This is an article that was published originally in March 2015.
I have just spent the weekend at Surrender Conference 15. I have so much information swirling around in my brain that you will see it leaking out in the weeks and months to come. The most profound impact on my life was my intersection with the indigenous communities that came to Surrender 15 from the farthest corners of Australia. It has had such a deeply profound impact on my life that I will never look at things the same again.
As a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I never had the privilege of meeting another indigenous child or family. I am ashamed to say that I never learned about their history at school nor of the horrendous atrocities that happened to them and the stigma and rejection that continues to happen to them.
I am so distressed on so many levels that I think I will need to speak in bullet points about the impact of the beautiful and heartbreaking interactions that happened at Surrender.
‘A Nation that destroys its soil destroys its-self’. Rachael Treasure.
This describes well what it happening to Australia in 2015. Aborigines talk about ‘country’ like they talk about their mother, their life blood. One of the comments on the weekend was ‘don’t be Australian, be Australia‘. It is not just a nationality it is who you are.
If you know and love your country, if you can read the flora and fauna, the stars and the weather, if you can tread lightly on the land with respect and loving stewardship then you are ‘Australia’. Yes profound.
We are dancing on the grave of an indigenous wisdom that farmed wildlife beautifully and was balanced and free of greed.
Aborigines have been looking after the country long before the Brits rocked up in their ridiculous garb. But old British habits die hard (Rachael Treasure).
I was spellbound as tribal elders described themselves as salt mob, or desert people or we are of the emu. Each of them rattling out blood lines of lineage and belonging despite their pain and dislocation. There was no doubt that they knew who they were, where they belonged and where they came from. No need for Myer Briggs, Ancestry.com or a personality test.
Elders were revered and referred to as Aunty and Uncle. We sat in painful silence at the Yarning Circle and listened to Aunty’s and Uncles speak of being ‘taken‘ at the ages of 5, or 6 or 8. Being stripped of land, country, belonging and language. Ripped out of the arms of parents and siblings and put into institutions to be abused.
We in the west have such a struggle to find belonging and community and it is making us sick as mental health and suicide rate rise around us. We have a lot to learn. This people of the land fiercely love each other and dwell in harmony and unity. Honouring and preferring one another. They honour and venerate the old and they respect and listen to the wisdom of the matriarchs. Many times I had to ask another young woman to approach an Aunty, I was not able to approach without an introduction. The youth bow to the wisdom of the elders and genuinely appreciate their protection and guidance. Hang on, isn’t this a biblical principle. 1 Peter 5:5
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble”.
I had to laugh when one of the elders spoke out, ‘your captain cook may have bought the pages of the bible, but he didn’t bring Jesus’. He then proceeded to teach us the narratives of the gospel through the stars and the song lines of the land. Stories that had been passed down for thousands of years before the pages of the bible arrived on the first fleet.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter”. Rachel Carson.
I find myself studying and teaching Celtic spirituality which believes that there is no separation between creation and creator. All live in symbiotic union. A circle of life and belonging. I have to ask myself why am I looking to another land, another people, once again to learn and reconnect to this biblical truth when the indigenous people of the land have known this for more years than the Celts have existed. We have become disconnected from the land and from country. We are out of step with rhythms of nature that bring a sense of peace and rightness. Our children are more familiar with a screen than a sunset or handful of dirt.
I feel so ashamed that I have cared less and not known or sought to understand the grief, the dislocation and the intense beauty of a people who remain invisible among our noise and clamour.
Our ancestors were so arrogant that they sought to wipe out and bend to their will a beautiful people who can teach us so much.
Reconciliation is such an empty term today when the Government is forcing the closure of 150 remote indigenous communities. We should be working to close the gap not close communities.
The optimum goal should be to keep people on their homelands. There is power for indigenous people on the land. A valuable resource for elders to sit with children and be able to pass down wisdom in their own locations and on their own homelands. They can’t do that on a city street. Its completely ridiculous to sat that it is a ‘lifestyle choice’. This is from a Prime Minister who whilst campaigning to become Prime Minister said that he wanted to be PM for the indigenous (Q&A 23.3.15).
The drugs and the alcohol are in the towns. Statistics show that indigenous people do much better on the land (Q&A ).
Some that I spoke to at the conference were going back to their families but didn’t know where they would be living as they had been thrown out of their homes in the last week.
One of the Aunties tells me, “I leave for home tomorrow but once again I am homeless because of your government”. The same government that took her from her family when she was a small girl.
I can’t believe that this type of neglect and mismanagement is still happening in this nation.
Featured Art by Gabby Willmott