Tag Archives: Kev Carmody

Meeting the moment 2021 #21

The skies have been extraordinary this past week. I am in the desert and during the day, the blue sky is only interrupted by puffed cirrocumulus clouds that remind me of schools of fish, which is rather ironic as these clouds are entirely bereft of precipitation. At night constellations are easy to see and navigation of any desert ship would be easy. In the in-between times the opalesque skies meet the horizon at dusk and at dawn the east glows on arrival with every shade of gold.

This is a precious, wise land, so ancient you can see the past all around you, snippets of the jurassic period in cycads in the chasm on the way to shafts of light; fossils on the floor of a seabed now at ground level travelling in parallel with highways; a newcomer, a three-hundred-year-old cork tree in a gallery courtyard a reminder of how settlers count time.  Time is not the same here and one of my fellow travelling companions commented on the shift in her experience of time since being in the desert – everything has slowed down, and the last stop seems an age away. I am remembering land rights leader Vincent Lingiari , a Gurindji man who led the walk off at Wave Hill and spent eight years getting the result when in 1975 the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam symbolically and legally passed a small parcel of the station land back to Gurindji. One of Lingiari’s gifts to the world was his saying immortalised in Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s song From Little Things, we know how to wait. When you are in this country you get a deeper understanding of that phrase.  This land is a great teacher of waiting and holding true to essence. The rocks apparently immovable, have formed over millions of years and carry plenty of life, with gum trees springing from what looks like the most improbable of places. The relationship between waiting and timelessness is collaborative – waiting a precondition to understand and appreciate what takes time.

I won’t get to Gurindji land this trip so I go to listen once again to that song and I chose a relatively new version of the song by Electric Fields and when you hear some of the song in language which leaves me in tears every time. I have been listening and singing this song since it first was released in 1993 but nothing prepared me for the Electric Fields version. The female voices, words in language, the baton truly passed on to a new generation, in every way new style and the new meaning for this anthem. Power and privilege and standing in law, cultural law, law of the universe, law of the sand and for a settler like me, I can only glimpse what land rights mean. We are waiting as a nation to be initiated into the meaning of time by the oldest living culture on our planet. This is unfinished business. Treaties are coming as they must – no peace without justice – always was always will be Aboriginal land.

I am reflecting on how my soul has gone ahead to prepare a place for me to wait and the rest of myself is catching up and my own treaty-making with the past, justice, reconciliation and repatriation is unfolding as surely as the movement of the caterpillar. Being in womens caterpillar dreaming country is not lost on me. Meeting the moment in this place seems to be bringing a compassionate patience to appreciate the healing properties of time and time’s ability to stand still and hold you still while knots can be massaged out of existance. From little things big things grow and in the growing, transformation comes next.

Yeperenye – Emily’s Gap – East MacDonnell Ranges.
Site of ancient caterpillar dreaming rock art (no photos by request of Arrernte.

Year of activism #23

Been thinking about the late Elliott Johnston who was a Supreme Court judge in SA and who on leaving the bench at 70 was appointed to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He died when he was 93. I never met him. He was public about his membership of the Communist Party.  It didn’t get in the way of his abilities to pass judgements and make recommendations, just as other judges like Dame Roma Mitchell was very public about her Catholicism or others their capitalism.  I have been thinking about Justice Elliott in relation to these times, he always behaved as far as I can tell from his actions that black lives mattered.  He is an example of how leaders can hold roles in the public domain and not compromise their values.

The relationship between public and private is an acknowledgement that the personal is political and in the frame of this year’s blog theme, activism is an everyday practice to be applied in all parts of your life.  As the statues of racists tumble in town squares the blind spots and unconscious bias of past town planners comes down too. Past curators of museums around the world will be turning in their graves as their blind spots and pillaging of first nations and colonial conquests are overturned causing property and memories to be repatriated. These are just the beginning of the decolonisation movement which is spreading throughout the globe.

While we all know the name of George Floyd the litany of the names of Aboriginal deaths in custody are not on everyone’s lips in Australia.  I read through the list of 99 deaths chronicled by the Royal Commission. The Inquiry made 339 recommendations. The report recommended that imprisonment only be a last resort. The report also included recommendations for the calling of medical assistance if the condition of detainee deteriorates; greater collaboration with Indigenous communities; improved access Indigenous incarceration is one gap that needs closing. It is possibly the gap that is actively and systemically addressed will be the one to enable other gaps to close as well.

Going back to the Royal Commission, the recommendations and the way evidence was gathered provide plenty of clues about what actions to take.  There is plenty to do, that remains incomplete eg around child removal, medical support, community and family connection, institutional changes around education, health, employment, primacy of self-determination, poverty, land rights, provision of informed, independent advice, inclusion of Aboriginal people in government roles, public discourse and engagement of public policy and its rollout.

Anyone wanting to exercise some activism in Australia could look at the Royal Commission and choose any one of the recommendations and see how they could contribute to implementing it in their own life.  If you are a teacher, you could consider how you bring images, stories, language into your classroom; if you are a health professional consider the social determinants and how they are showing up in your work or perhaps make a contribution to a scholarship or learning opportunity for an Aboriginal health worker; if you are a parent bring in books and language and images into the home for your children to see (for example, my kids grew up with posters of bush tucker in the kitchen, Condom Man in the boys bedroom, wooden goannas from the APY lands as toys and Tiddas, Kev Carmody and Archie Roach on rotation), if you are a facilitator you can start your sessions acknowledging country and maybe saying a few words in language of the place where you are; if you love fashion how about buying clothes designed by Indigenous artists,  or cosmetics and medicine from Aboriginal healers, or if you are an engineer look to Supply Nation to get your workforce … there is no end of things each and every one of can do to help close the gaps.  At the least you can put a sign on your door to show respect to the traditional owners of where you live, or perhaps work on Australia Day and take a holiday on Mabo Day.  Taking the streets isn’t for everyone, nor is writing to your local MP so these ideas are offered as actions we can all do from our familiar roles and responsibilities in our everyday lives.

As we come into NAIDOC Week my activism ask is to make a choice about one thing you can do in your every day life to help implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody which has at its heart, reconciliation and recognition that Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land – which is fitting as that is this year’s NAIDOC theme.