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Sustainable cultures and creating new cultures for sustainability

Georgina Williams Yambo Kartanya

Ngangkiburka Kaurnayerta (Senior Woman, Kaurna Country)

My name is Georgina Williams Yambo Kartanya. Ngankiburka. I was born in a country hospital in the Narrunga country of my Grandfather Joe Edwards, a senior man and a wise Elder of the Narrunga tribal clans of what is today called the Yorke Peninsula in the state of South Australia. That is the home of the once mighty fighting warriors of the Narrunga past who are now in the modern world, and are some of the best footballers of today.

In the country of my Kaurna Grand Mothers I represent a gathering force for a spiritual renewal of the Peace Law of Tjirbruki (Tjilbruke) which lies in the spirit of the land at Warriparinga and other places along the Ancient Journey of the Dreaming Song of our Ancestor Being Tjirbruki and the surviving family clans people of the Kaurna lands who are the traditional owners of the land you walk upon and sit upon in the city of Adelaide — Tarndanyangga — and beyond.

I thank the organisers of the conference for inviting me to speak, and through that gesture, for the acknowledgment of the traditional owner status of the Kaurna Aboriginal surviving clans peoples.

I am sixty-two years of age and what is now generally known as a Kaurna Elder, although I do not use those English words to describe myself. I prefer instead the descriptive term — Ngangkiburka — Senior Kaurna Woman.

My working life for independent income began at the age of 9 years, cleaning the school classrooms for two shillings and sixpence. At sixteen I started working as a nursing aide until I was 32 years of age.

My involvement in all of the developments of the first Aboriginal organisations established in Adelaide began, starting with the first Aboriginal organisation to exist, the three A’s — Aboriginal Advancement Activities — in the late fifties, early sixties. It was organised and developed by my cousin Winifred Branson, (deceased). I held the position of organiser of social and political events, and we began to organise our lives in Adelaide as urban Aboriginal people.

My mother, Mary Williams, was considered to be a political activist from her Mission days, and I simply followed in her footsteps .

From that time I have been actively involved in most of the Aboriginal organisations here, which included the Aboriginal Housing Funded Unit, originally designed to house Aboriginal peoples in their cultural context, and in which Aboriginal people could live without harassment. However, it now seems to have become a public housing shop front as a government funded Aboriginal Housing Authority. I have also been involved in the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and Parents and Childrens’ association.

I have held various employed positions in Aboriginal service organisations such as Hostels Ltd, and Aboriginal Child Care Association (ACCA) in my early years of life. And I have been a student at Aboriginal Community College, the Task Force, and the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music, CASM, where the emphasis was on ethno-musicology.

It was at CASM that I experienced the beginning of my coming home. Through my relationship, over a period of two years, with the Pitjantjatjara people, their language and the songs of their land, the spirituality of my tribalism was re-awakened within myself and to my country here on the Adelaide Plains.

My life’s journey has been to recover myself as a Kaurna person, together with the Kaurna people, to the spirit of place, our place, the Adelaide Plains.

My personal journey of recovery has involved me in attempting to adjust mentally to being a white Australian, which I was unable to do. I then began to adapt rather than adopt western things that I could use as an Aboriginal person living in the new environment of ‘urban life’.

Previous to the government policy of assimilation, my life was a mission life, and previous to that my family were transported people from their clan country, to reserves, to mission life at Point Pearce.

The first impact of disintegration for the hunter-gatherer, from whom I am a survivor, began with whalers along the southern coast. This impacted upon the Kaurna Peoples for fifty years, stealing our women , and raiding our campsites and introducing foreign diseases which depleted our numbers by an observable five to seven men to every one woman. It continued at the declaration of terra nullius and colonisation and the dispossession of our lands. The era of the farmer versus the hunter-gatherer began.

The dispossession of our land and our life was the gain of the farmer, and is the foundation upon which Australian society secured and retains its identity today.

The impact of this dispossession on us has been continuous to this present time. Much sickness and a great deal of ill-health is the legacy and all we can look forward to as our inheritance as Australia’s Indigenous people.

In the present day situation, my life has been a continuous struggle to maintain and keep alive the profile of our remnant tribespeople of the Kaurna first nation of the Adelaide Plains.

This has been reflected in the cultural and spiritual renewal practices for our ancient ancestor beings of the land and for sustainable environment in the way in which we once lived. It has also been reflected in my everyday life where I am actively pursuing negotiations, communications and liaison at the local level including with local councils, and developing working partnerships together with the Kaurna people and local community groups. The main feature of this involvement is to create and enable a relationship that manifests as a reconciliation process, enabling the surviving Kaurna people to progress a spiritual and cultural renewal to their traditional land and story in the land.

My most recent of recovery work over the past decade has been the development of the concepts and the vision of ‘coming home’ to the spirit of the land of the Kaurna peoples; renewing my clan and other Kaurna peoples’ clans to our spirit of place, beginning with the recovery of the law/lore story, Tjirbruki (Tjilbruke), and his ancestral Dreaming, Munaintya, of law and law in the land.

The beginning of the work today on retaining all of the Dreaming sites of Tjirbruki has become focused for the present mainly on Warriparinga — windy place by the river. Here, the Warriparinga Interpretive Centre Project and its interactive history, where black and white history occupies the land, has evolved from a long and difficult process of negotiations between the Kaurna people, the Marion Council, and the local community.

Its genesis was in the Ngurlongga Nunga Community Services Centre where the concept of interactive history in the environment was first developed. This has culminated in the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, now being built at Warriparinga.

The Federation funding from the Commonwealth Government, and continued Marion Council support, both financial and in kind, for our Centre, indicates that finally Australian governments have been influenced sufficiently to recognise the full impact of our dispossession, and the importance of the recovery work that we Aboriginal people are doing across the country.

This site of significance at Warriparinga along the journey of Tjirbruki (Tjilbruke) provides the opportunity for cultural survival, through spiritual renewal, for the Kaurna people, and other Aboriginal peoples across Australia. My family clan as custodial keepers and caretaker initiators for sustainable revival of our traditional culture, calls on all of the Kaurna peoples, through the restating of tribal structures, to become involved in developing the caretaker and custodial roles with the spirit of the land, our dream story in the land for my family clan and for the remaining tribespeoples.

The Kaurna Living Cultural Centre came about because Tjirbruki (Tjilbruke) called us home.

The Warriparinga project has been a hard and tiring process for us Nungas (meyunna) for a number of reasons:

• firstly, we have had to confront the complete lack of understanding by non-Indigenous people and their governments of our spirituality and culture, and religious practices embedded in rituals and ceremony

• secondly, a true ability for sustainable cultures of Indigenous peoples requires an acknowledgment through the legal system, for example, the protection of indigenous commodity in culture, intellectual property and use of indigenous languages for geographical naming.

• thirdly, we Aboriginal people have been left out of decision making in the past, have been confronted by decisions made by others about our lives and futures which have had devastating effects upon our clans and tribes and family groups. It is important to recognise that we operate within the tribal model. This means we acknowledge the Aboriginal way of decision making, which is inclusive rather than exclusive. It means that everyone in the tribe, through their clans and family groups participates in discussions to reach decisions. This causes constant conflict when working within non-Indigenous structures, which needs to be recognised and accommodated.

• fourthly, committee structures, based on the community development model that has been applied to Aboriginal people’s progress across the country, work in direct conflict with the tribal model.

• and finally, the concept of partnership in managing the land and projects means that we must develop a two-way language that acknowledges and respects the differences between us.

Today’s subject is ‘Sustainable cultures and creating new cultures for sustainability’. The Aboriginal cultures of our clans and tribal groups are still undergoing a recovery process, after so many years of dispossession and alienation from our Dreaming which is in the land and in us, the traditional owners of this land.

For me this means that we have to know, once again the Dreaming laws of the land. Our hunter-gatherer way of life was able to sustain our lives for thousands of years uninterrupted, allowing us to develop the longest continuous surviving culture in the world. What little there is known of the complexities and order of our hunter-gatherer cultures has been trivialised and maligned, and we have been marginalised because of it. Our language of life has been totally ignored, its complexities little known to this day.

A sustainable future means:

that the sun, wind, sea, water, air are all here in the future so that we have an opportunity to draw on the life of the spirit of the land; so we all know our place in the framework of life; so we have the ability to move over the land, over Tjilbruke.

Everything was pristine when the British came two hundred years ago. Their system created what we have today. There was a lack of respect for the spirit of the land and the peoples of the land. We, the people of Australia today, need to acknowledge the spirit of the land, for us to manifest a relationship with it and each other, in order to sustain us all, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

This means that the 141 nationalities represented in our country on Aboriginal traditional lands as Australians will need to work together to create an organic relationship to the spirit of the land. As the people of the land, we need to work in the spirit of humanity towards true reconciliation.

The Aboriginal people will maintain the rituals and sing the songs of our spiritual home.

Yungatadalya, Yakkanadalya, Nakota

About the author

My life’s journey has been to recover the Kaurna people to the spirit of place, our place. Having attempted to adjust to being mentally a white Australian, failing to do that, and then accepting into my life all western things that I can use as an Aboriginal person adapting into a new environment of urban life. My most recent of recovery work has been the development of the concepts and the vision of coming home to the spirit of the land of the Kaurna peoples. Renewing my and Kaurna peoples to our spirit of place, beginning with the recovering of the law story, Tjilbruke, and his dreaming story of law and law in the land. In particular, at Warriparinga, in the development of an interactive history project, the Kaurna Living Cultural Centre Project.

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