I want to record the day I began to realise that Australia lives because there’s a 50,000 year old pulse throbbing through it. It’s still throbbing thanks to the elders who keep the rituals that have grown over that time, they still sing the land, they walk it, they dream it, they listen to the Ancestors, and despite 200 plus years of Western meddling, or inspite of it, they continue to pass on their knowledge and tradition to the next generation.
I’ve heard about the connection between Indigenous People and the land, but until today, I didn’t know what it meant. It seems to me that over the same period in World history, most people’s relationship to land has shifted in the opposite direction; apart from the odd exception , say in the Amazon or parts of Africa. It probably happened after we got the idea of staying put and breeding animals for food rather than hunting them.
Yes, of course the relationship farmers, small growers and gardeners have to land, is different to the one non-growers and most city dwellers have. Yes, hard working farmers and peasants have, for generations, sewn seeds, and harvested their crops or farmed animals for food and clothing. They know the seasons, they read the signs the land and the weather give them. But that bone-deep, living connection? Nah, we haven’t had it since we stopped gathering or hunting and started farming and tethering.
In general, we don’t touch stones and greet them as though they are old friends or relatives.
Some, even among city dwellers, will know the names and properties of certain plants, their healing properties, how to cook them, eat them. But who knows how to hunt these days? Really hunt. For food, for survival. Whatever we know today, us Non-Aboriginal or Non-Torres Strait Islanders, ours is an infinately limited knowledge; scraps left over from the deep knowledge our ancient ancestors once had of every plant, every stream, water hole, every blade of grass, every rock.
Our Ancestors were living Archives: their knowledge came from experience, experimentation, and they taught consecutive genrations through ritual, story, song and dance.
When we talk about the living relationship Indigenous people have to their country, that is precisely what it is.
The information this country’s First Custodians hold about their country is a living knowledge that encompasses every tree; its bark, leaves, the juices it creates and secretes, the bugs, insects, reptiles that may live in it, when they come when they leave. Their knowledge encompasses every living thing within their environs, every rock (and its individual name), and the characteristic of every living thing. This knowledge runs through their very bodies and returns to the land with every step and every breath they take.
Their knowledge must never be lost, though most of it has been lost, there are efforts being made to retrieve it. You can’t find it in the library. You have to experience it, and make yourself a repository of knowledge as the elders have.