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Connection to place is key, says Traditional Owner Richard Burchill



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  |  Posted by Rochelle Bath

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