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.

Gone gatherin’

By Ali Murphy-Oates.

I just woke up to read the news that Canberra, our nation’s capital state, has passed laws allowing same sex couples to marry. Maybe it’s the four hours sleep I’ve had (curse you jet lag!) but I’m sitting on the edge of the bed absolutely overwhelmed with emotion. What a sook! So before I start my post, I just want to give a little shout out to all the babes in Oz who might be planning to migrate to our nations’s dullest city to make it a little more colourful with their love. Shine on.

Last week was a long, bizarre week. It started with packing the entire contents of my home up on Monday into 22 garbage bags in preparation for a pest terminator. It went downhill when I lost hours and hours worth of work in a late night computer meltdown on Wednesday night, crying pathetically at my desk. It completely bottomed out when I thought I had lost my passport and spent most of Thursday picking through the aforementioned garbage bags twice over in search of it, calling the passport office to book two separate emergency passport replacement appointments, and enlisting most if my workmates via teary phone call to search my desk for me. Four hours gone and all dignity lost, I found it. It was in a folder next to the bed. And finally the week ended Saturday morning with me posing for a full body nude portrait (hi mum) for the wonderful artist Deborah Kelly and her project In All Our Glory for the 19th Biennale of Sydney. Just the thing to calm you down before a long haul international flight!

And then then I went to the airport and went to England with these ladies. And the new week got stepped up to super-awesome-level-1000.

If you haven’t taken a moment to read the ‘about’ section of this website, I recommend you do. Right now. G’on den. Git!

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Global Songlines

By Merindah Donnelly.


48 minutes till London…

I slept pretty much the whole way, dreaming of mum and dad and the veggie garden back home. And because this trip is so epic, the loose plan of building up some reserve battery power by sleeping as much as possible seemed appealing. This last week leading up to departure has been a race against time.

Time. A concept that we’ve discussed reclaiming as part of our collective’s mandate.

Travelling reminds me of certain things I don’t always have time or space to think about. I have always wanted to understand the world from Indigenous perspectives, my ancestry traces back to Indigenous peoples globally.

I’m a fiercely proud Aboriginal woman from central and northwest NSW, my ancestors fought the colonisers.

I’m also ‘a wee Celtic lass’! My pa’s family is from Cromarty, in Scotland. His ancestor’s fought the British. My dad’s great great great grandfather was from Armagh, in Ireland, and his ancestors also fought the British.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, First Peoples purpose is always similar – protect the land, be one with the land and ensure the spirit of the land and our own spirit stays here for many generations to come.

Indigenous peoples all over the world have been oppressed and subjugated by dominant invasive cultures. As such, our version of history is not taught or as readily available, and certainly not apparent in everyday things we take for granted such as maps. There is nothing like travelling to bring these issues to light.

Gabi has just pointed out to me we are flying over the English Channel (which I’m totes gunna swim one day). Twenty minutes til we land. Lorna, Ali and Lou are all on British soil- so it’s just Gabi and me now.

Can’t wait to get off this plane, serz.

I’m on edge about travelling to London. I know I’ve probably got a preconceived notion of what that will be, but right now- the Brits are the living embodiment of colonisation. Their cultural arrogance that led to the dehumanization of my people is still affecting my family today.

I’m looking forward to travelling to Ireland and Scotland. I can’t wait to see what I dream about, and I can’t wait to take my shoes off and stick my feet in the earth- while I still can.