Invitation To Country
[Extract: By the 22nd Century, perhaps earlier, it is my belief that the Uluru Statement From the Heart will be recognised as a watershed moment rising up and out from the endless Dreamings of Indigenous time. It will become the primary Foundation Document that enabled the future creation of a strongly independent and more culturally harmonious post-invasion Australia. Keith Davis 2021)]
I would like to attend an Indigenous ceremony that welcomes me to Country. Why would I like to do that? Well, over the course of my lifetime I have gathered my reasons.
The thought of Welcome to Country digs deep into the question of what it means to be an Australian in the modern era, and it asks what commonality of Identity do we all share as Australians given the wealth of different cultural backgrounds we all come from.
The Australian Identity problem, to me, appears to be that the dominant mainstream culture in Australia controls the narrative around what an Australian Identity really is. New Citizens to the country are welcomed in a largely anglo/celtic ceremonial way. Cannons boom, flags wave, Politicians drone their speeches, swearing on rather than at Bibles gets a look in, and the New Citizens get a spiffy Certificate devoid of any sort of heartfelt apology for all the hurtful hoops they had to jump through to be finally accepted here in the first place.
I don’t have a problem with the fact that I come from an anglo/celtic background, I’m proud of it, and I even have a tattoo of the Celtic Tree of Life on my left arm. So I don’t have a problem in that area – but where I do feel an unease is over the fact that New Citizens to this country are welcomed here by the usurpers of a never ceded Indigenous Sovereignty. Those usurpers, as the dominant culture, claim the right to conduct the Welcome to Country at the national level. Doesn’t seem right does it?
As the truth-telling of the bloody and brutally violent history of the recent takeover/theft of this land by Europeans takes traction in the consciousness of mainstream Australia, it appears to me that the time is right not only to reset not only how we see ourselves, but also to re-craft an Australian Identity that is inclusive of us all.
Nobody has to agree with my line of thought on these matters, it is my line of thought, and I am well aware that there are many different lines of thought on this subject matter out there. But in for a penny as well as a pound as the old saying goes …
As a blue-blood anglo/celtic Australian, blue-blood in the sense that my ancestors on both sides were convicts who were banished to the other side of the world for pilfering a bolt of cloth or something, I could easily sit back and feel smug about where I sit on the Australian Identity Continuum. I don’t however, sit back in such smugness.
On one level, undeniably, I’m Australian. I’m a citizen of this Commonwealth. I even drive a Holden which thankfully is not a Ute and it does not have ‘patriotic’ flags waving nationalistically out of every window.
On another level I feel distinctly unsettled about the type of Australian Identity that has been crafted for me over the last two Centuries or so by the dominant culture that currently holds sway in this land.
There are some undeniable facts that cannot be massaged or fiddled away because of the faux outraged pettiness of dominant cultures.
The oldest contiguous culture on this planet escaped total decimation/genocide after 1788 by the skin of its teeth. As Indigenous Culture resurges with ‘We have always been here, still are, and you will see us and hear us’ it gives all of us a chance to consider an identity reset.
It all makes me want to ask a question that I at least have never heard asked before.
Because I was born on this land in 1952, because I am of this land, because gum scent is in my nostrils and because red dirt layers the soles of my feet, am I part of the oldest contiguous culture on this planet, or am I just an add-on?
I have certain feelings on this matter but only an Indigenous person could probably give me a clear answer to that one – an Indigenous person whose ancestors and self never ceded their sovereignty to my ancestors, or to my self, or to anybody else.
As young Indigenous Activists, and older ones as well, prod us to acknowledge the truth of our own history, and encourage us to learn and grow and walk equally side by side with them, it raises so many questions about the underlying Spirit of contemporary Australia.
I take as a given my right to have a Representative Voice in our Parliament. That Parliament and the system of governance it represents derives from the background culture of the anglo/celts (not discounting the earlier input to that system of the Britons, Danes, Vikings, Normans etc etc) and the invading English dumped their system of values and laws on this shore, and those values and laws eventually morphed into our system of Parliamentary Governance, and that system rode roughshod over the Indigenous Sovereign Laws and Lore that had existed here for untold thousands of years.
So … here we have a Parliament. I have a Voice in that Parliament. But the original and still owners of this land are continually denied their Voice in Parliament and a seat around the grand parliamentary table by our politicians and by our mainstream culture. Demolishes the myth of Australian egalitarianism don’t you think?
The Uluru Statement From the Heart was a combined First Nation’ effort to reach out to us and offer up a shared way forward. Our Parliament, the Parliament that speaks in our name, viciously riposted to the Statement by dumping it and the attendant hopes in the rubbish bin. There was no effort to meet halfway, there was no meeting of Spirit. The utter rejection of the Statement blights us all.
I don’t believe that the Uluru Statement From the Heart will continue to lie quietly in the background, nor will it allow itself to be ignored. By the 22nd Century, perhaps earlier, it is my belief that the Uluru Statement From the Heart will be recognised as a watershed moment rising up and out from the endless Indigenous Dreamings of time. It will become the primary Foundation Document that enabled the future creation of a strongly independent and more culturally harmonious post-invasion Australia.
Big words those might be. Fact is we have to look back and acknowledge truth, then seek a way to move forward together. The Uluru Statement offers us that way forward.
Sometimes in life little moments happen in our interactions with other people and those moments stick around in the back of our skull boxes for some reason .. here’s an example of that.
Almost two years ago I did an epic road trip out into the Australian Deserts, not a bad effort for an avowed stay at home hermit. On the road between Lake Eyre and Uluru I stopped to assist some Aboriginal men whose car had broken down – long story short it created the need for another epic trip of sorts to the nearest but far away Aboriginal Settlement in order to pick up a hose to syphon petrol from my car to theirs. It made time for an interesting conversation …
The other blokes stayed with their car and their leader came with me and directed me on the quest to find that elusive hose. I’m paraphrasing from memory here a bit, and we had quite a few laughs along the way at our mutual ineptitude at trying to find something as simple as a bit of garden hose out in the Desert of all places, but here’s the gist of the conversation …
“For a White Fella you seem to at least have half a brain so I want to be truthed up. I know you sensed that things could have gone bad today. Well nothing went bad because we all said to each other he’s the only White Fella who stopped.”
As one does I thought of a couple of things … since they were six fine examples of Aboriginal manhood I reckon I’d have lasted a magnificent three seconds into the first Round , and then I asked him why would I be hated or be a target?
“You are not hated Brother. We don’t hate White Fellas. You are not hated because you were not scared like the others who flashed past and you stopped out here with us. What we hate is what your Mob did to us. We hate that.” Serious stuff, and laughs, it was quite a conversation. How could it not make me think about the need for real change in Australia?
Another short moment to relate … at the underground bar in Coober Pedy I had a conversation without words with an old Aboriginal man … we both sat there in an alcove amongst all that resplendent touristic finery with a bottle of Italian beer in our hands and our eyes met … without words we smiled at each other and clinked our bottles … again, it was quite a conversation … an old white hermit and an old black member of the oldest contiguous culture on this planet … both sitting there feeling out of time and place yet recognising each other and wishing each other the best of good cheer. You see, it really is possible, with the Spirit of meet, hands really can extend towards each other.
My wish to be Welcomed to Country by a representative of First Nations’ People might just seem like a hollow goody-two-shoes symbolic act by some, and others may tag me a leftist bleeding-heart wishing for the seemingly impossible. I don’t care because I am neither of those things. All of us as human beings have to work out for ourselves the values that we carry around in our own hearts. I do not buy into the Australian myth of who I am supposed to be, and nor will I allow any Identity to be imposed upon me.
Only an Indigenous person can tell me whether or not my wish to be truly Welcomed to Country is culturally appropriate from their point of view. If they say no I’ll say fair enough. However, if they say yes and “quit yapping on about it you old bozo and get your skinny skin over here so we can get the thing done”, well, I’ll scoot over there with bells on.
All of us think, and I’m sure that most of you realise that, given the bloody nature of the earlier history of Australia, for any one of us to be truly Welcomed to Country by an Indigenous person is not a light flick-away feel-good thing. It is not like the Welcome to Country that we get when we attend the first day of a Cricket Test.
To be truly Welcomed to Country requires both parties to stand together, and look back together, and for one party to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused and the generational disadvantage imposed and the benefits accrued to that party by being a modern day beneficiary of all the terrible things that went on before, and for the other party to speak and be heard and to not hold back on the depth of the wounding and pain and that deepest deepest sense of loss. So there is nothing ephemeral about such a real Welcome to Country. That is my view.
Such a meeting of true Spirit could have the power to resonate strongly and cut through the apathy and judgemental indifference and the spurning that our, our, mainstream culture directs towards the First Nations’ People of this land. Like anything else in Australia real change on serious issues comes from the ground up, it comes from individual people who see the need for change coming together to create that change.
Before I die I want to be Welcomed to Country, my country, by the only People who can do such a thing. I don’t want pomp and ceremony, booming cannons, political double-speak, hands on supposedly holy books, or any other of that made up guff. I want to be drawn into, and invited to feel a welcomed part of, the timeless Spirit of this Land.
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The Allodial Titleholders over Uluru have never been asked for permission to use their name in association with the “Statement from the Heart”. The so called “statement from the heart” is not a reflection of the majority of First People. There was no public consultation, just a bunch of overweight ‘coconuts’ running around the country telling First People what the Australian government wanted them to say. The entire “Australia” construct is built on a stream of lies, like Cook proclaimed this land for the British Crown, when that never happened (Cameron-Ash, 2018), there was no Possession Island proclamation and that all land titles emanate from the “Crown”, The British Crown has no beneficial title to land across the entire continent, when beneficial “Allodial Title” rests with First People (Lilienthal & Ahmad, 2019). First People DO NOT need constitutional recognition, or a voice to parliament, when as Allodial Titleholders, we already own the country. What we need is peaceful reformation of the political system, sack the Crown, Senate, State and local governments, abandon the party political system and implement a deliberative process with a gender balanced lower house and Circle of Allodial Elders for final ascent of all legislation. Over two-thirds of the worlds countries are successfully run by their First People..Why not Australia?
White Australia has a Black History.
The underlying legal elephant in the room is the fact that Aboriginal nations did not at any time cede sovereignty over their lands to any White Fellas. So the Torrens Title process has a significant flaw that aboriginal lawyer Paul Coe attempted to exploit causing a lot of legal fancy footwork in defence of English appropriation of Aboriginal lands.
Indeed, it may be argued that given the history of government sponsored genocidal policies before 1967 and 1975 legislation, there may be a case for Aborigines to be excluded from paying taxation as the Australian government does not provide Aborigines with any benefits of being governed.
And for the legal historians, yes, I do remember the murder case of Mungo Jack in Hobart during the 1820s where James Stephen demurred the Court’s right to hear the matter, and Mungo Jack was found not guilty, but the Judge determined that all persons within Australia, both White and Aboriginal, were subject to English laws.
Funny, it took until 1839 before a White man was tried for the murder of an Aboriginal person(s) at the notorious Myall Creek Massacre, despite the declaration of ”shoot on sight” west of Mount Victoria (NSW) during the westward movement of White sheep graziers. Something about defending property comes to mind …..
Keith, I’m out of words. You truly are a Brother.
We have 9 education ministers, 9 heads of government and 9 representatives of the queen for 25m people. Is Australia one?? Welcome to country? How many Aborigines and Islanders could welcome you to their country, keith? If you accept perhaps 60000 years of culture, history and ancestors. How many could share with you? The power of an Aborigine is such that they all share their land and they all have the power of welcome. You have already been welcomed to country.
NEC the murderer escaped any punishment.
Thank you, Keith, you’ve expressed a feeling I have had since I arrived here in 76 from the UK. I want the same before I die, the citizenship ceremony I experienced in 79, I hardly remember
As an aside, I was proud that my department (in the public service) always began meetings with a Welcome to Country and paid respect to the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal people.
But I always found it disrespectful that they pronounced Ngunnawal wrong.
Our beautiful department Secretary (whose name escapes me) set up a department blog site where staff could raise issues with her, or simply talk about anything they want. So I thought I’d tell her how Ngunnawal should be pronounced.
Everyone, without exception, would pronounce it as “Nunnawal”, with the assumption that the “g” was silent. It is actually pronounced like this: imagine you were saying “sing” – drop the “si” and then add “unnawal”. It’s hard at first, and takes a bit of practice.
She never responded. Horrible woman.
Brilliant and beautiful piece Keith. … well done.
I am happy to say that there are currently 5 Indigenous Australians in parliament – 3 in the Senate and 2 the H of R. There have been a total of 42 over the years, across 10 legislatures.
Hoping there will be many more. They have so much to contribute and to teach us.
Anne Byam .. thank you for your kind words. And thank you to everyone who responded to my brief article. It was written from the heart.
Wam .. I promised you a Space article .. it will appear within the next week. Regards Keith
“The power of an Aborigine is such that they all share their land and they all have the power of welcome. You have already been welcomed to country.”
Some very wise Aboriginal women said something similar to me a while ago. We all have a connection to country and a duty to nurture whatever land we inhabit. It is our responsibility to learn how to live sustainably, valuing our environment and the flora and fauna that are part of it. They called it “seeing”.
These were two sisters reunited after having been separated decades earlier as part of the Stolen Generation. Their generosity and wisdom and forgiveness and inclusivity and willingness to welcome was humbling.
“To be truly Welcomed to Country requires both parties to stand together, and look back together, and for one party to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused and the generational disadvantage imposed and the benefits accrued to that party by being a modern day beneficiary of all the terrible things that went on before, and for the other party to speak and be heard and to not hold back on the depth of the wounding and pain and that deepest deepest sense of loss. ”
The truest of words.
It would be such a salve to the spirit to experience this. And there are those who could, here where I live; perhaps even those who would. But we don’t have the right to ask, or to expect; maybe we don’t even have the right to hope, given what has already been done …
Dear Keith, thank you for this. It is creating a communication that needs to be shared. I live in Canada, need I say more. The Reconciliation Process needs much support of compassion and truth to be told…I am not sure that too many folks actually know what speaking the truth means. There is so much to do, to sort out, to make clear, to understand and to agree upon…a person really has to have their act together to do this with grace and patience. I think that this issue is a huge learning curve for our World, our Evolution Process. which is slowly unraveling … perhaps too slowly for my lifetime…I am 71. Whomever can help with this situation, please just do it, help us to help ourselves…help us to stop hating, stop separating, stop blaming…you get my drift. I wish you well dear Keith, I wish your Country well, all of your people and our World…may it be so that we can all hug in a relaxed and non competitive attitude with love in our hearts and gentle words on our breath…what a dreamer I am, and so I shall continue to be…Much love, Barbara z in Nova Scotia. Feb. 12, 2021