Garma, the Present and Future

Garma, the Present and Future

The Woggan-ma-gule ceremony on 26 January 2003, followed by traditional celebrations, reflects the values, beliefs and attitudes of many contemporary Australians, that a commemoration is an appropriate part of the day. It is recognition that the storylines of the past are full of pain because of the dispossession; but it also represents the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people active in making the present and the future one of respect. Respect for the values and traditions of the 250 Indigenous nations in Australia and 170 other language groups.

The 1990s saw a shift in our shared history. The hurt and anguish of past policies became evident as the decade went on. The decade began with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This was followed by the release of the report on the Stolen Generations. Both provided damning evidence of the past policies that had been too slowly removed since 1967. They show that the racist policies and practices were not in the distant past but rather in the living memory of many, many Australians and their effects still resonated deeply within many parts of the Australian community. This recognition of the past, again should not be about blame, rather about truth and reconciliation if we as a nation want change: change not only in government policies and practices but also in all levels of society.

Change, after all, was forced on the governments with the historic High Court decisions, Mabo and Wik. These reflected a new approach to the past – they recognised the truth that the land was occupied – it was not terra nullius (land belong to no-one). They removed the legal basis upon which the Europeans had invaded. There was panic, as most people did not, and still do not understand the decision, nor the consequences of the ensuing government legislation. The decade ended with the official Reconciliation ceremonies. But has Reconciliation been a success?

Away from the government level, as always, there has been a swirl of ordinary people mixing, creating a freshness of culture throughout the 90s. And these swirls of different storylines can be seen in many aspects of our society:

More indigenous and non-indigenous Australians are forming partnerships and having children. (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics)

Most Australians have participated at least one event that symbolises change, for example:

•             Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation events, such as “Sorry Days” and participating in the Sea of Hands

•             The healing ceremonies, such as those at Myall Creek

•             Debated the importance of our past history and present and future directions. Examples of these debates are highlighted by the Barton lectures, The Boyer lectures and Lingiari lectures.

These are a reflection of the swirling storylines of our history. These swirls are articulated in Garma, a Yolgnu (peoples from northern Australia) concept meaning foundation of life. There are many ways of explaining Garma, here is one:

In a meeting arranged for school staff, a Yolgnu elder, consultant to the curriculum, explained to us what garma meant, and we were told of a garma site at a homeland centre a couple of hundred kilometres away, which we knew. Garma is a still lagoon. It may appear smelly and threatening to whitefellas, but it is full of life and very productive as a food source. Water is often taken to represent knowledge in Yolgnu philosophy. In the garma, the water is circulating silently beneath the surface; we can read that from the spiralling lines of foam on top. In the swelling and retreating of the tides, and the wet season floods can be seen in the two bodies of water. Each body of water has its own life. What happens in the processes of knowledge production in a school where two different cultures (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal), is to the Yolgnu elders akin to what they can see happening in the garma lagoon. For education to be genuine, natural and productive, both cultures have to be presented in such a way that each is preserved and respected. What is produced by their interaction is quite different from either. It is deep, inexhaustible, and always changing. But moment by moment we can read the surface.

Garma, Foundation of Life

Christie 1995, unpublished NSW Department of Education and Training paper.

Why are the concepts of two bodies sharing the same pond and producing something new that is inexhaustible, important to our present and future?

The ceremony at Myall creek in 2001 gives us at least part of the answer. The land cries with the voices of the dead; and without proper ceremony the spirits can never rest.

The Myall creek massacre of innocent Kamilaroi children, women and men was an infamous event in colonial Australia.

In 2001 a ceremony close to the massacre site brought together descendants of the slain and the perpetrators. The people had the courage to face this horrific event and each other; through barriers of pain and ignorance they crashed. The voices spoke, and each listened to each other’s pain and guilt. The tears flowed and the ceremonies happened. And each spoke peace for the spirits enveloped the area. Each brave person could see what each could do to add to the swirl of their ‘garma’.

The Woggan-ma-gule ceremony on 26 January as part of the official part of the day, again, offers a model for the present and future. It is saying that the Indigenous ceremony is important and it is an integral part of being a modern Australian. To bring the Indigenous voice back to the sacred grounds once more is about the values held by us all: the values of respect, tolerance and justice, for if asked, all Australians would say that these are central to our identity.

As deeper knowledge is reached through events like those at Myall creek and the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony, our shared histories are positive.

A number of Australians, because of the past are calling for a treaty between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. The Treaty Now organisation reports that a recent AC Nielsen Age poll showed that 53 per cent of Australians are ready to embrace the concept of a treaty. A national treaty here will reflect an Australia that has matured as a nation. This organisation argues that:

A properly negotiated binding treaty will deliver:

•             agreed standards;

•             a framework for settling relationships between Indigenous peoples and governments at local, regional, state, territory and federal levels;

•             legal recognition including constitutional recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have inherent rights which must inform all processes of governments in Australia; and

•             improved services such as health, housing, education and employment in accordance with the legitimate aspirations of Indigenous peoples.

Source: http://www.treatynow.org

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