This is a reflection from Frontier Services National Programs Manager, Michelle McLeod, who recently participated in a Walk on Country to create shared stories and experiences with First Peoples.
Flying into Alice Springs brings upon me a deep sense of humility. A feeling that there is something much, much bigger than me.
The traditional owners of the area around Alice Springs are the Arrende people. They have been living on these lands for more than 20,000, but possibly as long as 40,000, years. Forty. Thousand. Years. Is there any wonder I feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things?
I flew with my colleague Kat, who had been to Alice Springs before, but this concept of Walk on Country was new for her. Originally from the USA, the lens through which she sees our First Peoples, our Australian Aboriginal history, is unique.
Like an artist with a blank canvas, she is absorbing as much information as possible, listening attentively and asking critical questions so she is able to piece together her understanding, and paint her picture, of what has gone on here. It is a privilege to witness her journey.
Upon landing in Alice Springs, we head straight to our hotel to drop our bags. Turns out, it was literally just around the corner from the accommodation we stayed at during our Outback Links trip here last September, so we really enjoyed that small town irony. Of course, it was going to be around the corner. Everything is around the corner!
‘Campfire in the Heart’ starts conversations
First up is a ten minute drive out of town, to take part in the Campfire of the Heart.
This is an ‘intentional’ retreat centre: ‘a place that calls us to still and be …a place of reflection …quiet, wild, timeless place that overflows the soul … and draws us into the silence of our own heartland.’
The conversations here evoke deep thought and reflection and boy were we in for a treat! We shared in a talk and discussion with Barbara Deutschmann, a renowned academic whose PHD explores the Cosmos and the Old Testament book of Genesis. She shared with us her discoveries and her ‘red ticket’ moments as she describes them, into the relationship between science and religion.
I experienced several penny-dropping moments, but it was Auntie Sylvia’s reflection that really touched me. An Arrende elder, she shared that all Barbara had spoken about, was in fact foundational to Aboriginal spirituality.
Voice, Treaty, Truth – Statement From The Heart
It was here too we heard from Celia Kemp, a Reconciliation Coordinator based at Campfire in the Heart, and the book she has authored called ‘A Voice in the Wilderness: Listening to the Statement From The Heart’.
Reading through the chapters sent shivers down my spine. How could this Statement From The Heart be rejected by the Australian Government?
It is still astounding to me, that our Aboriginal people were only counted AS PEOPLE, in the 1967 referendum. I don’t know when, or if, I will be ever able to come to terms with that fact.
John Flynn Memorial Church service
The following day we attended the service at the John Flynn Memorial Church. It brought back so many memories from last September when we brought a team of volunteers to do some restoration work. It is still looking pretty good after surviving its first Outback summer!
Sunday afternoon we embarked on the journey from Alice Springs over to Curtin Springs some 360km to the south west.
We took this opportunity to share with the group the work of Frontier Services and how they can be a part of our work. We also wanted to give them an opportunity to share what had impacted them on their Walk on Country experience so far. Those we took the opportunity, shared openly with us all and I enjoyed listening to their individual experiences in their own words.
We are all hearing and seeing the same things however our unique perspectives are what can change the world. A very humbling thought.
Sharing Our Story: We are all custodians of the land
It was also during this bus ride we watched an episode from Sharing Our Story, a 4-part DVD series produced by Australians Together and there were a few lines that ran deep for me. If you are Aboriginal, you have spirituality. It is all connected. Through story, through dance, through song. Everything has a relationship; they relate to one another and they relate to the land.
It helped me to further appreciate the connection to country that Aboriginal people have and that they believe they are, that we are, simply custodians of the land that looks after us all for our time on this planet. In this life.
Learning about Uluru, lands of the Anangu people
These lands have been looked after by the Anangu people, pronounced ‘aa·naang·oo’, for more than 30, 000 years.
It is here we learnt about Tjukurpa and the important distinction that this is not ‘the Dreamtime’. The term ‘Dreamtime’ gives the sense of make believe, of not in reality, when in fact, to the Anangu people, this couldn’t be further from their belief. Their life revolves around it and it relates to the period of time when the world was being formed.
The Story of the Woma Pythons
We learnt of the story of Kuniya and Lira, the Woma pythons, whose very presence is displayed on Uluru itself. In the unique markings, seemingly insignificant yet so obvious once the story is shared. Tjukurpa is everywhere and forms the basis of all Anangu knowledge. It connects everything in life and is an enchanting concept which makes this culture so fascinating and one we can, and should, be very proud of.
We are not a young country
Upon my return, I was catching up with a colleague of mine that had just been to Israel. He shared what a fabulous trip he had had with his family, so rich in history and religion, all of which are of particular interest to him. He learnt of the history of that area dating back 3000-4000 years. And it got me thinking. How has it come to be that the history of Australia and our First Peoples has fallen into such insignificance? Not only in Australia but globally?
Why do people say that Australia is a young country yet our history dates back 60,000 years? And there is an array of evidence to demonstrate that our First Peoples have cared for our land for all that time. 1788 is not the beginning of our existence as a nation. What can we do to educate the world that this is a fallacy?
Time for shared healing
I’ve been reading more and more from Celia’s book, and there is a reflection in there ‘we have a shared wound and so we will have shared healing’. No words could be more true. We are all part of the human family and there is space for us all.
We all need to listen, learn, respect and nurture. We all have a place here and we all have a critical role to play in encouraging others to take an active part in making the future different from our past.
It’s ok to look in the rear vision mirror, we just can’t focus on it. We all have a responsibility to move things forward.
All photographs by Michelle McLeod copyright 2019