Truth Telling

December 13, 2021
Dianah Walter

To truly heal, first you have to know….and then you have to understand.

Maitland is nestled in the centre of the land mass known to most as the Yorke Peninsula, the peninsula in the middle of South Australia that resembles a ‘leg’.  To the Aboriginal people who have inhabited this land for millennia, Maitland is ‘on Country’.  It is on Nharangga (Narungga) Country.

Natural light streamed into the well-appointed conference room at the Information Centre as guests gathered for a training session.

The vibrant and enthusiastic Katie Hughes, Community Resilience Officer, Southern Yorke Peninsula Community Hub, greeted me, and others with a warm smile and “hello”. Welcomed warmth on an unusually cool December morning. 

At the front of the room Nharangga Elder, Lesley Wanganeen and Nharangga Aboriginal Progress Association (NAPA) Project Manager, Cathy Glazbrook compared their notes and chatted cordially.

Today’s “Cultural Awareness Training” is the first in a suite of sessions and would focus on history and culture.

Lesley welcomed guests to Country. Her Country.  She spoke in language, a language almost lost, but making a considered revival and rightly reasserting itself in everyday life in Nharangga and many Aboriginal Nations around Australia.

This welcoming ritual is only to be conducted by a Nharangga Elder, or recognised spokesperson of the local Aboriginal community. It is traditional, not some politically correct practice dreamt up in recent times.  The acknowledgement of Country on the other hand, is an act of respect to introduce and recognise the land on which a gathering is taking place.  Aboriginal or non-aboriginal may pay their respects in this way.

Lesley is quietly spoken, her dark eyes bright and her words carefully formed, she smiles when she speaks, and her intense pride is accentuated in the rise and fall of her intonation.  She hands over to Cathy.

Cathy, not Nharangga but ‘local’ speaks of her visit once a upon a time to NAPA to seek knowledge.  She was so taken by the organisation that she embedded herself in the fabric of the place and is part of the “NAPA Family.”  Her pride is worn on her sleeve.

Cathy’s voice shakes when she recounts the history, taken from records and from memories.  She speaks of a continent populated 50,000 years ago, 24,000 years before Asia and Europe.  The picture she painted was of a people living on the Earth with megafauna, co-existing for 17,000 to 30,000 years.  Imagine a goanna six metres long and a wombat the size of a small car, a Volkswagen Cathy quipped.

Imagine surviving the ice-age (20,000 years ago), when the Australian mainland, Tasmania and New Guinea were all one landmass and when sea-levels were low, very low? 

Both of the Gulfs, on the flanks of Yorke Peninsula were dry.  The Gulfs we know as Gulf St Vincent (Gulph of St Vincent named by Matthew Flinders on 30 March 1802) and Spencer Gulf (Spencer's Gulph also named by Flinders on 20 March 1802. The Baudin expedition visited the gulf after Flinders and named it Golfe Bonaparte – if only they’d considered the actual inhabitants!  Not so much a discovery but a visitation.

Just 14,000 years ago the continent started to warm, and sea-levels rose, plant and animal populations recovered.  Nharangga Dreaming speaks to the flooding event.  The population grew.

Cathy handed back to Lesley and with her wisdom and passion she spoke of the Aboriginal Belief System, Creation, Dreaming and a remarkable affinity and relationship with Ancestors passed.  This extraordinarily sophisticated system provided the structure to life and living.

Nharangga Banggara (Country) is vast. It is a living creature.  The northern boundary is North to the  Broughton River where it flows into Spencer Gulf, east to Redhill, across to the  Wakefield River and South to Dhilba Guuranda – Innes National Park and the sea which surrounds it. First Nations lands and sovereignty were never ceded.  Building mutual understanding and respect of this history is critical to the future of this place.

This session is compelling.   I’m choked up in parts.

The Nharangga people are intelligent, hold intimate knowledge of the land and are artisans in land management.  Sadly, some non-Aboriginal people hold a view of a lesser intelligent race. 

The truth couldn’t be further.  Astronomy, geology, aerodynamics, ecology, physics, navigation, earth sciences, hydrology and more…as we know it… is to Nharangga, simply and yet powerfully caring for Country. The Country cares for Nharangga people and they care for Country.  They care deeply. 

Lesley and Cathy continue to gently, gracefully and in a dignified way, craft a narrative that will in time change perceptions and shift thinking. 

To heal you have to know.  We must know and understand the history.  The violent, cruel, and brutal history of the whalers and the sealers.  The rape, the slavery, and the disease. The murder and the mayhem. The massacres and the horror. The cruelty and the brutality.  We must know and we must understand.

Of promises broken, of Letters Patent, of land, and of children, stolen.  To heal you have to know. The Culture is not lost, in some places it simply lays dormant in roots of ancestral trees and in other places, like in the hearts and souls of Elders like Lesley it burns brightly.

It is enriched by the oxygen she breathes deep into her lungs and exhales in words of wisdom, as wise as an owl.  This deep longing to leave a legacy of healing is Lesley’s yearning and she has accomplished so much.  But still there is much to do.

You must know to heal. I commend this “Cultural Awareness” session to all. You think you may know, but if you are not part of the healing, then you do not know yet.

You must know to heal and let that be in the telling of truth.

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