, as if the other had never heard that story before. He spoke gently and quietly, and stroked the snake in his hands, before quickly biting its head off.

Sometimes they spoke unnecessary words just so the other could hear a human voice.

Yatungka also had the women’s ways when it came to ensuring a future supply of food. When digging up desert roots, for example, she always left an end portion in the ground, because, she said, this impregnates the earth in that sacred place to give birth to more roots.

Both Warri and Yatungka tried to always cook and eat food as close as possible to the place where it was found. This made the food more sacred simply by being in place.

Warri would often cook large game where he found it and carry chunks of it back to camp, skewered on his spear. But, depending on the time of day and the distance from the camp, they sometimes worked together when a speared kangaroo or other large animal was roasted whole on an open fire. The animal was first exposed to the flames for a short period, to allow the spirit of the animal to escape to be with other spirits of the species.

The cooking process followed a ritual created in the Dreamtime. After the initial period in the flames, the kangaroo was removed, the skin scraped off and the intestines removed with sharp stones. By then, the bed of hot coals was ready and the animal cooked on both sides until Warri deemed it ready. As the male hunter, he would take the partly cooked blood and drink some while it was warm. He’d then take more blood and rub it on the tips of his spears to ensure that they’d fly straight on future hunts.

Sometimes roo skin was used by Aboriginal people for shelter or clothing or water carriers, but not in the desert. Here, the Ancestral Spirits had decreed that the skins were not to be used for this purpose.

Reptiles, being cold-blooded, are treated differently. They are usually cooked until well and truly black and crisp. But the killing of reptiles was also done with nyaru, compassion. They might follow goanna tracks to a burrow and quickly dig it out, but it had to be killed swiftly.

Much of their food was cooked on hot sand beneath a fire. Yatungka would work the embers, spread out, say, a goanna, and sprinkle hot sand on top of it. Then she’d put cold sand or, if available, wet sand in top to keep the heat in. At the same time, she or Warri might have another fire going to cook something else.

Yatungka sometimes had a Blue-tongue in her pitchi when she returned to camp, as well as seeds and a few berries. The big, slow-moving skink was no match for her quick hands. It would inflate its body, hiss through gaping mouth and poke out its flat, blue tongue, but she would have a tight hold and dispatch it quickly against a tree or rock.

Sometimes, she’d spot a bearded dragon, but, in a flash, it would disappear in the spinifex on its long legs, and she’d rarely catch it.

Sometimes, she’d catch a glimpse of quick movement in the sand. Sand-swimmer. She’d smile at the lizard’s ability to swim under the sand to escape predators, like her. She could, occasionally, catch a long-eared bandicoot, but it burrows quickly and a long, tiring dig is needed.

Aboriginals usually eat a meal only in the late afternoon, unless a ritual decrees that another time is suitable. During the day, people snack on whatever they find in hunting and gathering.

Warri’s last task each day was to make sure the ground around the camp was clear. There were dangers in the night. Like the Desert Death Adder, red-brown like the desert, with yellow bands. It was not a big snake, but deadly, and greatly feared in the desert, especially at night. They also feared the Mulga Snake, the King Brown, which was a much bigger snake and just as deadly. The gwardar, the Western Brown Snake, is usually shy, but an unwary walker will be very soon dead.

There were many other snakes that were easier to handle and harmless, or, at least, less risky. These were the ones that found themselves stretched out on a hot bed of coals, if they were not careful.

Late in the afternoon, before sunset, Yatungka used a brush broom to sweep around the camp. This way, they could see in the morning what tracks had appeared overnight in the camp. She also gathered wood for the night fires, and used bushes to protect the waterhole as best she could from animals if water was scarce. While she was there, she’d collect water for themselves and the dogs.

Then the night was hers to enjoy with Warri before sleep overtook them.

Warri was busy throughout much of the year in the desert lighting fires in the spinifex to burn off patches of country. This achieved a number of objectives. The seeds of many edible plants only germinate as a result of fire, and this “fire stick farming” as anthropologists came to call it, therefore helped ensure a future supply of food.

Warri, though, saw burning as a death that incites new life in a ritual handed down by the ancestor spirits. Before lighting the fire, he always sang the song of the Great Ancestor who used fire to catch rats and mice in the days of creation.

Fires also flush out game to make hunting easier. Warri chased the bigger animals, like kangaroos, while Yatungka went after smaller marsupials. Each would yell when they caught something, because there was no-one else to eat the food, and no food should be wasted.

It became a game, in which the victor was the first to catch enough to eat. When this happened, the hunt stopped, because it was wrong to kill when the belly was full.

But life was not all a game. Every time he returned to camp, Warri would scan the ground for footprints. Someone who came as a friend would leave footprints. If there were no footprints, some might still have come, but come as an enemy.

So he was always anxious and wary. The feather-foot party could still come from the elders bent on punishment, and the feathers tied around their ankles would obliterate the tracks.

But there was rarely a visitor and the feather-foot party never came. Yet, no matter how long it had been since their flight from the Mardudjara, the nyagadji, the “wrong pair”, never lost their fear of retaliation.

~~~~

Yatungka sat quietly near the small indentations in the earth and dug with a stick. The Dreamtime stories had told her where she would find the honey ants that would please Warri. It would take plenty of digging, but it would be worth the effort.

As she dug and sang the story and found the ants, she smiled. Her smile was the first thing that had attracted Warri to her long ago. It was a mischievous smile that told of a love of life and a joy to be alive, and a love of the man she had finally agreed would share her life.

“You have the smile of a gecko,” he would tell her, and run out of reach.

Yatungka loved geckos. There was a drawing of a gecko on a sandstone rock face in the Durba Hills.

She loved their large eyes that did not blink and marvelled at the long tongues that would flick out and clear those big eyes. She loved their soft skin. She didn’t see geckos often, because they were nocturnal and hid in the daytime under loose bark or stones or in abandoned burrows. Some of the smaller ones hid in spider holes, with only the tail showing. Occasionally, she’d see one sunning itself on a spinifex hummock. They ate insects, spiders and scorpions, and Yatungka applauded them for this.

She knew some took a liking to soft fruit or nectar and some can’t get enough of termites. And, rare among lizards, geckos have a voice. If they felt threatened, or if Yatungka grabbed one, they would gape the mouth, bark and try to attack her. If they are desperate, they can discard their tails to escape, and grow new ones.

Some liked trees, some lived on the ground and some loved the rocks. They came in all shapes and sizes. Some had a short, stumpy tail that looked like a head to confuse a predator into not knowing which way it would run.

Yatungka loved Warri to speak of her smile, and only feigned annoyance for the fun of it. She thought back over the years and the great decision they had made to marry, when everything they had been taught, everything they knew from all their years as a Mardudjara man and woman, told them they could not do so.

Must not do so.

Yet, they had done it, and had lived with the consequences ever since.

Yatungka sighed and busied herself again, searching for food.

~~~~

Warri smiled as he spoke to the dog rolling at his feet in the red sand.

“If you knew what I’m thinking now,” he said, “you’d run.”

He was mixing up some “blood of the dog.” He took some ground red ochre he had traded with another clan, some red earth from the ridge, some animal fat and some blood from a desert rat-kangaroo, the rodent suddenly appearing in the camp and startling the dogs.

Warri knew a story from the Dreamtime about an ancestral dog called Mirini, who lived when large reptiles ruled the earth. Mirini fought with a huge lizard called Adno and lost, when Adno managed to grab him by the throat. Dark red blood spurted from the dog and the blood, falling from the ancestral sky, formed deep red stains on the earth. Today, those red stains are seen in deposits of red iron oxide, in red ochre and in the red of much of the desert areas.

Aboriginal people refer to the red ochre mixture they use to paint sacred totem designs, and themselves, as “the blood of the dog.”

Warri smiled again at his dog, who had himself once bled after an encounter with an angry perentie, the giant monitor of the desert. The perentie had come upon the dogs suddenly, clumsily. There was a clatter of loose stones and he was there. He hadn’t seemed to notice the dogs, but they noticed him. Instantly. They were on their feet, surrounding the giant king of the desert. He was as long as Warri was tall, with pale skin and darker brown markings. His deeply forked lilac tongue licked the air. The perentie has a serious set of teeth, but is usually harmless to man or dog, unless cornered. And now he was cornered.

No man could outrun a perentie and dogs were needed to catch one. The dogs had cornered the huge reptile and were attacking it from three sides, while the perentie tried desperately to ward them off.

Warri smiled at the reptile’s revenge as he caught one of the dogs, but then he grew solemn again as he thought of the ceremony he was about to perform. It was a secret, sacred ceremony at a waterhole in a sacred location. It was here that the Serpent Spirit had revealed this same ceremony to him.

Yatungka could not be present, and he had already helped her set up her camp at a far distance where she could not hear or see. Very often, she would start Warri’s ceremonies. She would sing the songs of Creation and begin to dance to draw the Ancestral Spirits near. But this time she could not be there. This was not women’s business.

Doubt suddenly entered Warri’s mind as the thought that he might not be worthy, might not be permitted to perform this sacred ceremony. But he pushed the thought away. Proof to him that he was to consider himself a man of high degree in his isolation had come long ago, when, on a whim, he followed a rainbow. He walked all day, and watched thunder clouds gather as he walked. Finally, at the end of the rainbow, he reached a water hole, and the thunder clouds opened up. He knew then, with absolute certainty, that this was where the Serpent lived, the giant Wanampi, the giant snake of the desert, who was once chased by Wati Kutjara, the two men of ancient times who travelled much in this country.

Ah, the stories and memories in this place. Wati Marlu, the Red Kangaroo Spirit, was a spirit who also travelled great distances in the desert, magically transforming the land as it went. There is a Sand Goanna Spirit, whose name is sacred and cannot be repeated here. There is Minyma Tjuta, the Spirits of Many Women.

So many stories. But many secrets were only revealed to initiated men of high degree. Warri was not such a person, and yet the mystery of how he came to the knowledge of where the Serpent lived puzzled him. He thought, in the end, that it might be mabain, the magical substances in the water he drank from the water hole. The serpent favoured quartz crystals and filled them with mabain, and maybe, just maybe, he had swallowed tiny crystals in the water.

He shook his head. He could not know all the secrets of the Ancestral Spirits. He could only do what he thought would please them.

Warri had collected all the materials for this ceremony with great care. When he saw what he needed, particularly ochre, he would approach the site with head bowed in silent respect. When moving away from that place, he walked backwards in his own footsteps, where possible, to cover his tracks and leave the site of this intimate contact with the earth undisturbed and sacred.

He continued to stir the red mixture on a piece of bark, and knew that, for this ceremony, he had to do more. He began to chant and sway and beat his chest and thighs, until he slipped into the state of mind he sought. Only then did he take his sharp cutting stone and begin to slash his arms with parallel strokes, allowing the blood to run into the red mixture below. He rubbed his hands over the cuts to catch the last of the blood and smeared it into the mixture. Now he was satisfied. His own blood was necessary for this ritual. Normally, others would share blood, but there was no-one else. His blood was there, though.

What more could he do?

The dog watched him lazily as he rose to his feet and smeared the red mixture all over his naked body, as required by the Serpent Spirit. Now he was bonded to the spirits.

Slowly, he arranged certain items on the ground and began to sway and stamp his feet in the ritual that must remain secret, sacred except to the initiated men of high degree. He began to chant the song he had learnt long ago at the water hole to honour the Serpent.

But there were no other men left now to see or to hear.

~~~~

Yatungka looked out from the shelter that she knew would not protect her when the monsoon rains fell from the sky. It had been a long time since she had walked this far north, far out of Mardudjara country, and she was excited about the wild weather that might soon arrive. In the past few days, she had felt the energies and the vibrations in the air as she waited.

Her feelings were mixed. On the one hand, she felt strangely lonely here in this place without Warri. She felt this way every time she left camp to gather food or, in times like these, to perform the Dreamtime rituals women must perform without men. She did not want to be far from him. And yet, there was great joy in singing the women’s songs and dancing the stories performed by women since the dawn of time.

She smiled as she remembered the time, long ago, when her mother and aunties had brought her to this place to teach her the ceremony. Would they have brought her here if they had known that she would soon marry Warri, a man from the wrong moiety? No, she decided, they would not, because this was the place for the fertility ritual.

But her mother did teach her. Yatungka learnt that it was the great female Serpent Spirit that brought the wet season, and that the spirits had been kind in allowing the wet season to reach this part of the desert, north of Mardudjara country. The wet season, with its teeming, though temporary rain and abundant wildlife, was particularly welcome after a long, hot, dry spell. And it was the ideal, right time for the fertility ritual. If ever the spirits were to smile, it would be now, in this place, at this time.

“Where are you going?” Warri had asked.

She had smiled and lowered her eyes.

“Where are you going?” he repeated.

She gave him that wicked, mischievous smile that had attracted him to her when they were young.

“Women’s business,” she said, and laughed. And that was the end of the matter. Though secretly her exuberance was tinged with sadness.

The rain had started to fall heavily now, and she held a piece of bark to protect her from the rain drops, which were heavy on her head.

For days now, she had to constantly restrain herself. She was old now. Too old to have more children; and the ceremony had certainly been very effective in the past, when she had her sons. A tear escaped and ran down her cheek to mingle with the rain water. Those sons had been such a joy, and such a heartbreak. A joy when they were born, and a heartbreak when they were taken away, willingly, to live with her family, because she had surely angered the spirits when she married a man from the wrong moiety.

But Yatungka had learnt, when her world was young, not to dwell too long on the sadness of the past. There was no purpose in doing so, and certainly no comfort.

“I cannot look back,” she’d say. “That’s not the way I’m going. I’m going forward.”

She turned her mind to the rains, which were incessant anyhow, and did let her thoughts drift back to the fertility rites of long ago. There was no sadness then. She had to stop herself from rising and starting to dance as the thoughts of those wild, ecstatic fertility rituals flooded her like the monsoon. It was not right to dance when there was no-one left to have babies.

All the women had thrilled to such uninhibited exuberance in years gone by as they abandoned themselves to the ceremony that would surely end with more babies for the Mardudjara people.

But there were no other women here now. Only herself. She had come to this sacred women’s place to feel once again the absolute bliss of the dance, and she had done so. But she could not dance when there was no-one left to have children.

She felt the exuberance of ceremony mingled with the sadness, and lingered while the memories flooded in with the rain. Then it was time to turn back to the camp. She trudged south, away from the rains, into the dry and heat of the desert, and back into the lonely life she had come to know so well.

~~~~

Yatungka knew the plants that could be spread out to dry, then shaken, producing heaps of small, oily seeds. These could be made into a quick meal by smearing the paste made from the seeds onto a hot rock at the camp fire.

She also took care of water near a camp. Every morning, she would remove any animal droppings from the night before, or birds that might have fallen in. Water was either drinkable or deadly. Sometimes, when in doubt or when the water was putrid, she’d take it in a pitchi dish and sprinkle in coals from last night’s fire. When the charcoal dust dropped to the bottom of the dish, the water, she hoped, would be safe to drink. If there was no charcoal, grasses and sand were sometimes used to filter water.

Women of the desert knew that desperate times called for desperate measures.

Staying alive was a complex business, and often women’s business. And they did it very well. But Yatungka worried about it. This vast and complex knowledge had passed from generation to generation of Mardudjara women, but who could she tell? What would happen when women stopped handing down the knowledge?

Cooking skills would also be lost if there was no-one left to pass them on to other women.

It was women who cooked the seed cakes and small animals – reptiles, birds, and others – the animals caught by women and children.

To cook a snake, Yatungka kept it stretched over a fire until the reflex movements after death ceased. She then put it on the ground, sliced its belly open, scooped out the entrails and cut the head off. Then she could roll it up and cook it on hot, but not red hot coals, turning it from time to time.

She tried to remove sand and grit from her cooking, so the meat was not too gritty. The teeth of old people in the desert were always ground down by constantly eating food with grit still in it.

Yatungka loved gathering food and cooking it. It gave her great pleasure to see Warri satisfied. But how could such skills be passed on, if there was no-one left to teach or no-one left to listen?

 

***~~~***

 

A Desert Dying in the Drought

Warri and Yatungka walked slowly and cautiously into the hills. This was a sacred place and it was not Mardudjara country. The Spirits of this place must be respected.

They had come to rest because Warri was not well. His eyesight was not as it was and he could no longer hunt. But he also had a painful arm and leg, and was sick most of the time. Here in Durba Springs, they would find water and food and buri, shade. A chance to recover before they continued their journey back to their own country.

But first, they must approach this place with the utmost respect. The sandstone walls and some small caves were covered with walga, rock paintings and engravings, and the sheer volume told the story of this sacred site for the Aboriginal people.

So they approached slowly, with heads down, placing their feet carefully so that they did not disturb the Spirits.

Warri knew of an evil man, called Ngangooloo, who lived not far away to the north at Lake Disappointment.

Ngangooloo lived under the lake in cold or windy weather, but came out on better days to devour Aboriginal people. Warri stayed well away from Lake Disappointment, and was very nervous, even this far south.

But they did rest here, despite their trepidation, and they found water and food. Warri knew about morabudi, a fungus that grew at the springs, and it could be eaten cooked or raw.

There were also edible berries of the walgoo tree, and pandalba, the flowers of the grevillea.

They ate well, but had to leave before Warri was fully recovered. He was always anxious here, and had to get back to his own country.

And so, in the midst of the worst drought they had experienced, they still had to leave this place of relative abundance and walk once more into the heat and cracked earth and menace of the scorched desert.

~~~~

When rains do not come to the desert, vegetation withers and dies, waterholes dry up and food becomes hard to find. In days gone by, young men and women would find the food to look after the old, but Warri and Yatungka were alone and had grown old. Food and water became more and more difficult to find.

For three years, very little rain had fallen in the desert, and it had very quickly evaporated. A great drought took hold of the ancestral lands.

Waterholes dried up and birds and animals either succumbed to thirst themselves or had migrated away to seek food and water.

Mirages appeared often, cruelly offering false promise of abundant water pools.

Large black thunderclouds might appear far away, and Warri and Yatungka would sing the rain-making songs and dance in the dust, beckoning the clouds to come. They waved bundles of bird feathers to attract the attention of the rain-spirits they knew lived in the clouds.

But no rain clouds came, no rain-spirit came, no rain came.

Thirst and starvation lurked for all living things in the parched desert.

When this happened, the nomads knew it was time to move again, and to keep moving. For months now, hunger and thirst had dictated many moves, but the Spirits sustained them, because each move was also a pilgrimage.

Warri and Yatungka knew where they must go, because the pilgrimage was determined when the world was young and the Spirits roamed the desert. As they roamed, the Spirits made that place and provided it with water and food according to the season.

Hence, in normal times, before they left each camp, Warri and Yatungka knew where they must go, where they would find water, what animals and plants they would find.

It had all been ordained by the Ancients.

The old people. The old people. They knew the way and they taught it. If people honoured the Spirits, they would find nourishment.

As they reached each new camp, they first had to honour the Spirits through song and dance and ritual. Then, and only then, could they rest.

Each song and each dance told the story of that place: how it was created, what happened since then, what creatures lived there, and how the Mardudjara people should live when they were there.

Thus, Warri and Yatungka always knew and respected the Law. The Spirits were ancient, but still alive in that place, and must be honoured and respected. The Dreamtime was then, but the Dreaming was now.

That was how it has always been, and that is why Warri and Yatungka were so confused. The food and water they had always expected, and almost always found in each place, were not there now.

Drought had descended on the desert and, with it, punishment such as the last nomads in that place had never felt, and never imagined.

The Spirits were angry, that much was certain, and the old couple could not understand why.

~~~~

Sometimes, Warri would know a drought was coming. The wind would sweep in hot, very hot, and bring with it new scents. He could detect the sharp smell of eucalyptus oil as it evaporated in the heat. There were other scents, too, driven in from faraway places. Strange scents in the desert.

Sometimes plants would bloom before their time. Some would not bloom at all. Some eucalyptus trees bloomed profusely. Acacias produced abundant seed as if in anticipation of bad times ahead, but wanting to be ready when rains did eventually come to make seedlings grow.

Goannas might appear early after hibernation, confused by the hot air.

Clouds might gather ominously on the horizon and spread as far as the eye could see, taunting Warri and Yatungka. But they would bring no rain.

The kangaroos would disappear. They can last for a long time without water, but there is a limit to everything. They can travel vast distances to reach water or grazing. Their bounding gait and a surprising ability to keep cool and survive long periods without water might save them. Sometimes they seemed not to notice the signs and were caught by the drought and grew too weak to escape. But no roos meant no rain, and no relief from the terrible dry.

Sometimes the wind blew fiercely, gathering heat and rising and growing stronger as it blew. And it lifted the dry red sand into the air and propelled it, choking and blinding, throughout the desert and far beyond.

Breathing became almost impossible, and sand got into eyes, ears, nostrils, mouths. There was no escape, no let up.

They let the smoke from the fires blow on their faces. It kept evil spirits away and good spirits close. And it kept the flies away. The old men had never seemed to speak of flies, and Warri thought maybe they had only come with the cattle and with camels. But they were unrelenting now.

Sometimes lightning, driven by Barmalgunda, the Lightning Spirit, lit up the sky and terrified Warri and Yatungka, who clung to each other and waited to die. But eventually the terrifying strikes would end without bringing any rain, and the drought dragged on.

Warri could not only see the land and everything that happened on it, he could also listen, and he could smell. He listened to the desert silence, for sounds that should be there, but were not, or for sounds that were there and should not be.

His eyes were calm, but constantly monitoring land and sky, even when he appeared to be paying no attention at all. He felt the slightest change in the breeze. His nostrils flared as he examined the air to detect a change, no matter what.

He had observed the world for a long time in this dry season, and he did not like what he observed. He knew the desert like no other, and he was afraid.

“Not good,” he muttered to himself as much as to Yatungka. “Not good.”

In the desert, where rain was rare and evaporation fast, finding water was always a matter of life or death. In a drought, the search needed longer treks over boiling sands for less and less water. In the biggest drought Warri and Yatungka could remember, when the Spirits seemed to have abandoned them, the search was desperate.

There were few waterholes in the desert, and they were usually in distant rocky outcrops requiring much walking. Warri usually relied more on soaks in such times, and they gave up precious little shallow water, and then after much digging into sandy, dry creek beds or wells in suffocating heat.

In an extreme period of soaring heat, some plants could store life-giving water. They found a few such plants on their long trek for water. Some species of mallee scrub held precious reserves of water.

Their long roots, stretching under the hot sands, were thin tubes that contained life-sustaining water for those who knew where to find it. But even such hardy plants dried out when drought dragged on and no clouds appeared.

Three days ago, Yatungka found a Desert Oak they had been looking for. She found it in sandy soil between dunes, and it was magnificent, though wilting. She pointed it out to Warri, shaking with excitement. He took her digging stick and began feverishly digging into the hot sand at the base of the tree. When he reached a root, he broke it and dragged the long root away from the tree. When he ripped it clear of the earth, he broke off a piece and gave it to Yatungka, who quickly drained it into her dry mouth. He did the same, and they were delighted with the cool, clear, refreshing taste of the water.

They took the one root and left the rest for other thirsty visitors to that tree, though they knew no-one else would come here. But that was three days ago, and the dry root had now been discarded as the nomads continued their search.

There were wells dug out and maintained by the Mardudjara for hundreds of years. Yatungka, because she was smaller, had to scamper down a ladder made from a tree branch to get to the bottom of a well, sometimes five metres deep.

Many were dry in the drought, and some had accumulated a little water, though they were sometimes putrid with the carcasses of birds and animals. Yatungka now tried to cover the top of wells with dry spinifex to prevent water being spoiled by dead animals, but it was often too late.

Some small pools and wells were almost solid with bird and animal droppings and dead animals. The animals came at night, emaciated and desperate with hunger and thirst. Many died.

In recent times, when Yatungka cleaned up the carcasses around the camp, she couldn’t bury them – the ground was baked hard – so she just dragged them away, but the air always smelled of death.

The pair were so dry now they could barely talk, but they knew a tragic truth of the desert – that water can kill. They had to be very wary, and sometimes boil the water in a tin can, adding more intolerable heat. And wait a long time, parched, for it to cool enough to drink.

Yatungka emerged from another dry well and shook her head.

“We might join the old people today, the ancestors,” she said, her voice a whisper. Thoughts of death were never far away now.

Warri and Yatungka searched for a sign, any sign, of water. Sometimes a line of marching ants or the quick flight of finches, fluttering noisily, told them where to find water hidden in small holes, or trees, or root systems. They might see the white rumps and zebra-barred tails of the zebra finches. They were quick, and had a nasal “tiaah” and a soft, rhythmic song. But there were no ants or birds today.

At soaks, they looked for the growth of small herbs that would indicate water near the surface. But very little grew now.

Once, in the last drought, a frog, buried in the sand, had shown Warri the way to water. He had come across a waterhole baked hard with mud, and he knew a desert frog could survive in tight burrows perhaps two hand-lengths into the mud. It could sleep months there, he knew, bloated with water. Warri tried something he had learnt long ago, and thumped his feet into the hard mud – and it worked. A frog was deceived into thinking thunder was rolling in ahead of rain. The frog croaked and Warri whooped with joy. He quickly dug the frog out, using a digging stick. He squeezed it, and the precious water dropped into his and Yatungka’s open mouths.

But there were no frogs to be found today, and very little hope. They climbed into a small rock cave in the hillside. Their best dog had died during the trek, and they would have less warmth when bitter cold replaced searing heat tonight.

If the Spirits were willing, though, tomorrow would be another day.

~~~~

The remaining dingoes were so thin they could barely walk and staggered before falling into a meagre shade to rest.

The old couple saw two emus today gasping for breath, with no strength to run when they saw the hunters. The stronger of the two was left and the weaker killed for desperately needed food and moisture.

This was a great gift, because grass seeds were withering and disappearing quickly, depriving the hunters of vital nourishment. They were running out of places to hunt and to gather food.

Yatungka knew where the old women had planted wattle seeds long ago, because they knew wattles only gave seeds back in times of drought. But these were far distant. Food like ant larvae was only eaten during droughts, when there was little other food left. Today was the day for eating ant larvae – if they could be found.

There could be no thought of seeking food or water on neighbouring lands. They would be suffering also, if those people were still in the desert. In any case, old people want to die near their place of birth, so their spirits won’t have to travel far. So, they stayed in their own country, though there was no hoard of food to fall back on. What they could find was all they had.

Yatungka looked at Warri and he was skin and bone. She did not wish to look at herself. She had no tears, but her heart broke for him. Death must be near. If not today, perhaps tomorrow.

They had been through so much together, but she was too weary to think of it. Only one thought consumed her: they had lived together and now, soon, they would die together.

“Let the Spirits take him first,” she thought. “Let him not see me die.”

~~~~

Yatungka had kept Warri alive for many weeks. He could not hunt and could barely see or walk. She had found the meagre water and food to sustain him. But he was very weak now.

She knew the women’s ways to help the sick.

For fever or chills, a particular grass, smelling strongly of menthol, could be chopped up and mixed with water to make a liniment. For a headache, she’d make yulydja, a type of hair string bound tightly around the head. She’d soak it in a mixture of animal fat and red ochre and use it for other aches and pains, as well.

For his sore arm and leg, she warmed oily gum leaves until they went green and greasy, but not so hot they would burn the skin. She put the leaves in a poultice she’d made by crushing dried quandongs and mixing them with goanna or emu fat. It seemed to help with the swelling.

There were many such remedies, but the urgent need, now, was water and food, and there was precious little of either. The only food she could find was quandong fruit, “emu apples”, and she thanked the spirits that it was the right season. But, as the heat began to build up, even that was starting to disappear.

She watched him slyly, without appearing to look at him. When she could, she looked at his eyes, and was sorry she did. She could see in them the emptiness of a haunting, terrible loss. Something vital was missing in his spirit. When he did die, what would she do?

She could not walk the long distance to the next water without water to sustain the walk. But it didn’t matter. She had chosen to live her life with Warri despite the dangers and consequences of doing so.

“I will die here with him after he dies,” she thought. “We belong together. We will stay together.”

Keeping him alive from day to day seemed hardly enough, but it was all she could do for him. “I will die soon,” she thought. “I cannot live without him.”

~~~~

Warri looked at Yatungka out of the corner of his eye. He did not want her to see him watching. He felt what had become a familiar tight pain in his chest. He could not work out if he was sick or whether his heart was breaking. He looked at her and saw what the years with him had written on her face and on her body.

The wretched drought had taken its toll on both of them, and on the land, as never before. Why were the Spirits displeased? What had they done to cause such displeasure?

He tried to look back on their long life together, and tell himself that they had been good years. They had done much together. They had hunted, sung, danced, performed the ceremonies, made love, laughed together and cried together. They had done as the Dreamtime Law had decreed and they had surely done everything they possibly could to care for country and preserve the culture that had survived since the dawn of time. They were good years, yes, but surely they were coming to an end. They were old. There was no-one to care for them. They could barely care for themselves.

Warri’s knowledge of the land and all that grew on it was accompanied by his fervent belief that the land would not be fertile or productive unless the Ancestral Spirits were obeyed and honoured.

He constantly performed the rituals that would ensure the fertility of the land and the creatures that lived on it – until he could no longer do so.

If he disobeyed the Law, death would surely follow. If he obeyed the Law of the Ancients and sang the sacred songs and performed the secret ceremonies, rain clouds would form to end the drought and the land would be restored. This much he had always known, until now. Now a terrible doubt had gripped him as never before. Now, the Spirits did not seem to be near, or to see their plight.

He shuddered and a tremor took hold of him. What would become of Mardudjara country? Who would preserve the Law? Who would honour the Ancestral Spirits? This was what he had dreaded for many years. When Yatungka and he were gone, who would keep the Dreaming alive?

He moved to tend to the spinifex shelter. She could not see him like this, and he had to prepare a place for her to rest. She was exhausted. They both were. Too tired to look for food, just too weary.

As they stretched out on their backs in the shelter and sank into exhaustion, Warri knew he had a decision to make. And he did not want to make it.

He had seen the smoke, watched it carefully for two days. He saw Yatungka also watching it, and he knew she knew what it meant. She said nothing, and he knew she would not. It was his decision to make, and whatever he decided to do, she would be by his side. As always.

But he could read her mind, as always, as she could read his, and he knew what he must do. But they would have this night together. This night that might be their last.

There would be no singing or dancing this night, and no love-making and no talking. This was a night for fitful sleep and troubled thought. A night to just be with one another. Remembering the past, terrified of the future.

Who knew what other nights there would be? This was the night, as long and as difficult as it might be, that they did not want to end.

If they survived it, they might never have another night in their own country.

 

***~~~***

 

The desperate search for the djirlbi

The Mardudjara people, far away to the south at Wiluna, were aware of the extreme drought that was devastating their country, and they became increasingly anxious.

Day by day they scanned the sky to the north for clouds that might herald rain for their country. They searched in vain and shook their heads and talked about the safety of the old couple.

They called them djirlbi, the old ones. When they called them old, it was a term of respect, rather than age, although the couple were old now.

Were they still alive?

The only evidence that they might still be alive was a report of smoke having been seen in the year before, 1976.

Mudjon and the other old men knew that this could only have been lit by Warri. Who else was out there? These men had lived in the desert and knew how tough it was to survive a drought. And this was a very long one. The longest any of them could remember.

“If the old couple are still alive,” Mudjon said, “they will not survive another summer without rain. They will die.”

The other men nodded. This much was certain.

The elders decided a search party must go to find Warri and Yatungka and, if they were still alive, get help to them before another hot season hit them.

One of the whitefellas the Mardudjara respected was Bill Peasley, a medical practitioner with a love of the desert. He had been with a small party deep in the desert and had seen that smoke far away in Mardudjara country. Shortage of fuel had prevented an investigation at that time.

Now, a year later, the Mardudjara elders urged people to mount a new expedition to find Warri and Yatungka.

“They must be found within a few weeks,” they argued.

Bill Peasley saw their agitation and anxiety and quickly put together an expedition. With him were other whitefellas, Stan Gratte, John Hanrahan, Harry Lever and Mark Whittome, plus Mudjon, who would be their guide.

They set out in three 4WD vehicles from Wiluna, which had been the home of many Mardudjara people for many years. Several hundred Aboriginal people lived there. The exodus from the desert had taken the Mardudjara south to Wiluna or north to the Balgo mission, and some settled on pastoral spreads to the north-west and later moved to Nullagine and Marble Bar. And many moved west and settled at the outpost of Jigalong.

When a gold mine at Wiluna was closed 30 years earlier, the town was dying, but Aboriginals from surrounding areas began to drift in and to establish camps. They wanted to try what whitefellas offered and, for a while, maintained traditional culture as well.

But, after they had settled, they found they had misjudged the whitefellas’ culture. What they got was denigration of their own culture, beliefs and lifestyle, and, above all, what they got was alcohol. Within a few years, the desert people’s lifestyle and reason for living had been torn apart.

By the time the expedition left Wiluna, few of the Aboriginal people were able to resist alcohol in excess. They had lost their culture and had no hope of a future. Despair sapped energy and boredom drove them to seek the oblivion of drink.

The tribal elders, custodians of Aboriginal secrets, began to feel there was no-one left to whom they could pass on secret knowledge, which was the only thing that could restore the culture.

~~~~

Mudjon was one of these elders and the weight of responsibility fell heavy on his shoulders.

The search area was vast and covered the area near Lake Disappointment and the vast area to the east and south. It ranged from the Rawlinson Ranges in the east to Lake Disappointment, and from the Great Sandy Desert in the north to the Great Victorian Desert in the south.

Mudjon knew every inch of this country. For many years, he had walked this land, from the low hills of Bulgarri, Tjurina and Wanderandja in the east to Djunderoo soak in the west. From Djulinoo soak in the south to beyond the Yallendjiri rock hole in the north. He knew every rock hole, soak and well where Warri and Yatungka might seek life-giving water.

[In the tradition started by Bill Peasley, I’ll use Aboriginal names for places, rather than map names, to prevent unauthorised intrusion by 4WDs on to sacred ground.]

The sun was blinding and the vegetation parched and either dead or dying. The ground beneath their wheels was either soft and burning hot or dry and cracked. To the east, a ridge of low sand hills could be seen in the distance. Between here and there, spinifex spread out listless in the leafless mulga scrub, stretching out silver-grey in front of them. There was no movement, except for heatwaves shimmering and haunting.

Driving in the desert was difficult at best, and fraught with danger. They occasionally crossed burnt country, where bushes had been burnt to fire-hardened spikes in the ground, and this caused punctures to add to their woes.

The stoppages didn’t seem to bother Mudjon, who took the opportunity to wander off. What he did on these occasions was unknown, but he clearly relished his time alone.

The desert is a great expanse of sand hills running mostly parallel to each other, vast open spinifex plains and belts of mulga trees and low, stunted scrub. There are few geographical features here. No mountains rise out of the desert and no river runs through it. There are a few low ranges and the eroded remains of mountains from eons ago. The surface is covered in fine gravel, red sand, dry creeks and claypans.

There are no tracks on maps; only in the memory of the desert people, like Mudjon. He had travelled far in Mardudjara country and in neighbouring areas and he remembered everything he had seen. If anyone could find the old couple, he could. And he had already done so not once, but twice.

He had found them in the days after they first decided to marry and leave the Mardudjara people. And, in the early 1950s, a great gathering of Aboriginal people in the desert areas, a djabal, decided that the culture could not be maintained anymore by isolated groups, and that people should come together to live near each other.

Messengers were sent far and wide to bring people in from the deserts. Mudjon himself went to Mardudjara country and, moving from waterhole to waterhole, gathered up the small bands. Among them were Warri and Yatungka and their sons.

The group moved southwards along an invisible path travelled for centuries, past the waterholes of Wangabaddi and Karkun and on to Kata Kata and Walloogoobal and Djnbabingo. But the further south they walked towards Wiluna, the more uneasy Warri became. He was leaving his beloved country and moving towards the judgement of the elders. He was less worried about his own punishment now, but would they take away Yatungka?

One night, as the camp slept, Warri and Yatungka and their sons slipped away and melted into the darkness. By dawn they were far away and travelling at great speed back to their own country. There was nothing Mudjon could do. Twice he had tried to bring Warri back and twice he had failed.

Now, with the search expedition, he was trying again. This time, he knew, the consequences would be tragic if he failed.

~~~~

The search party travelled north-north-west from Wiluna along the disused Canning Stock Route.

They would turn to the east when Mudjon saw the smoke from Warri’s camp or when he thought it was time anyway. The three vehicles were loaded down with fuel and supplies.

They stopped to fuel up and replenish water supplies at Glenayle station on the south-eastern corner of the Gibson Desert. Beyond Glenayle, only Aboriginal people could survive.

They took on as much fuel as they could and jettisoned anything that was not essential to the mission. In the next few weeks, they were to cross more than one and a half thousand kilometres of the most rugged, inhospitable country in Australia. They were confident they would find water 300km north at Durba Hills, but beyond that was the unknown.

And it was the worst drought of the century.

Sand dunes were a constant problem. Some were high, with little vegetation to hold loose, dry sand. Some were simply impassable and they had to detour around. From time to time, they had to reduce tyre pressure to gain traction.

Durba Springs was a welcome relief.

Here they found huge white gum trees, couch grass and many paintings left there on the sandstone walls by Aboriginals of the past. Mudjon entered this place with caution, because this was a sacred place and it was not his country.

A little north, at Killagurra Gorge, Mudjon was particularly apprehensive. The paintings here were secret-sacred. He was keenly aware that he was an intruder here. He refused to enter the gorge and feared something terrible was about to happen.

They left Durba Springs with heavily overladen vehicles, taking extreme caution. Broken springs and axles were a real threat with heavy loads in such hostile terrain. They were still waiting for word from Mudjon to turn east.

“Should we send up a smoke signal to let Warri know we are here?” Bill Peasley asked.

“No,” said Mudjon. He was emphatic, but did not explain.

The search group thought this strange, because they were sure that, if Warri was within a 150km distance, he would see the whiffs of smoke. But Mudjon was adamant and would not allow a smoke signal for the next few days.

Mudjon finally gave the word to turn east. He had not seen smoke, and the group was mystified. Why turn now? They looked to the east to a scene of desolation. A fire had passed through some months earlier. The spinifex had burnt out and only the blackened skeletons of low scrub remained of the normal landscape.

Only one bush had been stimulated to growth by the fire – womma, the native tobacco plant. Mudjon gathered it up with great joy, stuffing it into plastic bags to be enjoyed later, when it dried.

Travelling was a little easier moving east, because they were running parallel to most of the dunes. They visited the low range of the Ngundrayo Hills of the Budidjara people. They were not likely to find Warri and Yatungka here, because it was not Mardudjara land, but these were extraordinary times, and Warri was no doubt desperate for water.

They crossed a treacherous series of dunes and reached a claypan with scattered mulga. They moved along the rock face of the hills and found a cave with many Aboriginal paintings.

Mudjon held up his hand for silence.

“Listen,” he said. They all listened, but could hear nothing but a soft whisper in the trees. “That’s the sound of ancestors crying because no-one is left to dance here and care for country.”

They moved on in silence and, further on, they found many more paintings of great antiquity that deeply moved the searchers. In silence, they absorbed the sense of spirituality and meaning the wall art offered.

“There is more here than can be seen,” one said.

Afterwards, sitting in the red earth and observing the vast rock art, the searchers found it an absorbing and emotional experience.

There was a sense of awe in this sacred place that left words redundant.

They saw native fig trees, more caves and many Aboriginal artifacts, with signs of camps over many years. Mudjon insisted that there was a permanent waterhole here, but not a drop of water could be found, nothing but dry creek beds.

“It it here. It is here,” Mudjon insisted. He pointed to pigeons in the sky ahead, and he rushed in that direction, yelling and waving his arms, when he found animal tracks heading in the same direction.

He had not been to this place before, but he knew what to look for. Following the tracks, he came across a kapi, a pool of clear water. Mudjon danced for joy.

A spring of clear, sweet water bubbled out of the ground. An unbelievable anomaly in a land dying in the drought.

“This is just overwhelming,” Bill Peasley said. “No-one in the outside world has any idea that these hills hold so many secrets. A bubbling spring in the desert. And all these Aboriginal paintings. Who could imagine so many in such a place?”

The number of walga, paintings, was staggering. No-one had anticipated such a discovery.

“I propose that the gorge where we found this water be called Mudjon Gorge,” Peasley said.

“And the kapi, the pool, should be called Ngundrayo Water, the name given to it long ago by the Budidjara people.”

They all felt some of the uneasiness that Mudjon felt in this sacred place, and felt like intruders, but camped where the Budidjara had camped for millennia.

But there was no sign of Warri or Yatungka here.

~~~~

Mudjon turned the search party east, towards the Moongooloo Kapi, because he had visited this waterhole, and he knew Warri had been here in the past, even though it was still Budidjara land.

But there was little vegetation here, no animal tracks, no bird life and no water. The drought had done its work.

There was no sign of Warri and Yatungka.

The party climbed a rocky slope to get a good view of where they were headed. There was no smoke to be seen. If Warri and Yatungka were alive, there was no sign.

But, again, Mudjon was adamant that there was water here, and, after much work, they found it the next day.

There were many Aboriginal artifacts near the water, but no sign of Warri or Yatungka.

“They have not been here for a long time,” Mudjon said. “They left nothing here.”

The way ahead was littered with ridge after ridge of forbidding sand hills. There was no sign of life and no water. Creeks, rock holes and claypans had been dry for a long time.

“Nothing here,” Mudjon said. “Nothing. They’ll be dead maybe.”

From time to time, his sharp eyes picked out a smoke haze on the horizon.

“That’s the Fitzroy Crossing mob,” he’d say. Or that’s the Warburton mob, or the Jigalong mob. The party needed binoculars to see what he saw with the naked eye.

Enormous sand hills blocked their progress several times.

There was still very little animal or bird life to be seen, even by Mudjon. There was one hill, called Wannoo, which Mudjon refused to explore.

“Warri’s not there,” he said, refusing to budge. “No-one’s there.” This was clearly a frightening place for Aboriginals.

At last they came to a ridge, and Mudjon, studying the land to the east, found his own country, Mardudjara country, ahead.

“I have to walk in this country,” he said. “I won’t be here again.”

They had to persuade him to get back in the vehicle.

“We don’t have time to walk,” Peasley said, though he understood that Mudjon was not talking about the physical act of walking.

“I want to see the waterholes where my people camped,” Mudjon said. “Ngeega, Pidjirri, Ngowell, Malliadoo. Maybe there will be signs of Warri there.”

The waterholes and soaks were many, but they were scattered over a vast area of desert that was harsh at the best of times.

Suddenly, Mudjon plunged again into a dark mood and his head sank.

“Heart too sad,” he kept saying, as he remembered his people hunting and laughing and singing around the camp fires. There was little to show for millennia of life here by the Mardudjara people. Just a few artifacts around camp sites. “Heart too sad.”

He became silent and profound sadness became visible as it enveloped him. He just wanted to lay down, deep in thought, in the meagre shade of a tree. Out of respect, the others walked away.

How had this happened to his people? His culture?

~~~~

They moved out of Moongooloo, heading east of the Kata Kata Hills. By mid-morning, they reached a low, gravelly rise with dry, shallow water courses.

This was Birrill Kapi, where, many years ago, he had challenged the fleeing Warri and Yatungka to return with him to face the Mardudjara elders.

There was no water, not even moisture to indicate that digging might help. And there was no sign that the couple had been there for a very long time.

Mudjon took them from waterhole to waterhole without the aid of a map. They passed the Barragoodingo rock hole. No water.

The elder was very quiet at the camp that night.

“Warri and Yatungka might be dead,” he said, at last. “I feel it in my heart.”

That thought led to troubled sleep for everyone on that clear, desert night.

Mudjon took them a little off course next morning to visit a rock hole that Warri knew. He wanted to look for signs of a recent camp there. They passed burnt country, where the firing had been done in strips.

“Man made this,” Mudjon said. “This is Warri. But a long time ago. Not now.”

Further on they reached another burnt strip and finally reached the gravelly site of the Ngoongoo rock hole. Despite much digging, nothing but damp earth could be found.

Mudjon could see that Warri and Yatungka had camped here a year or more earlier and had moved about, hunting and gathering.

They had stayed until no water remained.

“They headed east,” the tracker said.

He found some evidence that the couple had been at the next rock hole, but, again, had moved on when the water dried up.

“Now it’s time to make smoke,” he said at last. He thought Warri and Yatungka might have gone to a waterhole called Millen to the south-west.

“Maybe they will see the smoke,” Mudjon said.

But there was no smoke in reply, from Millen or any other direction. Mudjon’s smoke made a huge grey pall over a wide area, and Warri would have seen it if he was within a 150km radius. He had not seen it, or had chosen to ignore it.

“Maybe he’s not alive to see it,” Mudjon said.

Another nearby rock hole, Walloogoobal, was also dry. One of the men climbed down into the well and dug hard, but it had been a long time since that well had held water.

However, the tracker said the couple had camped there for a long time. There were the remains of windbreaks and fires there, an abandoned digging stick and a discarded djugur hair belt, normally worn by Aboriginal men to carry lizards or small game. Why had Warri discarded this? Was he too weak to carry food?

But there were other signs that plunged Mudjon into depression. He found a broken wooden scrape near the well, which told the story of a desperate effort to dig for water to survive.

And he also found the remains of a dingo scattered about.

“Maybe they were forced to kill one of their dogs,” Mudjon said. “That must have hurt Warri in the heart. No-one will kill one of their own dogs unless they are desperate and starving.”

He wandered about, eyes on the ground.

“When the well ran dry, no birds or animals came here. All the plants are dead or dying. There was nothing here for the old couple to eat.”

And Mudjon found something else. He found footprints for the first time nearby.

“Warri and Yatungka,” he said immediately. He followed the footprints for several hundred metres and shook his head.

“They are both very weak fellas,” he said, his voice so low he could barely be heard. “And the dogs with them are very weak. Very bad.”

~~~~

The old couple had travelled north, and the search party followed. The ground became impassable for the 4WDs and they had to cross stony hills on foot to the Baabool rock hole.

But Baabool, too, was as dry as the stones. Warri and Yatungka had dug long and deep, desperate for water, but there was none to be found. Mudjon could see the marks, and there was a small pile of spinifex nearby.

“They put spinifex in the pitchi dish to stop water spilling when walking a long way,” he said. He looked at the dry grass again.

“Yatungka, she threw it down angry,” Mudjon said.

The old couple had no water that day, and nothing to sustain them to get to the next water. And they did not know where they might find it.

The old tracker groaned and held his head in his hands.

“We are too late,” he said.

But he got up quickly and rushed back to the vehicle. Warri and Yatungka could not be tracked on rocky ground, but Mudjon knew where they would go, or try to go. He thought as Warri thought, and acted as he would have acted.

So they headed for Kata Kata.

After a long drive on a flat, dry plain, they climbed a slope to search the landscape. Mudjon lit another fire, and dark smoke rose high into the sky and spread for many kilometres.

“If Warri and Yatungka are alive,” said Mudjon, “they will see this.”

They searched the horizon in all directions, but the sky remained clear. There was no smoke in answer.

“Light another fire,” said Mudjon.

They did so, and the bone-dry spinifex flared instantly with bluish-white smoke. Scrub lit also, burning with great columns of black smoke.

Mudjon stood stock still on the rise, silhouetted against the late sun, looking for his old friend. He trudged down at last, defeat bowing his shoulders.

“They must have seen it if they are alive,” he said. “Nothing.”

This land had kept the Mardudjara people alive for thousands of years. Could it be that, in the end, it could not provide enough water to keep the last two nomads alive?

“We are too late,” the old man said. “Two or three weeks too late.”

No-one was of a mind to answer, but, talking about it at the camp fire that night, Mudjon was despondent.

“No point to continue,” he said. “They are dead. I feel it in my heart.”

However, in the morning, he said there was another waterhole “close up”. He seemed reluctant to go there, believing they would find the bodies of Warri and Yatungka there. A dingo, terribly emaciated, had come into the camp in the night. They all agreed this dog had been with Warri and Yatungka, and had finally left them when they perished somewhere nearby.

They moved towards the waterhole, despite their dread, and were sure they’d find the bodies of the old couple among the mulga trees that surrounded the well.

They found two crude shelters, and Mudjon walked away, unable to look.

But the shelters were empty – and so was the well. Bone dry.

They did find the ashes of a fire, and signs that Warri and Yatungka had dug frantically for water. Mudjon said they had still been digging when night fell, using the fire for light. And perhaps had found a little water, enough to move once more.

“Maybe.”

~~~~

Which way would they have gone? Which direction?

“In the old days,” said Bill Peasley, “when your people roamed the desert, there must have surely been a waterhole where, during severe drought, they gathered and were able to survive?”

Mudjon scratched in the red, parched earth.

“If Ngoongoo and Walloogoobal and Baabool and Kata Kata are dry,” he said, “they are all dry.”

He thought for a while, scratching his bowed head. Then he stiffened as a thought occurred to him.

“There is one such well,” he said, at last. “The old Mardudjara men said it would always contain water, even during the longest drought.

“In the bad times, the Mardudjara used to come to the soak called Ngarinarri.”

“Would water still be there?” asked Peasley. Mudjon thought for a while. This was the last place Warri camped before he ran away with Yatungka.

“In the old days, there were men with special powers and they could make water flow into the wells, so that the people would not die and the Mardudjara would not disappear from the earth,” he said.

“But there are no men in the desert now with special powers to bring water. Maybe Ngarinarri is also dry.”

“Did Warri know about this place?” asked Peasley.

“Yes, he camped there many times,” said Mudjon. He shook his head. “Maybe he was born there. Maybe he died there. Too far away. Many, many sand hills. The old people were weak when they were at Kata Kata.”

Mudjon did not want to continue the search. He believed they were already dead.

“Too far away. Too late,”

However, Dr Peasley and the others wanted to keep going.

“If Warri and Yatungka are not at Ngarinarri,” said Peasley, “then we will return to Wiluna, knowing we did everything we could.

“Perhaps the old couple are just too weak to answer our smoke signals.”

They calculated they just had enough fuel for this final journey. And so they set out on a last ditch effort to find the last of the nomads in their inhospitable, unrelenting environment.

~~~~

Reluctantly, Mudjon showed them the way the Mardudjara moved between Kata Kata and Ngarinarri to avoid many of the sand hills. He was afraid of what they would find.

Within a few hours, they came across more burnt country and Mudjon again found the footprints of Warri and Yatungka.

“When they came through here,” Mudjon said, “they were both alive.”

About 10km further on, they came to a well called Ngargin, surrounded by straggly, dying mulga trees.

Windbreaks there again suggested to Mudjon that the travelling couple had found a little water, before being forced to move on.

The search group followed Mudjon’s directions, relying on his great skills without map or compass to get from waterhole to waterhole.

Twenty kilometres on, they approached the Wangabaddi soak in the centre of a flat, stony clearing. A few spindly mulga trees survived.

The well was four metres deep and a dangerous climb to any water. But it was absolutely dry, despite hard digging. There were windbreaks here and old camp sites, with a spear, a digging stick and a grinding stone. But no Warri or Yatungka.

South of the well, they found five greyish-white stones of quartz set into the ground.

“A man in the Dreamtime, called Warrida, put them here,” Mudjon said. “He found water here and camped here.”

Nearby, there was a small, cleared area with a few artifacts on the edge.

“The old people danced here,” said Mudjon, and it was unclear whether he was talking about the ancestors or the recent old couple. “They danced on a path that wound past the Warrida stones to the waterhole.”

They continued on and, 24km further along, they came to a hill capped with yellow-pink sandstone. It had often been visited by the Mardudjara because it had a rock hole at its base. The place was known as Birri Birri.

Here Mudjon fired some tinder-dry spinifex and green scrub, which sent huge columns of black smoke into the sky. They stood on the vehicle and looked towards Ngarinarri, about 30km distant, but no answering smoke appeared.

“They cannot send up smoke,” said Mudjon. “They are dead.”

They pressed on without talking. They were all affected by Mudjon’s profound sadness.

There was no hope of reaching Ngarinarri that day and they decided to set up camp. They tried not to think about what they would find in the morning.

~~~~

The 4WD chugged up a low sand ridge so they could seek a camp site for the night and, suddenly, Mudjon, who had been sitting in the vehicle seemingly ignoring his surroundings, shouted and pointed north with great excitement.

“Smoke out there,” he yelled.

They all swivelled to look north and there it was – a faint wisp of smoke floating into the pink-grey sky of dusk.

Suddenly they were all shouting for joy. Someone had survived the impossibly long walk to Ngarinarri. Was it Warri or Yatungka? Or, by some incredible chance, were they both alive? It was hard to imagine one without the other, but there had been little, if any, water for 150km, and they were weak and on foot.

Mudjon was euphoric and could barely speak. But later that night, around the camp fire, he could not stop talking.

He spoke of the times he had walked the desert with Warri. He talked of where they hunted and what they had hunted. He talked of good times and bad, and the laughter they had shared.

But then he paused and a cloak of sadness fell on him.

“If they are alive in the morning,” he said, “this might be the last night they spend in their country.”

The 30 years alone in the desert, with only each other for company, wandering in their ancestral land might come to an end in a few hours.

If so, the way of life that had gone on for many thousands of years for the Aboriginal people might be no more in Mardudjara country.

The thought weighed heavily on them all.

So many questions would be answered at daybreak. If the old couple survived the night.

~~~~

The search party rose early, eager to reach the man or woman who had lit the fire. They had travelled about 8km, when Mudjon called a halt and lit another fire. Almost immediately, smoke rose in answer and they changed course towards it.

Someone had made it through the night.

A few kilometres further on, they topped a long sand ridge and, on the open plain between sand hills, there were flames and smoke from a long stretch of burning spinifex in the distance.

They scanned the plain with binoculars, but could see no sign of a human being. However, someone must be moving out there, because, every now and then, a new puff of smoke rose.

Prompted by Mudjon, Bill Peasley scanned the distance again with his binoculars. At first, he could see nothing but dirt and spinifex and smoke haze, but then he saw it – a lone figure standing like a twig in the landscape.

Was it a man or a woman? Whoever it was did not seem to be aware of their presence on the sand ridge.

Mudjon was becoming very excited and danced around, unable to keep still. He fired some spinifex, but still the lone figure seemed to be unaware of their arrival.

“This is Warri,” he said, his voice croaky from long, dry silences. They searched, but could find no trace of Yatungka. Had she perished?

They drove towards the lone figure. Bill Peasley had not taken his binoculars off the man. He had not moved, and, if he was aware of their arrival, did not appear to be perturbed or excited about the intrusion into his domain. Peasley looked more closely as they approached. The man was clearly very thin. His hairline was high on his forehead, and his hair pulled back. He stood stiffly in the sun like a granite statue.

They got out of the vehicle and walked closer. They waited while Mudjon kept walking towards his old friend. Only when he came to within 100 metres of his old friend did Warri look up abruptly and stare at Mudjon, then slowly move towards him.

From a distance, there did not appear to be any great excitement shown. The men simply faced each other and appeared to appraise each other. Then they stood and talked, but their words could not be heard.

There was still no sign of Yatungka.

Warri waited at the base of the sand ridge, while Mudjon climbed up to say the Yatungka was alive and was out looking for food. She would return to Ngarinarri later in the day.

When he got closer, Dr Peasley saw that Warri was in very poor physical condition. It was clear that he was too weary to display any kind of emotion when he saw Mudjon again. He was very thin, with not an ounce of fat to be seen anywhere. He stood erect, proud, despite his condition, and bore himself with impressive dignity. This was a man not to be taken lightly; a man commanding respect.

Warri waited patiently, but eventually came closer and accepted a drink, which he savoured slowly. He still carried a spear and spear-thrower, but, if he had been hunting, he had found no game. Perhaps he carried them as a sign of status.

Dr Peasley saw that he was of average height, with matted hair and a wispy beard, singed with fire to keep it short. Above his right ear was a small ball of tobacco, which turned out to be a well-chewed mixture of the native tobacco and ash from a mulga tree fire.

There were depressions in his forehead and his eyes were inflamed. He constantly rubbed the right eye for relief. His right eyelid drooped a little and Dr Peasley saw that he was suffering from trachoma, which would greatly reduce his vision and limit his hunting.

His teeth had worn down from a lifetime of chewing sand and grit caught up in cooked meals. Skin hung in folds at his buttocks. There was swelling on his chest, and his rib cage could be clearly seen, such was his emaciated condition. The doctor decided that scratches and scars on his body were possibly the result of frequent falls in his weakened state.

A piece of old cloth was tied around his left arm, but no injury was apparent, though the arm showed severe wasting. His right leg was also wrapped in old cloth that covered a painfully infected lesion. Warri tried to take the weight off his leg by leaning on his spear or spear-thrower.

Warri told Mudjon that he and Yatungka had seen the smoke the previous night. They had been so long alone that they did not know what else to do, but to do what they always did. So they decided that Warri would light fires and go towards the visitors, while Yatungka would gather the fruit of the quandong tree. This had been their only food for weeks, because birds and animals had gone and Warri could not see well enough to hunt. Perhaps, Yatungka had said, the visitors would need food.

This much talk had clearly been very exhausting for the old man, though he still stood with dignity and would not let his wasted state get the better of him.

It would have been a pitiful sight, but for his proud bearing and the strong character still apparent despite his desperate plight. The last of the desert nomads, despite his condition, had the stature of a man who carried within him the indomitable spirit his people had borne since the dawn of time.

~~~~

They wanted to get Warri into the 4WD to take him to Ngarinarri to wait for Yatungka, but the monster vehicle terrified him.

He shook violently and had no idea how to get in. He tried a few times, but always stepped down again. They finally got him in after much encouragement and soothing words from Mudjon. His eyes darted around, and the crew were sure he’d bolt for the scrub if he could.

When they started the motor, he became even more terrified. He sank his head into Mudjon’s chest and broke out in a profuse sweat. The roar of the motor up and down the sand ridges had him in a frantic state. Mudjon kept up a constant chatter to calm his old friend and assure him no harm would come to him.

They finally came through some mulga trees and a bit of low scrub into a clearing and Warri’s and Yatungka’s camp. There was little to show for a lifetime together. A windbreak, camp fire ashes, a couple of spears and a few treasured possessions were scattered in the red earth. There was a pitchi dish, and in it a small steel axe head with a rough mulga handle, a piece of old cloth, a few old tins they had carried from one camp to another, and a small shovel without a handle. In their own way, they had acquired some of the whitefella’s gear.

Add to that a pitchi dish and a digging stick that Yatungka had taken to gather food and that was the sum total of the equipment they had with them to survive the worst drought in living memory.

There was no food and no water in the camp. They were living from day-to-day, and were clearly losing the battle.

The Ngarinarri well, which the old men had said would never run dry, was nearby. A wooden carrying dish was there, which Yatungka had been filling with water by digging the bottom of the well. It was there for the dogs, and they had gone off with Yatungka because Warri could no longer hunt.

The search party could not reach the bottom of the well and could not see if it held any water.

Soon after, Yatungka walked into the camp. The dingoes took in the scent of the visitors and crept off into the bush. Yatungka showed no emotion, no recognition of Mudjon and gave no sign of fear.

This was the Aboriginal way to cope with unusual and difficult social situations. People who could show little inhibition at a camp ceremony and laugh and sing when given the opportunity were often reserved and formal until they were sure of the people they met.

She was younger that Warri and, although emaciated, she seemed in better shape than her man in Dr Peasley’s eyes. He estimated her height at 165cm. A pitchi full of ripe quandongs balanced on her head. She walked directly to Warri, placed the fruit in front of him, and he immediately began to eat like a starving man.

The search crew quickly shared their tea, damper, tinned meat and jam with the old couple, who found it overwhelming after a diet of quandong fruit for weeks.

The crew gave them space, and Mudjon, Warri and Yatungka sat talking for a long time. Mudjon wanted to see how they had survived in such a weakened condition in the drought, and they wanted news of their sons and family in Wiluna.

They asked Yatungka if she would collect water from the well. She jumped up and climbed down easily, but it was hard work scraping up water. The liquid she eventually brought up was yellow-brown and putrid. It was clear the search party would not replenish their water supply here, and Yatungka poured it into the bowl for the dogs.

But Yatungka had managed to scrape up enough water to keep herself and Warri alive, and she was the one to walk long distances to gather the quandong fruit. Without her, Warri would surely have perished long ago, and the look in his eyes for her told them that he knew it.

And now she had mixed feelings. Now there would be others to care for him. No matter. Where he went, she would go. If that was to be the whitefella’s camp, so be it. They were too tired now, and too weak, and too sick, and there were no young people left to care for them in the desert.

Warri and Yatungka wanted to see their sons again, but they had talked about it last night, and were afraid of retribution by the elders at Wiluna. They could yet lose each other.

“I am an elder, now,” said Mudjon. “No harm will come to you. The elders have decided there would be no punishment and the wrong committed long ago will be forgotten.”

Warri and Yatungka talked quietly long into the night, with the whitefella camp out of earshot.

Everything was coming to an end, and all they wanted to do was to be together.

Nothing had changed in all those long years together. Let tomorrow bring what it must.

~~~~

It was time to leave the ancestral land of the Mardudjara people. Time to leave the place of their birth and their childhood. The days of the hunt, of gathering food, of clear skies and camp fire nights were no more.

And it was time to leave the dogs, faithful dogs that had remained with them in good times and bad, and were constant companions on the hunt and when warm bodies were needed as desert nights grew cold.

Warri had refused to leave the desert years earlier, when he was told he had to leave his beloved dogs behind. But Mudjon said they would be classified as vermin and destroyed at Wiluna – and nothing had changed in the years since.

But Warri and Yatungka had talked about this last night, their last under the skies of their ancestors. The dogs had to be left behind. They had no choice. They could not take the dogs.

They knew the dogs could not survive without them. They could not get into the well to get the remains of the water, and there was no water anywhere else. The dingoes had disappeared as soon as the camp stirred this morning. They were nowhere in view, but Warri and Yatungka knew they would be close, watching every move in the camp. Yatungka climbed down into the well again and scraped up some water, which she poured into the dish. It would sustain them for a day or two, but after that…

It was time to leave. Warri and Yatungka gathered up their precious possessions – spears and a spear-thrower, a pitchi dish, an axe and a few cans. That was all. They walked out of their camp without a backward glance and walked to the vehicle.

Once again, Warri was terrified and shook violently and couldn’t climb into the 4WD. But Yatungka, although frightened, talked to him and encouraged him and told him there was no reason to be afraid.

And finally they were all in and the long journey to Wiluna began.

Warri and Yatungka refused to sit, and spread out on a bed of blankets on the floor of the vehicle, with a tarpaulin to completely cover them.

Ngarinarri had been home to countless Mardudjara over many thousands of years, in a desert no white person could survive in, and now the last two nomads were leaving. Would anyone ever pass that way again? The last of the Mardudjara to care for their country and pay homage to the Ancestral Spirits in song, dance and ritual now huddled under canvas shaking in terror.

They stopped for a break at the Wangabaddi well, and the search crew were moved when they witnessed Warri walking a little distance away on his own. He stood gazing about, taking one last look at the place. Here children had laughed and shouted when hunters returned and the Mardudjara danced and sang and told stories around the camp fire. And here, in recent times, he and Yatungka had suffered the pangs of hunger and thirst in a drought without end. But they had been together and lived together and struggled together, and they would not see this place again.

When Warri returned, he was a shattered man.

“What will happen,” he asked Yatungka and Mudjon, “when the Ancestral Spirits have no-one to honour them? What terrible thing will happen to the Mardudjara people? Maybe we are already being punished for leaving our country.”

But he could not allow himself to think such thoughts. He shook his head and walked slowly back to the vehicle with Yatungka by his side. He was miserable and sick and Dr Peasley wanted him back at Wiluna with all speed for urgent medical treatment.

~~~~

The wind blew in from the south-east strong and cold, bitterly cold. Kata Kata was one of the places the two men wanted to visit on the way out of Mardudjara country.

This night was the first night for many years that Warri and Yatungka had slept without the dogs with them for warmth. They had several fires burning, but the warmth offered by the dogs was different. And there was something else different on that last Kata Kata night: Warri was sick, desperately sick.

All animals, including humans, feel the cold much more keenly when they are sick, or tired, or depressed. And Warri was all three.

Yatungka painted up with a little white pipeclay and sat with him at their camp fire as stars and a full moon looked down on a sick man. She shook off the thought that the moon was the first Ancestral Spirit to die. She was too weary to dance, but she began to sing, very softly, the women’s awelye ceremony to heal the sick. Several hours later, at their camp a little distance away, Bill Peasley and the others slept unaware of her soft song.

Warri was also sleeping fitfully, but Yatungka kept up her lone vigil, slapping her thighs to the rhythm of the song.

Eventually, the old couple tossed and turned and finally fell into short bursts of sleep as the cold seeped into Warri’s very bones and Yatungka clung to him to give him all of her warmth. Neither of them had flesh on their bodies as protection from the cold, but what small comfort they did find was in being together. They had nestled together under the blanket in the car and did so again.

By morning, as the sun rose to ease the burden, Warri was in a pitiful state. He sat on the red earth, head bowed and hunched over. He loved the earth and all things of the earth. When he sat in the red sand of the desert, he usually felt safe and close to Mother Earth. This was where he belonged. But today was different. He was still cold and he was in pain. He felt sick and was a picture of absolute misery.

Dr Peasley knew that, in his emaciated state, he could not bear the wind or cold as he had done as a fit young man. He plied the old man with hot tea, but it was of little comfort. The old fella was shivering uncontrollably.

Finally, Warri helped himself by firing clumps of spinifex and this gave him a little warmth. Back in the 4WD, they covered him with blankets and made him as comfortable as they could, and were thus able to proceed.

No matter their haste, it was going to be a long journey to Wiluna.

~~~~

The Mardudjara men wanted to stop at the Yoodalbooroo rock hole, but, on the way, they called a halt. Ahead of them, rising above the scrub, was a large bloodwood tree.

It was an imposing sight in the desert and both men were clearly in awe. This, for the Aboriginal people, was a sacred site.

That tree had been planted long, long ago by Warrida, the man of old times who had set grey-white stones in place in the desert. And this is why it had grown so big and lived so long.

Further along, they came to the Djunbaroongu rock hole, which was one of the places where Warrida had set his distinctive, sacred stones.

Yatungka, Warri and Mudjon talked long into the night, remembering many of the sacred sites in Mardudjara country, which they would leave next day. They talked with increasing sadness about all the people leaving the desert.

“The country is finished,” Mudjon said, and the old couple could not argue. If there were no people to sing the songs and dance the ceremonies, how could the country survive? How could the Spirits not be angry? The drought had devastated the land, but the real damage was done when the Aboriginal people walked away to sample the whitefella’s attractions.

Mudjon insisted that he would one day lead his people back into their country, but Warri and Yatungka just shook their heads and looked away.

They were convinced that the Mardudjara would never set foot on the red desert sands again.

Perhaps to mask his misery, Mudjon cut some bark from a mulga tree and burnt it in a small fire until it was white ash. He crushed some of the now dry, brittle leaves of the womma, the native tobacco tree that he had collected earlier.

He mixed it with the ash and began to chew mouthfuls and then spit them out. He put the balls behind his ears for later. One he chewed vigorously now, and his face lit up with delight.

At Yoodalbooroo, the earth was moist in the well, but any water could not be used. A camel had fallen in and died a horrible death, leaving bleached bones at the bottom of the well.

But the Yoodalbooroo stop was important for the Mardudjara people. While Mudjon and Warri talked about the fate of the camel, Yatungka slipped away and returned with a bunch of spears that Warri had stashed in a mulga tree. He collected many of his spears on the way to Wiluna, where they would be displayed for all to see. He would be a man of great stature when the people saw his spears.

But Yoodalbooroo was important for another reason. This was the first camping place of the mythical Warrida, and it was near here that he met his death.

There were also mulga trees that had died in this place, victims of the extreme drought. What chance did an old couple, alone in the desert, have?

And would they yet meet their own death as they tried to escape the horrors of the drought at last?

~~~~

Warri was apprehensive and sick the night before they were to reach Wiluna. Then he couldn’t eat breakfast and kept disappearing into the bush. In a few hours, he would come face-to-face with the elders of the Mardudjara people and hear their judgement.

He was a worried, frightened, frail old man.

They arrived at Wiluna around midday, and small groups of people stared at the two people of the desert sitting in the back of the 4WD. At the nursing post, people came from everywhere as the word spread of the old people rescued from the desert.

As for Warri and Yatungka, they sat stiffly with eyes downcast as they were inspected closely and carefully by the people. Not a word was spoken.

There had been no cheering or greetings or any sign of recognition on either side – yet, in the crowd within metres of Warri and Yatungka, their two sons stood as silent as the rest.

Though no emotion was expressed, they were felt. Tears were streaking the faces of the old couple, and many others in the crowd. People were overcome that the old people had been found alive, and appalled at their emaciated condition.

And now the muttering started.

“Poor fella, poor fella,” the voices said, over and over.

There was relief that Warri and Yatungka were alive, but great sadness when people saw how frail and wasted they were, and word spread about the precarious state of their health.

As Mudjon told the story of the great search in the desert and of the devastating drought, Warri and Yatungka sat without moving, heads bowed, looking at no-one, saying nothing.

The old couple had spent so long in the desert alone that they could no longer talk with people in the normal way. The last nomads had come back to the Mardudjara people after many years of exile, but the world had changed. They had changed. As they sat on the bare earth of the reserve, they knew not what to do or what was expected of them.

They were bewildered. How would they cope with all this confusion? How could they live with so many people? They no longer had to dig deep into the earth to find water, or walk vast distances in the furnace of the desert to gather food. They could get help now when they were unwell.

Life was easier, but not happier. No longer could they enjoy the hunt or walking with the dogs or the singing and dancing they had been able to do whenever they felt the need to remember the traditional ways. No-one needed their skills anymore.

If there was no battle to survive and they had nothing to do, what would they do? Heavy clouds of depression hung over their bowed heads.

In the weeks that followed, Warri and Yatungka were taken to the hospital at Meekatharra. They accepted the move as long as they could stay together. They remained as inseparable as they had been in the desert, and perhaps more so. Now they could not bear to be out of sight of each other.

They did recover, though, and returned to Wiluna. But they could not comprehend the Wiluna world. What was happening to the Mardudjara way of life? They could see the Law being ignored and young people disobeying the elders. Once, they were the wrong-doers. Now everyone seemed to be ignoring the elders and the Law.

Life as they knew it had disintegrated. Alcohol abuse was widespread. The drink was destroying self-respect and self-reliance.

Warri had settled a little since they arrived at Wiluna, but he still had a peculiar feeling.

“I can feel it in my bones,” he said to Yatungka. “Bad feelings here.”

Yatungka shut her eyes and shook her head.

“I feel it, too,” she said. “I don’t like it.”

They had often felt this way over the years, anticipating that something bad would happen, and it somehow seemed to soften the blow when something did go wrong.

But, this time, the blow could not be softened.

Mudjon tried valiantly to keep the traditions and restore pride in his people, but he seemed to have little effect.

In the following months, Yatungka overcame her shyness and began to participate in the Wiluna community. But Warri rarely spoke and Yatungka never moved far from him. From time to time, she would reach out to touch her husband – as if to reassure him that she was there.

But Mudjon’s best efforts came to a sad end, when he died not long after coming back from the desert.

He was buried in the Wiluna cemetery, far from the Ancestral Spirits, and his dream of leading his people back to the desert died with him.

Old men close to death want to die close to their birthplace, so that their spirit will be spared a long journey to its original home. But Mudjon’s birthplace was far away.

The newspaper notice following his death read: MUDJON. A tribute to a great man of the Mardudjara, who strove to uphold the traditions and culture of his people.

Warri and Yatungka fell deeply into “sorry business”, grieving for a long time at the loss of their friend, without whom they would now be dead in the desert.

In April 1979, Warri became ill again. He was given treatment, but succumbed, and died on April 28.

Yatungka was shattered. She had developed the same illness as Warri, and now dropped deep into depression. She could not comprehend, at first, that the man who had been her constant companion for so many, many years, the man she had chosen above all others, had gone.

She lost interest in life, but knew what she must do. She had thought about it for a long time.

“If he dies,” she had thought, “I will die.”

She refused to eat, and joined Warri again on May 23, less than four weeks after he had died.

They were both buried in the Wiluna Cemetery, near Mudjon, but far from the ancestral lands they loved.

They had been accepted back by the elders and forgiven for breaking the Law all those years ago. And with the forgiveness, a great burden had been lifted from them.

The last nomads of Mardudjara country had died, and, with their passing, a great love story ended. And the story of an old couple, alone, defying the rigours of the desert, and trying desperately to fulfil the Mardudjara obligation to honour the Ancestral Spirits – that story also came to an end.

A statue now stands at Wiluna in tribute to Warri and Yatungka, the last of the desert nomads. The last song of the Dreaming has been sung, and the desert is empty.

 

***~~~***

 

Whitefella

Story

 

***~~~***

 

Our shame. Our disgrace.

When Captain Cook and his British crew landed on our shores in 1770, they did not recognize the Aboriginal people who greeted them as people at all. They recorded as fact that this was terra nullius, a land without sovereignty, an empty land and ripe for the plunder. And plunder they did.

(This legal fiction was not overturned until 1992, when the Mabo High Court decision held that Australia is not, and never was, terra nullius. As part of this ongoing Aboriginal tragedy, Eddie Mabo died of cancer just four months before the judgement was handed down.)

However, in the prevailing thoughts and opinions of that era, the people who did not cultivate the land had no right to possess it.

The British suffered under the delusion that they were mentally, physically and morally superior to the “natives” and it was their God-given duty to civilize the invaded peoples.

For their part, the people who had inhabited this land for 60,000, or, some say, even 100,000 years, thought the white visitors in their ships were dead ancestors simply returning home. They respected the returning dead and welcomed them as best they could, because that’s what they thought civilized people do – respect their ancestors.

But the Aboriginal people were not soldiers, or farmers, or carpenters, or sailors, or herders, or merchants, or even builders, which is what the British thought civilized people should be. They were hunters and gatherers, dancers, singers, story-tellers, keepers of the land, even mystics – so they were treated as nothing at all. They did not exist in any meaningful sense, which meant, of course, that the land was there for the taking.

Chalk one up for the British Empire.

The British could not comprehend that Aboriginals, though not farmers and not always interested in remaining long in one place, never-the-less loved their ancestral land deeply and depended on it.

And how could the Aboriginal people sell or rent their land to sheep-owners, when they considered it inalienable? Had not the land been given to them for all time by the Ancestral Spirits? The land was not owned, but cared for in the name of all who had lived here, all who were living, and those yet to come.

The British and their distant government could not conceive that land had a spiritual as well as a material value, and hence could not be given away or sold.

So they just took it.

The Aboriginal people had lived so long in isolation (more years than the British could imagine), that the thought of intruders in their country was simply inconceivable. Aboriginal people walking on the sands of our eastern beaches or watching from the clifftops had no idea that a terrible, dark and tragic cloud was dropping on their culture and their long history in this land.

As historian Geoffrey Blainey said: “The white sails of the English ships were a symbol of a gale, which, in the following hundred years, would slowly cross the continent, blowing out the flames of countless camp fires, covering with drift-sand the grinding stones and fishing nets, silencing the hundreds of languages, and stripping the ancient names from mountains and headlands, creeks and forests.”

There followed systematic destruction of the Aboriginal society and banishment from the lands they had occupied and cared for since the Dreamtime. Various weapons were used: Invasion, colonisation, “economic development”, assimilation under the guise of protection, segregation, removal of children from parents and families, disease, alcohol, indoctrination by the dominant culture and by dominant religions. The list goes on and on.

The invaders turned their swords and knives and firearms (the thunder that threw invisible spears) on unorganized, almost defenceless peoples.

But they carried, also, much more potent weapons that came within an inch of destroying a culture of timeless worth.

They brought diseases that killed far more than guns could. Smallpox killed half of the Sydney Aboriginal population in one outbreak alone. It was even argued by a distinguished economist and historian, Noel Butlin, that the smallpox had been deliberately let loose on native peoples, and no-one has been able to discredit it.

The common cold, influenza, pleurisy and dysentery “were capable of inflicting mini-massacres upon peoples who had no immunity.” (Geoffrey Blainey).

Chickenpox, typhus, whooping cough, typhoid, measles, tuberculosis and venereal diseases slaughtered thousands of Aboriginals, who had no defences against such onslaughts.

Many of the weapons unleashed on the Aboriginal people came ready packaged. The brandy cask, gin, whisky and grog shanties destroyed more lives than all the firearms of all the invaders. And they are doing so still.

Many went to sleep drunk in wet clothes and pulmonary diseases turned the clothes into burial garments.

When people, I don’t care what their colour, ruin their lives through alcohol, it’s useless to blame the alcohol. They took to the drink because there was something seriously wrong in their lives. In the case of the blackfella, we know there was something wrong, because we caused it.

The Aboriginal people were also plied with flour and sugar to replace natural fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds of the traditional diet, with terrible consequences on health.

There were even Aboriginals poisoned with strychnine and arsenic, often mixed with flour and given to begging people or left to be stolen by them.

Many died the death of a baited dog.

As the 20th century began, the newly formed Federal Government introduced what has been called institutionalized racism under its policies of assimilation.

This essentially declared Aboriginal culture redundant and sought to submerge Aboriginal Australians into the dominant society.

Charles Darwin saw Aboriginals as on the downward path to extinction, as did many others.

An early sheep-owner, Simpson Newland, said: “It’s pathetic to be thrown among the Aboriginals and note how they wither away when brought into contact with the people of our race… they die off, the old and the young, the strong and the weak alike, sometimes with startling suddenness, at others by a wasting sickness of a few days, weeks or months.”

The Aboriginal people, who had lived and loved and hunted and played in this country for as many as 2000 generations, were devastated within three or four.

The story of the “stolen generations”, the children torn from their families, is a shame that we will carry as a nation for all time.

The loss, the heartbreak, the misery can only be imagined by those few who are willing to think about it. “Sorry” seems hardly to be an adequate word, yet we were so unwilling to say it for so very long.

Finally, finally, on February 13, 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, on behalf of all Australians, said “sorry” in a speech that reverberated around the world. It was the first step in a healing process that is, perhaps, beyond total achievement. I pray not.

Now, after more than 200 years of abuse and ill-treatment, both deliberate and unintentional, at the hands of the invaders and their descendants, there is now a widespread international awareness, at least, of Aboriginal art, dance and music. Recognition, understanding, tolerance and apology has been painfully slow in coming to Aboriginal peoples everywhere in this country. Support of almost every kind has been long on words and short on action.

And the fight is not yet over. Not by a long shot. There is an agonisingly long way to go, unless we change our mindset.

~~~~

The sesquicentennial of colonisation, 1938, was the low point, the nadir, of indigenous rights in Australia. An Aboriginal Day of Mourning Conference was held in Sydney, where the seeds of a civil rights movement were sown. The fight for land rights was underway.

By this time, most of the Australian land mass was alienated and the remaining pockets of indigenous land were gazetted as reserves, established to “protect and preserve the dying race.”

Aboriginals were not given the right to vote until 1962, and it would be another five years before they would be included in a national census.

In 1966, South Australia was the first state to grant limited land rights.

In a referendum on May 27, 1967, Aboriginal people were granted full legal status as Australian citizens, irony at its best, considering that Aboriginal people occupied this country for 60,000 years or more before the 1788 British takeover invasion.

In 1972, a new government led by Gough Whitlam promised to legislate for land rights. In 1976, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act recognised Aboriginals as traditional land owners for the first time in Commonwealth legislation, based upon proof of their traditional association with the land. The 1976 Act was in response to the 1971 Gove Land Rights case, which decided that the customary ownership of land by the Yolngu people of Yirrkala was not recognised in Australian Law.

However, 1988 was the year that Aboriginal groups from around Australia became united in the determination to win respect and recognition from the Australian people. That was the year that Australia celebrated 200 years of white settlement, with nary a mention of the indigenous population. It was as if they still did not exist, and Aboriginals began to call Australia Day Invasion Day or Survival Day or the Day of Mourning. There were mass protests in Sydney, with white supporters joining Aboriginal protestors.

Support came from many directions, and from people who had very intimate knowledge of the dispossessed.

From the Fretilin External Delegation in Australia: I wish you success in your struggle for land rights. Having our beloved country, East Timor, invaded and occupied by Indonesian Armed Forces for over 12 years now, and fighting for our national independence, makes us feel closer to your struggle for land rights and survival of your people. We join our voice to yours, so long live the struggle for land rights and sovereignty.

From the Palestine Information Office in Canberra: The Palestinian community of Australia and New Zealand would like to extend to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters our support and solidarity with your legitimate struggle. Long live the solidarity between our two peoples.

From the Federation of Italian Migrant Workers: We recognise that the culture of Aboriginal people is the foundation upon which we together must build the future of Australia. We actively support your demands for land rights and other fundamental rights. Until such rights are officially recognised, we cannot hope to attain an Australia that is truly multicultural and egalitarian. We stand together in solidarity.

But still there was no proper recognition. Do we not see that we have wronged these people? Are we afraid of changing our ways? Do we still think Aboriginal people are not worth the bother? Not really human? Where are our statesmen and women? Where is the politician, the Prime Minister, who will stand up and lead this country to a just and proper and glorious future?

So far we are tinkering at the edges of reform, with change only coming when it becomes impossible to avoid it. Words and promises disappear like etchings in the sand. As I write this, the latest plan is for constitutional changes to recognise Aboriginal people and their rights as traditional owners of this land.

A referendum is “planned” for May 2017 – but already there is talk that this might be too soon.

The existence of native title rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at Australian law, based on their historic rights as indigenous people, was recognised in the judgment of the High Court of Australia in 1992 with the Mabo case. It took a brave man, Koiki (Eddie) Mabo, and a brave people and a court of law to force action.

But native title is still far too difficult and illogical. How ridiculous is it that, to get native title, Aboriginal people must prove they have always owned the land and still use it. The Aboriginal people have always been the traditional owners of every inch of this vast land. They don’t believe that land can be given away or taken away. But we took it. And now Aboriginal people must prove something? This is cruelly continuing the abuse that started in 1788.

Despite the 1967 referendum, racism is still rife in parts of Australian society and Aboriginal people are still subjected to discrimination and prejudice. Many of us are still as ignorant as those who arrived under white canvas 200 years ago.

Before 1788, there were between 750,000 and three million Aboriginal people in this country, depending on who you believe. By 1994, the number had dropped to 303,300, after dropping much lower than that in the meantime (People who nominated their heritage as “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander” in the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey). By comparison, by 1994, the total Australian population had grown to an estimated 18.5 million.

As I write this at the start of 2016, Australia’s population has just reached 24 million, and the Aboriginal population has still not reached the lowest estimate from 1788. This is a tragedy that can surely be ignored no longer in our history.

And let’s not just talk about history; let’s talk about now. Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson, from the Cape York Institute for Policy and Initiative, told the National Press Club in 2016, that Aboriginal people make up 3% of the Australian population and 27% of our jail population. This will never change until we give back to his people their dignity and sense of self-worth.

None of us can live without that. It is a basic human right.

Is the gap between the ancient Aboriginal culture and the overwhelming western lifestyle too great to bridge? Many people think so, but I think not, otherwise I would not bother to write a book such as this and nail my Aboriginal colours to the mast, when everyone who knows me sees me as a white Australian.

And Aboriginal people all over this country agree with me. They are, quite rightly, proud of their traditions and culture and spirituality. They really want to not only preserve them, but also propagate knowledge and awareness of them. So do I. So do many non-indigenous people in this country.

Where do we go from here? Reconciliation? The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established under the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991 and was charged with this mission: To promote a process of reconciliation between Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the wider Australian community.

In January 2000, the council was replaced with a new private body, Reconciliation Australia, which became the peak national organisation promoting reconciliation.

(A Referendum Council was set up by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in 2015, and this now appears to be the body government will listen to when shaping Aboriginal policy.)

National Reconciliation Week was first celebrated in 1996. Twenty years later we’re still talking and putting it off. Aboriginal people have been sucked into a terrible place where they are forced to do what the whitefella does so very well – talk about talking.

There has been a great deal of noise about reconciliation, has there not? Politicians love to talk about it, because it seems as if they actually care. And surely some of them do. But reconciliation keeps getting put off. We just talk about talking. No action.

But, in any event, reconciliation is not enough. We must, and we can, do more.

So, what’s the answer? I want to see final resolution and I want to see it quickly, but just trying for a reconciliation document is not the way to go. Governments have always been good at breaking down opposition into fragments. They get people talking about reconciliation, a treaty with Aboriginal people, recognition, land rights, constitutional change, death in custody, stolen children, a republic – anything to weaken arguments and promote squabbling. Divide and conquer.

So we talk about bits of the problem, like reconciliation. Instead of the endless arguing and squabbling, what we need is something to simply change attitudes and solve the whole problem in one fell swoop. Reconciliation, so far, has been very little other than a talkfest. When it does come, it will still be just more words.

The Aboriginal people deserve better. They know that words are like feathers floating in the wind. They have done the hard work for many years on all aspects of reconciliation, but all they got for their efforts are empty promises.

Jackie Huggins put it this way: “The true essence of reconciliation is more than making friends with non-indigenous people. Our motto is united Australia, one that respects the land and the heritage of its indigenous peoples and provides justice and equity for all. I think reconciliation is about changing the structures that govern us and trying to influence opinion leaders in whatever way we can.”

In his Sorry Speech, Kevin Rudd said what was needed: “A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of the great country, Australia.”

He went on: “The truth is: a business as usual approach towards indigenous Australians is not working. Most old approaches are not working. We need a new beginning.”

He was right in calling for a new beginning and in hearing the Australian nation calling for it.

“Australians are a passionate lot,” he said. “We are also a very practical lot. For us, symbolism is important, but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.”

Without a clear destination for this nation, there is nothing to guide our policy, our programs or our purpose. How can we organize any proper structure without a base and a goal to guide us?

So what can be done to change hearts and minds and create a new beginning?

What can be done to silence that clanging gong?

~~~~

Let’s start with another question. Is there something wrong with this country, Australia? You can bet your life there is: We live in it, but it is not ours. Never was.

But that can change. How? Through the generosity of spirit of the Aboriginal people. If we can find a simple, sure, genuine way to embrace Aboriginal culture, they will accept us and treat us, for the first time, as people worthy of respect. They will still hurt because of what we have done to them, but the first virtue they learn as children is compassion.

Close behind is forgiveness, as long as the reparation is just and reasonable.

Compassion, forgiveness – what more could we ask? For all our sins, Aboriginal people have been and always will be willing to embrace us as fellow human beings.

They welcome us, but desperately want us to understand their culture.

Anthropologist Robert Tonkinson said this about the character and behaviour of Aboriginal people:

“When the Dreamtime Beings laid down the life design to be followed by their human descendants, they specifically excluded their many anti-social behaviours and included only those that now constitute the most highly valued behaviours in [Aboriginal] life. The worthy person is someone who shares unselfishly and without hesitation, who is generous without making an issue of it or asking for return, who fulfils ritual and kinship obligations without question.

“The ideal person is an active provider as a parent, a child of aged parents and as an in-law, shows compassion for others, retains a close attachment to family and homeland, and, in behaviour, is unassuming and not aggressive, or egotistical, or boastful to excess.”

Isn’t that a pretty fair description of what all Australians should aspire to? And does this sound like the type of person who would reject overtures of friendship?

How do we brand ourselves for things like the Sydney Olympics and other major events? We have only one resource we can and do use – Aboriginality. We trot out the didgeridoos, the clap sticks, the boomerangs, the dot paintings, the cave art, the singing, dancing Aboriginal people themselves. That’s how the world differentiates us. That’s how they see and know us.

Aboriginal art is highly sought after around the world. It is distinctive, original and, most of all, it means something – it tells stories. Whitefella artists can only groan in envy.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu put it this way: “When we paint, whether it is our own bodies for ceremonies or on bark or on canvas for the market, we’re not just painting for fun or profit, we’re painting, as we have always done, to demonstrate our continuing link with our country and the rights and responsibilities we have to it.”

Aboriginal art gives expression to the life-force pulsing through the heart of this land – a life-force shaped by a strong bond with the land, adherence to the Law and love of culture. Art records the Law stories for all who come after. It is today’s popular way to care for country and to preserve the traditions. There is purpose in Aboriginal art at many levels. It’s a potent way to hold on to sacred custody of the land and to tell others of its worth.

Misconceptions about Aboriginality in non-indigenous Australia, and overseas, is gradually being worn away, and the main force behind this is Aboriginal art.

Non-indigenous people are, belatedly, beginning to realise that the traditions and culture and spirituality of the Aboriginal people have more depth and richness than ever imagined, and there is much to learn from them.

In 2000, the year of the Sydney Olympics, Pamela Croft had this to say:

“Always remember that what makes you all Australian is the fact that you live on this land, with our Ancestral Spirits and with our Creation stories… what makes you Australian is, in fact, your interactions with us, the First Nation people of this land, now and in the future. It is what makes you different from your ancestors, whose spirits lie in other lands. We are what helps to make you Australian. It is what gives you belonging on and to this land.”

In 1971, outraged Australians joined street protests against the South African Springbok rugby union tour. We let the world know of our disgust at South Africa’s apartheid policy that separated and alienated the black majority in that country.

Yet we had quietly achieved our own quasi apartheid policy to continue the abuse of our Aboriginals with barely a whimper of protest from the whitefella camp.

Where was the outrage?

And yet… and yet…

These first Australians died, were brutalised and treated with incomprehensible cruelty, yet their culture is still here.

Despite the suffering, the pain, the loss, the Aboriginal people know the Ancestral Spirits are in this land still, and must be honoured, must be respected. As long as there is one Aboriginal person left to draw breath, that will be so (as Warri and Yatungka showed).

I, for one, and I hope my descendants, will be by that person’s side, trying with everything we learn to uphold the Aboriginal traditions and culture.

Many Australians, including our ethnic minorities, are expected to believe, and do believe, that this country is the best in the world. What we usually cannot grasp is that, for Aboriginal people, Australia (or a very specific part of Australia) it is the only country in the world.

It is the country of their birth, given to their ancestors as a birthright by the Ancestral Spirits millennia ago, and it is theirs to care for and respect for as long as they live.

Our methods might be different, but we need to also care for and respect this land, whether we were born here or chose to live here.

 

***~~~***

 

It’s Time to Declare Peace:

A Plan to Save the Dreaming

I said at the outset that Aboriginal people have fought for more than two hundred years for an apology for stolen children and stolen land, for recognition, reconciliation, a treaty, for land rights and more.

The apology finally came a few years ago in a heartfelt speech from our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the one bloke who managed to say “sorry” in two centuries. No-one else had been able to do so, including, of course, the people who owed a massive apology, the British.

But the first step has been taken. Now it’s up to all of us to do the rest. Kevin Rudd would be the first to say that he is not the only brave person in Australia with a strong sense of justice.

We need to stand up and be counted, because this will be the most important thing we can ever do for our country.

And all it will take is one synchronized, comprehensive plan.

Put simply, we have to change our mindset and stop squabbling about the details and attack the big picture in one fell swoop. Within this Save the Dreaming plan, there are just four simple steps – but they must be tackled together, not piecemeal. Piecemeal has not worked for 200 years, and never will.

Politicians, past and present, you have been caught out. It’s time for change.

We need just four things to change Australia forever, to stop the continuing abuse of this country’s first peoples, and begin to absolve the shame and disgrace of our history.

Let’s look at them separately, but remember that they must be tackled together, and urgently. This all has to be synchronized.

Step 1. Let’s have our referendum on constitutional change. At present Aboriginal people are not recognised in the Constitution and there is no recognition of their rights as traditional owners of this land. Unbelievable.

The Constitution has said that Aboriginals must be treated differently, if they exist at all, and we still do treat them differently. We always use the laws to slam our indigenous people into our jails in far greater proportion than non-indigenous people. That, apparently, is the Australian way.

Let’s fix the Constitution at the referendum. Enough of hypocrisy, enough of discrimination, enough of blind ignorance. This will fix the recognition problem.

However, we must include in the referendum the matter in Step 4 (below). Or do we think Australians are incapable of thinking of two things at once? If we strip the politics out of the referendum questions to pose to the people, the questions become simple and the people can and will decide.

We must not leave the whole Aboriginal issue unresolved, prolonging the abuse, after a referendum.

We must clear the decks at the one referendum as a matter of urgency to solve the whole Aboriginal question.

Step 2. Solve the land rights matter once and for all. Simply separate traditional ownership and legal ownership. This lies at the heart of Aboriginal grievances about past abuse. Fix this and we’ve broken the back of the reconciliation and land rights demons.

The Federal Government can do this. It can declare that the Aboriginal people are the traditional owners of every speck of dust on this continent, but that legal ownership is determined by state and federal laws, thus finishing the job the Mabo decision started in the High Court. The Federal Government makes the laws the courts uphold.

When it suits us, we say the Aboriginal people are the traditional owners, but we make it complex and duplicitous and and virtually impossible for them by saying they must jump hoops to get “native title”. This arrogant and infantile and infuriating nonsense must stop.

Declare that Aboriginal people are the traditional owners of Australia – all of it – and native title therefore rests with them. Full stop.

I’ll talk more of this, but the Federal Government makes the laws that the High Court upholds. That’s what it’s there for.

Step 3. Sign a treaty (an accord, an agreement, a compact, call it whatever you like) with the traditional owners of this country. It’s taken more than two hundred years, but, in the name of all that’s decent and honourable in this world, let’s just do it. Now.

Other Commonwealth countries have long ago signed treaties with their indigenous people. We have not, and that is just cause for Aboriginal anger and disgust.

A treaty has to be complete, fair, compassionate and agreeable to the people whose lands we stole. But it’s not rocket science. I’ll talk more on why we need a treaty and I’ll even write a draft of what it could look like. All of that follows.

Such a treaty would clear up all of the major grievances and pave the way to fix any remaining difficulties Aboriginal people face. It’s simple and it’s doable.

Step 4. Make Australia an inclusive republic, with Aboriginal people at its heart.

Highly respected Australian journalist and television presenter, Caroline Jones, said this: “Aboriginal people are a steady beating heart at the centre of our Australian spiritual identity.”

Let’s declare that for all the world to see. Let’s build our republic around the people who have been here for 60,000 years or more.

The arguments for a republic so far have missed the one huge, overwhelmingly compelling reason for having it: To right the wrongs started in 1788 and, in so doing, to start to absolve our shame, and to formally admit that this is an Aboriginal country and always has been.

This would recognise the Aboriginal people fully and unconditionally by refuting the validity of the British seizure of this country for the Crown. It would refute the right of Britain to annex this land as a colony and lift a great burden from our people.

Let’s add to the inclusive republic those born here and those who have chosen to live here, and we would have the finest example of a multicultural society the world has seen.

Larissa Behrendt said: “The spirit of leadership should be reflected in our national symbols, and one appropriate way to do that is by finally making the changes needed to make Australia a republic… A country’s history does not change because it takes a step forward, but its possibilities for the future do.”

Yes. Let’s correct the past and unleash the possibilities for the future. It will take a referendum and changes to the Constitution (see Step 1), but these are just the details. Let’s push our politicians to accept these four steps and there are more than enough smart, capable people in this country to attend to the details. None of the problems are as complex as we have been led to believe.

We’ll talk about how you can become involved later, but I must state, loudly and clearly, that nothing, absolutely nothing, in this four-step plan threatens non-indigenous people in any way whatever.

Surely no more needs to be said about recognising Aboriginal people in the Constitution and their rights as traditional owners (Step 1). Surely that’s a no-brainer for anyone of sound mind. But a bit more needs to be said about the other three steps.

 

***~~~***

 

Land rights (Step 2) are crucial

There are many things to consider when we do find the courage to become an inclusive republic, and foremost among them is land rights. This is crucial.

Land is vital to Aboriginal people, as Tania Major knows.

“If you can imagine the one family continuously occupying the same land for 40,000 years or more,” she said, “using it not just to sustain life, but as a place of reverence and worship, where every rock, tree and waterhole had significance, you will get some understanding of the importance of land to indigenous people.”

The question of land rights need not be complex or deal-busting. Everyone needs to stand back a little and consider reality. Everyone’s rights need to be protected and ensured. But we have lived too long with complexity and fear, with duplicity and with lack of trust.

We all have to live together. We don’t have to live as the indigenous people do, any more than we have to live as the English do, or Asians or the Europeans – or any of the more than 200 groups that make up multicultural Australia. But everyone has the right to the culture of their birth and to their spiritual beliefs. Cultures and beliefs must not only co-exist, they each have an opportunity in this country to enrich the others.

We can be the richest country in the world – and I’m not talking about money.

We cannot undo history. That’s reality. The fact of the matter is that land ownership is now controlled by our judicial system and our laws. Aboriginal people know this and, with a few exceptions, accept it. The Aboriginal people, often through the various Aboriginal Land Councils, own a great deal of land in Australia. I understand that the Darkinjung Land Council, where I live, is the biggest land holder on the Central Coast of NSW, and I know it is using the land well for the community.

Perhaps we should see how this land ownership came about, and build on it.

In 1967, the Gurindji people, led by elder Vincent Lingiari, started a campaign to claim land to start their own cattle station. Eight years later, the Whitlam Government made funds available to the Gurindji to purchase Daguragu Station.

Gough Whitlam: “Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be in the possession of you and your children forever.”

Since then, other pastoral properties have been purchased with government help. This allows traditional owners to operate commercial properties and to resettle on traditional lands.

The Aboriginal people are willing to work; they just need the opportunity. But opportunity is still hard to come by. Bloody hard.

However, as Aboriginal pastor Doug Nicholls said: “All we want is to be able to think and do the same things as white people, while still retaining our identity as a people.”

Surely that’s not too much to ask?

Native title is unbelievably complex as the law stands. The 1993 Native Title Act set out to validate the extinguishment of native title on privately-owned lands. Indigenous groups could now only seek recognition of their native title rights if those rights had not been declared extinguished.

They also had to demonstrate ancestral connection to the area, and show that traditional laws and customs were still observed. The Native Title Tribunal was set up to handle any such claims.

What a load of codswallop that is! Are we really that ignorant and stupid? Demonstrate that Aboriginal people have a connection to the area and still observe traditions? They did when the British stole the country – surely that’s what matters? We stole the land and tried to destroy the culture – and the victims have to demonstrate something?

Do the courts and the politicians really think we are that stupid and gullible?

In 1995, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund and the Indigenous Land Corporation were set up to purchase and manage land for indigenous people.

The 1996 High Court Wik judgement said native title could co-exist with other land interests, like pastoral leaseholds. Precedence was to be given to commercial, rather than indigenous interests in any conflict.

In 1998, the law was amended to broaden the grounds for extinguishment and make the registration test tougher.

Land rights legislation was, and is, clearly a roller coaster ride of confusion and complexity and deceit and frustration. And it need not be so.

We need to separate native title and legal title, as has already been done, though in a clumsy, confusing and incomplete way. It should be very simple, though lawyers will tear their hair out at that thought. But politicians make the laws.

They can make laws that accommodate what the nation wants and needs.

The best solution to any problem is usually the simple one.

Let’s tell our politicians that what we want is for the Aboriginal people to be declared at law to be the traditional owners of every inch of Australia, but that legal ownership remains in the hands of those who already have it, or those who acquire it through the laws of the land. Let’s simplify what the High Court decided in the Mabo case and get it right.

It’s as simple as that and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Where there is no claim to legal ownership, then the traditional owners of that land should be given legal ownership. Otherwise we are still taking land that does not belong to us, as the British did in 1788. Should that land be required in future for national purposes, then legal ownership can be acquired by government for a fair price, as it can do now with anybody’s land through compulsory acquisition. But native title would remain with Aboriginal people.

Let it be clearly understood: the Aboriginal people have never surrendered ownership of this land. But, if we declare that every inch of it, every grain of sand, is traditionally owned by the Aboriginal people and that native title rests with them, then I am quite sure they will accept history and the law of the land and cede legal title to that law.

There needs to be give and take on both sides to reach a reasonable and fair outcome. Show respect, declare this a traditional Aboriginal country, and they will play their part. In their generosity of spirit, they will share what is rightfully theirs. They will be way more generous with us than we have ever been with them.

But let’s not make it another drawn-out, never-ending gabfest. We’ve had enough of those. Nothing has been left unsaid. Keep it simple. Keep traditional ownership and legal ownership separate. Make it simple, make it clean, make it right.

Many Aboriginal people have bought and sold land in Australia. Aboriginal people understand that land ownership is a matter for government laws and they are already buying it, sometimes with government help. And that help should be generously given for additional worthy projects. Other Aboriginal people are buying and selling property in the same way every other Australian does.

Land rights for indigenous people are essential to allow them the choice to live an authentic life within the reality of a new republic and its economy and its laws.

Land rights provide a base for some indigenous people and communities in the land of their birth. In built-up areas, like cities and towns, surely land can be found and set aside for local Aboriginal people, not to live in the traditional way (the time has long passed for that in settled areas), but for ceremonial and educational purposes to preserve the traditional culture as much as possible?

We need to recognise the right of indigenous communities to maintain and sustain their religious beliefs and practices, without threatening the public order in a new republic. Everyone must be shown how to appreciate the rights of indigenous people, which need to be clearly spelled out. In fact, we all must be shown the way to a better understanding of Aboriginal history and the right of Aboriginal people to a place in the world.

But, for the sake of a great Australia, let’s make it simple. Let’s separate traditional ownership and legal ownership. And let’s not have any more whinging about it. The government can do this, but, as always, we might have to give the politicians an almighty poke to break through the apathy.

And we can do that.

 

***~~~***

 

Why we need a treaty (Step 3)

Treaties and other agreements are used to reach a settlement between indigenous peoples and those who have settled their lands. Treaties have been agreed in countries like the US, Canada and New Zealand. In Canada, new treaties are still being negotiated.

Australia is the exception. We are the only Commonwealth nation that does not have a treaty with its indigenous peoples. We have never negotiated with them since their country was usurped in 1788.

We have not wanted to build a partnership with Aboriginal people. Our laws have sought to exclude them and discriminate against them. Until now. Now things have to change. We have to stop doing things to Aboriginal people and start doing things with them.

A treaty is not only a legal document, it’s also a matter is courtesy, and we owe that to our people, the original owners of this place. We have a moral imperative to act and to act quickly.

In our Constitution, the Aboriginal peoples were not mentioned as occupiers of the land. We said our history started in 1788. Our parliament was allowed to make laws for the people of any race “other than the Aboriginal race”, for whom it was deemed necessary to “make special laws”.

This, said our first prime minister, Edmund Barton, was to allow the Commonwealth to “regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races.” In calculating the number of people in the country, the Constitution said: “Aboriginal natives shall not be counted.”

Only after the 1967 referendum was the parliament allowed to make laws for Aboriginal people, who could then be counted in a census.

However, the preamble did not change and the Constitution ignores the fact that Aboriginals exist. Laws can still be used to discriminate against people on account of their race, and I understand that people can still be denied the right to vote for the same reason. Governments would surely not pass laws that discriminate so openly these days (though they do propose some whacky things), but the Constitution drastically needs changing, and that means we need a referendum to instruct the politicians to change it.

We must end this dreadful situation that allows exclusion and possible discrimination.

Constitutional change (Step 1) is certainly part of the answer, but so is a formal agreement with the Aboriginal people. But “treaty” might be the wrong word for Australia. A treaty is generally an agreement between two nations. The Aboriginal peoples have never formed a nation as we define it. Perhaps we should talk, instead, of an Accord, and not give people an excuse to scuttle the treaty concept again because of one word.

The idea of a treaty goes back many years. The failure to enter into a treaty was lamented in the early days of the Australian colonies.

For example, the governor of Van Diemen’s Land, George Arthur, during the conflict known as the Black War, remarked that it was “a fatal error… that a treaty was not entered into” with the Aboriginal people.

The treaty idea was first promoted in 1837 by Saxe Bannister, the first Attorney General of NSW. At the same time, the retired Governor Arthur of Tasmania also argued for a treaty. Little more was heard of treaties for a long time.

In 1975 the Senate unanimously passed a resolution put by Aboriginal Senator Neville Bonner urging the Australian Government to acknowledge prior ownership of Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to introduce legislation to compensate them for dispossession of their land. Traditional ownership is still a nightmare, and compensation never happened.

Some non-indigenous Australians formed the Aboriginal Treaty Committee in 1979 and, for five years, tried to promote the idea. However, the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, in its 1983 report Two Hundred Years Later, rejected the idea of a treaty because it believed that the Aboriginal peoples were not a sovereign entity, a “nation”, and so they could not enter into a treaty with the Commonwealth. The committee was in favour of a “compact” which could eventually be inserted into the Constitution by referendum.

Indigenous attitudes to the idea of a treaty were also far from unanimous in the 1970s and 80s, and some outrageous demands were made that had no chance of being met in today’s reality. The anger was understandable, but it did nothing to promote the cause and actually delayed a resolution.

In September 1987, Prime Minister Bob Hawke said he would like to see the Bicentenary produce some sort of understanding or compact with Aboriginal people whereby the Australian community recognised its obligations to rectify some of the injustices of the previous 200 years.

A statement of indigenous aspirations was presented to Hawke at the Barunga Festival in June 1988. The Prime Minister then called for a treaty to be negotiated. Support was not unanimous, but in 1991, a Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was formed.

Support waxes and wanes, and nothing gets done. It doesn’t help that there have been some outlandish and impossible demands made by some extreme Aboriginal voices. Some might say these are ambit claims, but they tend to push the reality of an agreement away.

A call for a treaty was made at the Corroboree 2000 Convention, and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation identified a treaty as unfinished business of the reconciliation process. It recommended federal legislation to unite all Australians by an agreement, or treaty, through which issues of reconciliation can be resolved.

The council said an agreement could involve three things:

1.  Acknowledgment of the history and occupation of Aboriginal people on this continent.

2.  Negotiation, with mutual respect, to agree on national goals, so that government ideas are not forced on Aboriginal people.

3.  A negotiated agreement on rights, obligations and opportunities.

The Aboriginal people want to be part of decisions that affect them. They want to be responsible for programs designed to meet their needs, and to be accountable for the successes and failures of these programs. Positive change in Australia depends on Aboriginal people having more control over their lives.

Experience has shown that success cannot be imposed from Canberra. The hard work must be done by Aboriginal people. And they have always been more than willing.

An agreement, a treaty or compact or accord, which recognises traditional land rights, should be in place to guide laws that would allow Aboriginal people more control over their lives. The problem in Australia is that we lack the laws and institutions necessary for Aboriginal people to make such decisions. An accord could pave the way for stronger institutions of Aboriginal governance.

Other countries have done this. They, unlike Australia, have realised that true reconciliation requires an agreement – call it what you will.

What could such a treaty look like? I’ve never liked asking people to do what I wouldn’t do, so I’ve written my version of a draft. It covers, I think, all of the demands made by the Aboriginal people, and I want to show that this is not the toughest job in the world.

Let’s fix a quick deadline and just do it.

 

***~~~***

 

What might a treaty look like?

 

This suggested draft is based on what Aboriginal and non-indigenous people have requested and what seems fair. Whatever the final wording is, it has to be simple, understandable, compassionate and based on reality – and it must be accompanied by the establishment of an inclusive republic.

 

A Draft Treaty between the Federal Government

and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia

 

The parties to this agreement, the Federal Government of Australia and the representatives of the Aboriginal peoples of this country, agree to the following terms of agreement, having regard to two overall truths:

1. That great injustices and harm have come to the Aboriginal peoples through policy choices based on misconceptions, ignorance and an attitude of superiority and arrogance. These injustices include the removal of children from parents, the take-over of land from traditional owners, and the suppression of Aboriginal culture, traditions and spirituality.

2. That, since 1788, Australia has grown into a multicultural society of considerable wealth and stability, and with federal and state laws that have stood the test of time and have administered justice in fairness and equity. Those laws also control the sale and purchase of land, and this has benefitted all Australians, including Aboriginal people and organisations. Health and education systems are world class. High employment has been maintained. These benefits are all available for Aboriginal people, although there are constraints, depending on location.

These are the (draft) terms agreed to by the parties:

Article 1. The Commonwealth recognises the Aboriginal peoples as the traditional owners and occupiers of this continent, and, with this agreement and the accompanying legislation, native title now rests entirely with the indigenous peoples. The Commonwealth acknowledges and accepts the High Court Mabo decision, which said the original decision of the British in 1788 that this country was terra nullius (no-one’s land) was invalid. The Commonwealth also acknowledges and reiterates the apology given by former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, for all wrongs committed against the Aboriginal people.

Article 2. Traditional owners shall allow use of their lands in accordance with state and federal laws, after appropriate consultation and with due respect shown for traditional culture and sacred sites. Traditional owners have the right to royalties on any natural resources extracted from their lands at rates to be negotiated and agreed between the parties involved.

Article 3. The parties also acknowledge and accept that part of the Mabo and Wik decisions, which said that, though the Aboriginal people were the traditional owners, sovereignty and legal ownership of land were vested in Australia under the various federal and state laws, and that native title and legal ownership could co-exist. Both parties agree that Australia belongs to everyone who lives here, united in our diversity, and that traditional ownership must be kept separate from legal ownership.

Article 4. The Aboriginal people, while never having surrendered claims to land ownership or sovereignty, by this agreement hereby cede sovereignty to the Commonwealth, in accordance with the Mabo decision and as a gesture of goodwill. The Aboriginal people will therefore retain traditional ownership of all Australian lands, while allowing Australian laws to determine legal ownership. In accordance with the Mabo and Wik decisions, legal ownership will override traditional ownership in the case of conflicts.

Article 5. Where there are lands not in private or public legal ownership, the legal ownership of those lands shall be granted to Aboriginal people to be managed by the traditional owners of those lands in accordance with the relevant federal or state laws. Crown lands not being used as parks or reserves or public amenity and considered to be unused, shall not be considered public lands and shall be returned to the traditional owners. The parties agree that to not grant legal ownership of these lands to the traditional owners would continue the alienation started by the British in 1788.

Article 6. In settled city, urban or regional areas, where Aboriginal people do not have legal ownership, suitable land parcels, to be negotiated by government institutions and Aboriginal land councils, shall be purchased through federal grants as Aboriginal parks or reserves to be used for camping, the renewing of Aboriginal culture and traditions, and for the education of both indigenous and non-indigenous people in this culture and these traditions, or for any other purpose deemed suitable Aboriginal activities.

Article 7. In part consideration of past injustices and ill treatment of Aboriginal people, the Commonwealth renews, as part of this agreement, its ratification of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, subject to the agreed separation of traditional and legal ownership of land. Any future decisions or laws that affect Aboriginal people must be based in the principles of these two documents, unless mutually agreed otherwise.

Article 8. A future Australia shall have as its objectives a healing of the divisions of the past, a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, and a society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law. The unacceptably high proportion of Aboriginal people incarcerated in this country is to be addressed without delay by proper consultation between the parties to this agreement or their representatives and by appropriate action to follow consultation. Our objective must also be for children to be kept within the Aboriginal community, and for all necessary assistance, legal and monetary, to be given by federal and state governments to ensure this outcome.

Article 9. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia, in part consideration of past injustices and their goodwill in accepting that traditional ownership and legal land ownership should be kept separate, are to be afforded the full benefits available to all citizens of this country. State and federal governments are to provide permanently all the social, political, educational and legal benefits currently enjoyed by other Australians to the Aboriginal people. These benefits will also include welfare payments, the provisions of pensions and health benefits. Aboriginal people, in addition to the provision of appropriate space in urban or built-up areas, are also to be afforded additional benefits through appropriate funding to overcome any social disadvantages experienced by them, and this assistance shall be given without delay after proper consultation. Funding shall be provided to allow Aboriginal people to promote and demonstrate Aboriginal culture within Australia. Funding shall continue to be provided to allow Aboriginal people to work and live on or near their traditional lands in remote areas, and to educate children in their traditional language. Remote communities shall be provided with funding and services to maintain an acceptable and appropriate living standard.

Article 10. Aboriginal identity, culture, traditions and history are to be promoted wherever possible as being an Australian cultural treasure, and shall be taught in all Australian schools, primary and secondary. Wherever possible, Aboriginal people are to be consulted in preparing educational materials and should be employed to teach Aboriginality to both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Funding shall be provided, wherever appropriate, to assist Aboriginal people teach and demonstrate the Aboriginal way of life in various traditional lands to both indigenous and non-indigenous people.

Article 11. The Commonwealth acknowledges with gratitude the contributions made to Australian society and our reputation in the world by Aboriginal people for more than two centuries. They helped settlers in this country in many ways and their contributions continue in many fields, including various sports, humanities, culture, entertainment, politics, media – in fact, in all areas of Australian life. The generosity of the Aboriginal people, as demonstrated by their assistance and achievements, is acknowledged and appreciated. The Commonwealth will strive to encourage Aboriginal people to participate in Australian society in every field, as a means of preserving and enhancing their cultural identity and of evolving and flourishing in the future.

 

***~~~***

 

The Republic of Australia must be inclusive (Step 4)

It’s time for all Australians to cease siding with the exploiter and to stand for and alongside the exploited. The British Empire, built on a policy of seize and exploit, crumbled into ruins long ago. Why do we continue to hang on to the Queen’s skirts? Why do we persist with what Germaine Greer calls “the eternal flunkeydom that is our present lot”?

This Queen should be the last monarch to reign over Australia. We owe no allegiance whatever to a British monarch. We never have. However, the grace and dignity of this monarch has endeared her to Australians and no-one wants to show any disrespect to her. And we do like William and Kate and Harry. But let us start our new future when the Queen’s reign ends, and remember her with fondness and appreciation as part of our history. And, of course, throw out the welcome mat to them all as visitors in the future.

We are ever-ready to jump into the bed of war with Britain and America, and to do heavy lifting for them in the hope of rewards and protection. We eagerly joined the illegal and inexcusable war on Iraq, despite massive protests by our people. My wife collapsed at my feet during one protest, such was the passion stirred in our people. But we went to war despite the people’s objections. And we wonder why Australia is now subject to terrorism and terrorism threats.

Where are the rewards we expected and hoped for? Where is the protection? Where was Britain in World War II when Singapore fell with nary a whimper from the “Mother country”. And what can we say about America? When we asked for help from the world’s superpower to defend East Timor, we were humiliated when that help was denied.

Will Britain and America ever come to our aid if we are a republic? Of course. As in the past, when it is in their absolute and unequivocal interests to do so. And make no mistake – they will exact a usurer’s fee for everything they “give”. Altruism never existed in either country, and it was naïve of us, to say the least, to ever think it did.

They will still support us in this limited way when we are a republic, because they need to, but let’s do things on our terms for a change, and from a position of dignity. Let us, at last, be a nation in our own right.

Everyone who now lives in Australia does so in the knowledge and understanding that this country had its origins in Aboriginal culture. We must not create a mere republic, but an all-inclusive republic that acknowledges its true roots in our Aboriginal, not British, history.

If Britain and America were our major trading partners, a move to a republic could possibly be expensive, but they are not. Our major trading partners are where they should be, in Asia. And, despite attempts to rule us and the rest of the world, America can hardly complain – the world superpower cut the British apron strings two centuries ago and became independent. It didn’t seem to do America any harm.

But Aboriginal Australia must be at the heart of a new beginning, a republic. Aboriginal Professor Michael Dodson knows this.

“The history of human suffering of the indigenous people of this country cannot be assuaged by legal decisions or the opening of a purse,” he said. “It can be assuaged only by the opening of hearts.”

If we include the Aboriginal people as the heart of a republic, it might give us the impetus to rethink things. We might, for example, re-examine how we allow massive overseas corporations and wealthy individuals to own and lease our land and extract our natural resources.

Along with a republic would come the opportunity to streamline and simplify legal processes, including the pathway to Aboriginal land title. The law would have to accept that the land was occupied by Aboriginal people from the start, but would also protect the legal rights of other occupants of the republic. We already respect the rights Aboriginal people have fought for and won, and they have never abused those rights.

When we become a republic, we will join many nations that were once colonial countries and that are now independent and comprise the largest number of countries in the United Nations. We are not alone in breaking the chains of colonialism. Just late.

We will become a full community member on the world stage in our own right. Respect, at last, will be earned.

Aboriginal people want this, and surely non-indigenous people who stop and think will also want it.

On Australia Day 2016, all state and territory leaders declared their support for a republic, except for Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett, yet even he is known to support a republic, and his party certainly does.

The three major political parties say they support a republic, but I guess they haven’t thought they had the numbers to get a Yes victory for a republic, so they made it a No so far by inaction. Or perhaps they couldn’t be bothered.

In 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he thought 2017 might be a good time to try. Might be. Maybe. Perhaps.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a former chair of the Australian Republican Movement. He is still smarting after a referendum on the republic was defeated 20 years ago. He now says a republic would be appropriate after the Queen’s reign ends. It should happen right now, but it can surely be put off no longer than that.

It’s time Australians demanded an end to procrastination by our politicians. Let’s prepare now for the change to a republic when the Queen’s reign comes to an end. We must act now to be ready for our greatest day as a nation. It’s too late to start when the Queen’s reign ends. By then we’ll have another monarch foisted on us.

The British have a wee bit of responsibility here, as well as the Royal Family. They should declare the time has come and they will no longer foist their monarch on this country – and I call upon them to do so. But I think it will have to be Australians who take the moral and legal high ground to make this happen.

Respected Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson is a visionary, who said this: “Indigenous people’s rights and interests can be enshrined in a way that is beyond symbolic, and that recognises and embraces the rich and vibrant nature of our indigenous cultures and economies, while ensuring that our rights and interests are forever protected and guaranteed.”

Former Aboriginal leader and politician, Neville Bonner, said: “We’ve got to come together. That’s what we want for Australia. As one people. We’re all Australians, regardless of your ethnic background, regardless of your political belief, regardless of your religious beliefs, we are all Australians.”

Former Australian of the Year Aboriginal elder Lowitja O’Donoghue said that, if we bring the people of Australia together, “we can build a remarkable country, the envy of the rest of the world.”

To do this, we have to cut the apron strings and become an inclusive republic.

 

***~~~***

 

We need a new mindset

At times, there seems to be a growing empathy among non-indigenous people to the plight of Aboriginal people. At other times, that empathy seems to disappear, along with the hopes of a united Australia. And yet a feeling persists that there is something we need to understand about this country and the people who occupied it from antiquity – 60,000 years before Britain came into existence and invaded this land.

This unknown story stretches back to the Dreamtime and is a story of abundant diversity, of a remarkable and resilient people and of their unique culture and spirituality.

Today, Aboriginal artists are telling this story. Most Aboriginal artists have had their way of life disrupted. They live with severe material deprivation and neglect. And yet, they are able to produce works of sometimes extraordinary beauty. And this is just the part that is immediately seen.

The artists, despite their circumstances, often sitting in the dust and debilitating heat of the desert, are able to draw on their spirituality and their Dreaming to create works of iconic strength – works of great depth that is not seen at first glance.

Many hearts and minds have already changed. Painfully and shamefully slow as it was to come, we finally managed to say “sorry” to the Aboriginal people. Sorry for stealing your children. Sorry for almost ruining your culture.

Sorry for everything.

On February 13, 2008, more than two centuries after the invasion of 1788, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to Australia’s indigenous people, particularly the Stolen Generation, for laws and policies that had “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.” The apology included a proposal for a policy commission to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in “life expectancy, in educational achievement and in economic opportunity.”

Unfortunately, by 2016, the gap Rudd talked about has not been closed in five out of the seven areas the program seeks to improve.

It was, though, the best speech I’ve heard from a politician, and it was heartfelt. You’ll find it in the Appendix. It should be read and reread and taught in our schools.

In his speech, Rudd said that, between 1910 and 1970, between 10 and 30 per cent of indigenous children were snatched from their parents, up to 50,000 children in all.

However, Kevin Rudd has been deposed and his speech, apparently, forgotten. And the situation has grown worse since 2008. Much worse. Rudd thought the removal of children ceased in 1970. Not so.

The situation was highlighted in December 2015 by none other than the Martu people of Jigalong, the Mardudjara people of our blackfella story. They said too many children are being removed by child protection authorities and losing their language and culture – and this was reported by ABC News.

The ABC said the Human Rights Commission “has shown the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care across Australia has increased six times since the Bringing them Home report was published in 1997.”

The news service went on: “There are now about 15,000 Aboriginal children in care, compared to about 2400 in 1997. In WA, the number increased by nine per cent in the last year, making Aboriginal children 15 times more likely to be in care than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.”

As the Martu people said: The Stolen Generation never ended.

Governments will argue that some children cannot be cared for by their parents, but there are alternatives within the Aboriginal community to taking them away – and governments make it far too difficult for other family or band members to care for them.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge told the ABC that Aboriginal children in care have skyrocketed because we have a culturally blind approach to child protection.

“Aboriginal communities face these enormous institutional hurdles,” he said. “They are wildly over-represented in the criminal justice system, so a grandparent or an uncle or aunty, to be able to look after a child, needs to have a clear police record. That’s setting up most Aboriginal families for failure right at the outset.”

In Western Australia, it gets worse. The Federal Government, through former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and the Western Australian state government, at the time of writing, were planning to cut off funding to nearly half of the state’s remote Aboriginal communities, effectively shutting them down. Up to 150 in all. If this happens, what will happen to those people? After being encouraged, and sometimes forced, into these remote communities, are they now to be evicted again?

Abbott suggested it was a lifestyle choice for Aboriginal people to live in their remote communities on or near their own ancestral land. In doing so, he showed no understanding of the Aboriginal spiritual connection to the land, and continued the abuse started in 1788.

My request for information on the closures finally got answers of a sort. The first Minister I contacted responded on a different subject altogether and did not answer my question. When I rejected his response, he sent my concerns, in January 2016, on to another Minister, who ignored my request for a long time. But what else could the minister do? There can be no defence for this cruelty and injustice.

Finally, more than two months later, two Ministers (the Minister for Regional Development and the Minister for Child Protection) replied that the government has made “no decision to close remote Aboriginal communities in WA and has not identified any community for potential closure.” That, of course, does not mean that they will not make such a decision. What the government has done, and this is entirely predictable, is to set up a new body, called the Regional Services Reform Unit. This unit has already started doing what government bodies do best – talk about talking.

For crying out loud, ministers, stop the endless talking. Fund the services to allow the communities to continue. We have to put an end to ignorance and heartlessness wherever we find it. Stop the rot.

Meanwhile the disgrace, the shame, the heartbreak continue – in WA and elsewhere in this country.

~~~~

Matthew Quilty, a descendant of a family that ran a pastoral company early in the 20th century, called Australia:

A land of mystery,

and tainted history,

of hidden secrets,

and eternal regrets.

How can we absolve the guilt of our tainted history, our hidden secrets and eternal regrets? We cannot undo the past, but we can change the course of history. We can build a new nation with the Aboriginal people at its heart and in our hearts. We cannot undo the hurt, but we can make tomorrow better for everyone in this country, especially the traditional owners, who are bigger in spirit and character than we ever give them credit for.

To accept the Aboriginal people unconditionally would be to refute the validity of the British seizure of this country for the Crown. It would be to refute the right of Britain to annex this land as a colony.

Colonisation was attempted, certainly, but it has failed. It was invalid. It was an invasion. It trampled on the rights of people who had lived in this country for tens of thousands of years before the British Empire even came into existence.

We cannot give back their country to Aboriginals because it is not ours to give. It was not ours to take in 1788 and it’s not ours to give now. We are the inheritors of a country that was invaded and usurped by our ignorant, desperate and self-absorbed forefathers. The Aboriginal people will allow us to use the land as we have been using it, because they are more generous than we deserve.

We made the first step in restoring honour to the Aboriginal people when Kevin Rudd made his “sorry” speech. A good second step would be to admit that this country is an Aboriginal country. Every last leaf and every last grain of sand in it. Always has been. Where is the statesman or woman who will stand up and admit this publicly and with contrite heart?

As Yatungka said in the story, Aboriginal people would prefer not to look back. That’s not the way they’re going. They’re going forward. (Actually, I stole those words from Aboriginal actor Ernie Dingo, who used then when talking to fellow Aboriginal, Stan Grant, the journalist and TV presenter.)

Australians right now are bogged down in the legacy of our British colonial past, with young people trying to jump ship to a kind of American-style materialism. There are voices trying to lift us out of our collective malaise, but people like Germaine Greer believe this whitefella sickness can only be cured with “black medicine.”

Aboriginality is the only genuine mythology this country has. We are a multi-cultural society with hundreds of nationalities now in our bloodlines, but the one vital one is missing. Until we embrace Aboriginality as ours, we are culturally deficient. We have been living in an Aboriginal country since Captain Cook. Isn’t it about time we grasped this cultural treasure and proclaimed our treasure to the world?

This is our national hope for the future – a destiny we can no longer push aside with our apathy and our “she’ll-be-right” attitude. It won’t be right until we make it right.

We are one people. Scratch the surface and we bleed. All of us. Red blood. We are of the human race. All of us.

Do you remember Cathy Freeman’s great victory at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney? Do you remember the image of her sitting on the earth afterwards? She was one of us, was she not? We claimed her as our own and we could understand her affinity with the earth and her country, simply demonstrated as she sat there.

“I am an Australian,” she said, “and I would like to make all Australians feel proud to be Australian. Ours is a truly multicultural society and should be united as such.” Hear! Hear!

Perhaps we should all sit on the earth and listen to our own Aboriginal people tell the stories of this great land. We all need to sit down and think.

Someone once said that blackfellas have worn black armbands too long, and whitefellas have worn blinkers too long. With blinkered vision we have seen the blackfellas as the problem. They have never been the problem. Whitefellas have been, and still are.

If we are smart enough, we will yet see the blackfella as the solution.

What would happen if we made this incredible about-face after more than two centuries of inflicting tragedy on the Aboriginal people? If we did admit that this is, and always was, an Aboriginal country, and declare so in our Constitution, would the vast majority of Australians think they are condemned to be, forevermore, aliens in the land of their birth?

No, that would be an absurd notion. We cannot ignore or erase two centuries of history, nor would we (blackfella or whitefella) want to do so. If a man was born in Greece, he is Greek (although he might also adopt Australian nationality). If a woman was born in Italy, she is Italian. If you were born in Australia, you are Australian. Nothing would change. Nothing, that is, except the knowledge within you that you have created a truly inclusive nation and done something truly great in your lifetime. You will have changed your world and changed Australia for all time.

OK. Let’s create a nation. Let’s call it, oh I don’t know – let’s call it Australia. Let’s create a republic and cut the British ties that have kept us subservient to another country’s queen or king. Let’s stay in the Commonwealth, but as an independent country joining the other independent countries that have already cut colonial ties.

Let’s have a president to replace the Governor-General, and one chosen by the people. Let’s adopt a new flag that represents our new independent nation. The British flag no longer has a place on ours, but the Aboriginal culture does. Let’s change inappropriate wording of the national anthem. I believe only one line needs to change (see the Appendix).

Let’s change Australia Day to a day all Australians can celebrate – the day we became a republic, not the day this land was stolen. This will eliminate the concept of an Invasion Day or Day of Mourning. By all means, let’s change any of the trappings that no longer represent our new nationhood. We can do this.

Let’s build our nation with its Aboriginal people at its heart. Where they belong.

Let’s surround them with everyone born here. Let’s add everyone who has migrated here and been granted approval to live here or granted citizenship.

We are already a multi-cultural society, but now we would embrace the very people we have pushed aside for far too long. Now we would be all-inclusive. We would have, ridiculous as it may seem, thrown open our gates to admit the people who actually own the joint.

All the groups that make up the new Republic of Australia would be part of it. The blackfellas born here would be part of it. The whitefellas born here would be part of it. Migrants accepted here would be part of it, whatever their colour. And, while we’re at it, let’s chuck out this white and black business and just say we are all Australian citizens – (I just use “blackfella” and “whitefella” because Aboriginal people do and you know what we mean when we say those words).

Suddenly, for the first time, there is a place where all the separate Aboriginal clans can come together as one – Australia. For the first time, they can come together as one nation and as part of a larger national family.

Can we create such a country as this? We already have. Almost. All we have to do is embrace everyone, including Aboriginal people, as part of one family, one country – the inclusive Republic of Australia.

 

***~~~***

 

Our link to antiquity

The Aboriginal culture is the oldest continuing living culture in the world – far, far older than the British Empire that tried to usurp it.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said: “We are so fortunate, as Australians, to have among us the oldest continuing cultures in human history. Cultures that link our nation with deepest antiquity. We have Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley that is as ancient as the great Palaeolithic cave paintings at Altamira and Lascaux in Europe.”

Aboriginal art is the oldest continuous tradition of artistic expression in the world, but there has always been a special imperative to drive it. Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Tjakamara produced major designs for the New Parliament House in Canberra and for the Opera House. This is what he had to say:

“Now we want to show our paintings to everybody: to show them to the world. We want to tell people that this is a most important place to us. This is land! They have taken it away from us and they didn’t even think about it! This is the reason that we now want to show the world our Dreamtime culture, so that they can understand our way of life. They are probably starting to think now on what has been happening to Aboriginal people. So this Possum Dreaming is not just a beautiful wall on the Opera House – it will make people think.”

The Aboriginal people painted the largest art galleries in the world – on our rock faces and in our caves. We have all seen evidence of this. But they did much more than that. They were the first to depict the human face in art and the first to paint battle scenes. Aboriginal art is one of the world’s great art traditions. Rock art is at least as old as the earliest art in Europe, and contemporary art is a major and highly valued contribution to the world art scene.

Historians say Aboriginal people made the first ocean crossing in the history of this planet, just to get here 60,000 years or more ago. To put that in perspective, the pyramids in Egypt are about 5000 years old. Britain started to form its empire in the 16th century. That’s hundreds of years, not thousands.

Aboriginals performed the first cremations on earth. They believed in an afterlife long before any other culture or religion. Without benefit of machinery, they dug the oldest mines in continuous use anywhere in the world. They were the most sophisticated hunter-gatherers in the world.

New evidence suggests that they were possibly fire-stick farming 100,000 years ago. They were the first to make tools, like the axe, and they invented the returning boomerang.

They developed a system of family and tribal relationships that is so complex and intricate that it remains beyond the grasp of most outsiders. This system bonded them to the land in a relationship that turned the usual rule of ownership on its head. In this unique system, the land owns the Aboriginal people.

They have passed down, from generation to generation, the oldest oral histories and their most coveted values.

Remember what Caroline Jones said: “Aboriginal people are a steady beating heart at the centre of our Australian spiritual identity.” Eloquent and beautifully true.

The story of the first Australians is probably the world’s greatest unknown human survival story. Unknown to the whitefella, that is, but well known to the Aboriginal people. However, it is a story in danger of being forgotten, unless we all agree to do something to preserve it. Now.

There is a Dreamtime story about the wise men of old. They were able to see into special crystals in stones. These men could see into the past, they could see what is happening right now, even far away, and they could see into the future. What they saw filled the old men with dread. They could see a future when the colour of the Aboriginal people, like the stones, seemed to grow paler and paler, until only the white faces of the spirits of the dead could be seen all over Australia. Could those old blokes really see the future and see the Aboriginal people and their culture disappear forever?

When tragedy after tragedy befell the Aboriginal people, the world lost its best opportunity to see and to study the culture that enhanced the very wellsprings of the human race.

Only two centuries ago, it would have been possible to really examine a culture that stretched back perhaps 100,000 years – a culture that showed, in its flora and fauna and its people, that it was different from any other in the world.

Is that opportunity lost forever? Not yet. Parts have certainly been lost forever, but if we, as a nation, act and act quickly, a great deal can be salvaged. We can save the Dreaming.

If we are willing to listen, really listen, to the Dreamtime stories, we will find, I am convinced, a deeper connection that stretches back to the time before time began.

~~~~

Have you ever wondered where the laid-back “She’ll be right, mate!” Australian character came from? Certainly not the British. Most Australians would recoil in horror if anyone thought them British. Not from America. Many of us, while enjoying American toys and materialism, really don’t like what the country and some of its people have become.

I have had a growing feeling, over many years, that more and more of our characteristics have been influenced by our Aboriginal people. I am now convinced that this influence has been the major force in creating our way of life.

We are not really “cosmopolitan”, although many try to be. We are certainly not British, with neither British attitudes nor British values. We are too rowdy at times, too direct and fun-loving to the embarrassment of the British. In contrast to our British forebears, we have no class consciousness and no respect for authority, unless it is well-and-truly earned.

My own nature and behaviour can best be explained by my Aboriginal approach to life, rather than the Welsh or Irish traits I also inherited. I have never wanted to travel. I don’t want to talk just for the sake of talking. Even as a child, everywhere I went I thought about how Aboriginal people had lived in that place. I was not so much thinking as feeling. I could understand how they lived, because I could feel it. I still do. That’s how I still see this country after many years. I ask myself: where would the Aboriginal people have camped, where is the water, what game is here and what plants? What ceremonies were performed here? How was this country formed? My parents were often upset because I didn’t talk in the car as we drove – I was too busy with my thoughts.

You can pick an Aussie out in a crowd. We cannot be compared with any other people. And yet, we are definitely changing. The culture and food and dress from many other countries are exerting new, and welcome, influences.

But the primary influence has been that exerted by our Aboriginal people, and for the simple reason that we instinctively know, somehow, that they are worth emulating in many ways. Sometimes now, you can tell the difference between a non-indigenous Australian and an indigenous Australian by the colour of the skin and perhaps facial features. At other times, who would know?

And does it matter? Does it matter whether the person with me is of Irish descent, or Spanish, or Afghan, or Greek, or Aboriginal? Are we not all part of the one human family, the one human country? We were all born here or chose to live here.

The Aboriginal way is the Australian way. They don’t like to confront people. They’re usually quiet. When they want to say something, they’ll speak. When they don’t, they won’t. There is no hypocrisy in them.

Aboriginal people are loyal. They leave judgement to the elders, and then only when necessary. They give each other space to be alone and quiet and to sort out their problems. Is this not so in the Aussie mateship concept also?

Aboriginals are story-tellers, and the Aussie loves a yarn. Both like to make the story bigger than life. On big occasions, Aboriginal men tend to gather in one place and women in another. Aussie mates can be found around the beer keg, while the women congregate somewhere else. It drives the women mad in both blackfella and whitefella camps at times.

Our language is chock-a-block with Aboriginal words, not always appropriate and sometimes we only think they are Aboriginal words. Aboriginals have a great sense of humour, as do other Aussies. I remember a friend telling me that Bellambi, on the south coast of NSW was named after an Aboriginal word meaning “place of many kangaroos”. The Aboriginal locals, I’m told, are greatly amused by this because roos were rarely seen there, and that’s what they were trying to tell the early settlers.

Even our pronunciation and accent borrowed heavily from the Aboriginal.

Germaine Greer called this black and white mix “our badge of hope” and one we should wear with pride.

 

***~~~***

 

A truly Australian culture

We could, and should, follow the lead of an elder of the Yuin people of Wallaga Lake in New South Wales, Guboo (Good Friend) Ted Thomas, who, in 1980, began “Renewing the Dreaming” camps on land lost to Aboriginal culture.

The camps were to be annual events to re-awaken the Dreaming in those willing to learn, particularly the young future spiritual leaders and custodians of the land and cultural heritage.

Such camps are practical projects that should be funded by Federal and State governments all over this country. They, or at least parts of them, should be opened up to non-Aboriginal Australians who would like to learn more of Aboriginal culture. Let’s put money into action, rather than talkfests; action that will result in a deeper appreciation of Aboriginal heritage by all Australians. Surely such an outcome would make the path much easier to true reconciliation where it really matters – in individual hearts?

And it would be a great thing to do for the Aboriginal people, who are lost in “no man’s land” between the old and the new cultures. Aboriginal people have to live in today’s world, but are lost without their cultural beliefs and values. These must be restored.

Goboo defined “Renewing the Dreaming” this way: “This is the re-establishment of our innate spiritual relationship with the earth, using as a starting point the sources of power at selected sites. It is a movement toward reviving identity with the natural environment for the birth of a truly Australian culture. Its aims are to bring into ourselves and into our culture the power latent within centres of consciousness and energy in the natural environment; to forge links with Aboriginal ancestors, people and culture; to encourage identification, recording, preservation and use of specific sites; to support land rights and reparations for Aboriginal people; to develop appreciation and understanding of environment protection… to formulate a Dreaming Wisdom appropriate to the contemporary way of life.”

Beautiful.

The concept of “the birth of a truly Australian culture” gives the whole process of reconciliation an exciting objective and a breath of fresh air. There can surely be few Australians who would not embrace such a concept.

All Australians need to know the stories of this country, and not just those written after 1788. Aboriginal culture should be mandatory subjects in all schools, both primary and secondary, and they should be practical, hands-on subjects developed and preferably taught by Aboriginal teachers. In a few short years, the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of our Aboriginal heritage would then become part of our nature, part of our national character.

Aboriginal people are willing to tell their stories, if only we will listen. If only we will listen.

This ancient country, Australia, has an amazing history and its original inhabitants have the oldest continuous traditional culture on this planet. To accept the concept that this is a young country only two hundred years old, as our National Anthem suggests, is to rob us all of a richness and a depth other countries could only envy.

It’s time to turn a new page in our history. To do that, we must do it in a way that rights the wrongs of the past and moves us – all of us – into the future with pride and a feeling of self-worth. We must all be equal, with an equal stake and equal opportunities. The team to save the Dreaming must be the greatest Aussie team of all time.

I want that team to come together now. I’m getting old (which is not a handicap) and I’m in poor health (which is), and I want people from all age groups to grasp the vision of a great Australia with an inclusive republic and push it, promote it, shout it, stand up for it. I will stand with you, but I’m afraid my shouting days are pretty much over. Will you join me?

Aboriginal culture does not give up its meanings and secrets easily. Knowledge and understanding comes only over time, if at all. Insight into Aboriginality is better gained by being with people and observing and absorbing things instead of setting out to study it, though schooling in the early years is vital. This has been my experience. Open up and let it in, and the Aboriginal people will be generous with their time and knowledge. They give from the heart, if they see yours is open.

I am putting my hand up to say I want “a truly Australian culture”. I want what Aboriginal heritage is offering. I want to save the Dreaming. What about you?

A Murinbara elder called Muta first used the expression, “White man got no Dreaming.” White Australians do not have to accept or adopt Aboriginal spirituality as their own, but there is much that the Dreaming traditions and wisdom can teach to enrich the Australian psyche and culture. Contemporary and ancient history can live side by side, as can all Australians.

It’s time for us all to fully embrace in our minds and hearts the reconciliation that is long overdue. It’s time to accept the beauty and richness of the inheritance now being offered to us all by a proud people – the Australian Aboriginal people.

 

***~~~***

 

Message

Sticks

 

***~~~***

 

Message Stick for Blackfellas

The first thing to say about Aboriginal people is that we are still here. Our ancestors died, were brutalised and treated with incomprehensible cruelty, yet our culture is still here.

They said we were a dying race. They said we were becoming extinct. They said we were worthless. They said we weren’t really human. They said many things that were just not bloody true. We are still here, and we are here to stay.

This is our country and we are still here in the land of the Ancestral Spirits. We are here to care for country and respect the spirits. As long as there is one Aboriginal person left to draw breath, that will be so.

We have grown strong in our adversity, strong enough to stand up and take our place in the world in the 21st century. And there are whitefellas, now, willing to fight with us.

We are strong enough to join the fight for an inclusive republic, with our people as its core, its heart. In doing this, we will refute the right of Britain to invade our lands and steal them. We will declare, loudly and proudly, that this is an Aboriginal country, every blade of grass, every speck of sand. Always was. Always will be. Just as the Ancestors gave it to us.

We will fight until the Federal Government is forced by all the people to declare that we are the traditional owners of every inch of this country. Every bloody inch. We have never surrendered our rights to land. We demand native title, and we demand it now. No longer should we accept the humiliation and distress of having to fight for every small parcel of native title. It always has been ours and we will fight until the government declares it so.

We cannot undo history. No-one can, whitefella or blackfella. That’s reality. The world has changed, because of what the British did. History has moved on and we have had no option but to move on with it. Most of us now enjoy the benefits of a new world. The fact of the matter is that land ownership is now controlled by the country’s judicial system and laws. We know this and have had to accept it. Our people, often through the various Aboriginal land councils, legally own a great deal of land in Australia. With the agreement that comes with an inclusive republic and an accord (or treaty), we will have more.

We will have more by following in the footsteps of Gurindji man, Vincent Lingiari, who obtained government funding to buy land so that his people would have work and access to traditional lands.

And we will have more through grants of suitable land in urban and built-up areas where Aboriginal traditions and education can be maintained. We will have complete traditional ownership, more legal ownership and more options, more opportunities.

Land rights are essential to allow us the choice and the potential to live an authentic life of our choosing within the reality of a new republic and its economy and its laws.

With the republic and the treaty (or accord) that comes with it, there will have to be give and take on both sides. We will have to cede legal rights to land so that we are declared traditional owners and then have the same rights as everyone else to buy or sell land, in some cases with government help as part compensation for what has been stolen from us.

And we have to admit that there have been some outlandish and impossible demands made by some Aboriginal voices in the past. The demands were understandable, but impossible to achieve in the new reality in this country. The problem is that these demands pushed any agreement further away and didn’t help our cause. If we are now reasonable and even generous, as our compassionate nature will allow us to be, the rewards for us will be enormous.

We will keep up our commitment to teaching the whitefella about our culture and our traditions, and we will have better opportunities to pass on knowledge to our own young people – and you know how important that is. We will continue telling our story to the world. It’s a story that must be told and must be heard. And now it will be.

Today, our artists are telling this story. Many artists have been able to produce works of genuine beauty. And this is just the part that is immediately seen. Our people are able to draw on their Dreaming to bring forth works of formal and iconic potency – works of great depth. And they tell the world our story – or the parts of it we want people to hear.

This is the new way for many of us to care for country when we have no other way. We can care for country by telling our stories in art or music, or in teaching our culture or in ways we have yet to work out.

If we do our part, the government will have to agree to make two very important documents part of the republic and the treaty and to reaffirm their importance: The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (this one subject to the separation of traditional and legal ownership of land). Read them. Not many Australians have done so. They are in the Appendix – we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The indigenous document actually goes further than we have hoped for. But now Australia will have to live up to it.

The government will have to agree to an increased commitment to funding legal ownership of land for Aboriginal purposes, and to increased commitment to fund health and education for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal culture will become mandatory subjects in all schools, both primary and secondary, and they will be practical, hands-on subjects developed and preferably taught by our own teachers. More of our young should become teachers as a way of caring for country.

The government will have to agree that Aboriginal people have a genuine part in decisions and policy that affects us. We want to be responsible for programs designed to meet our needs, and to be accountable for the successes and failures of these programs. At long last, we will have more control over our own lives.

For the first time since those white sails appeared off our shores, we will have our rightful place at the heart of this country. We will be joined by people from several hundred nationalities who make up this multicultural country. We will no longer be on the outside looking in; we’ll be front and centre for all the world to see.

After more than two centuries of abuse and ill-treatment and fighting overwhelming odds for basic human rights, we will have a victory that no-one ever expected us to achieve. We will be a truly proud people once more – a feeling we have not had in our lifetimes.

A great burden will be lifted from our shoulders. Our sad and sorry hearts will be lifted by joy and hope. We will still hurt because of what was done to us, but we will have proved that we were right and our people will be assured of pride of place forevermore in this country of our birth. We will know, at last, that people in this country and around the world will value us as the oldest continuous culture on the planet. And we will, once again, truly value ourselves and know that we have done everything we possibly could to please and appease the Ancestral Spirits.

No-one deserves their place in this country more than we do, and no-one had to fight as hard to get it. And there will be more hard work ahead, but…

When the treaty is signed, and the inclusive republic formed and our human rights affirmed, on that day there will be no race on earth as proud as ours. It will be a victory unlike any other the world has seen. We will feel things we have never felt before, and didn’t think we would ever feel.

Let the world know that, YES, we are here, where our old people want us to be. Where we belong. And here we will stay.

 

***~~~***

 

Message Stick for Whitefellas

What will it mean for non-indigenous Australians when we become an inclusive republic? Very little, and a great deal. That needs explaining.

Very little will happen to our way of life, our day-to-day living. Whatever family we have now, whatever friends, whatever home, whatever job – all of that will remain the same. We’ll work, play, do our bit for the community (or not), go to the church or synagogue or temple or mosque (or not), we’ll laugh, we’ll cry – life will go on just the same. Very little will change there.

However…

All of us will have changed the course of history in this country. We will have done what we could to change hearts and minds (perhaps only in our family) about our first citizens, the Aboriginal people. By our agreement to an inclusive republic, we will have told our politicians that we want an Australia that treats everyone – everyone – equally and fairly.

We will have told them that mistakes were made in the past, and we want a better country – a country where everyone has a fair go.

We will have said that, while we enjoy the benefits of living in a free country that was once a British colony, and while we appreciate the way of life and the institutions and the government and the legal system that grew from that colony and out of British influence, we want to be independent. We will have said that our affection for the Queen is undiminished, and she and her country will always be part of our history. But we’ll have said it’s time: time to move on to the next chapter, to full maturity and to a future where our full allegiance is to Australia. We’ll be happy that we will still be part of the Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations and all the other alliances we have nurtured over the years, and that our relationship with Britain will be as friends and equals. All of our institutions will be in Australian hands.

We will have lost nothing and gained much.

We will go about our lives, knowing that our head of state is an Australian, and we helped choose that person to be our president and figurehead. (Perhaps that person will be an Aboriginal person. There are a number who deserve the honour.)

We will be living in a country that has its own national identity, character and values. We will have our own hopes and dreams. Our national purpose will be our own. In our new home, it will be up to us to make what we will of our future, as Australians. We will stand on our own two feet.

Times have changed and so have we. We’ve matured as a country. We will have taken our place as a citizen of the world and we will be proud, so very proud, of who we have become.

We know that Aussies have never lacked courage. We proved that in World Wars, at Gallipoli, in Europe, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam and other places, and we’re still proving it. You see on Anzac Day banners the places where we fought. And we prove it every year in drought, bushfires, cyclones and floods.

We can be very tough when we need to be, but compassionate at the same time.

We will know within ourselves that we have done something very good in our lifetime. We will celebrate our diversity. We will know that we were the first citizens since 1788 to embrace as human beings the people who were here then, the Aboriginal people.

Aboriginality is the only genuine mythology this country has. We are a multi-cultural society with hundreds of nationalities now in our bloodlines, but the one vital one is missing. Until we embrace Aboriginality as ours, we are culturally deficient. We have been living in an Aboriginal country since Captain Cook. Isn’t it about time we grasped this cultural treasure and proclaimed our treasure to the world?

With an inclusive republic, we will have said YES to their culture and their right to their own traditions and their own beliefs and spirituality. We all have to live together. We don’t have to live as the indigenous people do, any more than we have to live as the English do, or Asians or Africans or the Europeans – or any of the many groups that make up multicultural Australia. But everyone has the right to the culture of their birth and to their spiritual beliefs. Cultures and beliefs must not only co-exist, they each have an opportunity in this country to enrich the others.

You will be able to celebrate that we are truly the world’s best example of a multicultural society with our own Aboriginal people at its heart and several hundred of the world’s peoples now in our family.

The republic will be an act of creation, just as Federation was more than a century ago – and we will have helped create it. And each step in our national journey will have happened peacefully, democratically and as things have always happened here – as mates helping each other. We don’t need a revolution; we have each other and we all want the best for Australia. Our destiny will be in our own hands.

Sure, most other members of the Commonwealth have already made this change and have full independence – but we got there. No revolution, just Aussies going about their lives and doing what we believe is right.

I know I’m repeating myself, but this message is important. To accept the concept that this is a young country only two hundred years old is to rob us all of a richness and a depth other countries could only envy.

It’s time to turn a new page in our history. To do that, we must do it in a way that rights the wrongs of the past and moves us – all of us – into the future with pride and a feeling of self-worth. We must all be equal, with an equal stake and equal opportunities. This team to save the Dreaming must be the greatest Aussie team of all time.

Let’s make that team now and all join it. I want people from all age groups to grasp the vision of a great Australia with an inclusive republic and push it, promote it, shout it, stand up for it. I will stand with you, but my shouting days are over. Will you join me? This country needs you to do what is right. Before I draw my last breath, I want to see the wrongs of our past righted.

If that happens, I will have earned the right to live in this country, and so will you.

As Kevin Rudd put it, what we did to the Aboriginal people “is an assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity.” I’m calling on your humanity and your sense of values now. I ask you to do something really great in your lifetime; to change the world, in fact. And I know you can join many others and do it.

When the ink is finally dry on the inclusive Republic of Australia, your name, as a citizen of this country at that date will be on it just as surely as if you signed it. You will have every right to be proud. Very proud.

When that day comes, you can truly say: “She’ll be right, mate!”

 

***~~~***

 

Let’s do it!

We need to learn the stories of this great continent. We need to understand the incredible history of this ancient land, as well as the incalculable ancestral and spiritual wealth of the Aboriginal people.

I am well aware that racism is widespread in Australia. Some of my own family have denied vehemently our Aboriginal heritage. As I write this, only yesterday I spoke to Indian friends, now valued Australian residents, who suffered dreadfully at the hands of Aussie racists who thought they were Aboriginal. But the time has come for all of us to accept a new paradigm, a new dawn. Now is the time for empathy, for compassion, for standing up for our rights. This will be the start of something truly great. And, if we have to ignore the racists or plough rough-shod over them, let’s do so. Racism breaks our discrimination laws, after all. We are on the side of right.

We know that Aussies have never lacked courage. We proved that in wars and we prove it every year in times of trouble. It’s flooding right now where I live as I write this, with massive damage from fallen trees and the people, as always, are copping the devastation and then finding the strength to carry on and rebuild. And all of us, one way or another, suffer hardship and pain and loss in our private lives – and we manage to endure. That’s what it means to be Australian.

We do not lack creativity. We have a go. We tackle the impossible – and laugh at it. We think the unthinkable. Our imagination powers global corporations. Our skills have taken us to the top of the world in many sports and occupations. Our scientific and medical achievements are breath-taking. Our artists are unique.

There is no need to think as Aboriginals do, or believe what Aboriginals believe. To each his own. But we do need to acknowledge that the Aboriginal people have as much right to their beliefs as anyone else – and we owe them a great deal. A great deal.

We all live on this one earth, this one country. Scratch the skin and we all bleed the same way. If we fall, our bones break in the same way. We are all one beneath the skin. There is much that we can learn from each other. Let there be diversity in our unity and unity in our diversity.

There are things we can each do to hasten the long-overdue day our history changes for the better. Suggestions on how you can join this great Aussie team follow.

Our nation is a tree with many roots. It produces shelter and sustenance for all. It enjoys extraordinary beauty and cultural richness.

Let the dreams of future Australians be built on hope and celebration and inclusiveness. Let’s save the Dreaming to make that future great.

Let’s stand up and say loud and clear that we’ve had enough. The Aboriginal people have been abused from the day those white sails appeared like ghosts off our shores. We pride ourselves on being the “fair go” country. But we have never given the Aboriginal people a fair go.

Never.

We are better than that. Surely we are better than that. This generation can stop the rot. We are good people who deserve a free, democratic, independent and inclusive country, where everyone – everyone – gets a fair go.

Let’s make that country.

 

***~~~***

 

A Call to Action:

Save the Dreaming

If you have read this far, can I assume that you would like to be part of the Save the Dreaming team, the strongest and most successful team in our history? Do you want to be part of the generation that finally stopped the abuse of Aboriginal people after two centuries? Do you support the Save the Dreaming plan?

Step 1. A referendum to recognise Aboriginal people in the Constitution and to remove any chance of racial discrimination.

Step 2. Land rights. Use the law to separate traditional ownership and legal ownership.

Step 3. A treaty with the Aboriginal people as a major step in reconciliation.

Step 4. An inclusive republic, with Aboriginal people at its heart.

Here are some of the things you can do. I am far from the fount of all wisdom and I’m sure that there are many ways I’ve never thought of to spread the word about the changes we want to make.

Please, give some thought to how you might use your sphere of influence to spread the message and make things happen.

But, for what it’s worth, here’s a start:

Spread the word about the book

I want every Australian to read this book and think about the future we can make together. I don’t have the money to give print books to every Aussie, but I have arranged for free eBooks to be available to every single person and library that wants one.

Please spread the word to people you know and to your local libraries and school libraries. I would really like to see both print copies and eBooks in school, university and local libraries. Details of the paperback are on my website at www.brianmorganbooks.com.

Problems or just want to contact me? Please use my direct email address: [email protected] I would love to hear from you. As you’ll see, there is also a Facebook page and you can be a part of it.

Contact the politicians

I’m the kind of grumpy old bloke who sits in front of the telly in the evening and yells at politicians – any flavour, I don’t discriminate. However, I have never walked into a politician’s electorate office (I’ve been in many) and not been warmly greeted. Please call in or give them a phone call, State and Federal, because we want this matter resolved once and for all.

Here’s what I want you to do. I don’t want you to beat them up or whack them about the head with a newspaper. No, we want them well enough to harass their leaders and vote the right way when legislation time comes. So, be nice to them and their staff and simply ask them to read the book and then do their part to change history.

Perhaps you could copy the section above that tells how to get a copy and pass it on to them. There are also posters and an infographic on my website that you could print out and give them. There is also a link to a press kit that you could give them. To make it easier, you could just give them my website.

Talk to them also about the referendum (see below). That’s important.

I think it’s very important that politicians are on board with this, because they are the people who can make it happen (with a bit of help from a multitude of voices).

Follow Savethedreaming on Facebook

I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to social media, although I am personally on Facebook and LinkedIn. However, probably many of you are into social networking so I’ve set up a Facebook page for this book. I’ve called it Savethedreaming and I’d like people to use it for talking about the synchronized four-step plan.

After all, what’s a team if it can’t communicate?

Let’s share the things that I provide, but also, and more importantly, the things you think are worthwhile and important.

Let’s share your ideas to make Australia great and embrace our Aboriginal people.

Let’s share ideas for spreading the word about the book, not because I wrote it (that is definitely not important), but because the subject matter is important for this country and its people.

There’s a link on my website, but I think you can just look for Savethedreaming on Facebook.

Share my videos

My friends say I have a great face for radio, but, because I am really passionate about the future of Aboriginal culture, I’m prepared to make an idiot of myself by trying to record some videos on this 4-step Save the Dreaming plan.

Some will be readings from the book, hoping more people will learn about the state of affairs now, and what they can be if we push the politicians hard enough.

You should be able to find the videos on my website (www.brianmorganbooks.com) and Facebook and YouTube (assuming my grandson can teach me how). They will be home-made, but, if any are worthy of sharing, please share.

Share posters and infographics

I want people to help me get the book into as many hands as possible to get the message out. That’s why I’m making eBooks available free for anybody at all to download and read.

I’m not sure what to do with posters and infographics, but I’m hoping you might share them online or print them out and share them or put them up on noticeboards, in libraries etc.

You’ll find them on the website.

Vote for the referendum

There is a great deal that people can do to spread the message of the synchronized 4-step Save the Dreaming plan before the referendum is called.

The latest proposed date I’ve heard from the politicians is May 2017.

When it does come, I want it to include everything, not just part of the Aboriginal problem. Politicians are good at that – breaking things down, splitting arguments, putting things off, dividing to conquer. They’re also good at politicising the referendum questions to create confusion and ruin the voting.

This referendum, if the government of the day is fair dinkum, will include at least three things, and include them in plain English:

1. Recognition of Aboriginal people. At the moment, there is no recognition of history before 1788. We must recognise Aboriginal people, otherwise we will be as blind and cruel as the British were.

2. Remove any provision that allows racial discrimination in this country, especially against Aboriginals. How can this situation still exist in 2016? You tell me.

3. Create a Republic of Australia to take effect when the reign of the current monarch ends. It must specifically include Aboriginal people at its heart and work must start now. We cannot wait until the next British monarch is foisted upon us. We must decide now that the Queen will be our last monarch and we will, in future, have our own head-of-state, a president of the people’s choosing.

If you are able to speak to any politician, please talk to them about this. I’m tired of procrastination and I suspect you are, too.

Start local Save the Dreaming groups

It would be wonderful, would it not, to have local groups that could meet to discuss these matters and find ways to influence other people and the policy-makers?

Individuals could start a group with just a few friends and a short mention in the local paper or radio station. Perhaps groups with special interest in Aboriginal future could take the lead.

Groups like local Aboriginal land councils could bring whitefellas and blackfellas together for this.

You might also start a discussion in your existing groups.

If we don’t talk, nothing will happen. We can talk as individuals on Facebook, but some people are more at ease with a face-to-face group of like-minded people.

Let’s give it a go.

Letters to the editor or radio or TV producer

You could write letters to the editor of local and major newspapers and magazines, and make calls to local and major radio and TV stations.

If you could let them know about the book and how to get free extracts instantly, they can quickly read the relevant parts of the book and decide whether to write a story or work up a program. Any comments you might make will be important to them.

To help the media, I’ve put together a press kit, including press releases, which can be downloaded from my website.

Contact Aboriginal Land Councils

In the same way, you could spread the word by visiting or contacting your local land council. They will certainly be interested, because this affects them directly.

You could give them the links to the book and the press kit.

Tell them what I suggested about forming a local Save the Dreaming group. This might be positive action they can take after reading the book.

Review or comment on the book

These days, with bookshops closing and more books being purchased or given away online, authors have to find a way to get the word out about their books. Most books are not seen in bookshops, so word-of-mouth is the best and only really effective advertising.

Mention of the book at book clubs, across back fences or on social networks are ways of generating word-of-mouth, but it takes people like you to start something.

One good way is to write some sort of comment or even book review that will help others decide whether to buy a book (or, in this case, pick one up free). If you could help in this way, I would be very grateful.

Just post your comment at Shakespir or the online store where you picked up this book. You can rate the book, as well, and that also helps.

I’ll put a copy of your review on my website if you send a copy to my email ([email protected]).

Anything that would help people decide to pick up a copy of the book would be much appreciated.

 

***~~~***

 

Can you share this vision?

If you can do any of these things, or, if you simply talk to family and neighbours and workmates about the book, and do the right thing in the referendum, when it comes, you should take a bow.

Why? Because you will have done your bit to make this country great and to atone for the abuse that has been heaped on the Aboriginal people since Captain Cook arrived in 1770.

As a member of the Save the Dreaming team, you will be part of the first generation to do the right thing for people who have had their land and children stolen and their traditions and culture almost destroyed. It is no exaggeration to say you will have mended broken hearts.

You will have helped make this country truly independent as a republic and given it pride and dignity when dealing with other countries and world organisations.

You will have done your bit to make this country the finest example of an inclusive, multicultural society in the world.

You will have helped Australia adopt a true ancient culture that we can wear with real pride as our own. The wisdom and generosity that generated this new Australia will spread around the world. Say you are Australian then, and the world will know you are part of something special.

You will have been one of the people who have changed the history of this country for the better. You will have changed our world.

You ought to feel mighty, mighty proud of who you are and what you have done – and so should your family.

I salute you.

I said at the start that this matter was now urgent and compelling. There are three reasons for that.

1. The referendum is coming and we need to make sure it’s done right. We have to change the Constitution to recognize Aboriginal people and to remove any clause that allows racial discrimination against Aboriginals. But we also must decide, at the same time, to create an inclusive republic. If there is anything else that needs a constitutional change, now is the time.

2. The Aboriginal people who have the knowledge are growing older. We have to give them time to pass on vital knowledge to their young people and also to non-indigenous people. This is imperative if we have the heart to save Aboriginal culture and traditions.

3. The Queen’s reign is coming to an end. We must ensure that, beloved as she is, she is the last British monarch to reign over us. We must become a republic with Aboriginal people at its heart to refute the wrong committed back in 1788. We have to start that process BEFORE a new monarch is foisted upon us.

So, what is my vision for Australia?

I can see, in my lifetime, a Republic of Australia that is united, inclusive, non-discriminatory and proud of its place on the world stage.

A republic with the Aboriginal people at its heart, surrounded by everyone born here and everyone who chooses to live here.

I see the many Aboriginal groups around this country coming together for the first time as a nation, the nation of Australia. I see them proud of who they are, of how they have fought for land rights and human rights, and of their final vindication.

I see individual Australians, like you and me, proud of what we have achieved in righting the wrongs of more than two centuries, and, in so doing, changing the course of history in this land. We will have changed our world without violence, without bloodshed.

I see Australia grasping the treasure of Aboriginal culture and proclaiming the new Australia to the world. I see the world recognising us as a nation in our own right, a nation with heart and wisdom and strength.

I see us all doing our bit to create a wonderful future in the best country in the world, the finest multicultural society in the world.

It’s a dream I never dared dream, but, if enough people join the Save the Dreaming team and politicians can be persuaded or even bullied, it can become reality.

What has happened has happened. Let’s put it behind us and make a future worthy enough for our children.

Let’s silence that clanging gong Kevin Rudd spoke about.

As for me, I will spend the rest of my life listening. I want to hear more of the story of my people. And if, in my listening, I am gradually admitted a little closer to the campfire, I will bring such gifts as I can find within me to my Aboriginal family and my wider Australian family.

 

THE END

or is it

A NEW START?

 

***~~~***

 

Appendix

***~~~***

 

There are a number of documents in the paperback version and on the website that could not find space in the eBook version. Just click to read them (should any link not work, please email the author ([email protected]):

 

[+ A draft resolution for an inclusive republic of Australia.+]

[+ The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights.+]

[+ The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.+]

[+ Kevin Rudd’s Sorry Speech+]

[+ Selected Bibliography+]

 

The Long Road to a Republic

The journey to a Republic of Australia has been a long one. America got there quicker, but it took a war and many lost lives. Others got there via revolution. We’ve done so without bloodshed, except for the Eureka Stockade and a few other skirmishes. There has been plenty of passion, yes, but relatively little violence.

A quick review of the steps we’ve taken to move from a constitutional monarchy to a republic might help.

A pastoralist called Horatio Wills, the son of a convict, was the first to call for a republic back in 1832, long before Federation. His son, Tom Wills, as a matter of interest, was a founder of Australian Rules Football.

Some of those involved in the revolt at the Eureka Stockade in 1854 wanted a republic, and the Eureka Flag has been used by some republican groups over the years. The Australian Republican Association was formed after Eureka, and advocated the abolition of governors, among other things. One of the ARA people was famous Australian poet Henry Lawson, who wrote A Song of the Republic, which is reproduced in our Appendix.

A Republican League was a bit more disruptive during Anniversary Day for the Sydney Centenary in 1888, when one British statesman said: “Thank God there is an English fleet in harbour.”

In 1891, at the Australian Federation Convention in Sydney, a draft of an Australian Constitution was produced. A former NSW premier, George Dibbs described a Republic of Australia as “the inevitable destiny of the people of this great country”.

The fervour for a republic died off as the interest in Federation grew. It then dwindled during World War I, when patriotic support for the war effort went hand-in-hand with loyalty to the monarchy. The RSL was formed in 1916, and became a bastion of monarchist sentiment.

When Britain offered its dominions the status of an independent sovereign state in 1931, Australia took nine years to accept it. By 1942, we were influenced by the changing strategic alliance of the region during World War II and accepted independence.

During the 1950s and 1960s, trade within the Commonwealth fell and in 1971, the Australian dollar, previously pegged to the pound sterling, switched to the United States dollar. Britain responded by shrinking the sterling area, effectively ending the monetary union between us.

Those who worry about breaking ties with Britain should remember that, in 1982, Britain wanted to join the European Community, so it changed its citizenship laws to remove Australian and other Commonwealth citizens from the definition of “British subject”. They turfed us out. The category “British subjects” was abolished in our law in 1987. The British always suit themselves – as in the recent Brexit vote. They voted for an “independence day”. Now we want ours.

In 1986, the Australia Act was enacted, which ended the ties between the Australian legislature and judiciary and those of Britain. The High Court then determined that Australia and Britain were independent countries, but with the same sovereign.

In 1993, the Oath of Citizenship replaced allegiance to the Australian monarch with a pledge to be loyal to Australia and its people. States deleted references to the monarchy from their legislation. Barristers stopped being appointed Queen’s Counsel and were called Senior Counsel. Australian senators and MPs, however, still had to swear allegiance to the Queen under the Constitution.

The Australian Labor Party made republicanism its policy in 1991, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke described it as inevitable.

The Australian Republican Movement was then formed, and the new Prime Minister, Paul Keating, pushed the republican agenda, calling for an options paper that could lead to a republic on the centenary of Federation, January 1, 2001. However, Keating lost the 1996 election to John Howard, a monarchist.

A referendum was finally held, but failed, mainly due to the options presented and the requirement that the prime minister be able to sack the president. Politics killed it.

In 2003, the senate referred an inquiry into an Australian republic to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee, which tabled a report called Road to a Republic in 2004 and made a series of observations and recommendations.

Nothing happened.

In the lead-up to the 2010 election, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia should be a republic, but only after the reign of Queen Elizabeth ends.

The next Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was a former Executive Director of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy and said he could not see any significant change in his lifetime. That was clearly his wish.

On Australian Day, 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull echoed the words of Julia Gillard six years earlier, in saying that a republic should wait until the Queen’s reign ends.

Republicans argue that Australia has changed demographically and culturally from being “British to our bootstraps”, as former Prime Minister Gordon Menzies put it, to being less British, though with an English core. The half of this country not of British ancestry think a British monarch being also monarch of Australia is an anomaly. Aboriginal people and people of Irish descent see the Australian Crown as a symbol of British imperialism. Which, of course, it is.

The hereditary nature of the monarchy conflicts with egalitarianism and our dislike of inherited privilege. Some argue that the link between the monarchy and the Church of England is inconsistent with Australia’s secular character. They argue that the Queens cannot be, say, a Catholic or have any religion other than Church of England, and this conflicts with our discrimination laws and values.

The waters have always been muddied on the issue of a republic by conflicting views and options being presented to the public. A former Labor attorney general, Nicola Nixon, knew this and said that reform would always fail “if we seek to inflict a certain option on the public without their involvement. This time around, the people must shape the debate.”

For a referendum to be genuine, it must be presented without political overtones and the people must be allowed to choose its president.

This is our country; we must all have our say.

 

***~~~***

 

A Song of the Republic

By Henry Lawson

Sons of the South, awake! Arise! 
Sons of the South, and do. 
Banish from under your bonny skies 
Those old-world errors and wrongs and lies. 
Making a hell in a Paradise 
That belongs to your sons and you. 

Sons of the South, make choice between 
(Sons of the South, choose true), 
The Land of Morn and the Land of E’en, 
The Old Dead Tree and the Young Tree Green, 
The Land that belongs to the lord and the Queen, 
And the Land that belongs to you. 

Sons of the South, your time will come – 
Sons of the South, ‘tis near – 
The “Signs of the Times”, in their language dumb, 
Foretell it, and ominous whispers hum 
Like sullen sounds of a distant drum, 
In the ominous atmosphere. 

Sons of the South, aroused at last! 
Sons of the South are few! 
But your ranks grow longer and deeper fast, 
And ye shall swell to an army vast, 
And free from the wrongs of the North and past 
The land that belongs to you.

 

***~~~***

 

Our National Anthem

Australia can still use this as our national anthem when a republic is formed. However, the second line of the first verse should be changed. We are not young; we are ancient.

And, until the Aboriginal peoples are fully accepted in a republic, we are not all truly free. I have suggested a couple of lines, but I am not a song writer and others will do much better. I believe ALL Australians can truly rejoice only when ALL Australians are part of an inclusive republic.

 

Australians all let us rejoice, 
For we are young and free; 
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil; 
Our home is girt by sea; 
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts; 
Of beauty rich and rare; 
In history’s page, let every stage 
Advance Australia Fair 
In joyful strains then let us sing, 
Advance Australia Fair

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We’ll toil with hearts and hands,
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands,

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.

 

My suggestions for the second line of the first verse are:

Our cultures plain to see;

or

For all of us are free;

or

Our culture is our key.

You’d be better than I am at this. Why not send me your suggestions or talk about it on Facebook?

 

***~~~***

 

Acknowledgements

Many people had a big influence on my way of thinking and my knowledge of Aboriginality, and I am most grateful.

The first to influence me was my grandmother, Sarah Ann Annabel Morgan (Bridge). Some years after her came anthropologists like Ronald and Catherine Berndt and A.P. Elkin.

For 45 years, I lived in lands traditionally owned by the Dharawal people. Elders Gavin Andrews and Francis Bodkin welcomed my wife and me into their home and talked at length several times. I enjoyed field trips with them to places like Thirlmere Lakes (now a sad shadow of what they were) to study the plant life and sample unbelievable bush tucker. Another informative field trip I remember was with Barry Moore on the South Coast of NSW. There were others, but my memory for names is not what it was. I remember talks with Aboriginal people from Camden and their knowledge of flora and fauna was encyclopaedic.

Aboriginal writers and leaders I applaud include Evelyn Crawford, Michael Dodson, Patrick Dodson, Stan Grant, Sally Morgan, Lowitja O’Donoghue and Noel Pearson. Writers who helped a great deal in shaping this book include Geoffrey Blainey, Scott Cane, Bruce Chatwin, Josephine Flood, Jackie French, Germaine Greer, Robert Lawlor, Reg Morrison, Charles Mountford, Bill Peasley, Melva Jean, Robert Tonkinson and Anna Voigt.

Thank you to these and others I no doubt forgot. And thank you to those who supported me and encouraged me through the years, particularly my wife, Judy, who knows I would never have written a line without her.

 

***~~~***

 

About the author

 

Brian Morgan is an award-winning, best-selling writer, who is dedicating the senior years of his life to helping people through his books and other writings.

His first book, published by Thomas Nelson, was an international sell-out best-seller, and he has now published eight through his own publishing organisation (and several for other authors).

His passion is to see this book published and for the concept of a synchronized 4-step Save the Dreaming plan to be endorsed by Aussies and adopted by the Federal Government.

It has been a long journey to develop the voice and the ideas to support Aboriginal people and help stop the abuse to our first Australians. This is his passion now.

Brian has been described as a business and thought leader, a business founder, an integrity advocate, a national award-winning journalist, editor and publisher, and an internationally acclaimed author. He is a mentor for a number of other writers internationally through LinkedIn.

This has been his first book for a purely Australian readership.

He has been honoured by his community on a number of occasions for his long service to various community groups and organisations.

In 2012, in association with The Writers Trust, he started a program to publish all his books in print and as eBooks. Details can best be found on www.brianmorganbooks.com.

 

***~~~***

 

More books in print by Brian Morgan

 

The Life of Jude:

Saint of the Impossible

The Richest Man in Persia:

The way to wealth, success and happiness

The Legend of the Magi Scrolls:

Timeless Christmas Classics

The True Christmas Spirit:

Let peace and joy fill your heart

(incorporating The Legend of the Christmas Prayer)

You are Already Rich:

or How to be Rich Without Money

The Broth of Oblivion:

A true story of a mother and her dementia

The Saint of the Impossible:

Everything you wanted to know about Saint Jude

 

Talk to the author

Brian Morgan would love to hear from you. Find him at

[_ [email protected]_]


Save the Dreaming: A simple plan to rescue Aboriginal culture and make Australia

A BOOK TO CHANGE AUSTRALIAN HISTORY Save the Dreaming sets out what author Brian Morgan calls a synchronized four-step plan to rescue Aboriginal culture and make Australia great. Editorial reviews have called this book a “game-changer” and a “breakthrough” in the long fight for Aboriginal rights and in the fight for a republic in Australia. The Aboriginal people of Australia have struggled for more than two centuries for justice and for an end to abuse. They have fought for an apology for stolen children and stolen land, for recognition, reconciliation, a treaty, constitutional change, for land rights and more. What if we could resolve all of these matters in one fell swoop, once and for all? What if, in doing so, we could make Australia a truly exceptional place on the world stage, admired everywhere for our compassion and our wisdom? What if Aboriginal people, for the first time in more than two hundred years, could feel honoured and accepted and recognized. What if we could start to mend broken hearts? What if every living Australian could achieve a sense of self-worth and pride in righting the wrongs committed for so long? What if we could do all this and much more with one simple plan? After 228 years and endless talkfests about land rights, a treaty, reconciliation, recognition, constitutional change and all the rest, Aboriginal people have achieved virtually nothing. Save the Dreaming says we need a new mindset and a plan, and both are offered here. Author Brian Morgan is urging politicians to save the Dreaming and urging all Australians to support the concept. All the details are on his website and there is also a Facebook page at Savethedreaming. He wants people to talk about Save the Dreaming and to spread the word about it, because, he says, this is an opportunity for every living Australian to right the wrongs of more than 200 years. Editorial reviews and comments: Toby Morris, publishing professional: Save the Dreaming is beautifully written, lyrical and lucid in its story of Aboriginal life and brutally honest in its description of the impact of the British invasion more than 200 years ago. Brian Morgan argues for an inclusive republic that has Aboriginal people at its heart. This is one part of his four-step plan to “save the Dreaming”, which, he says, must be synchronized and run together. They are compelling and, I believe, could well be the breakthrough needed in Australia’s history. I highly recommend it. Kyle Everingham, book reviewer: Save the Dreaming is an important book for Australia. Every Aussie should read it. Brian Morgan wants to create a Save the Dreaming Team, made up of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to push politicians to adopt his “synchronized” four-step plan. The book is very well written by an award-winning journalist and author. Intriguing and very well researched. Name withheld by request, Aboriginal elder: This Save the Dreaming book covers pretty well everything Aboriginal people want and says the fighting about land rights and human rights can be stopped very quickly. I don’t think we’ve had a plan like this before to change everything. I just asked for a short version of the book because I’m not much of a reader, but I’m glad I read this. I think we all should read it. Freda Hollingsworth, book editor: Written by a genuine writer and well researched, Save the Dreaming is the breakthrough book Australia, and especially Aboriginal people, have long awaited. It should be the start of something big. Bill Templeton, journalist and book reviewer: Two hundred years of abuse and stolen children and stolen land and hell on earth for Aboriginal people, and here’s a way to end it all quickly, simply and sensibly. This is a game-changer and we all should read this book.

  • ISBN: 9781370593200
  • Author: Brian Morgan
  • Published: 2016-07-27 03:50:11
  • Words: 53507
Save the Dreaming: A simple plan to rescue Aboriginal culture and make Australia Save the Dreaming: A simple plan to rescue Aboriginal culture and make Australia