NOT LOST

By Ali Murphy-Oates.

A few years ago, I drove with my Dad to Dubbo in central-western New South Wales for a corroboree and to visit the graveyard where we thought my grandmother, his mother, had been buried. My grandmother had passed away when my dad was two years old, and he and his brother were sent to be raised by their whitefella paternal grandparents in Cronulla, South Sydney. It wasn’t until recently that I even thought or realised that we might not know where my grandmother was buried, because everyone gets a grave, right? My maternal grandmother and grandfather are right next to each each other, I almost tripped over them when we said goodbye to our great-uncle last year. But hers is unmarked, possibly shared with others, and relegated to the section of Dubbo cemetery where the poor, the unwanted, and the Aboriginal people were buried. A bare grassed strip of land with a plaque on a wall standing guard in the centre – all the names that could be remembered or found again. I don’t think she’s there.

I’ve been in London 6 days, and have 3 days until I fly home again. In this time our group has seen and done some incredible, heartbreaking, confronting, humbling and uplifting things. On our first day we found street art on Brick Lane that addressed both the colonisation of Australia and the current hysteria over our (lack of) refugee intake. We wept over a shield at the British Museum, a moment of first contact, first conflict, frozen behind glass and forgotten. Placed in a hall with thousands upon thousands of collected memories from other colonised countries and presided over by a bust of Joseph Banks. Thousands more from that time, that place, stored away from public eye. We poured over the notebooks of William Dawes at the University of London, recordings of words written in Sydney language, conversations half written that we can almost hear. Missionary reports on the devastation and extinction of the Aboriginal people, printed proper with an addendum of desperation scrawled over the top. Lake Macquarie people, so close to my home. We performed a smoking ritual for the guests of the opening night of the Origins Festival, and I sung my guts out in Darkinjung language. They are some of the only words I know from the country I was born on. And finally realising, through conversations in the museum, at the university and with people on the tube, how distant and disconnected the history and the current state of our people is to the life of the everyday person in the UK. They literally hold our history, and they don’t even know it.

My relationship to my culture has sometimes felt like my relationship to these objects. Locked away, but on display. Other people tell me what it is. Sometimes there’s a fire in my belly, but more often it’s a gentle stirring. A yearning for more. It’s right there, I know, but somehow just out of reach.

Yesterday in the In The Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalisation conference we found ourselves in a debate over the ‘loss’ of language and culture. The implication (accidentally made) of loss upset some of my colleagues, quite rightly. Others proposed the term should be an ‘erasure’ of language and culture, which I agreed with. But the words that have stuck with me since then came from Yorta Yorta woman Deborah Cheetham, someone whom I was absolutely star struck by and could not believe I was in the same room as. She asserted (and I paraphrase) that our culture is not lost, not erased. It is still there. It’s with our old people. It’s in the land. In our songs and our rock carvings. We just have to listen and look. We just need to reconnect.

Back at the cemetery, after wandering around for while and indulging in a morbid fascination of the ageing tombstones, I eventually found my dad under the largest tree in the row that borders the strip of grass. He’s lying down and looking up through the leaves.
He’s peaceful.
He’s found her.
He’s talking to her.
I lay down next to him and looked up myself. And I knew. She wasn’t lost. She was always here. We just needed to listen and look. To reconnect.

All roads lead to Kamay…

By Tiddas Take Back.

We were running late. Avoiding the peak hour tube we chose to black track it instead, navigating the streets of Central London. Someone asked what’s the time? It’s already 10am. Shit we’re gonna be late. Nah we running on Koori time.

We be right.

Arriving at the entrance of the British museum we felt like we had stepped into a jigsaw puzzle of “acquired pieces”. Our backdrop included Romanesque columns and gods but we were no where near Italy.

All roads lead to Rome but as we had learnt all of our roads lead to and from Kamay (Botany Bay).

When we had left home our last steps on our own country was in the same area that was first stepped on by the Gubbas. The foreigners whom “forcibly acquired” that land now known as Australia somewhere between 1700 and 1800.

We met Gaye who is a Palawa woman, a great great grand daughter of Fanny Cochrane Smith.

Gaye works at the British museum and she kindly made time to show us the two Aboriginal displays currently open to the public. Despite only two displays, their collection includes 6000 cultural objects and materials from New South Wales with majority of it pre dating 1860 and being stored in east London, and guess we’re we are staying?

That’s right east London. We may have just black tracked our way into oblivion.

And then – boom! Time stops and Gaye drops the bomb on us, she suggests that we check out the Kings Library, the same king who ordered captain cook ‘to engage and conciliate the affections of the natives’.

Slap the black off me and call me colonised! We had the breath knocked out of our lungs when Gaye directed us to a specific cultural object that elicited a response we could never had anticipated.

Displayed behind a glass panel with a questionable yet very vague description, was a bark shield.

This bark shield was one of the first Australian objects to arrive in Britain. In April, 1770 captain cook and his officers attempted to land on Australia’s south east coast. When two men of the Eora tribe tried to stop the landing, one was wounded by gunfire and dropped this shield. First contact in the pacific were often tense and violent.

What this description fails to mention is that history is recorded by the conquerors so what of the conquered?

Black to reality.

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Lorna, Gabi, Ali and Lou.