Six years ago I did the Aboriginal Heritage Walk through the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. The moment of participating in the welcome ceremony and receiving a gumleaf – symbol of permission to pass through Wurudjeri country – was profoundly moving. I wasn’t aware of the guilt I carried around until that humbling moment. The following extract is taken from my journal at the time:
My head is still spinning. The information is one thing – all the uses of plants, the stories, the words for things, the tools, the place of animals and the interaction between people of different language groups. How do you make sense of such a complex culture in only two hours? … Their whole way of life is different to mine. Their stories overlay the city, I look around and imagine people … interacting here, imagine a whole other landscape with waterfalls and different names.
There’s a song by Tiddas that captures it perfectly “A living history beneath the concrete of the city streets which we walk upon.” When it comes to ecological identity I have so much to learn from Aboriginal Australians. I feel so hesitant though, I desperately want their knowledge but I am so ashamed of the way my people have decimated their culture (and continue to do so). I feel unworthy of the teaching. Then again restoring my own relationship to country and learning to care for it may provide a path to reconciliation.
A friend once told me that he volunteered to support urban Aboriginal people living in poverty. When I shared my feeling that my relationship to the land was dependent on reconciliation he told me he didn’t think reconciliation would lead us back to the Earth. Instead turning to the Earth and caring for country is the only way nonindigenous Australians could come close to understanding our first peoples.
Nice reflection on such a simple ritual Kiri – they are often the best ones!