This Sacred Earth: An Aboriginal perspective.
(delivered to Aboriginal Spirituality Conference, Victor Harbour, SA,)
We, the Aboriginal People, welcome you as visitors to our land, the land of the Eternal Spirit, the land of God. We welcome your quest for justice, well-being, truth, peace and enlightenment for all humankind and care for creation. As guests and passing over our lands, you will feel the whispering wind of the Holy Creative Spirit. You will take in the fragrance that heralds enlightenment and, however you choose, you will never be as you were before. You will never be the same again, for here you walk on Sacred Ground.
In our Beginning, the Spirit moved throughout the land and all creation. Before the universe was created in all its completeness, the Spirit created flesh and imparted spiritual Presence and estate to humankind. All things of the universe and earth were created. All created things, all creation, was therefore sacred and sanctified forever. There were spirits of the Creative Spirit, some would liken them to angels, or appearing in the form of fire, or rocks, trees, or serpents, as indeed they appeared in the Jewish and Christian Bible. Aboriginal people accept the sanctified presence of such Creative Spirit Heroes without question. As indeed we accept the spiritual fact of the sacredness of the clay, the rocks from which we were formed. It is not for us to deem that the rocks and clay, the trees and animals are lesser than us and hold no sacred place. Nor is it for us to claim that we were chosen by the Great Creative Spirit to hold an exclusive spiritual dominion over the land and all other life forms. To the contrary, our Revelation is the sanctity of ALL life, our oneness, our being, a small humble, but very precious part in the total mosaic of all created life.
The humble, but very special part of our being, our created physical and spiritual being, is to heed the Laws which are set down for us. To identify with and care for the well-being of the land, the animals and all creation. In our Revelation, this adherence to these Laws, assures us and gives unto us a sanctified completeness of Being. We walk and talk and live every moment with, and in the Presence of, the Creative Spirit of God. This completeness, purity and fulfilment is, as Adam and Eve knew, a complete state of being in direct communication with the Eternal Spirit on earth. This state has been called Eden.
Our People today are the direct continuation of the oldest race and continuous culture of all humankind. Our Laws, our traditions, our spiritual ceremonies go back beyond the clocks of recorded history, back to the Beginning where Spiritual Being and cognisance was made flesh. Our completeness, our Eden, was decimated by the barbaric hordes from Britain when they invaded our lands a mere two hundred years ago.
In 1788, Britain declared Australia, OUR land, to be terra nullius (wasteland,unoccupied). It was claimed that we were heathens, having no social organisation, no government, no law, no ownership nor permanent occupancy and usage of the land. We were treated, harassed and massacred as vermin to stop our resistance. They availed themselves of our women over our murdered bodies, took our children away and settled our lands.
Evil had indeed befallen us. In the insatiable quest for our lands, convicts, shepherds, explorers soon arrived in the Monaro and Canberra region, land of the Ngunnawal People. The land was well suited to grazing, because over the millenia, Aboriginals had cared for and farmed the land: burning the foliage and the trees; making pastures for the wild life; containing the build-up of underbrush, so that errant bushfires would not generate too much heat so as to kill off the chance of regeneration. We had nurtured and formed a land area that was much to the liking of the herdsmen squatters.
The Ngunnawal people, who numbered many more than the estimates historians claim of about five hundred, were soon to disappear from sight. Many died from massacre and disease spread by the gifts of blankets contaminated with smallpox. Many fled to the Cooma, Tumut and Yass area for survival's sake. Fortunately so, for their direct descendents are alive today. Many are returning to the country of their ancestors and calling for recognition of their rightful status and rights of inheritance. Tragically, but not unexpectedly, they have no place to lay their head. No land rights, no camping place, no cultural centre, no political representation and no compensation for all the lands taken from them. Indeed, as I am in the process of writing this communique, I go with cap in hand to Parks and Wildlife, humbly begging for an allocation of a campsite, somewhere, anywhere, in the Canberra region, where Aboriginal visitors to the conference can lay their head, find facilities for showering and toilets and a space where we may also carry out our traditional religious performance.
There are many tragic circumstances throughout the world today. There are many symbols of injustice. In Canberra, on Capital Hill, the new Parliament is one such symbol. It represents to us the seat of power of the Caesar, who has denied our Sovereign Right and our Human Rights continuously for two hundred years and daily grinds an insidious programme of genocide upon us.
In your peregrinations in the Canberra region, during a gentle, whimsical moment, look toward Capital Hill and, in your mind's eye, envisage it as it used to be. This hill, clad with foliage, the living trees silhoutted, swaying, proudly displaying their beauty in their journey toward the sky. A supreme silence, rippling, ululating to the ecstasy of bird song and soughing breeze, throbbing to the occasional voice of a human being, the resonance of the singers in corroboree. This miasma of completeness encompasses all and signifies the hill as a special place. It is a cone like hill in a basin. The small river and the pools, from which water evaporates, causes the breezes to swirl and eddy and spiral up and past this natural vortex.
In recent times, when the hail-stones fell, when the sudden squalls of rain came, we would stand on top of the hill and see the hail, the squall seemingly split and pass by either side. The magpies in their hundred gathered here, dancing, celebrating their place, their being, and we were never attacked, never intrusive, for this was their dreaming place. We look to the winding valley from the top of the mountain and seek to hear the song, the paean of continuous celebration of Oneness with Creation. We strain to see the dancers, but they are no more.
Formerly, in the days of Celebration, the Elders could stand on the vantage point of this hill, look past the family clan gathered at the freshwater spring that flowed at the base in a north westerly direction down toward Blacks Mountain Peninsula, see the plumes of smoke from the campfires, hear sounds of chanting, psalms of regeneration and restoration. Covenants made. Drifting above the campsounds is a hail of voices, announcing the people coming down from the sacred areas of Blacks Mountain, where now sits Telecom Tower. Over toward the northeast are plumes of smoke from near Mount Ainslie, where the living rock ochres would be gathered for ceremonies and trade. To the east, near where the airport now exists, is Pialligo. More plumes of campfires could be seen, more special sites and preparation for special ceremonies. To the east, toward what is known as Oaks Estate, more camps, more preparation at special sites. Looking past to Queanbeyan, one sees the sky arrowed with smoke plumes, for here is the great camp, where the people from the coast hold ceremony and prepare for this event, which, given our family and group connection, could be likened to an international event of meeting and celebration in ceremony. Looking further out to the high
mountains, is the place where the most senior of the initiates, the high priests, the learned of the learned, make their way to discuss well being, politics, ceremony and the celebration of the Great Eternal Spirit and the Creative Hero Spirits. Bogong Moths cluster in their millions, a rich source of fats and protein.
This area, these places, were the Mecca of Aboriginal pilgrimage. All of this ground is sacred Ground. As important in this southland for the gathering of the many tribes, as is Uluru in the Northern Territory.
On the edge of what is now Lake Burley Griffin, near the Australian Institute for Aboriginal Studies, is the site of another ceremonial ground and camp site. Where the Royal Canberra Hospital stands, another. At the National University site, beyond the building named after the Australian poet, A.D.Hope, another very special and sacred area, where a presence of completeness, of healing, of restoration comes.
North, west, south, east. Whatever direction you look, the campfires signify the grouping of the Nations. All camping in the direction from which they come and adhering to strict protocol, for so it was from the Beginning.
Here indeed was a People gathered together with the Great Creator, God, present in every aspect, every facet, every moment of their lives. At night, the campfires, the music sticks and boomerangs clicking accompaniment to the chants, the psalms of our religion. This is what the aliens, the invaders, mistakenly assumed for heathen gibberish and yuckai'ing. It is a communion: God present. This may be best comprehended by my poem on the significance of the chanting, the meditation, the campfire:
At night as I sit by my campfire
the Great Serpent Spirit a'star
I sing songs of love to the Presence within
as It plays with the sparks in my fire.
Let us return our thoughts to the present, to the living descendents of the Sovereign indigenous people. Let us listen to the roar and, at times, the cajoling whisper of the juggernauts of injustice, who insidiously seek genocide.
Let us join together in a just cause for Human Right, peace and justice for all.
Our world, our environment can no longer bear the burden of war, the burden of massacre, torture, starvation and denial of Human Right. We must confront and stop these untenable crimes against humanity and the world. Then, and only then, can we hope to survive, to grow, to begin to fulfil the charter of life God gave us. In Australia, we must negotiate a Treaty to safeguard our Human Rights, our just entitlements, protected under international covenants and enshrined in the constitution, so that abuses against our rights, our life, may be stopped.
In the teachings of Christ, the many practical instances of instruction to human service and duty have not been given the priorities and applications they should. For instance, the fiat, "Feed my sheep". Who ARE God's sheep? Christan folk? "The blind shall see. The deaf shall hear." Are we to take this literally? Perhaps the "seeing" is in the inner knowledge, the seeing of practical, everyday love at work. The deaf shall hear by having his brethren in God minister to him and wash his feet. Why did the Christ consider it so important to break the loaves and fish and feed the multitude before he taught? By their works shall ye know them.
Out in the sandy bed of the Todd River, in the death camps, the refugee centres at Alice Springs, in Tennant Creek, in Coober Pedy, in Darwin, in Western Australia, in Sydney, in Canberra, my people suffer and die from the causes of injustice, racism and lack of Christian compassion. We do not see the works and the workers of the Christian God breaking loaves and fish, washing our feet, getting us access to clean drinking water. We do not see them sharing their fellowship of love and being with us, nor respecting our spirituality. Caesars psychology, the psychology of racism, of apartheid, has been too effective for all that.
We look elsewhere in the world to Ethiopia and other places in Africa. We look at India, South America. We see and hear people in misery and famine and we ask, "Where, in the two thousand years since your shepherds were asked to feed your lambs, your sheep and do those works by which your sheep shall know them, have the shepherds disappeared to? Why are they not present to weep with us? To assuage our wounds, to share their basic humanity with us? Where are the barefoot disciples to minister to us?
Sometimes the awesome echo of "politics", "self interest", complacency, hypocrisy, religious territorial rights, vanity comes booming back to answer our queries on the why and whynots of the question. We objectively examine the white skinned groups of people, who suffer famine and national disaster, and see that their condition is immediately responded to, and on a long term basis, with trade facilities etc.. We say, why not the same response, the same sense of urgency for all?
Racism and discrimination is, to a degree, an inescapable part of our human condition that is not easily changed. Racism and discrimination become criminal, corrupt expressions when they exclude Human Rights and fail in the delivery of services,aid and equal entitlement that is the right of every human being. For instance, racism in Australia cannot be placed in the avowal of a multicultured society, but rather, judged in the harsher light of comparisons in delivery, or non delivery, of service. Service such as clean drinking water, medication, shelter, economic and political representation, quality of life.
When you go forth from this place, leave behind the mantle of prideful ego, vanity, self-deception that office and affiliation most times brings. Remember, the majority of the earth's poor, the famine bound, the needy and oppressed see the affluence of the clergy, the huge cathedrals, the affluent comfortable societies. Where aid is given, they see the price asked in return: fullest publicity, acknowledgement, even obeisance to that church group and its workers. They see the price asked, forced upon them, "Sit down longa Jesus Christ for a bowl of rice"; a sermon, or chew a page of the Bible, renounce your cultural identity, before sustenance and assuaging of pain begins. Remember Christ fed the multitude and healed the ailing before e even began his ministry, making Love visible.
Go forth then with love from this place, knowing you are no more worthy than the beggar, the new born child, but precious still in the heart of th Supreme Essence: the Great Creator, God. Commit yourself and by your WORKS, make love visible. You were told to be servants, not masters, servants, not teachers. One person, one member of the family of humankind. Only the Great Creator, God, knows who is holy, who is hypocrite. Only God knows who has earnt their breath of life by their works, their love, their sincerity. Love in action, faith in action becomes visible, tangible, comprehensible for humanity internationally. Let us together build this foundation throughout the churches, the world.
(C) Kevin Gilbert.1991