Posted by: jkirkby8712 | May 15, 2011

Saturday, 14 May 2011 – Welcome to Country!

I referred yesterday to the story of Jandamarra, the 19th century Aboriginal rebel, and that relevance to land ownership was drawn to my attention again, in an article that appeared in a recent edition of the ‘IHH News’ [the occasional newsletter of the Indigenous Hospitality House, in North Carlton , an inner Melbourne suburb].  The IHH provides a peaceful and homely atmosphere for Indigenous people to stay at, whilst they are supporting a family member in one of Melbourne’s hospitals, and was created in 2001. The article I’m referring was called ‘Welcome Home’, and was written by a new fulltime ‘host resident’ of IHH, named Miriam, and it gave a new perspective to the whole question of land ownership and rights. I’d like to share it here.

[by Miriam]….”I still have a lot to learn about how best to show love and respect to Indigenous people and  Australian land. Since I did not grow up in Australia it has been a whole new experience stepping into such a complex and often  tragic history of  the relationship between Indigenous people and colonizers. The idea of connection to land is a challenging one as I have little connection to places, having moved almost every 3 years growing up. A few years back I discovered that my mother’s family has lived and farmed a particular area of rural Victoria for several generations – it was a wonderful feeling of connectedness to know I had a history and a story in that place even  though I have never lived there. However I was aware that I could not fully claim a heritage as at some point that land would have been unjustly taken from its original owner, with no treaty involved. This past weekend I went to a conference called Surrender 11, on Christianity and Social Justice, and listened to Wurundjeri Elder Murrundindi’s explanation of his Welcome to Country; he permitted his listener’s to have a sense of shared heritage of the land we were all living on.  It got me to thinking about my desire for heritage around  my grandparent’s farm, and I wondered if I might be able to learn about the history of the Indigenous peoples of that area, and perhaps meet and discuss their heritage in that space and mine, and if it could be shared.  Perhaps I might be able to have my own unofficial ‘treaty’  to permit me to share my family’s  heritage with theirs. I have yet to think through the practical implications of what this might look like or how appropriate it might be, but I am left remembering a comment of one of the other residents:  Working to understand Indigenous connection to land and our part in that relationship helps us think about our own connections and heritage too, and may give us some sort of permission to be part of the story here”.

Thankyou Miriam, much food for thought there and a reminder that these life questions need not be a ‘one way street’, we all possess a heritage of some degree, and while it may not have always originated in the manner in which we would probably look at today, in 2011, it does nevertheless form a part of our own personal history.  

Incidentally, the more ‘formal Welcome to Home’ ceremony [or more precisely ‘Welcome to Country’] has only in recent years become part of ‘cultural practice’  –  i.e., to acknowledge traditional custodianship of the land at the commencement of functions, meetings and presentations of government departments and various organisations. This acknowledgement pays respect to the traditional custodians, ancestors and continuing cultural, spiritual and religious practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and gives custodians or their representatives, the opportunity to formally welcome people to their land.  Further, it provides an increasing awareness and recognition of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and cultures.

 

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