You call this country Gippsland
For me as a Traditional Owner it’s the five clans that make up Gunnai country: the Brabralung, Brataualung, Brayakaulung, Krauatungalung and the Tatungalung people.
And with what all my people have been through – the frontier wars, the stolen generation, the ongoing removal of our children from their families, the incarceration of our young people and the logging and clearing of our traditional lands, it’s a challenge to describe briefly here what Utopia would look like to me.
Before white invasion my people had created our version of Utopia.
We practiced our culture and language, and lived sustainably off this land for tens of thousands of years. And while I could never hope to retrieve all we have lost, together with the non-Aboriginal community we can build a brighter shared future that will make all our lives better for us and our children.
And I think it’s us women who need to lead this journey, because in both our cultures it is women who are most responsible for holding our communities together. It starts with Gippsland’s white population recognising that this is Gunnai land, learning about our connection to country and the impact invasion and the frontier wars has on our culture and language.
It’s important to understand that this is not about blaming, shaming or making people feel guilty. It’s about admitting Gippsland’s history in order to better understand each other, to remove the barriers that divide us and to build a shared future together.
Over the years I’ve led some of the initiatives that have started to do this, and they’ve been life changing for the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who’ve participated.
I organised a number of ‘Welcome Baby to Country’ ceremonies led by local Gunnai elders and attended by over 130 children. When I worked for the Victorian Local Government Association I initiated ‘Speaking Out’, where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women left whatever position we held in the community at the door, connected through telling our stories and unpacked the issues that affect our community.
For many women it was the first time in their lives they’d gained an appreciation of what’s important to each other; breaking down the barriers that exist because of our differences in culture, wealth and status in society. For non-Aboriginal participants it was a unique space to understand why, for example, Australia Day is a day of mourning rather than celebration for Aboriginal people, or why it’s deeply offensive to us for men to visit the Den of Nargun. And it’s women who most deeply empathise with the devastating personal, cultural and societal impact of removing children from our families.
For my people the last 230 years has been a story of resistance to colonisation, where our proud and resilient culture, language and natural environment have struggled to survive. This reality has diminished non- Aboriginal and Aboriginal Australia alike.
Achieving a brighter, more Utopian future is not something that will one day just land at our feet, but requires courage, respect, truth telling and a determination to find our shared national identity. It’s a journey that will challenge all of us, but the payoff is huge – a community without division, suspicion or prejudice that is comfortable and confident about its future. Right now this may seem to be unattainable but we owe it to future generations to try.
Former Greens MP
Chief Treaty Negotiator – The Victorian Traditional Land Justice Group
This article was orginally published in Summer/Autumn 2019 Newsletter ‘Utopia’, Gippsland Women’s Health