There was a bit of silly blather from politicians recently in our media about what Australians have come to know as 'welcome to country' ceremonies. For non-Australian readers, these are ceremonies where the traditional Australian Aboriginal owners of land sometimes perform a short, formal ceremony to 'welcome' people at a community gathering of some sort to their traditional land. At other times the 'welcome to country' is as plain and basic as the speaker just acknowledging that they are on traditional Aboriginal land belonging to whichever tribe is appropriate to mention in the circumstances.
A few politicians recently piped up to express their disquiet at this idea, others fired back to disagree, and blogs, columns, letters and opinions aplenty flowed freely, as happens every day in our modern media.
But this set me to thinking. I have never done a 'welcome to country' in my blog, for the land I cherish and belong to, and so I thought I'd show my support for the tradition with my own little 'welcome to country', as far as I understand it. Welcome to Cadigal land.
As far as our State Library knows, this is what one traditional owner of country looked like in my area. The original tribe's name is not known for certain. The name 'Eora' is most often given, but some say 'Eora' is just the word for 'the people' in their language.
This image above is taken from a superb exhibition staged a few years ago at our New South Wales State Library, where I learned that Aboriginal groups such as the Cadigal, Cameragal, Wallumudegal, Wangal and Burramattagal all occupied parts of Sydney, naturally enough spread around the shores of beautiful Sydney Harbour. My local area, south of Sydney Harbour, just west of Botany Bay, is in Cadigal country.
We also know know that the Cadigal inhabitants of my part of Sydney were the the Kameygal clan (Spear Clan). However, nearby were other clans including the Bidjigal (Flat River Clan) and Gweagal (Fire Clan) and I am sure they all, at some stage, probably walked through the same Kameygal ground where I now have a garden. My mob belongs to a Scottish clan from the Isle of Skye, and they came here of their own free will (if economic immigrants are ever truly said to travel of their own free will), in 1840, which is a fair while ago, but when you compare that to 40,000 years of Aboriginal ownership of this land, we're blow-ins.
While I have read a few books on understanding what happened when 18th century Europe, with the best of intentions at least at the outset, met a 40,000 year old hunter-gatherer culture, none compares with Inga Clendinnen's book, 'Dancing with Strangers'. It gives a wonderful insight into how Aboriginal culture read (and misunderstood) English culture, and how our culture read (and misunderstood) Aboriginal culture. The tragedy of course is that the English misunderstanding wasn't fatal for them, but for the Aborigines the consequences were far more devastating. In quick time, they disappeared as clans and tribes, and only a few remained, not sure who they really were. But in Inga Clendinnen's book it is wonderful to read an account which doesn't descend into a simplistic 'goodies and baddies' recounting of what happened during those first meetings. It's a more subtle story than that, well worth reading if you can find it.
And so, let me conclude with my little 'welcome to country'.
I am gardening here on Cadigal land, and I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. However I do suspect they're probably hovering around somewhere out there in the spirit world completely bamboozled by me and what I'm doing. I must seem like a strange man, but I hope they can see into my heart, and find some kinship.
I fully suspect that they don't read blogs, but maybe if someone with better connections gets the chance to talk to them, please reassure them that I, like them, belong to this land, and I am part of this land, just as they are, and I cherish it. I was born here and I will die here, just like they did.