New Year blessings to you dear Warrior…to you and your loved ones, loved ones close, loved ones more distant, loved ones embodied, loved ones disembodied, loved ones known, loved ones yet to meet. May this year fill your days and relationships with the power of Love.
We seem to cover some territory, you and me, dear Warrior. Last we met, we travelled to Peru, to the charming little Q’ewar Social Project close to Machu Picchu. Today, I am taking you on a new adventure, to a very different land…from one natural wonder of the world to another. This one is in the shape of an immense rock formation that stands in the middle of the desert, nearly 350 metres above the ground and extends even further below the earth. At sunset, its magic is most visible to the naked eye as it changes color from red to orange to purple.
This enigmatic rock called Uluru is deeply meaningful to the history and culture of the local native Australian Aboriginal tribes called Pijantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, only two of almost 400 ‘countries’, each with their own sacred places, but together, they form part of the oldest surviving culture in the world, said to be 60,000 years old. These indigenous people have a powerful yet sad story to tell. They live on a land that holds great beauty yet great pain.
One Australian Aboriginal Warrior is Tjilpi (title meaning special teaching uncle) Bob Randall, is an elder, born around 1929 in the Yankunytjatjara Nation, and a traditional keeper of the great monolith, Uluru. A former Indigenous Person of the Year, Bob has a lot to say on subjects that are not only unthinkable but unspeakable for the rest of us mortals.
At about age seven he was one of 50,000 Aboriginal children who were forcibly taken from their mothers and families under the White Australia government policy’s attempt at genocide. No records were kept of the Aboriginal nation, family name or identity of the children who were stolen and placed in white homes or government centres to make them think and act as white people. Young Bob grew up alone, away from loved ones and never saw his mother again. Like many others, he was given a new identity and birth date and moved from one government institution to another around the country, while his mother wept day and night. Much of his early adult years were spent on his heart-wrenching search for his family and country of belonging.
In the early 1970s, Uncle Bob earned widespread recognition for his song “My Brown Skin Baby, They Take ‘im Away” which became like an anthem for the people who have become what we call today the ‘Stolen Generation’. It is this song that exposed both nationally and internationally the abominable truth of what was happening in Australia that only subsequently led to the government stopping the stealing of innocent children, and eventually to the former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s formal and public apology in 1992: “We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and prejudice.”
More recently, Uncle Bob co-produced and narrated the award-winning documentary “Kanyini”, which tells his story in the hope of bringing to the public eye the tragic situation of the Australian indigenous people, and hence changing their future. The film was voted Best Documentary at the London Australian Film Festival in 2007, one of many awards. “Kanyini” encapsulates the Aboriginal principles of caring for the environment and each other with unconditional love and responsibility. Kanyini talks of four pillars: belief system, land, spirituality and family, through which aboriginal people connect to their place within all that is. Each of these has been violently severed and contributes to the near extinction of this ancient race.
Bob Randall has dedicated his whole life to helping indigenous people to reclaim their Aboriginal identities and regain lives of purpose so that all people can eventually live and learn together in oneness and harmony with the rest of creation. Like other matriarchal Warriors, he says: “We have one Mother—this land we live on. This makes you and me brothers and sisters.” Healing this kind of past through a shared experience under the present circumstances is a big task for one Warrior, especially one who is getting on in age and health.
Today, the stolen children have grown to become deeply affected adults, and the result is devastating. They live under dire circumstances, unable to function within the modern system yet de-rooted from their own culture and natural life, they cannot find their way to heal. Their communities have higher rates of unemployment, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and crime. The question remains: How can the Stolen Generation ever find their identity, their dignity, heal their personal and collective scars, and live at peace again?
This is a question I put to Noel Butler, a custodian of Aboriginal culture of the Budawang people of the Yuin Nation on the South coast of Sydney, who has never ceased “to fight for the right to be who we are.” It is shocking to hear that Aboriginals still to this day are not considered Australian citizens and are not part of the Australian Constitution, a proposition that was flatly refused by former Prime Minister John Howard in 2000. In fact, Australia is the only country in the world who still does not recognize its native people and has not offered them compensation. Racism to them he says, “is not just modern history, it is a living story.” All to say, the scars are deep, and profound spiritual healing is called for. Noel explains that dance is a powerful way for these indigenous cultures to connect with and express their soul and heal from the inside out. But because their spirituality is one with their humanity, they need to be free enough to step onto their land in the first place. And there are many things that stand in their way.
The paradox is highlighted by the following story he shares: Aboriginals are hunters and gatherers, that is, their food is sourced from their natural environment. But considering the richness of the fauna in Australia, the fisheries have tremendous power and have put regulations on just about anything so that special permits are needed and are leased to fishermen for good money, beyond the means of the Aboriginals that live under the poverty line. Noel’s nephew was caught by the authorities for harvesting abalone for his family’s personal consumption. The first offense is $10,000 or six months jail. Not in a financial position to pay that, and still needing to gather food as an Aboriginal person that is geared towards hunting, fishing, camping, and living in the natural bush, he picks up more abalone and this time is jailed for four years, away from his wife at home and unable to care for her when she is dying of cancer. This is so ironic considering that Aboriginals are taught from a very young age to not take from nature more than they need and more than can be regenerated. A discipline that sustained not only their many generations but also kept the forests lush, the trees healthy and green and the waters so clear. This highlights one of the countless absurdities that need to be told.
Yet Noel is told “to get on with it”. At sixty years of age he can pick up and continue where Uncle Bob can no longer. Like other Warriors of the Sacred, his qualifications are many and difficult to quantify, but he uses every opportunity to educate and pass on the abundance of knowledge he has. He is a professional baker, fisherman, photographer, hydraulics technician, landscaper, gardener, horticulturist, conservationist, bush foods educator, state mentor for Aboriginal carers, and prin cipal of his own school in Aboriginal affairs.
On top of all that, he is an exceptional artist, sculptor, and native dance performer and keeper of the culture and sacred sites. He has received numerous honours and certificates for Aboriginal reconciliation and was nominated Australian of the Year for his region in 2002. He and his wife, Trish Roberts have been invited to perform music and dance internationally and have developed quite a profile in the United Kingdom.
In the last year, they have opened their very own “Digging Stick Art & Food Cafe” on the South coast of Sydney where they offer high-quality Aboriginal-inspired food, unique tastes and combinations such as crocodile salad, kangaroo lasagna, coconut and lemon myrtle chicken, and green spinach pancakes. The setting is also very creative, with displays of Aboriginal ornaments and crafts, authentic paintings depicting dreamtime stories and sacred sites, and incredible sculptures that tell tales of love, all originals of the two artists in residence.
Despite all that, he still looks at me and says, “I feel I have done a bloody lot to create change, but it hasn’t worked”. Noel has quite a presence but he remains a very practical man, a common sense kind of man. He has many ideas on how to help integrate the two cultures. But as soon as his work begins to bear fruit, budgets are cut, projects are dropped, priorities are changed. Reality sets in: The Australian government is simply not committed to this cause. Whatever is achieved has been funded purely by his own efforts, his own pocket. The international community is however, more empathetic. Perhaps the answer is to promote Aboriginal culture overseas, gather the support, and then come back into the country and help heal the wounds? Food for thought as I sip my delicious coffee and bite into my spinach pancake. One thing is for sure, he will continue the fight soulfully, using the many facets of his art to raise awareness on Aboriginal Australia: “It’s like a smile: It is no good to you until you give it away.”
So dear Warrrior…should you be touched by this story and your creativity be ignited for a cause close to the heart of our Divine Mother like this one, and want to contribute to this dance, and sing this song, feel free to connect with Noel and Trish on diggingstickartandfood [at]gmail [dot]com