Australia Day, Welcome to Country, Loving Country and sand talk.

Australia Day is looming on the horizon again and a feeling of unease is rising, including in someone like me whose ancestors arrived on the First Fleet and who has researched and is very aware of how that arrival impacted on the First Peoples. [1] However I am not the only one who experiences this inner conflict and sense of disconnect.

I recently read Australia Day written by Stan Grant, a well-known journalist who has worked overseas and is of Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi descent.  Yet Stan Grant also has Irish heritage.  In Australia Day he explores and analyses this mix and conflict, “Those of us who identify as Indigenous, as First Peoples, we too grapple with our whiteness”, and what it means in relation to the dating of Australia’s major national celebration. He explores and debates identity politics and mixed ancestry while being confronted by real problems and results of systemic racism and the white gaze. It is a complex and interesting journey, part of which led him, almost by accident in 2015 after writing an article for The Guardian in response to the incessant booing of Adam Goodes over a number of years as well as other instances, to become a public spokesperson for Indigenous rights – The Racism Debate .

I have also recently read Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton, who is a highly respected first Associate Provost at the University of Melbourne with a lifetime of Indigenous rights activism and is a respected advocate and voice for Indigenous Australia.  The subtitle reads “An introduction to our First peoples for young Australians” yet I found it suitable for anyone.  It gives an extensive background to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, the history of colonial impact and growing activism, and some of the current leaders and icons.   It is a great introduction to the usually hidden parts of Australian history and should be in every school and community library.

Then there is Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou.  If ever you want to fall in love with Australia, this is the book to read.  It takes you on a tour around Australia from an Indigenous perspective, resting at places of significance along the way to listen to stories about the land, its First peoples, wildlife and importance.  The stories are beautifully told.  Suggestions are also made of Indigenous tours and guides if there is a desire to know more.  Of course it is impossible to avoid having to confront stories of the destruction which past and current practices are having on these sacred sites, the land itself and the sea, so there is also at times a deep sense of loss.  As Bruce says in relation to landuse since colonization, “Australians have been spending agricultural capital built by Aboriginal land care and that capital is all but gone, as if a wayward child had surrendered the family fortune to gambling and decadence”.  His challenge is that “all this beauty and soul satisfaction has a price” and there is a tax to be paid for our lifestyle. “It seems most Australians realise that the time has come to care for the planet and its history”.

I read Tyson Yunkaporta’s sand talk: How Indigenous Thanking Can Save the World in 2020 when a friend loaned me a copy.  This year I bought my own copy as I realised it was important to reference the book here, and I needed to reread to gain a deeper understanding of the content.  Although I am not yet finished the second read, here is a brief introduction which will probably be edited and updated as I continue through the book. 

Through yarns with ‘diverse peoples’ and his own thoughts and understanding Tyson presents Indigenous patterns of thinking, being and doing as a lens to view and critique contemporary systems.  As he is quick to point out ‘Indigenous’ is used as a catch-all phrase, as it is in the English language, for many diverse peoples all of whom may have fragments and related parts of a larger meta-story, which starts with parts of the interrelated songlines in Australia.  He begins with the challenge of the crisis of our age which is a result of humans thinking that they know better than nature.  The challenge and invitation of the book is for ‘us-two’ to walk and yarn with him and others to gain ‘understandings needed in the co-creation of sustainable systems’ (p.18) and, as I understand it, see what might emerge.

[1] I have explored the unease around and background to Australia Day in more detail in Australia Day: conflicts and alternatives.

3 thoughts on “Australia Day, Welcome to Country, Loving Country and sand talk.”

    1. Yes…that is why I’ve been pushing ‘Loving Country’ every which way I can. The government is not caring…many countries in similar situations…and the only option that seems to be a common denominator in commentaries is for the people to open their eyes and push back. The American people did just that, barely made it, but succeeded. We just need a strong and committed enough alternative to get behind.

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