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journey to the land of the Yuin people

Leaver. M. Biamunga: Journey to the Mountain 1999

The journey south to the land of the Yuin people was a pilgrimage to a new way of understanding. Along the way lessons were learnt, lessons which took place with laughter and with tears. Stories of Koori boys missing their target, the fish, because they aimed their spears at the turbulence and not where the fish were heading. Stories of two hundred Koori men, women and children slaughtered on the ground before us. These stories were part of a journey experiencing Aboriginal culture with elders of the Yuin people, but the journey also offered the opportunity to ask ourselves how we walk on this land.

Yuin Elders, Dulumunmun/Uncle Max Harrison and Aunty Mary Duroux led our group on a four day journey to the area of Wallaga Lake, on the south coast of New South Wales. Our group was drawn together by a newly formed organisation called Koori Connections. We travelled this area learning of Yuin culture: their lore, their language, their ceremonies and spirituality. We experienced that these are alive today. The stereotype that the "real Aborigines" only live in the "outback" was shattered. The generosity of the elders in sharing their knowledge, their stories and of themselves with a group of gubbas' was remarkable. This generosity afforded the opportunity for blackfellas and whitefellas to walk the land together. What does this journeying together mean? Does it mean Reconciliation? What does this word really mean? The Elders identifed that the use of this term is based on a fallacy. White and black peoples have never been united in this country, so how can there be a rejoining of something that has never existed. To improve relationships between black and white, a new process needs to begin. Uncle Max believes that the reconciliation that needs to take place is for all people to be reconciled with the land.

Where could such a new beginning come from? My personal experience of this four day journey was certainly a time of learning and of challenge. These experiences offered me the very real sense of building a foundation on which to begin genuine communication and interaction. Each day began by greeting the Sun (the Grandfather), whilst acknowledging the Earth as Mother and Darama, the Great Spirit. Each morning every member of the group expressed the hopes, fears and aspirations aloud to all. This ritual effectively clarified our hearts and minds to deliver a distinct sense of purpose to our day. This preparation was important to our journey up the mountain. As we ascended, Gulaga was covered in mist and cloud and the usually spectacular panorama was hidden from view. Closer objects came into a sharper focus. Trees and rocks stood out against a misty backdrop. The rain and cold wind made our senses awake. We were guided by the Elders through sites which led us to experience a strong connection with elemental aspects of life: of man, of woman, and fertility, of being aware of our place between "Heaven" and Earth, of teachings and totems, and of the future. In silence we were joined with an energy which n,ai.ltained a warmth within us, despite the swirling wind and bitter cold.

The essence of that experience was timeless. A realisation that life, energy and healing are really what the journey is all about. That message was clear to all on the mountain and that certainty will travel with our group. Bunna, the rain was not the only elemental thing to soak into us that day.

Imagine our shock to visit, on the next day, another mountain, where an equally significant site had been dynamited to allow a television transmission tower to be erected.

"How could we object? Television came to the south coast in the early 1960s and we had no voice then. Cattle and sheep were counted before us in those days!"

But some progress has been made: Biamunga mountain has been set aside as an Aboriginal Place. The logging trucks have no access. The National Parks and Wildlife Service, with the local Koori community, are working on identifying initiation sites and explaining to visitors their significance and encouraging them to be respectful. Scar trees are explained as markers which delineate the bounds of areas designated for men's business and women's business. Voices are being heard. That night our party broke into separate groups of men and women and we talked late into the night.

Had I been this way before? Other experiences such as participating in an auspicious temple ceremony on the island of Bali, wearing a sarong and temple sash... or exploring the Andes and meeting with Quechua Indians and feasting with them on potatoes and corn brew each offer a significant point of comparison. But no, somehow this is different. I feel I am coming home. No longer the tourist/traveller, but a person of this place, this land, encountering some of its secrets, its character, and feeling familiar and at ease. Walking the land, with a desire to know more of what it is appropriate for me to know: from bush tucker to the sites of massacres.

This journey was the first to be offered by Koori Connections. They have plans to offer other one day trips to Royal National Park and four day trips further south, as well as longer journeys.


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