Traditional Owner Richard Burchill recently spoke to Red Earth’s Cape York Operations Manager, Rocky, about his connection to his Homeland, and the importance of sharing it with others – something that has been quite difficult since March of this year.
“My homeland is where my healing takes place. It is where my most favourite memories were created, and where the stories of our ancestors are shared. It holds and shapes my cultural identity as it is where our birthing and burial sites are found. The best years of my life were spent living as a youngster out on country.
“The Daintree has always been a safe home for me, and it wasn’t until I moved south to Mossman when I first experienced racism. Therefore, when I find myself in a dark place, I travel back to Julaymba as it helps me clear my mind and gives me inspiration. Every time I go back, I see myself running around as a kid over the watchful eye of my loving grandparents, uncles and aunties who have unfortunately passed away now. This particular feeling, I cannot fully express to others or fully comprehend myself. It’s just magic!
I’m looking forward to welcoming others back on my Country as it is an opportunity where I get to share that age-old tradition, passed down from generation to generation. For me, the Welcome to Country ceremony is most important as it’s an exchange of respect and responsibility.
Smoking each and every person that comes to visit Julaymba is a way both the land and my people show respect and give safe passage to those who come visit. I remember my mother telling me how imperative it was to introduce myself and ask the Elders for special guidance, every time I travelled onto someone else’s land.
We were disconnected from country when the British colonised Australia. Although many years have passed since then, this disconnect can now been seen in other ways. For example, I see the barbed wire fences around where I used to roam freely as a child. Nowadays, our youth don’t have that opportunity to explore the land of their ancestors as I did.”
When asked to describe how he got to where he is today, Richard replied “I don’t consider myself a leader. I don’t go out of my way to seek praise or personal gratification. Really, I am a quite shy. But I’ve always been a deep thinker, you know, reading lots of books. I remember in primary school we were made to read up about Captain Cook and how Australia came to be. I also remember thinking that the native people in the stories were nasty. It was only when I rode home from school that day that I realised, wait a minute, I am one of those nasty natives.
This led me to think about how difficult it was growing up and watching my people struggle. Seeing the segregation of white and blacks in high school was revealing, I didn’t understand it at the time. I was only 12 years old and I didn’t know why people where fighting in the streets. The intoxication within community, car accidents, suicide, overdose and death were all layers of my upbringing. I even got lost in this lifestyle at one stage and coming out of the other side of it made me realise I needed to help myself and my people.
In the media, all black men are portrayed as drunk or child molesters and I want to help change this perception. And to do this, I saw I needed to assist those around me deal with grief and not boil it up like I saw so many of my Elders do. It destroyed them going to funeral after funeral.
Healing starts with going back on country, sitting around a fire, then yarning up and listening. The Elders are a huge link in this process because they have the knowledge and lived experiences to know what works and what hasn’t worked in the past. It’s exciting to work on programs with young people that have been designed by us, for us.”
July 20 2020
During the lockdown, which was lifted on the 10th of July for the Hopevale area of Cape York, Traditional Owner Mel Gibson stayed busy as the Manager of the Hopevale Arts and Culture Centre to keep the local artists connected and painting while they isolated at home.
This week she spoke to Rocky about how this quiet time with no Red Earth groups and no passing tourists has been an opportunity to reflect on what’s important in life.
“It’s important for us not to lose sight of what’s core to us and who we are during this interesting time. I’m a proud Binthi-Warra woman and the ties I have to my country are strong. Going back to my family’s homeland and passing down the knowledge to future generations is key. That’s where you find yourself and who you truly are.
It is pretty special place for me because as soon as I drive through those gates, I can feel the connection to my ancestors and the stories they hold there. It is cool to wander around the caves and along the creeks knowing that’s probably where my great great-grandparents walked, and that’s the water they drank. Knowing that they were once there is moving.
When I travel to someone else’s country I feel lost. However, what is inspiring is seeing the richness of other cultures and their own strong ties to the land. It makes me more proud about my culture and I get eager to know more about my own culture.
There is still a lot of racism and unfair stereotypes of Aboriginals portrayed in the media. That’s why I partner with Red Earth, so that we can help alter these views. The students that come visit, they might see poverty, alcoholism and drug in the cities, and although that might happen up in community too, we aren’t all like that. Every place has its issues, but there are a lot of good people out there doing to right thing. I want to show those kids that, because they are going to be the decision makers alongside our youth in the future.
We’ve been surprisingly busy, even though we haven’t been working at the Arts Centre. When social distancing restrictions were in place, most artists worked from home and we delivered the materials they needed to make their art pieces. One artist even set up her own studio in her home so that she wouldn’t be disturbed by her grandchildren.
When COVID hit, the art centre had to make some quick decisions so that we could continue to produce, share and sell the art. All the places we would normally print our textiles temporarily shut down, so we had to get creative. We had to think outside the box! In the end, QUT partnered with us and digitally projected the patterns that the ladies had created and printed them from there. It’s been a different process, but we did it and now look forward to exhibiting the artwork. Some of these pieces will be uploaded and sold on a worldwide digital market, which is cool! It’s exciting to see the new avenues which the artists can now tap into to get their works displayed and sold.
Overall, COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works but I believe we’ve all learnt new things and have adapted in ways we didn’t think possible. I look forward to things slowing down though and getting back out to Billy-Boil (Binthi-Warra Homeland) to sit by the fire.”
July 21 2020
Here’s a story to make all of the city-dwellers reading this newsletter jealous – last month, Red Earth’s Head of Operations Nick got in touch with Traditional Owner Samuel Nayinggul to see how Samuel and his family have been passing the time during the NT’s lockdown.
Samuel was surprised to hear about the BLM protests and how bad COVID had become around the world because he had spent the previous 2 months camping out on a river bed at Mikginj Valley with no technology and no news of the outside world.
While many of us have ben glued to our phones ‘doomscrolling’ and getting excited at the prospect of going outside for exercise, the Nayingguls, like many of our partner Traditional Owners, have been spending their days sitting by the fire, fishing, painting, and living off the rich land in West Arnhem. With the exception of the occasional drive to the shop in nearby Gunbalanya for essentials, this lifestyle will continue until the next Red Earth immersions travel to Mikginj Valley.
Samuel told Nick he can’t wait to share his Country and knowledge with students again, and his whole family is looking forward to welcoming the next group of students to their homeland.
July 15 2020
A long-term project to establish a food bank at Mamadawerre has finally been given the go-ahead to make staple foods more easily accessible. A bi-weekly light aircraft food delivery will provide reliable sustenance for the whole community throughout the year, allowing Traditional Owners and their families to live on Country in a more sustainable way. This exciting project has been made possible by a partnership between Mamadawerre, Frank McKeown, Warddeken Land Management and Red Earth Organisation. Almost $3,000 has been donated to the project through the Red Earth program, and we look forward to being involved in more initiatives like this in the future.
Mamadawerre has been partnered with Red Earth since 2016, and quickly became a highlight in the reflections of the school students they have welcomed from across the country. Perched on top of a huge quartz and sandstone formation, the homeland has stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding rugged wilderness, with creeks and billabongs weaving their way through stands of trees and other native flora which serve as the pantry, hardware store, and pharmacy for the community.
The homeland inspires awe in visiting groups through its isolation and the magnitude of the challenges faced by the community each year with the seasonal weather. As the wet season arrives Mamadawerre is hemmed in by floodwaters on all sides for months at a time, hence the central architectural feature of the community – a dusty airstrip around which all of the homes have been constructed. The airstrip is an important lifeline throughout the year, allowing food and medicine to be delivered, emergency medical evacuations to Darwin hospital, as well as visits from family members and local government officials.
Students always comment on how quickly they feel welcome and at home after the long, dusty bus journey to Mamadawerre. The whole 15-strong community gets involved in immersion programs, whether it’s sharing a yarn over some dinner, cooling off in the shade near the swimming hole, or sharing their culture through traditional art and craftsmanship. The ladies in Mamadawerre are masterful weavers and sell their works at nearby art centres as a source of income.
Visiting groups of girls are treated to intensive lessons in collecting and dying pandanus leaves, and weaving intricate designs from jewellery to wall hangings. Boys groups get their hands dirty fashioning trees into spears and yadakis (didgeridoos), both of which are much harder than they seem when a practised Traditional Owner first demonstrates it. Some students are lucky enough to take their handmade yadaki back home to sit on the mantlepiece, a talking point when family and friends visit and are no doubt regaled with stories from once-upon-a-time in Arnhem Land.
For anyone who has been lucky enough to visit Mamadawerre or may be visiting in the future, rest assured that all is well in community and life continues as normal. Ranger Program Coordinator Torsten has been in touch to let us know that during the lockdown “everything is fine and relaxed. Hunting is a big part of the day to get some meat on the table, and everyone still has the opportunity to work and earn some money with the rangers. So far so good!”
May 12 2020
We’ve been keeping in touch with the Jajikal community throughout the lockdown, and the Red Earth team was lucky enough to have Traditional Owner Calvin call in during an all-hands Zoom meeting so we put him on loudspeaker for everyone to say hello. He had heard on the news how bad COVID-19 was in Sydney and wanted to make sure we were all happy and healthy down South.
Marie also got in touch a couple of weeks ago when she was stocking up her medicine cabinet from the bush pharmacy with green ants, pipis, and ironbark leaves. “You guys in the city are freaking out about having nothing in the supermarkets and we’re up here cruising around collecting the good stuff!” she exclaimed, followed by a good laugh.
The family at Jajikal are eager to welcome groups back to their Country as soon as it is safe for us to travel again, and based on the recent updates from the federal and state governments it looks like that might not be too far off!
May 8 2020
Katrina Roberts (above right), daughter of Yaritji and sister of Sally-Anne, has given birth to a healthy baby boy in Port Augusta Hospital. She is currently recovering with the baby before returning to Kaltjiti in the coming weeks where the Roberts and Stevens families are excitedly waiting to welcome the newest member of their family to Country.
All of the Kaltjiti educators are well and keeping busy by painting at home. Some of you may be lucky enough to see some of their art work if you’re travelling to Central Australia on an immersion in 2021.
May 2 2020