This training gets interesting everyday. Today the group led by Project Coordinator for APJC Deborah Muir visited at Charles Sturt University’s Albury campus.
Perhaps part of me couldn’t really make the connection when I first read his profile distributed to us the fellows prior to the visit.
APJC fellows listen in with interest as Yalmambirra tells his story.
Then we met Yalmambirra (http://athene.riv.csu.edu.au/~yalmambi/) who reflected on his culture, his choices in life and where his people currently stand in contemporary Australia.
It would be premature of me to make any snide remarks in relation to what I had heard from Yalmambirra about the treatment of his people by the government of Australia.
First; I have only been introduced to the world of the Wiradjuri people that Yalmambirra belonged to. Secondly; I prefer to speak only about what I had learned from the meeting on a personal level.
So as we arrived at the campus and made our way to his whereabouts he walked us towards a meeting place in the bushes. I do not speak for the others who were part of this gathering but I felt some sense of familiarity to the surroundings and an usual emotion overwhelmed me completely.
Even now I cannot make any sense of what that emotion was but sitting there under the trees on a trunk that was purposely put there to serve as a seat was fantastically exciting.
Yalmambirra is an Elder of the Wiradjuri people is the Koorie Academic (Wiradjuri) at the Charles Sturt University.
Whether that was because this was the second time that I would experience engaging in conversation with another group of people that called Australia their home I cant really say.
Yalmambirra said he left school when he was 10 years old refreshing information since he was 47 years old and was working towards his PhD with already two degrees under his belt. Where I come from those that leave school at that age have no place in Universities, no place or understanding in environmental sciences.
Where I come from children are constantly pestered into believing that without any proper or formal education they will never amount to anything. It is true to some degree. However with today’s phrases such as the sky is the limit, you are never too old to learn and the digital world fast making a mark in households across the world its true – there is nothing that could possibly stop anyone from returning to school to reach the potentials that they were gradually born into this world to live up to.
So this man who stood before us with his greying beard who told us that he didn’t believe in God and that his people couldn’t come together as one because of boundary conflicts – I realised that it only takes effort, a dream and goal to achieve more in this life than what many possibly think that we could amount to.
He spoke about his peoples culture. Living on their lands yet a legislation put in place restricted them from practicing the rituals or acts that identified them as the Wiradjuri people. He told us of his elderly mentor that told him about an event that was suppose to happen. It is supposed to take place in central Australia where all clans would come together as one. Yet it was impossible for this to happen since there was still much conflict with other clans who where one peoples land starts and where the other ends.
Yalmambirra also spoke about the stolen generation http://www.nsdc.org.au/stolen-generations/history-of-the-stolen-generations/the-history-of-the-stolen-generations and claimed that he was from that era. How two of his siblings were still so much part of his life yet he had never ever met them. His own words were “we don’t know whether they are alive or dead”.
As I listened on he told of how his people were known for many years as either flora or fauna to be classed as some kind of human, an animal or plan or sub human is disturbing enough to leave one questioning humanity.
Whether it ignited some familiarity to my own personal journey as a Samoan and a country that its people had to lose through death its people for independence and the right to run their own affairs I cant say.
What I learned however under those trees with a soft breeze swaying the trees peacefully and the birds singing in the background would take sometime to digest.
He said he was a speaker and teacher. True to the meaning of both words. He spoke succinctly enough it was hard for me to miss his point. It was as concise as I wanted. What I learned from the very few hours we sat under those trees and listened and shared with Yalmambirra would perhaps be a lasting experience for me that I would constantly bring up to remind myself that despite all the conflicts in my life, personal or otherwise – I have an identity, I have a place called home, I am Samoan and that i recognised at the national and the international level as such. While not so far away from home this man who was so passionate about his heritage, culture, identity and country continues to fight to be recognised for who he is – a Wiradjuri http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiradjuri.
Both photos used in this piece were taken by Koroi Hawkins.