The Wisdom of the Elders by Anne Whittingham & Joanna Boileau

February 25, 2007 at 9:53 pm Leave a comment

Here are some of the things that Auntie Pauline, an elder of the Bundjalung nation, said at the Wollumbin Festival (near Murwillumbah, northern New South Wales). What really shines through is her sense of compassion and lack of resentment for past wrongs. We have arranged different things she said at different times into a story. This is because, as Auntie Pauline said, “When you’re trying to help people to understand about something, about your way of life, tell them a story. Make it a simple story. One that you can tell. Say: that’s the track we’re talking about.”

“There is no word for ‘thank you’ in the Aboriginal language. Aboriginal communities operate under a system of mutual obligation. When one Aboriginal meets another, they ask what part of the country they come from. This is a way of connecting with them. It is a way of knowing how they fit into the world. If one Aboriginal is looking around for a place to stay, it is the obligation of the other to offer them a place. The same mutual obligation exists for all Aboriginals, not just friends or family. Sharing, doing things for each other, it all comes back to you. We have obligations to all people, all our brothers and sisters around the world. We are all human beings.

At the big gathering not so long ago in Alice Springs they combined forces. There were people from all around. From the Kimberley. From the Top End. From the Centre. From down South. They were into astral flight and traveling through dimensions. Traveling through space and time like this, one man described it as like when you can’t see the spinning propeller on a plane but you know it’s there and it’s moving.

We were up with Rainbow Ted near Tenterfield. We just wanted to camp quietly. This group of Germans was there with a flute and a didgeridoo and they drummed all night. And they were naked under their blankets and I said to my husband that I didn’t want to go and join in their corroboree. I just wanted to camp quietly. I didn’t want to look.

In the old days, women had to get permission to go swimming in places. You had to get the permission of the elders for everything. In the old days, the women were pure of heart. They got spiritual degrees, not university degrees. If a girl didn’t measure up, she wasn’t accepted and didn’t get her degree. There had to be no guile, no twisted thinking. The young girls had to learn how to know good from evil: learn how to make their own decisions about how they were going to behave. The old people, they were watching, watching all the time to see if the young girls were pure of heart.

Today, teaching the young about their culture, it’s their prerogative which way to go. We need to give them the freedom to make a choice; to do what they want to do. Learning never stops, we need to share our knowledge; help kids to live in both worlds. It’s about balancing two cultures. My family spends a lot of time taking kids out into the bush: teaching them about the Aboriginal ways. We would like to have a place to take street kids from the city out into the bush to give them a chance to establish that land base, before they get hooked into drugs or alcohol.

Have you heard about the blackfella’s grapevine? You can’t do anything, anywhere, but people will ask you about it. Not so long ago I won some money on a sweep. Well, the whole of the Bundjalung nation it seemed, they heard about it.

I grew up trained to be a domestic servant, along with the other girls in my dormitory. The older girls said to me when I first came there: ‘ Don’t cry. Don’t let them see you cry’. But at night, the girls would cry. Every day we would scrub the whole long dormitory floor. And then we would polish it. We were down on our hands and knees, the whole time. Every day we did this, except Sundays, when we went to church. When I was eighteen, I was no longer under the control of the government in this way. One evening in the city, my friend said to me, ‘ We’d better watch out, there’s a curfew for Aborigines’. ‘Curfew, what’s that ?’ I said. But we got used to ducking and diving our way about the streets to avoid this curfew.

I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t get a job in a factory. In the shops, we Aborigines had to wait while everyone else was served. I was lucky. I met my mother. Eventually, I got a job running around with messages all over the place. Later I met my husband and moved up to Baryulgil. My husband, he is my rock. Without him I am lost. We support each other, we are like one person. That is the way it is meant to be: equals. When we loose sight of that , that’s when chaos happens in families. And who suffers ? The kids, that’s who . . .. It’s a spiritual union, the spirit isn’t male or female. It’s not just men’s business, it’s women’s business too, they work together. It’s all part of the ties between all living things, the flora, the fauna, it’s all part of that.

Only take what you need from the land. Before the white man came the land looked after us, provided us with everything we needed. It gave us animal fur to keep us warm, trees to give us wood for didgeridoos and clapsticks, and plants for medicines. All we had to do is keep everything in balance, not disrupt the harmony. You have to keep that balance. When the white man came we had everything – sugar, tea, clothes, but also lice and sores, diabetes and other diseases. Everything was disrupted. We have to bring the harmony back in.

To make a spiritual connection with the land you go out and camp somewhere quietly. You look. You listen. You learn. Look at what the birds and insects are doing, they know when a storm is coming. You can feel the spiritual dimension. You have to go carefully, know what you are doing. You can feel something telling you to get out if you are in a place where you shouldn’t be. When you go out into the forest you don’t just look at the trees, or hear a kookaburra laugh, you think about how these things fit into the cycle of life . . . about the spiritual approach to life.

The male, his role is the provider. These days, women are up there doing men’s jobs. The man, he feels inadequate. That breaks up the harmony between the male and the female.

The land base – that’s what makes you who you are and where you come from. That’s how I know my space and my place in this dimension. It’s the basis of our self esteem.

Back in those days, the Aborigines who weren’t rounded up and put in the missions, they were massacred. Don’t be guilty about this. In the early days there weren’t white women around and the convicts and others raped the Aboriginal women. There were a lot of half castes as a result. A lot of them had too much of the white ways about them to be accepted in the black communities but they weren’t accepted by the whites either. A lot of them suicided. Others let white men sleep with them just to have somewhere they belonged, somewhere to go.

We are all products of the past. We are all products of where we’ve been. We are all spirits. We must learn from our mistakes, so it won’t happen again, and go forward together into the future. True evils took place. But Reconciliation, its about straightening our course, getting back on track. . These four things – the land, the flora , the fauna and the spirituality – that is what connection to land is about. It is for everyone, not just the Aborigines. It’s for the whitefellas too. We can share.”

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Entry filed under: Earth, Indigenous Australia.

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