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Old Man's Story
Big Bill Neidjie
Talks / Lecture
Big Bill Neidjie
9 September 2015
Senator Nova Peris discusses the achievements and mentoring of her great-uncle, Big Bill Neidjie, a Gagudju elder, with one of Big Bill's last collaborators, photographer Mark Lang, and with John Paul Janke from Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
In association with Aboriginal Studies Press and AIATSIS.
Audio transcript for Old Man’s Story
Speakers: Margy Burn (B), John Paul Janke (J), Mark Lang (M), Nova Peris (N)
Location: National Library of Australia
B: I'm Margy Burn and I’m the Assistant Director-General here at the National Library responsible for Australian collections and reader services and in welcoming you tonight as is customary I acknowledge the Nanbury and Ngunnawal peoples, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, their elders past and present and I make this acknowledgement as an act of reconciliation and respect. I thank the elders for caring for this land that we are now privileged to call home. Sometimes those words can sound formulaic but truly we must all stop and reflect on them tonight. For if ever there was an elder who deserved honour for caring for his country and for his generosity in sharing it it was the old man, Big Bill Neidjie, who we’re honouring tonight. And all of us who’ve had the privilege of visiting the magnificent country that is Kakadu—now recognised by UNESCO for all the peoples of the world as a world heritage site—we are indebted to him for sharing that country.
So the National Library is honoured to be the venue for this evening’s event as we hear about ... more about the life and achievements of this remarkable old man, Gagudju elder, Big Bill Neidjie. Tragically he was the last surviving speaker of the Gagaju language of Arnhem Land, a senior lawman, a traditional owner of the Bunitj estate. He took courageous and generous decisions to share his knowledge and leave the record for generations to come as we will see and hear tonight. And tonight we’re celebrating the publication of the newest book, Old Man’s Story, but there were others before it. First there was Kakadu Man which has been reprinted and published in several new editions, Story About Feeling and Amurdak Inyman: Six Stories in Language, Indjuwanydjuwa in which his shared knowledge of sites sacred to the traditional Bunitj custodians. So you can see just from that little roll call how much it mattered to Bill Neidjie that he wanted to ensure his knowledge could be recorded and passed on to future generations in his books and he said he wanted this knowledge shared with black and white Australians through his books.
So tonight it’s a great pleasure to have Senator Nova Peris, John Paul Janke and Mark Lang to celebrate the life of big Bill Neidjie and this book. Senator Nova Peris OAM is here tonight in a very special capacity as the great-niece of Big Bill Neidjie. Before being elected in 2013 as a senator for the Northern Territory of course she was well known as a marvellous athlete, famous for representing Australia in a gold medal-winning hockey team at the Atlanta Olympics and then remarkably switching to athletics and becoming a double gold medallist in the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games in the 200m sprint, which she won, and then as a team member in the 4 x 100m relay and she’s also a former Young Australian of the Year but we acknowledge her tonight in her senior role as Senator for the Northern Territory.
And Mark Lang will be sharing the podium with Senator Peris. Mark is the photographer who has brought us this book. Having come from England at the age of 26, he’s spent many decades travelling Australia as a photographer and his passion for the outback took him to Kakadu and led him to Big Bill who interested him with his story and led to the publication of Old Man’s Story, their collaboration which is being published by AIATSIS Press, the really fine publishing arm of the Australia Institute of Torres ... Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and we’re really pleased to have John Paul Janke with us here tonight from AIATSIS. And John will host the conversation when our ... the three speakers mount the little dais there. But without further ado I’ll hand over to John Paul who will say a few words before the speakers begin.
J: Thanks, thanks, Margy. Look, my job’s going to be simple tonight, I’m going to try and control two people who’ll be able to talk for hours on end about a wonderful topic and a subject they love. But look as is the custom let me also acknowledge country and acknowledge the traditional custodians on whose land we gather on tonight and I thank them for having us and sharing this wonderful country, Canberra, with us. As you heard look Bill, big Bill Neidjie was the keeper of ancient knowledge. Importantly he was the last remaining Gagudju speaker of his Bunitj clan. He was a senior elder of Kakadu National Park and a traditional owner of Bunitj Estate in northern Kakadu. An important and well respected, greatly respected Australian, he was one of the key individuals responsible for having his land, Kakadu National Park, a living cultural landscape with exceptional natural and cultural values that his people had lived on for over 40,000 years inscribed on the World Heritage List. As he grew older, Big Bill realised that as one of the last initiated Gagudju the traditional secrets passed down from generation to generation might be lost with his passing. So that his culture might live on he made the courageous decision to break cultural taboo and share those secrets. In addition to entrusting some of those custodianship of tribal lands to his son he related many of these stories to anthropologists and others and as you heard published many books. He related his passion for the land of which he was part of and insisted on the importance of managing the land in a traditional way and that he hoped that one day his culture might thrive once again and his grandchildren or their grandchildren might pick up those threads again. To highlight the story of Big Bill we’d now like to show a short video compile.
Bill Neidjie, the last remaining Gagaju-speaking member of the Bunitj clan from west Arnhem Land in Australia’s north passed away and it is here at Hawk Dreaming that his body rests. Bill Neidjie was instrumental in having his Bunitj country proclaimed part of Kakadu National Park’s world heritage paradise. As the custodian of ancient stories, Neidjie was concerned that when he was gone so too would his stories disappear.
Well my uncle got but this story I got it, that told me, that taught me and I can feel it. I feel it with my body, with my blood, feeling all these trees, all this country. When this wind blow, you can feel it. Same for country, you feel it. You can look but feeling, that make you.
No history written for us when white European start here.
Should be written way Aborigine way. White European want to know what this story? But it’s not easy story, no one else can tell it. … my father told me this story, my children can’t lose it. Old people tell me you got to keep law. No matter we die but that law, you’ve got to keep it. No camping in secret place, no fire there. No play for kids, you can’t break law. Law must stay.
We like this earth to stay because we were staying for ever and ever, we don’t want to lose it. We say sacred, leave him.
First people come to us, they start and run our life, quick. First, they should ask about fish, cake, dreaming, but they rush in, they make school, teach, they bring drink.
People look for food, animal look for food, lizard look, bird look, anyone look, we all sang.
Dreaming place, you can’t change it. No matter you rich man, no matter you king, you can’t change it.
Based on the stories put down by Bunitj elder, Bill Neidjie, story about feeling is his gift to all people of all cultures. This is his story about feeling.
Story about feeling based on stories put down by Bill Neidjie and it was his desire that these stories continue to reach to all who wanted to listen.
J: So the format tonight is we’re just going to have a bit of a conversation with both Mark and Nova about the old man and then we might take some questions from the audience if we’ve got time at the end so Mark and Senator, if you’d like to come up to the stage. So can everyone hear me? Is that ..? Okay so Old Man Story contains stories about living on country, Neidjie’s passion for the land and that all shows through. Look he emphasises the significance of traditional practice hoping that his culture will flourish and be passed on. Old Man’s Story is a powerful contribution to the history of northern Australia told by one of the iconic figures. Old Man’s Story is actually his third book and for 35 years Mark Lang has used his panoramic camera to record the very extremes across Australia and on one of these travels he met Big Bill. For over two years Mark worked with the old man recording his story and photographing his country and the book is this result. And just as the old man is an icon in the Northern Territory joining us on stage as you heard is another Territory legend, Senator Nova Peris, Commonwealth gold medallist, Olympic gold medallist, mother, grandmother, wife and it’s good to see her husband, Scott, here tonight, and importantly the first Aboriginal woman elected to the Federal Senate. Please make Mark and Nova welcome.
J: So tonight we’re going to be talking and unpacking some of these stories behind the book itself and exploring some of the images that Mark has captured throughout the book but Mark, Old Man’s Story opens up with a wonderful anecdote about your first meeting with Big Bill. I understand it was the East Alligator River. Are you able to tell us a bit more about this ...
M: Centre of the universe, mate. Borders’ Store on the crossing over to Arnhem land, I was parked outside, I’d only been there a few days. I’d heard about old man, I would love to have met him but there was a bit of a screen between the outside world and him, the rangers would sort of say ‘oh you want to meet him? Yeah well maybe some time, you know?’ They were being very protective of him so I thought well maybe I’ll meet him one day and I was parked outside Borders’ Store in the middle of the day and this green utility just came parked alongside and the driver got out and went into the store and there was this big old fella in the passenger seat there with this big crown of white hair and I just thought to myself that’s got to be the old fella. And then he turned ‘round and he looked right at me and he had strong eye, old man, he had strong eye. I felt like I’d been struck by lightning, I just ... he was looking right at me and I’m looking back at him and I had a book of my pictures to show him so I went ‘round to the window, introduced myself, I gave him the book so the first thing he said to me was ‘You got cigarette?’ So I said ‘I’m sorry, old man, I don’t smoke,’ but anyway we’d introduced each other and from that point on we got to know each other as friends.
And it transpired that I was at the stage of my journey ... I’d been on the road for about three years already ... I’d got to the stage where I wanted to be still for a while, I wanted to get to know one piece of country, we want to photograph that, do justice to that and I’d also got to the stage of my journey where I thought if I’m doing a landscape book on Australia I really want the Aboriginal perspective within that, how am I going to get that? I’ve got to spend some time with those people, hopefully with an elder who could learn me up. So it was sort of arranged I was going to work with a man across the East Alligator River, another elder, but he changed his mind, didn’t tell me and so for weeks I’d been waiting. When I finally find out the news that he wasn’t going to be working with me, he was working with somebody else ... far better choice too, I might add, George Jalibga, you know? You couldn't ask for anybody better ... when I find out that I just thought oh this country’s not lucky for me, I'm you know I’m out of here so I thought you know I got to know old man as a friend by then, I’d met him a few times and so I thought I’d better go ... if I’m going to go you know leave this country I’d better say goodbye to this old fella so I went around to his house in the evening, explained my tale of woe and he listened to me and he said sit down so I sat down on the bench beside him, he said ‘mm, you got tape recorder?’ I said ‘Yeah, ‘course I’ve got tape recorder, old man.’ ‘Right,’ he said, ‘mm, I tell you story’ and that’s where it all began, from that point on my life was basically in Kakadu until the job was finished, that was two years ... three wet seasons, two dries ... recording the story and then photographing the country to accompany the pictures ... accompany the words, that was my task. Until it was done I had to stay there, mm. But what an honour to be asked for ... to do such a thing.
J: And, Nova, I see you nodding your head as Mark was talking about country and the old man’s white hair. You’ve got a ... sort of a great story about first meeting him.
N: Yes so I sat ... the connection, my father’s mother, Nanna Janie so old man Bill is Nanna Janie’s brother so my mum, she was a single mum, I didn’t really have much to do with my biological father until I was about 16, 17 however Nanna Janie, we had a lot to do with you know my father was here but we still had a lot to do with Nanna’s side of the family. And so when I got to meet my biological father he said to me you’ve got business, you’ve got to go out to country and so like my mum, she was taken off my grandmother when she was eight years old so she was a Kimberley woman, they moved up to Darwin after the second world ... ah sorry, she was ... the second world war happened when Nanna was 16 years old, she had my mum and they lived in the Kimberleys for a while and moved up to the Territory and there was another wave of the stolen generation so my mum grew up on a mission so she was very disconnected from culture, language and all that so it wasn’t until my father came into my life and he said you know you are Aboriginal, you need to learn your culture, you need to learn who you are, your identity. So when he took me back out to country was in 1993 and I was injured at that time and I’d played about 22 games for Australia and so when I went out there I was in need of healing and he said I’ll take you to this place called Indjuwanyjuwa, which was out at Cannon Hill and I’m sure Mark can talk a bit more about it as well. So I went out there and this old man was sitting there waiting and like Mark described, he had this big, deep voice, it was really quite scary, is almost six foot, he was so tall and just black as black could be, white hair, bit like yourself.
M: Oh what you talking about, Nova?
N: And he said to me, he said I’ve been waiting for you and I said okay and we had this conversation and he said oh so you need healing and he said I’ll take you to this place and I never really understood until ... like I’m 44 now and those stories have just evolved over time and then ... and I know that you’re going to pull up a picture of Indjuwanyjuwa a bit later and that was the first time I’d met that old man but I thought you know I’d played 20 plus caps for Australia at that time, I was injured, I didn’t know if I was going to go on with my sporting career but one hell of a healing place that was and it was the start of who I was and I truly believe that I would not have achieved what I did in my lifetime thus far if I wasn’t reconnected with my father, that old man, my family in terms of you know because you’re as ... only as good as you are internally and that whole spiritual connection with country you know just unleashed me and I spread my wings and travelled the world.
J: Didn’t you what. And Mark and I were talking this morning at the launch at Parliament House that your chance meeting or you stalking big Bill, meeting him at Alligator River and the two years that followed of him telling those stories to you and Parliament House to ... this morning, being chosen for the place that we launched the book where Nova is now a Federal politician, it was almost as though it had come full circle and the old man had planned that all along.
M: He does that, he does that.
J: Now parts of the book wonderfully describe how you sat with him and pressed a recorder and listened to his stories because the old man was worried about those stories disappearing forever when he finally passed away. And those were stories of song, of ceremony, of dance and of culture and his main desire was to see that continuation of culture.
J: You spent two years with him, recording these stories and listening to him. How important was it for the old man to be able to record his stories, to tell those stories to future Aboriginal people, his children and also Ballina, non-Aboriginal people?
M: Totally critical, totally critical and I felt the pressure of it, I felt that my journey so far had just been like a glorified trip around Australia. Now that I the responsibility to him to make sure that his story was recorded and told and furthermore published, that I had a purpose in my journey at last and it wasn’t as if it is a glorified trip around Aus, there was an end purpose to all of this and it gave the whole thing some credence. And I felt that there was a need for him to ... I used to prompt him a little bit, sometimes I felt we could g ... maybe go deeper and deeper into story, I think I felt you know God, hands off you know you shouldn’t really interfere but he took that, he took that okay and he would go deeper, deeper into story and he was always checking out where I was. I would move camp and he’d go looking for me, you know? I’d be sitting there and a ranger coming through the middle of the night and he’d stop, it’s okay and I’d go back and report and it’s okay, he’s moved from 55 to 22, it’s okay, he hasn’t gone, you know? So I kind of felt like you know the eye in the sky and he’s kind of watching so you know just respect that and stay with it, you’ll know when the job’s finished but you’re going to have to hang here until you do.
So I was fortunate I scored a job as a ranger, not a real ranger but I had a uniform and a hat and a bottle, water bottle and stuff and I was what’s known as a surveillance officer and surveillance officer looks after the art sites, make sure they’re not damaged by anybody and you do a sort of little circuit every day so I was a sort of ranger and so I got you know I was on a wage so I could stay there and I wasn’t going to be leaving that country, the rangers were happy for me to work there, work with old man, recording his story and doing ranger impressions the rest of the time. So it was kind of ... but I felt the pressure that he needed to tell that tale and when he was done he was done, that was it. ‘Cause it was a major job for him, he had really bad emphysema, you know? If he was ... if he was talking now [inhales twice] he’d be having to take a breath just to say the next thing so we got nine hours of tape all in all which I had to then write out and read back to him, make sure there were no mistakes so it was a long job. But for him it was a major effort just to be able to speak that stuff so you know he was getting it out, it was costing him but it had to be done and I was just honoured to be you know the earpiece, I suppose you might say.
J: And, Nova, for you now in the position where you are and knowing the old man, how important was it ... do you think was it for him to share his culture and do you think that more nonindigenous Australians or the wider community should learn more about indigenous culture and especially sort of in the last two years since you’ve been elected to the Federal Parliament do you think that there’s a lot more opportunity for people to embrace indigenous culture?
N: Yeah, absolutely and I you know I can certainly testify for how important it was for old man to tell his stories because he ... he was scared of you know sort of those stories that were being lost, he was worried about young kids I guess being educated and ... in a white man’s world. He knew all about the mission days and he was scared of losing that like to go back to country, back out to Cannon Hill like I was only there a couple of weekends ago with my family and my son’s 11 years old and that’s his backyard, he would ... taken Federal ministers out to country and my 11 year old son, he can just take anyone out there and he can tell the stories and share the stories and that is so important you know because what he taught me was we as Aboriginal people, without the land we are nothing and I’ve heard quite often you know when the you know religious people have churches, have mosques you know they have symbolic gestures of what their identity and their belief is, our belief is in the land, the land is our church, the land is our Bible, it’s everything and the whole connectedness of you know the whole oneness.
And I know that you know his death ... when he died, he knew what he wanted before he died, he said this is what I want to do because when we go back out to country a lot of the ... how ... when old people die they’re wrapped up in paperbark, they’re put on the platforms and it was one of the very last funerals where east, west and northeast Arnhem land all came together, there were hundreds and hundreds of people at that old man’s ceremony and you can imagine for three weeks the singing continued around the clock, 24 hours just sang and sang and sang and sang and so it took 12 months before all like that old man’s family would sit with him. And so when his body, the flesh had decomposed, his bones were painted with ochre and when you die you go back to country and his bones are just put into the escarpment so when you go back there it feels like eyes and everything are just looking at, you cannot escape it but it’s important, you know? Like there are paintings there that ... from the Makassans that are you know 900 years old, there are paintings there of the rainbow serpents that are you know 8,000 years old and a few years ago there was a painting of what they called a Jenaurus which is an extinct bird from 40,000 years ago and it’s just phenomenal. And they’re important and what old man wanted to do was he wanted to share that story, share our culture and he never judged.
I remember when I won my Olympic gold medal so I’d been going back you know every year and so 60 Minutes came out and Charles Woolley being a fisherman slash aka Channel 9 guru that he was, anyway all he kept saying was I got to catch a fish, got to catch a fish out at Jabiru. I said we’ve got a big important story here to tell, Charles, come on. Anyway we sat down, we sat down with old Bill and so Jonathan, his son, Mark, he spent quite a bit of time with, that old man was like so what’s all the humbug? And they’re like oh Nova’s ... wants something pretty big, old man. What’s the humbug? Oh she’s won Olympic gold medal. Hmm, okay. And he just couldn’t ... but he’d been to the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth so he knew a bit about the whole sporting you know and how Australians get a bit excited over sports. And so the whole Olympic gold medal fiasco, he ... Jonathan said to him Dad, Nova’s proud, she ... this is you know your daughter girl and the only way he could understand the significance of this gold medal was when he won his land back, just that ... so putting a materialistic you know humbug into the world of ... an Aboriginal world of winning your land back, that was the only way that he could understand you know the significance of it so we told the story.
Anyway Charles Woolley was funny, all he wanted to do was catch a barra and then he sat down with that old man, Charles Woolley and Charles said to him can you teach me? And that old man said I can teach you. You respect me, I respect you, we walk this one earth, breathe the same air, bleed one red blood and that’s the psyche, he just ... he never judged people but it was always that mutual respect and you know opening his country, opening his heart irrespective of what’s happened in the past. We changed it but it was so important that you know anyone who came, if he wanted to learn, if you respected him he’d respect you and open his heart and country.
J: Thanks Nova. Mark, the cover of the book features an iconic portrait of the old man, a stunning portrait actually but I understand there was a bit of story behind actually capturing that image.
M: Yes, there were lots of pictures of old man but there was no portrait of him that I could find that really epitomised the man that he was and I felt well it’s down to you, sunshine, you better do it while you’re here so I thought okay well I’m going to have to get this together, how am I going to do this? I thought ... because he was so concerned about his young fellas losing story, losing touch with their culture that it should be a picture of old man telling story to a young fella and I even drew a layout down on a piece of paper, drew the whole thing up. I took it ‘round to his place one evening, I said this is what ... the idea I’ve got for a picture, old man, what do you think? And he said yeah, yeah, I like that idea, yeah, we do that one. And I thought well it may be more powerful if it’s got some words that go with it, I was thinking what words actually do go with it? So I went up to the lookout … in his country there and there’s a national park sign with some of Bill’s words written upon it and those words were my old people all dead, we only few left, we’re getting too old. Young people, I don’t know if they can look after this story but now you know this story might be you can look after this story, this earth. So I thought that would be the perfect caption to go with the picture of old man and a young fella.
So a constant companion to old man was Ricky who was only about four years old. He used to follow him around like a shadow and so I thought that’s the old man and Ricky, that’s the picture, that’s what we’re going to do. Now we had about six goes at this. Every single time it was arranged old man and Ricky, will you be ready tomorrow morning? We’re going to go out to this location and do this picture. It was all signed, sealed and delivered, everyone’s happy, it’s happening. I turn up to pick up old man, no sign of Ricky. He’s gone, he’s gone fishing, his father’s taken him fishing, gone across the river, shooting magpie goose, whatever, he was never there. So we were running out of time when it come to this picture, wet season’s just about to start happening, the road out to this location is getting very boggy, if we don’t get the picture done soon we won’t get it done at all. And I thought well how much longer is he going to last? I’d better just do this shot. The last time we turned up to pick up Ricky, no sign of him, I said to old man, let’s go to Cannon Hill, we’ll find another ... we’ll find another young fella.
N: Plenty around there.
M: Plenty around there. However the only one that we found was little Mick, little Mick is about yay high so I go … we took little Mick with us down to this location, we sat him down next to old man, they just looked like two Aboriginal men having a chat, didn’t look like you know being passing over at all so I just thought oh, that’s what the picture is actually, it’s us, we are the young fellas, he’s looking at us, he’s telling us so the last thing I said to old man when he sat down there by the fire that Micky had built for him, I said to him now, old man, I want you to look in our lens and you’re saying to that fella, that lady who’s looking at this picture, now you, you look after this story. So that’s why his eyes are as strong as they are because that’s what he’s saying. When the flash went off I can still see those old eyes looking right at me in the lens, it’s like the same sensation of we've been struck by lightning, you know? So it took forever and a day, it took four months to get this picture. But I’m glad to say we persisted. At the end of it he said after this we finish, eh? This tape take too much out of me. I said yeah, you and me both, old man. So he’s hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, his picture’s there.
M: I don’t know whether he’s on the wall. I think he might frighten a few people but he’s there.
J: And Nova, what do you see when you look at that portrait? Can you describe what you see?
N: An old man growling me. He w ... like that’s the look you know it was never ... when you’d rock up there to see him at the house it wasn’t like you know he’d smile and arms out and say hello, Nova, come here, bub, give us a hug, it was never, ever like that. He was like when are you coming back here? And he’s you got business back here so when you finished ... and everything was humbug ... he said when you finished that humbug you got business back home on country. So that was ... and fair enough too you know these old people and I say to my kids all the time, we are nothing without the stories and the old people, their resilience, what they endured in their lifetime you know I think we’re so spoilt in 2015 you know and I think that’s what we have to do, we’ve got to ... we owe it to those old people to keep that ... stories alive and you know my father used to always say you don’t have rights, you have inherited responsibility and I think you know my time now as a Senator when people say you speak out a lot for Aboriginal issues, I said well I don’t have a choice, I feel eyes in the back of my head, that old man looking at me.
J: Now, Mark, Bill always felt that country was calling him back and you’ve put a beautiful photo of this footprint in your book. Can you tell us a ...
M: Yes, after we’d been working, we’d recorded all the stories, I’d read them all back to him and I was beginning to see the whole thing together as a book, yeah, ‘cause that’s what it ... the whole purpose of my being there was to eventually carry the story and get it into a book form but I thought it would be nice if he signed off on this but I thought it actually totally inappropriate for a signature to sign the story off, Aboriginal people can tell from a footprint who is who so I thought his footprint would be the appropriate way for him to sign off on his story. So I said to old man, would you mind if we made a print of your foot? And he said yeah, sure. Okay so get him in the wheelchair, wheeled him down the driveway, down into the drive, nice bit of red dirt in the driveway so I got his foot out of the wheelchair and I got it down and I press it down. Good print there, old man. Oh yeah, yeah, good print, yeah. So I said I’ll just go and get the camera so I went back to me truck to get camera. Well the kids had come down. Oh so they’d all added their little prints to the ... so there was all these little tiny footprints all over old man’s prints so I ... sorry, old man, we’re going to have to do it again so I had to wheel him to another bit of dirt and get his foot again, press it down so that’s what I did, it’s just basically his signature, I suppose you may ... but what fascinates me is you see the hard tissue around the outside. Now that foot has done some walking, that’s just hard callus all the way ‘round the outside there. He used to walk 400 Ks up to Coburg, he’d walk 400 Ks down to Katherine. Walking was you know he’d just say take a couple of spears, that’s all you need and away we go. So yeah, that’s his signature.
J: And Nova, you spoke before about the significance of country but you chose back on country to be married?
J: You had your beautiful wedding ceremony and I understand you’ve recently done a television program where you’ve taken someone ...
N: I did but no one in this room can reveal the location.
J: Oh sorry, sorry. So this is an exclusive for this event.
N: No, no, it’s all good, I think. Anyway I did ... was it Annabel Crabb? Kitchen Cabinet and all the pollies do their stuff in the kitchen. I thought well you can come to my kitchen so we went out ...
J: Oh way to go.
N: Yeah so that’s coming up I think in October so we went out to country, out to Cannon Hill and cooked bit of damper, ate a bit of numus which is Queenfish marinated in vinegar and lemon juice and then I said are you ready for the main meal and she said yes and I’ve reached into the esky, just pulled out a magpie goose and she’s like whoa okay, I wasn’t expecting that one. So yeah, we sat down and plucked the goose together having ... yeah so it was good. I mean the reason why I wanted to do it out there is for that very reason you know because there’s ... there is a lot of negativity about Aboriginal people in mainstream media and you know when you have you know leaders saying that Aboriginal people living on country is a lifestyle, it’s not a bloody lifestyle choice, it’s ... that’s your connection to country, it’s our responsibility to sustain and maintain our culture. And so you know like Mark was saying oh my family, they’re rangers out on country, they look after it and we have close to half a million German tourists that go through Kakadu National Park every year like just the amount of European tourists that come, they come to the country to learn about Aboriginal culture, it’s the oldest culture ... collective race of people in the world and it’s alive and it’s well and it’s thriving you know through art and song and dance and music and storytelling. So you know for people like Mark to come and you know not just have an opinion of Aboriginal people but a lived, fully informed opinion and to captivate you know that old man’s stories and ... is just something that I’m sure his spirit is alive and well, you know in you, you’ve ... it’ll always be with you and we appreciate that, the family appreciates that people who come with respect and want to take those stories away.
J: Yeah. And just looking at that photo there, Mark, it’s got some wonderful similarities to the footprint on the moon, doesn’t it? You know it’s ...
M: Well, yeah, yeah, good point, good point.
J: Yeah. Now the ...
M: Hadn’t thought of that.
J: The actual last image in the book is this heart-shaped rock. Why did you pick this particular photo as a way to end your story or your journey and tell your journey?
M: Well I had to have a signoff picture and I felt I you know I really had to ... am I coming through okay?
M: Yes, I am, sorry. Yeah, I had to have a signoff picture. Much like old man signed off with his footprint I had to sign off picture to finish the story and for me it was the simple symbolism of the heart-shaped rock. There it is there in the pool. I felt that was the only way I could express the love that I have for the old fella and I felt for the country too. Yeah, it was important for me to finish the job properly and so it was wet season ... best season ... and that was my beat. I patrolled that particular piece of country every day as a ranger so I knew it full well and when the bit of grunty weather came through I was up there and that system is coming fast, about 30 seconds I’m hiding underneath a rock because lightning follows very close behind that one and if you stay on that ironstone you’re going to get crisped so it’s best to keep moving. So that’s the signoff. Yeah, the heart shape of it is just love of country, love of the old fella, love of the country.
J: And I see Nova, you nodding your head like you can smell the rain ...
N: I can smell the rain, I can ... yeah, I mean just going back, back to country like when we went there and I had my son with me and we just drove out together couple of weekends ago and he puts the window down ... we’ve got the back-burning going on in Darwin at the moment, the dry season but he’s just like you know 11 year old kid smelling in, just the smell of the fire burning. Actually one of my nephews, his name is called Billy named after that old man Billy, and his middle name is Burn after burning of the ... so his name’s Billy Burn Patterson so yeah, I mean it’s ... the whole sense ... when I took Annabel out there and she just said you don’t have five senses when you go out to you know at that country, you have six sense you know you just ... the feeling of the spirits around you and you can touch and look and feel and taste and it’s just ... yeah, everyone needs to go up there. Put it on your bucket list.
J: Okay. Alright, we’re going to sneak through. This next image is Indjuwanyjuwa and you’ve captured it, Mark, in your book but Nova, it’s a special sort of significance ... or sorry, that’s Indjuwanyjuwa there by moonlight and Nova, this is you at that same place and you want to tell us a story about that.
N: Yeah so if you go back to that one first, can you go back?
N: So that’s the one that Mark captivated so Injuanjuan is the rock there, that’s our spiritual being, that’s like our god, it’s the creator and ... so if you go to the next slide, when I first went out to Cannon Hill so I needed healing, I was actually on crutches so this young girl here is Natasha Neidjie, Big Bill’s grand-daughter and we had this photo that was taken and about ... oh geez, 15, 16 years later when I went through another phase in my life and I started researching just Aboriginal gods and spirituality and the first thing that come up was Indjuwanyjuwa. Truest to God, you go Google and it comes up with a new genesis about how Biblical things have all come from the earth, Indjuwanyjuwa comes and like Indjuwanyjuwa, that’s my country, I’m sure I’ve got photos of that. Anyway I went through and look ... found it and I said ... got that picture out and if you look at the rock. So if you can put ... can you see the shadow on this side? You can see the face? Can everyone see that? So it’s ... that is ... and that actually is the pa ... one of the paintings on the wall when he was in ... like human form which you would have seen, Mark, hey? Which is not far, the cave so when he was in a human form that’s painted and that’s in rock form. And you cannot get anywhere near that rock ‘cause it ... that whole sort of area there is just ... is like a five ... probably now 6m crocodile. That is the gatekeeper of our spiritual being so see ... it’s just like you’ve got the palm trees, just the water, it’s just phenomenal like that’s your garden of Eden right there, it’s just absolutely spectacular but it’s very difficult to get there nowadays which is a good thing.
J: Alright we’re going ... we’re quickly going to run out of time but Mark, this is one of the last portraits in the book and it’s the old man in the truck.
M: Yes, he had asked me to take him up to Cannon Hill. He felt his country was singing out for him and so he just simply asked me if I would pack everything up in the house and take him up to Cannon Hill. He didn’t feel like he had very much longer to go, he was getting very weak and so I packed up his magnificent pile of possessions, pair of glasses, pair of shorts, t-shirt, wheelchair, that’s all he had, didn’t have anything else, piled it into the truck and took him up to Cannon Hill. So there he is sitting in the truck. Now just before we left he was watching the telly, it was just after 9/11, George Bush was on the screen saying you are either with America or you are against and old man was just sitting watching that shaking his head. He was obviously upset and so I put him in the truck and off we went, driving up to Cannon Hill. And he just suddenly just hit the dashboard with his hand really hard and he just said one world, that’s all he said in response to George Bush, one world which is all that he’s basically about you know we are all in together, all of us so all living things are linked together, you can’t be for and against like George Bush thinks. So that ... I had to take that picture because it just reminded me of all his journeys that we had done together and that’s probably one of the last pictures that I took of him and I felt I have to do this, I have to have this image of this old man who’s been my companion for these last two years and so I took it and yeah, it still moves me, just this ... and I still look in ... I get into the truck and he’s not there. But he is there in a strange kind of way.
J: Beautiful photo. Alright, Margy, we’ll flick back to you.
B: Thank you. I’ve got the cruellest job because who wants to stop? You know what a wonderful evening we’ve had but unfortunately Parliamentary duties for the Senator meant we couldn’t start quite as early as we needed to for this wonderful event so let me just say one more thing which is that having ... hearing Mark and as the Senator talk about the old man you can also listen to him because we have an online oral history interview with him. It was recorded in 1986, you can get to it from the National Library’s catalogue on our website. It’s hard to listen to because the interviewer asks some questions that you know 30 years ago an interviewer wouldn’t ask but it’s wonderful to hear his voice and I’m sure ... you’ve got two opportunities now, you can rush downstairs and buy the book, seeing that paradise, that garden of Eden as well as those fantastic photographs and the words that are ... the old man’s words in the book as wonderful as you can imagine from what you’ve heard tonight but then you can also hear him as well some other time so without further ado I know you’re just going to want to join me in thanking our three speakers for a very special evening.
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