What’s at Stake? Culture and Traditions Under Threat
The importance of culture
Today, more than 30 Aboriginal tribes remain in the Kimberley region, each with its own language and many with unique cultural practices. Nobody owns culture. It is loaned to each generation to preserve and pass on to the next generation. Our culture and traditions tie us to this country and we are obliged by our ancestors to see that it continues. We are obliged by respect of country and the hope for a proper life for our children that we honour the culture and traditions of our people.
A home to the world’s most ancient continuous culture
The Bradshaw Paintings, or gwion gwion, are thought to date back to at least 17,000 years ago. These elegant images have been interpreted as indicating that a vibrant culture had already been long in place¹. There are also indications of Aboriginal habitation of the Dampier Peninsula region dating back 28,000 years² and 40,000 years or more elsewhere in the Kimberley.
Sustainable living in the Kimberley
In the past, we lived in harmony with nature by observing its laws and working with those laws. In a world of modernity Indigenous people are just now making real the promise of building a connection with modern life, our ancient culture and the country which gives us everything.
We are building sustainable industries, like eco-tourism, cultural tourism, selling and promoting our art and artifacts and harvesting Gubinge fruit. These industries bring us pride, meaning and purpose. They are building an economy which fosters respect of the land and culture and show us a way forward in friendship with white Australia which also honours our past and obligations to our ancestors.
Heavy industrial development threatens all of this. It threatens to directly damage country, our sacred sites and special songlines. The infrastructure which it brings will open the land to further destructive developments and an erosion of country and culture; an erosion of us.
It’s difficult to see how this use of country can be made in any way compatible with the past, present or future of the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.
What of the future?
Indigenous Australians see ourselves as inextricably linked to our land, our country. Our personal and cultural identities are intertwined with our view of the forces which created the landscape and govern the land and environment in which we live. We are part of this place where the birds, animals, plants, fish, rocks, the stars, the wind and trees are also parts of the whole.
We honour these things and milestones in our lives and conduct our rites of passage in places which we hold sacred in this land. Our songlines in this country connect us with these things and our ancestors. These places, these rituals are a deep part of our personal and cultural identity. They are what makes us who we are. We could move to a big city and live in what you call “comfort”, but then who would we be?
If we lose our land, our sacred places or our country is somehow compromised we will be lost both as individuals and as a race of man. We will become like others who have no place in this land or this world. We will cease to exist.
Who knows best for us?
We ask politicians to accept that their ways are not always our ways and that they cannot know what is right for the peoples of our ancient culture. We have lived in this way in this country since long before the first crops were grown in Europe or the pyramids of Egypt even possible. Understanding this is called “respect”.
¹ The Bradshaw Foundation – www.bradshawfoundation.com/bradshaws.
² KF Kenneally, DC Edinger, T Willing. Broome and beyond, plants and people of the Dampier Peninsula, Kimberley, Western Australia. CALM, 1996