Monday, March 22, 2010

Welcome to country


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.


21 comments:

Lanie said...

A wonderful, moving and insightful post. What more can I say?

vanzare apartamente said...

It is a wonderful 'welcome to country' when I did something similar I had a very strong sense of belonging towards land in which I live.

prue said...

What a great post! And you've certainly sourced an excellent historian there :)

Gardening for Beginners said...

I have never really thought of things that way before. I also appreciate you taking the time to make your own "welcome to country". It is really quite interesting.

Maxabella said...

I wish Aboriginal culture was more respected in Australia. x

bigwords is... said...

What a great post - well said. You might like a post on my blog titled: Ignorance Is Not Bliss about the asylum seeker issue in SA.

life in a pink fibro said...

I love this idea. :-)

Note From Lapland said...

I've never heard of the welcome to country ceremony before, not surprising since I've never been to Australia, I guess. It certainly sounds interesting.

Seana Smith said...

You've expressed and explained some big issues very well here, also made it so clear for o/s readers. Not an easy task! Many thanks for the book reccd, will try to find it as would love to read more on these issues, after loving "The Secret River by Kate Grenville.

lisa said...

What a lovely welcome to your country. You say, "I hope they can see into my heart, and find some kinship" -- I believe that's true. If you haven't already, I highly recommend reading Wisdom Man Banjo Clarke, as told to Camilla Chance. I think Banjo would find kinship with you, without a doubt.

Danger Boy said...

Such a wonderful tradition. We have nothing so meaningful here in the States for a welcome, save perhaps naming a strip mall after what came before.

Ry said...

Jamie, What a wonderful tribute. Here from the Rewind.. loved the post.

Melanie said...

I think the original inhabitants of the land see what you're doing for it and that you are honoring them by respecting what they held so dear. Great and informative post.

MissDMarie said...

Very inspiring post indeed. Great post!!

Cate Bolt said...

This is absolutely beautiful. I was saddened by our Prime Ministers refusal to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama but seeing the indigenous people welcome him with open arms was absolutely beautiful. I come from Gubbi Gubbi lands and I love reading about the dreamtime stories surrounding the creation of our beautiful Glass House Mountains.

deux chiens et un garcon said...

thank you.

I love this gesture. I wish more and more had an understanding of the histroy of where one now has their own roots.

very heart warming.

following now

Life In A Pink Fibro said...

Lovely post Jamie. Great to see so many comments here!

Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro.

Mrs M said...

Brilliant post.

I was in New Zealand a month ago and was blown away by the respect between the Maori people and the white folk. I was only there for a week but I felt like they put Australia to shame.

I went to the Te Papa Museum in Wellington and one of the exhibits there was celebrating the refugees that had come to New Zealand.

Visiting from Weekend Rewind

Love & stuff
Mrs M

So Now What? said...

"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." Perfect post. I had a great read over my Sunday coffee. Thanks. Over from the Fibro - Bern x

Kirsty said...

Lovely post - I was recently introduced to the Welcome to Country when attending an assembly at my daughter's school - nice to know they are learning to acknowledge the traditional owners of this beautiful land and lovely for you to have done your own for land that you clearly love so much. Visiting via Weekend Rewind - Kirsty @ My Home Truths

Mrs Catch said...

What a wonderful idea. May have to research my patch up here in Brisbane. Definitely going to hunt up that book about the first settlement. It sounds so interesting.