Indigenous Perspectives - Stewardship and the Land
Every morning I wake up and walk on country. When I feel the most pressured, stressed or disconnected from myself, I go there, to country, get my feet on the earth and just be.
I remember my earliest feelings of understanding where I came from, my country. I recall singing the national anthem and thinking to myself, I was so lucky to come from a land of a sunburnt country, sweeping plains and rugged mountains. I was proud, but I also realised that I was privileged because of the colour of my skin, and that it made me feel uneasy, and it still does to an extent. I knew then at the age of 5, as I do now 39 years later, that this was complex; that living on country and living in a country were two very different things.
This difference and divide has been a part of the collective narrative that I have experienced and one I often cry about. I feel the pain of my ancestors and the ancestors of our indigenous cultures. This narrative has led us down a path of removing the beauty, the deep understanding of how we live as strong people on country. In order to understand how we learn and also live here in harmony, we need to gather a tribe, be embraced by a tribe and share our stories.
As we are all aware, Australia experiences the wildest natural conditions; it is either really hot, wet, in drought, or often on fire. In 2019, Black Summer ravaged our country, but this has happened before, had we forgotten about the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday fires? Did we forget that this is what our country does, that our bush wants to be burnt? Did we stray as a collective people from the knowledge and understanding of our land? It seems that in order for there to be real hope of us living in harmony with the land we need to reflect on disasters like this, in which a staggering 1860002 km of bushland was decimated,, and an estimated billion animals died.
Debates, panels and higher level land management conversations were had during the interim between Black Saturday and Black Summer. The discussions were on how to mitigate and prepare for fires like the Black Saturday fires. Each time the conversations led back to preparedness, but as an outsider from these discussions, it seems to me that we have moved far away from the culture that kept this country safe and healthy for millenia, such as cultural burning and cool burns. For me, the key to bush management is not to be found purely in our modern systems and technological solutions but by combining these with an embracing of, and reconnection with, the systems of indigenous culture and a knowing of the land.
The indigenous live by the songlines and the lore that tells them how to exist on country. Songlines criss cross all over the land, they draw on the creation lore and put geographical and sacred sites into alignment with their culture. This indigenous way of spirit provides important knowledge, cultural values and wisdom. It is their ancestral social law. Using the songlines, Indigenous Australians encode an encyclopedic memory and understanding of thousands of animals and plants across the landscape, and they know how and when to move, hunt, gather and rest. This deep understanding and knowledge is the basis of how we need to be living within this landscape.
The stories, the dance and the connection to country predicts and tells the story of how we can move, only how do we access it?
As a white girl from the suburbs, this question has plagued me for years. I have been exposed to family and some tribes, but not enough to have this deeper understanding. As I explore, I am beginning to understand what is uncovering in my heart.
Linton Burgess a Palawa man (Tasmania) told me of this deep understanding, and how he is bringing the two worlds together. Linton is an indigenous firefighter, and during the last fire season he consulted with the fire department to bridge the gap and incorporate this stewardship in their joint bid to look after country. Whilst Linton and I were talking the sky came over with a dust cloud, the wind was hot and his look and energy changed. He was uneasy, and it was time for him to go, he needed to get on duty. What I saw in Linton was what we often feel but are unable to acknowledge or put a name to, his deep connection to the earth and the country guides him and how he can manage his work and protect the landscape and the animals. I wondered why there were not more Linton’s scattered around our systems of land management, farming and industry, so we could live in harmony with this land that we all call home. The blatant disregard for the land since colonisation has ensured that only now are we asking for the assistance and expertise of the world’s greatest land managers.
Mass production, agriculture and mining of our natural resources is leading us further away from this deep understanding of how we need to survive here in Australia. I am still confused as to how to integrate this into my suburban dwelling, not having access to vast space and living by the songlines when I don’t have access to this knowledge. My friend and local Indigenous artist Dhinawan and I spoke at length about this, and he says the answers are in the skies, in our trees, and how we cultivate this in our urban landscapes. We need to plant more native trees, so that our birds have food to eat. These trees also provide much more than food; they also inhibit or promote fire so that the other plants can grow, seed and then provide more food for our animals. He also told me a story of the Rainbow Lorikeet, one of Australia’s most beautiful birds. Originally they were migratory birds and they fed on the flowering shrubs down the east coast when they came into bloom. But now the flowers are everywhere, the natural system that was engineered through time is broken, and the birds no longer migrate. Our urbanisation and desire to cut down natural bush, and replant in its wake, has changed the simplest of things; how the birds migrate.
So, that is it. If we cannot access the innate teachings and knowledge of songlines, culture and lore then we need to look to the skies, to the water and to our land. Do some research and find out what plants we need to plant to support the country around us, we need to vote for people or levitate those in our community that are teaching and spreading culture into the way we live. Country surrounds us, we are a part of it; whether we believe it or not, we live on it, therefore we are it. If we do not look after it, then we are not looking after ourselves.
Jodee Sydney is a local environmentalist, designer, business woman and writer. You can explore her work in more detail at www.zerowastekulture.com