Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Educating Myself About Indigenous Australia

I have decided our holiday to Australia will be much more meaningful to me if I educate myself. I think I'm doing a fairly good job so far. I know I'll know at least more than I knew the last time we were there.

One thing I want to learn about is the Aboriginal Cultures. My friend and I were talking about learning languages. I said that I'd love to learn an Aboriginal language. This probably shows how asocial I am. Most people want to learn a prevalent language so they can speak to many people around the world. I want to learn a language that no one around me speaks.  Go figure.

Well, when I announced I'd like to do this, I realized how incredibly ignorant I am about Indigenous Australia. There's no language called Aborigine.  It's not like I can go on the Rosetta Stone and order Aborigine.    I AM educated enough to know that as the Native Americans are made up of several different tribes and not one big chunk of unanimous people, the same goes for the Aborigines.

So....I want to learn about the different groups/tribes....whatever you call them....of Australia.  It's not going to be easy.  It seems there are a lot of them.   I can't pronounce their names and I have the hardest time spelling them.  

I decided the other night that the best way of going about this is sticking to a small number at first.   It seems the most rational thing to do is just study the ones that live (or lived) in the places we're going to be visiting.   Therefore, I'll be sticking to Canberra, The Sydney area, and Tasmania.

Last night, I worked on Canberra.   The main Aboriginal group there seems to be the Ngunnawal.

Evidence of Indigenous occupation of the land goes back at least 20,000 years, but there's no definite proof that these people were related to the Ngunnawal.   I'm guessing they are.   But hey, that's just my hunch.  

It seems they lived a fairly happy life.   They roamed about the land and found food without exploiting.    They existed in small groups, but came together for fun events such as the summer Bogong Moth feasts.   

The well-being and happiness of the Ngunnawal went down quite a bit in the 1820's when the Europeans started doing their grazing there.   The European livestock trampled on the Ngunnawal land and that gave the Ngunnawal less to eat.    In 1826, the Ngunnawal went to Lake George and had a protest.    I can't really find any information on whether or not the protest did any good.   I'm thinking no, because I DID find out that the Ngunnawal then started working for the Europeans.  It sort of seems along the lines of sighing and saying Well, if we can't beat them.  Join them.  

White people though....we're very generous.   Not only do we bring jobs and a new way of life for savages; we also bring them wonderful things like Smallpox.    We're nice like that.   Okay, but to be fair.   As far as I know, we didn't start the whole Ebola thing.  

I have to say besides the excitement of the 1820's, I can't yet find much written on the history of Ngunnawal people's.   

 I found a primary school named after them and I found a Aboriginal Center at Canberra University named after them.   I think it's nice that Australia celebrates their culture and name in this way.

If we jump ahead to 1972 something does happen that's recorded and recognized.   William McMahon the father of the man who haunts my dreams rejected the idea of returning land to the Aborigines.   What he wanted to do instead is give temporary leases to the Aborigines.   They weren't happy with that, so they erected a tent embassy on the lawns of the Parliament House.    

Fast forward three years and we get Whitlam righting McMahon's wrongs by pouring sand through Vincent Lingiari's fingers.   This symbolized the return of land to the Indigenous people.    Lingiari was not part of the Ngunnawal people.   I think he was actually from the Northern Territory.  I'm also not quite sure how much of a part the Ngunnawal had in starting the embassy tent.   I can't find clear enough answers on that.   Maybe SOME of them had SOME part in it.    That's what I'm inferring from my reading.   

Here's a funny coincidence.  Well, at least I think it's funny.   1972 is the year I was born.   It might not be a big deal.   I just think it's eerie that McMahon is prime minister that year and his policies start this whole tent embassy thing.   Then fast forward twenty-two years and I begin having all these dreams about his son that leads me to becoming totally obsessed with Australia.   Maybe I heard about it while I was in the womb and forgot about it for all those years.    Who knows?

Okay and then the Whitlam and Lingiari thing happened on August 16.   That MIGHT have been the day in 2007 that we bought the plane tickets to Australia and my Australia obsession jumped up about many notches.   There's been other weird coincidences around that date so I've tried to figure out which exact day we bought the plane tickets.    Okay, wait.  I think NOW I got it.   I think it was the 15th for us, but it was the 16th in Australia.    I'm looking at old journal entries and emails.   I can't get anything 100% definite, but I'm pretty sure that's what it was. 

All right.  Enough of my freaky weird stuff.   

There's been a lot of controversy regarding the tent.    Not everyone loves the idea of a makeshift tent in front of a fancy building.    Crap, they sound like our old neighborhood association rules.   No basketball hoops and no playground equipment that we can see over your fence.   Doesn't anyone have fun in this world anymore?    Huh?

All right.   But even some Aboriginal people aren't happy with the tent--including a Ngunnawall leader.

In October 2002, Matilda House came by the tent and tried to fix it up.  This included putting out a symbolic fire that the Aborigines had burning.    She felt it had lost it's true purpose and the Aborigines staying there had lost their way.

The tent is still there though.    In 2007, it was nominated to be on the National Heritage List.  That would protect it.   I'm not sure what happened to that.  ???? 

I understand why there might be controversy surrounding the tent.  Is it still needed?  Is it pretty enough to stand in front of a government building?   I personally think it sounds lovely and I hope to see it while in Canberra.   

Whoever put that tent up has a lot of Chutzpah.   I like that.   It makes me smile.  


The Incognitrix said...

On my father's side, we're descended from Ngunnawal people. My Aboriginal ancestor was born near Cooma and then pressed into domestic service for a local Anglo and then bore his child... I'm not entirely sure it was her choice, either :P

Did you read anything about the moths? Quite the Ngunnawal delicacy.

My grandfather can swear in Aboriginal but his dialect would be from a mob in north Queensland where he grew up.

Speaking of Vincent Lingiari, you've definitely heard Kev Carmody's song about it, haven't you?

Bettina said...

Our local aboriginal tribe is the Wiradjuri (pron weir-rad-jury) They call themselves Kooris (pron coo-rees).

I don't think the tent will come down until there is truly equality between white and black peoples in Australia.

Dina said...

the incognitrix,

I think that's so incredibly cool--although probably not for the woman who was raped. I'm guessing that probably IS what happened. I guess we COULD imagine that it didn't and there was some kind of lovely interracial love story going on.

I read about the moths. I think that's awesome. They still eat them, don't they? I think it's funny that for some people, the Bogong moth is a huge annoying invasion and for others it's a feast.

Do you know the language your grandfather speaks? Not that I'd know the name, but maybe I can learn about it....eventually. How did he end up in Queensland? Is he on your mom's side or dad's side?

Yes, I've heard the song. MANY times. My playlist gets stuck on that song, and it will keep playing it over and over. I like it, so I often don't bother to change it. I really love the song.

Dina said...


Thank you so much for providing the pronunciations!

That is SO helpful to me!

What do you mean by the Wirajadjuri call themselves Kooris? Is is like a nickname? I'm VERY confused.

I agree about the tent and unfortunately I think it will be up for a long time. At least, Australia is on the right path. It's just I think it's a VERY long road.

maustin157 said...

Im a descendent of the Thungatti or Daingatti (dun-gut-ee) tribe (can use either spelling) who are from Kempsey on the mid-north coast of NSW and am also a Koori. Koori is the nation of the NSW and Victorian Aboriginal people. The nations that I know of are
Murri (mur-re)- They are from Queensland and Northern NSW
Koori- From NSW and Victoria also know as Goori (i think it is pronounced the same) in NSW
I have provided a link to a map of all the aboriginal tribes in Australia hope its useful.

I would recommend that you read a book called Baal Belbora which is about the European settlement (invasion) of the Mid-North Coast of NSW and the effect on the Aboriginal people in the 1800's.

P.S i love the blog and look forward to the next installment

Dina said...


Thank you for the link to the map!

Okay, I think now I understand what Koori means. I just looked it up on Wiki and I think I'm now understanding what they mean.

My mind is SLOWLY wrapping around all of this.

Like I said to Bettina, thank you SO much for giving me pronunciations. That helps so much.

I would love to read the book and will look out for it.

I'm going to go and google Thungatti

Tors said...

Goodonya for wanting to know more about the indigenous peoples. I wish I knew more too... shameful, 'cause I live in the NT. :(

Dina said...


I don't think living someplace guarantees you're going to be interested in learning about it's history.

And living far away from a place doesn't prevent you from wanting to learn about it's history.

I'm really not all that interested in Texas. I didn't move here because I was attracted to its history.

I do think that learning about a place might help you to BE more interested in it. I do try to learn a little about Texas, but I don't know much. I did find out once that where we live used to be a dairy farm. I thought that was interesting.

Some people could critize me for learning about Australian Indigenous culture rather than American. I've never had much of an interest in Native Americans. I have nothing against them. I think they have a beautiful culture and I hate what we did to them. But I've never been attracted to their culture. I've never felt drawn to it.

I feel much more drawn to Australian history.

I think we're all drawn to certain cultures and histories. It could be one that we belong to. It might be one we have no real connection to.

Bettina said...

No not a nickname. Koori is a word that means person or people. It's how they prefer to refer to themselves instead of using the word 'aboriginal' which is what 'we' call them.

Dina said...


Thanks. Yeah. I did some readings yesterday and figured that out.

Does Koori refer to any Aboriginal person in NSW? Would that include Sydney? Would a Sydney person be Koori, Eora, and whatever clan/group they belong to?

Is there an Aboriginal word that refers to ALL Aboriginals--through out Australia??