The shifting of tides. The gathering of Community. The sharing of knowledge. Eight First Nations people speak to their unique connection to land, water and sky.
Image credit: Elise Hassey
Latrell Mitchell, Biripi Country, Taree region, NSW1/9
Biripi Wiradjuri man and National Rugby League player.
“The first thing I do when I turn off the highway to come home to Biripi Country is wind down all the windows and switch off the radio. I let the air rush in and I still get goosebumps every time. The air in Taree hits different and as I let it in, I also let my old people know that I’m home. My connection to Country can’t be described in words; it has to be felt in the body.
I own two properties out here – I’ve got Mum and Dad on 50 acres where we run 30 head of Angus cattle. We’ve hosted leadership camps for city kids on the farm, which for me is about letting the next generation know that they’re welcome on my land, just like I’m welcome on theirs. I know a lot of our heritage has been lost but watching them connect to something greater than themselves here, it’s pretty special for me.
I feel incredibly proud that I’ve been able to anchor my family on our land because it’s so much more than just a place. It’s where my heart lies, where my ties are, where our old people are. The trees, the sky, the water – they all tell a story but my connection to the Nowendoc River, which runs into the Manning River, is especially deep. One songline starts at the beginning and another finishes at the end. My family is at both ends of that journey.”
Image credit: Nina Fitzgerald
Magnolia Maymuru, Galuru (East Woody Beach), Nhulunbuy, East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory2/9
Yolŋu woman, actress and model
“I’ve been coming here since I was little. After school, our parents would panic, not knowing where we were, but we were just down here trying to crack some oysters. I’ve lost friends and family that I used to hunt here with so it’s a very special place where we have memories. A sentimental place with beautiful sunsets.
A long time ago, this was a sacred meeting spot for Elders. We still camp here as adults and I like to take my little girl. I don’t trust her to climb on the mangroves alone yet, though she tries. It’s really beautiful just to see how I once was as a child. I love teaching her – Western knowledge and Yolŋu. I want my daughter to get it from me first.”
Image credit: Nick Cubbin
Ben Bowen, The Point, Callan Park, Rozelle, Gadigal/Wangal Country, NSW3/9
Wiradjuri man and CEO, Indigenous Literacy Foundation
“There’s a little spot in Rozelle, down on the harbour, where we’ve got a significant midden and carving site that still exists in plain sight. It’s a place where I grew up, learning from my nan and Community about fishing, harvesting and the seasons. Now, I’m raising my own kids there. The old fellas from the Community have been trying to protect this site for a long time.
Our family are Wiradjuri and Gandangara freshwater mob from inland and we do have saltwater blood through other family connections from the Dharawal and Yuin Nations. So we’re connected on multiple levels to this site. It’s a place where the ocean currents and tides push into the harbour and up the river, and the freshwater that’s coming from inland pushes back out.
Aboriginal people talk about how we don’t own Country – we have a responsibility to Country and we’re the voice for Country. But we also have this flip side to our identity that we are Country. It’s this concept that – after 250 years in a place like Sydney, where there’s been a huge amount of development – Country endures. We can still connect to sites that may be under concrete. We may have let grass grow over them but we still do know them. We know how to use language to breathe life and connect to Country. And that’s the most important thing because when we pass, we become Country – a connection that is unbroken.”
Image credit: Jason Capobianco
Narelda Jacobs, Lesmurdie Falls, Mundy Regional Park, Noongar Country, Western Australia4/9
Whadjuk Noongar woman and journalist
“Think of the most beautiful places that you’ve been to – that’s Country. When you stand in a place and think, ‘Gosh, this is beautiful’, well, that is probably a very spiritual place. And it’s been appreciated for 65,000 years. It just so happens that you’re the last one to appreciate it.
When I go back to Perth there’s endless sky. The Derbal Yerrigan [Swan River] is gorgeous. It hugs the city and leads all the way to the Wheatbelt where my dad was born. He was stolen and sent to a place called Mogumber Mission. He wanted to instil in us a sense of belonging and identity so we always knew that we were Noongar. The whole Noongar Country is special because everything is Country, everywhere is Country.”
Image credit: Michelle Tran
Graham Bootsie Thorpe, Aunty Alma Thorpe’s Gathering Space, Preston, Wurundjeri Country, Victoria5/9
Gunai Elder and health advocate, Dardi Munwurro
“Growing up in East Gippsland, I just remember feeling free. I came to Melbourne when I was around 11 – Dad had come down looking for work. When I say Dad, that was my grandfather – my grandparents reared me from when I was three months old. Fitzroy frightened me; coming from the bush it was like going to Las Vegas. But we’ve got connections everywhere we go. That’s what our people are like.
Dardi Munwurro [strong spirit] is a gathering place where we can come together for a yarn. I’m an Elder. My role is the love and the respect. That’s my way of helping the Community and looking after my people. And it’s bringing the unity back into Community, because it went for a while. When you get to my age, you know, you see it, you hear it, you feel it – the separation from people. So that’s what this is, a meeting place. Everybody is welcome.”
Image credit: Adam Gibson
Ruth Langford, Waterfall Bay, Tasman National Park, lutruwita/Tasmania6/9
Yorta Yorta woman and founder of Nayri Niara and The Good Spirit Festival
“Waterfall Bay is a place of such beauty, power and magnificence. It replenishes me. I first went with family and have memories of eating fresh fish sitting around the campfire. It’s not my mother’s blood Country but it was certainly the Country that I learnt to walk on. It’s the place that I go when I’m feeling confused or conflicted – Country gives me guidance. On one side you have the expansiveness of the sun and the open sea. On the other side, towering bush and trees and waterfalls.
The climb up the mountain gets rid of all the anxiety and toxins or any anger I’m carrying. I cross a little stream where I stop; I put the water in my mouth and then I release the water back out and remind myself, I am water. When I reach the sea cliff, I sit, contemplating, observing, open to the spirit of Country to teach me what it is that I need to know. On the climb down, if there’s anything I need to let go of, I strip all my gear off and then plunge under the waterfall’s icy cold water. Solutions always come to me, without fail.
As First Nations people, we all have that place. We may not physically be able to go to it but we can tune into it. And we can call out to that Country and our ancestors. We can say, ‘Please help me. Give me some guidance and protection.’ That’s the beauty of the feeling of belonging.”
Image credit: Josie Withers
Zaachariaha Fielding, APY Studio and Gallery, Adelaide (Tarntanya), South Australia7/9
Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) person, artist and musician
“When I am in my work, I observe the space in the room. Everyone is in their own stillness. It’s their happy place. For me, it is my Mimili Community. I hang out there, inside my mind.
Land has an authority over our mental state, of humans and how they think. Going back home reminds me of who is in control. There is a disconnect in cities. Land connects me back. Stillness. Trees do it, mountains do it. Regal. Natural.
I work alongside all of my Elders and emerging artists in this space. This place has given me the opportunity to reminisce on our songlines and history. Our songlines are about land and how we are in collaboration with the land. Are one with it.
I have a really beautiful memory of being a child, being around my Elders. The gossip, the Anangu humour, the tea. Reminiscing of grandmothers and grandfathers. I am a sharp observer; I rely on my creativity. I try to simplify my work. Sorrow and joy, in harmony.”
Image credit: Elise Hassey
Alisha Geary, Gurang Gurang Country (Bundaberg region), Queensland8/9
Gurang Gurang, Deibau and Wuthathi woman, entrepreneur and co-founder of Thirsty Turtl skincare
“This is my dad’s country. He’s Gurang Gurang and the Bundaberg area is Gurang Gurang Country. We’re people from where the rainforest meets the ocean. It’s gorgeous and Dad still comes here when he’s feeling homesick.
Mum’s family lives on Thursday Island now but she’s from Badu Island and the Aboriginal side of her family is Wuthathi. Growing up in the Torres Strait Islands, my family shared really valuable knowledge but it’s never written down. A lot of our culture’s medicinal practices are still largely undiscovered – if those people were to disappear, who else knows it? I’m excited about the potential to preserve a lot of those stories about the amazing native botanicals that we have.
I now live on the Gold Coast with my sister. It’s a little city but it’s got the rainforest and the beach, all the elements of where I’m from. I’ve travelled the world and a lot of people still don’t know what Indigenous Australian culture is. We’re the oldest surviving culture in the world and we have a responsibility to pass it forward.”
Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto