Wakuwal (Dream)

All Souls Day Speech Notes, Launch of Wakuwal.
Wakuwal (Dream)

Launch of  Wakuwal, Valentine Press, 107 Redfern St, Redfern
All Souls  Day, Nov 2, 2017

Peter Botsman

These were the words written for the night, some of them were said, others were lost in the wonder of the ceremonial meeting of the Yolŋu and Yuin and Gadigal.
They are here now for the balanda reference library and to ensure the appropriate thanks, tributes and condolences are properly recorded.

Embargo 7pm

Thank you and respect to the Gadigal elders, past and present, thank you to Uncle Vic Sims, Uncle Joe Brown-Macleod and the Goomootj dancers, Batumbil, Doris and Daisy Burarrwanga, the great Galpu songman Terence Gurruwiwi, the legendary dancer Mitchell Gawaitja and my grand daughters Shakira Mununngurr, Rebecca and Kihtonia Gurruwiwi. I want to  pay my respects to Linda Burney, a great Wiradjuri  leader and her family, who we had planned and hoped could be here. She and her family are in our hearts and minds today  and always. I note these powerful words from this morning’s service ‘keep on working to  make  the  world better’. So here we find ourselves.

Today is  All Souls day.  In  Broome, which  is  such an  important part of  what this book Wakuwal is all  about, the diaspora of Aboriginal, Japanese,  Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Filipino, Torres Strait  communities will  be going to the cemetry to honour and  remember their ancestors. It is fitting that this book is launched today for this book  is  very much  about ancestry and  how we chose to  remember the past, those who have passed away and how we go forward into  the present.

Wakuwal was inspired by a great Yolŋu leader who is not with us today.

Ms. S.D. Gurruwiwi was a person who had a wonderful sense of humour. She seemed to move effortlessly between the different priorities of the yolŋu amd balanda worlds - the many layered and complicated aboriginal and non-aboriginal worlds. Both Yolŋu and balanda, Aboriginal  and non-Aboriginal people looked to her as an ambassador, translator, guide, philosopher, counsellor, advisor, mentor.  Most of all people were lit up by her laugh, her sense of humor and her great sense of  irony and fun.

It is a wild ride between worlds.  There are not many who can handle it. There is often a lot of pain, a lot of death and a lot of destruction and depression. Despite all this, the thing about Ms. Gurruwiwi same for our three leaders - Batumbil, Doris and Daisy Burarrwanga  who are so generously here tonight - and all of the great grass roots Aboriginal leaders of note - they bring a sense of love and joy and home. Of course there is  love and joy in our  world but it is qualitatively different. We have our  comforts, our material wealth, our grand homes, our planes, our roads, our money, our libraries, our books, our jobs, our  money, our parliaments – the yolŋu, and almost all of the Aboriginal communities that I have been lucky enough to get to know, have a greater spiritual treasure than any of this. They have this unique sense of home and love that is extended automatically to those with an open heart.

It is worth more than any thing I can express to you. There is not a person in our mainstream world from the King to the bum, from the rich to the poor, there is not a nationality on this planet, who does not have something to learn from Aboriginal Australia.  More than that there is not a person among us who does not have something to be thankful for and some debt of gratifude and respect that we owe to the Aboriginal communities, nations, first peoples of Australia.

I say this not to scarify the mainstream world, but to underline the absurd situation we now face in this country.  The  Prime Minister will not recognise the primary request of the assembled representatives of Australias first peoples, and the patient and elegant request at the  centre of  the  Uluru Statement of the heart, to formally support an independent indigenous body to advise our parliament and to begin  the  process of formally recognising, in our  original founding colonial  “settlers” document,  the originality and prior ownership of Australia’s first peoples of this  great land.

This Prime Minister’s lack of commitment adds to the great acts of vandalism that chip away at the foundations of Aboriginal society. These are not occuring  200 years ago  they are occurring and continue  to  occur now. There is a dystopian logic within the Aboriginal community and within our own political community which embraces this great series of continuing disconnections and acts of wanton destruction. The argument is something like, in the rubble of what remains, after we destroy everything, Aboriginal people will always survive and come to the fore again. This is a grim and awful logic.

I cannot accept that logic.

I take the view that the world that is emerging here in Australia is going to be something better than what we could build if it was just our anglo saxon or other settler ancestry and spirituality that we were drawing upon. But our progress in this place has to start with a step that we the descendants of the settlers have to make. We have to recognise that our settler law, our settler religion, our settler material values cannot ever be the underlying spiritual foundation of this land where we have come to live. What makes our inability to recognise this at official governmental levels, or even as individuals, so pathetic and absurd is of course that the manikay (the song) we have just heard tonight has its echoes to a past that is twenty times older than the Old Testament. It is a culture precious in the world for its power and wisdom and timelessness. It has not only something to teach us settlers, it might have a role in making the whole world a better, more sustainable place if  we could  only give it  greater voice and power.

Australia’s first peoples do not need us.  We need  them. More than this we owe not just an apology but an explanation of  our  actions and a request to work together and  greater willingness to find  ways to  move forward together.  We need to  ask and wait and stop and listen.  We need to explain what there is of worth  about  us and of why we might be, after all the damage and  destruction, trustworthy friends and family members.

One of the things that I have tried to do in Wakuwal is to personally explain to my yapa, Ms. S.D. Gurruwiwi and to my dhuways who are here tonight: how it was that the calamity of white settlement of this land came about? How did we settlers come to invade and why? Most importantly is there anything of worth about us, are there any stories, ceremonies or things that we know how to do, that are worthy of respect?

I picked out a few things. the story of Garray (jesus), the tales of Homer and Dante and our Graeco-Roman past but I also realised that my great great great great grandmother Honor Hughes of my fathers mother’s family line, a victim of the Irish genocide, who came to live alongside Truganeen on Bruny Island in her last years of life, was part of the key that Aboriginal people needed to know about us. For Honor was also  a  victim  of the great modernist industrial curse that rained down on this continent like deadly rays from Mars in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. As millions starved on the Irish  countryside, the great cathedrals, the Red Cedars of the Gadigal and Yuin and Bandjalung were destroyed within 40 years of the first settlement at Sydney cove, the ancient pastures, farmlands  and waterways were not even  recognised by the settlers and were also set to  waste. And in  their place we gradually erected this great mess of monocultural  water hungry crops and animals  and  these great cities of concrete,  asphalt and glass which must be fed like  a ravenous beast.

I think what happened in our white settler modernist progress was that  we stripped the land of its original spirituality or what I think Batumbil would describe  as her family gurrutu link to the stars  in the sky  and  the  mosquitoes in  the mangroves.

My Wakuwal (Dream)  can only be told from  the perspective of  now from a period of  enlightenment it does not pretend  to be a correct history  and that is why you will  find a montage of 1000 childrens fairy stories, odometer readings, the  iterations  from the split tongue of the  most horrific balanda pronounciations and the most grevious  spelling  mistakes and phonetic interpretations of Yolŋu words - all things  denoting our great stumble  along  the path together. Like Leopold Bloom stumbling around Dublin or Jimmy Gurruwiwi on his walks around Biritjimi and Nhulunbuy we wander through the mist as best we can.

There is an other worldliness  about the  story that for us modernists and  post  modern dystopians  is  naive, strange and  exotic but for all of the Aboriginal communities I have come  to know this other worldiness is normal. The sad thing about us moderns and progressives is our lack of heart and soul.  In  our  modern world reason, rationality, science,  measurement, written words have replaced a thing we used to call magic.  We have forgotten how  to communicate through dreams and feelings and no  words  at all. As yapa used to  say “too much  talking”..

Despite it  all there is a lot of hope everywhere.  Whatever our annoying politicians, bureaucrats and corporate leaders chose to do, we individuals, can chose our  own  ways to join in  friendship and support  with Aboriginal communities in  the cities, in   the regions and  in the sacred places and homelands. One thing  that is very important to  me is helping  Butambil and  her  family, and so many others like them, across Northern  Australia,  to withstand the latest invasions of miners, land developers, un-informed tourists and stumbling opportunists.

I want to specially thank my dhuway for all her guidance and for allowing her design and her husbands design to open and seal the book in an appropriate way Yirritja fire and Dhuwa maggots. But more than this Batumbil like yapa is at the heart of everything that I have written about. Batumbil  is the strongest leader I  have ever met. You will see this from  Emma  Hudsons film later tonight. Please stay to watch this because it is a  little miracle of a story, and Emma is kind enough to give us an editing suite preview of what will be released to  the  rest of the world  next year,  as a special tribute to  Batumbil  and her extraordinary  sisters Doris and  Daisy. But Batumbil  and her  family needs our  support. Our tax dollars cannot and do  not reach her. Corporate donations  find all  the wrong  things around her. The only way we can  protect the  NT homelands is  to place resources directly into the hands of a bunguwa – an annointed and strong  leader -  like Batumbil.  But it is not just a matter  of making a money donation or even  coming up to  work in the community. There is a whole pathway to follow, and along  the way,   you have to be prepared for  everything you know to be turned upside down.

When my great, great, great, great grandmother Honor Hughes was transported to Van Diemens Land, what came  with  her was all the modern values, which over 200 years, could  not comprehend the  spiritual qualities of this land and its first peoples. Every time  I  go  to  Mata Mata or Gi’kal or Baniyala or  sometimes to  Paul Mc Leods  house at Wreck Bay – there is this overwhelming  relief from our   post modern dystopia. My book is a love story and  a romance about being allowed to  find  this spiritual home so precious in this world.  I believe it is still  not to late for great and  meaningful partnerships to form and  discussions to take place. I  hope that Wakuwal contributes to  that possibility.

There are a lot of thanks you to make. Too many thank yous and I am sure to forget some. Thank  you  to the great  Lyn Gain and  April Pressler and Valentine Press for being  the voice for so much  important writing. I  could not  have chosen a better and more honourable publisher in Australia or  the  world. Thank you to  my Kangaroo Valley neighbours, particularly Andrew Smee and Kangaroo Valley Primary School  for  taking  Yolngu students on exchanges from the remote homelands, thank  you to Danny Gilbert for  being such an  amazing supporter of the small things that really matter, thank you to my great friend Sandy Dann for our  weekly talks on  Goolarri  Radio, thank  you to Mike and  Cathy Gorman and the  amazing Bob Beasley for  your dedication to  supporting homelands in the NT not just through words but with loving actions and deeds of amazing valour  and dedication. Thank you to all those who have made the journey to  Mata Mata and Gi’kal  and worked so hard with us and purchased Batumbil and  her families  art works. I want to  thank so many Aboriginal families that have taken  me in  over the years the   Briggs, the Walkers, the   Fongs, the  Pigrams,  the Macleod/Browns, the Gurruwiwis,  the Burarrwangas,  the  Marikas,  the Marawilis, the Taylors... thanks to my three sons  Chenier, Dash and  Declan who have always been  behind their wayward Dad on his  journeys and departures with 100 per cent  support. Lastly thank you all for coming. And though she asked me not to do this I have to also mention the  extraordinary magic that  djiliwarr brings  to  everyone  she  meets and  everything she does. She is also with us tonight. Please stay on, after we get the books signed, because there is a story that you will  never forget about  to be screened in the  room opposite. 

More details about Wakuwal at this link.

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