Novelist Kim Scott reveals how reclaiming Aboriginal language and story may offer a narrative of shared history and contribute to social transformation.
The Ray Mathew Lecture was established in 2009 as a major annual event for the National Library of Australia. It is named in honour of the Australian poet and playwright, Ray Mathew (1929–2002), who left Australia in the late 1960s, never to return. Mathew spent most of the remainder of his life living in the New York apartment of his patrons, Eva and Paul Kollsman. The Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust is a generous bequest, made to the Library by Eva Kollsman, to support and promote Australian writing.
*Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Tyrone Bell (T), Kim Scott (K)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 21 September 2017
M: Distinguished guests and dear friends, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I'm the slightly croaky Marie-Louise Ayres and I'm honoured to be the Director General of the National Library. Before we begin our evening I'd like to invite Mr Tyrone Bell to welcome us to his country. Tyrone, please come up.
T: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Tyrone Bell, I'm an Elder of the Ngunawal people and I'm here this evening to welcome you to the country of the Ngunawal people. To begin with I would like to let you know that traditional Aboriginal law requires any visitors to the country being made welcome. This customary tradition has been passed on by all our generations. This ritual forms a part of our belief system. Its purpose is for visitors to acknowledge whose country it is and then in turn being acknowledged as visitors and made welcome. This welcome custom has happened for thousands of years and we use it as a protection for country against bad spirits.
The country of which you stand today is that of the Ngunawal people. Being a true Ngunawal gives me please to invite you into the country of my people, [inaudible 5:46] in the language of my people means welcome. We call country mother because as a mother cares for her children so does the land cares for us. This is why Aboriginal people have such close ties with the land.
On behalf of myself and my people I send a warm welcome to everyone here. I'm proud to be Aboriginal and one of the traditional carers of this land, I want you to feel welcome while on our country. We wish to express our sincere thanks to the organisers for acknowledging that this is Ngunawal country and the recognition, respect and common courtesy paid to us by this acknowledgement. Further to say I would like to acknowledge those that have come to this area for the first time and warmly welcome you. For those that have been here before welcome back and of course for those that live here please continue to enjoy. We want you to feel welcome while visiting our country and ask that you respect the land that we have done for 60,000 years plus.
So in keeping with our Ngunawal tradition in the true spirit of friendship and reconciliation, treat everyone and everything with dignity and respect and by doing so as I believe that your spirit will be harmonised with your stay on our country. It is our belief that our ancestors will then in turn bless your stay on our spiritual land. May the spirit of this land remain with you today, tomorrow and always. Once again, on behalf of my people, the Ngunawal, I welcome you to our traditional country. Thank you.
M: And I think we'd have to agree that today in particular is about as beautiful as this Ngunawal country could be. So thank you, Tyrone, for your welcome. It's a pleasure to see so many of you tonight for the 2017 Ray Mathew Lecture celebrating the achievement of Australian writers and honouring the memory of Ray Mathew. It's been a real intellectual feast here over the last few weeks and in fact looking out at the audience I wonder if some of you just maybe not gone home because you've been here several times over the last few days which is lovely. Now chiefly remembered as a playwright, Ray Mathew was also an accomplished poet and author of short stories, novels, criticism and non-fiction. He published three anthologies of poetry, numerous poems and magazines, many short stories, plays including the much performed A Spring Song, a novel, studies of Miles Franklin and Charles Blackman, radio plays and film scripts. But despite high praise from contemporaries such as Max Harris who said Mathew could write like nobody's business, his promise as a writer was never fully realised. Although he kept writing until his death he had no new work published after 1967.
Ray Mathew left Australia in 1960 and you might remember some previous Ray Mathew lecturers, particularly Geraldine Brooks really drawing out the potential connection between him leaving his country and his wellspring of writing drying up. But life in New York did bring him the friendship and patronage of Paul and Eva Kollsman, whose New York apartment he shared from 1968 until the end of his life in 2002, aged 73. And yes he's an enigmatic person and it was an enigmatic relationship.
The Library's been collecting papers relating to Mathew since 1977. After his death the collection was significantly enhanced with presentations from Eva Kollsman. Covering five decades the papers include letters, diaries, observation books, literary drafts, programs, press cuttings and Pixie O'Harris' artwork.
The Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust is a generous bequest made to the Library by Eva Kollsman in honour of her friend to support and promote Australian writing. And this was a really generous bequest that we had no idea was coming so it's so lovely to have something that's helped us to support our literary activities. So really that legacy has enabled us to support Australia's writing community, bring to light some of Ray Mathew's unknown work, bolster our events program and fund an online project to make accessible to researchers the papers of Australian writers, mostly through arranging and describing and creating excellent finding aids for archival collections.
The bequest also supports two fellowships; the National Library of Australia Fellowship for research and Australian literature and the National Library of Australia creative fellowship in Australian writing. Now we're delighted that Kim Scott is presenting the 2017 Ray Mathew lecture. Kim grew up on the south coast of Western Australia and is proud to be among those who call themselves Noongar. Throughout his award-winning literary career, Kim has reconstructed narratives of Aboriginal experiences in his fiction.
In 2000, his second novel, Benang: From the Heart was the first novel by an Indigenous writer to win the Miles Franklin Award. This novel also won the 1999 Western Australian Premier's Book Award and the 2001 Kate Challis RAKA Award. His third novel, That Deadman Dance won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2011 as well as the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Western Australian Premier's Book Award. His new novel, Taboo, has already gained much critical acclaim. It tells the story of a group of Noongar people who revisit for the first time in many decades a taboo place which had been the site of a massacre. Kim is Professor of Writing in the school of media, culture and creative arts at Curtin University. He received an Australian Centenary medal and was 2012 West Australian of the Year.
Kim is also the founder and chair of the, and excuse my pronunciation here, it's not just a croaky voice, Wirlomin Noongar language and story project, which has published a number of bilingual picture books. In tonight's lecture Kim will explore how reclaiming Aboriginal language and story may offer a narrative of shared history and contribute to social transformation. Now before I ask Kim up, I'm just going to let you know that last year we experimented and we actually recorded - last week rather, we recorded Rai Gaita's lecture which some of you will have been at. Quite a number of people watched it live but in fact 4,000 people have watched that lecture since we made it available on the Facebook site last week. So while we have a group of people here in the Library, I'm thrilled that actually many more people are going to be able to hear Kim's lecture tonight. So please do welcome Professor Kim Scott to deliver the 2017 Ray Mathew lecture, 'A Paradox of Empowerment'.
K: Thank you, everyone. Thank you for being here. Thank you, Tyrone, very much for that welcome to country. If it's appropriate let me say [inaudible 13:50 spoken in Aboriginal], my heart smiles to hear the language of this place, your language. I am - yeah I'm deeply flattered to see so many of you here. I'm a little bit daunted, the idea that there's lots of others watching this and will be. I've left my glasses behind so if I'm - what a terrible moment to realise this. If I'm squinting a little please forgive me.
Yes, I just wanted to have this picture up as I begin talking. When I get to the end of my little rave I'll speed up and go through quite a number of pictures. But I wanted to put this up because it comes from the language project that I wish to talk about at home. And it comes from a story about a man, a Noongar man entering a whale and he chooses to do this. It's no accident as in Jonah in the Bible. And he's enacting a story, it's a story that already exists that his father's told him and he chooses to make himself a character in that story because he trusts his heritage and is prepared to take risks on the basis of that.
I partly chose it for those reasons but also because it suggests something about seeing things differently. I hope this will make sense to you. And that's what I want to get to today, the possibility of seeing things differently through collaborating on things like Noongar - language, indigenous language and story revitalisation, for want of a better phrase. So in the case of this one is it a porthole, is it an eye. In the Noongar language from which this derives, it's not really clear in fact whether the protagonist is looking through the eye seeing things differently because of that or looking with the eye, and if that's the case to some degree he's become the whale, that is he's been transformed through enacting that story. He's become the whale.
So when I talk about seeing things differently I don't necessarily mean some sort of binary opposition but more of an expansion of ways of seeing some growth from where we are now, from where we begin. So this image is from an ancient story, from a creation story in an ancient language and was created as part of the Wirlomin Noongar language and stories project that has already been mentioned based on a little area of the south coast of WA. The process of reconnecting with a pre-colonial heritage through language and in a little band of survivors of our history doing that, informs my new novel Taboo which - I'm not going to speak about the novel a great deal today but I do want to speak about this process of reconnecting with a regional Indigenous heritage.
And Taboo, to refer to it a little bit, the novel is about people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people being damaged through being at the intersection of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal worlds, so that means all Aboriginal people, more or less and being healed and transformed through connection with that pre-colonial heritage, not just Aboriginal people. It may connect with issues to do with the constitution and with treaty and with social justice more generally, but I'm going to try not to use those sort of terms and phrases. I like to try and keep things really particular. It bothers me a little that that will mean staying really small and local. And you may have detected it already in my tone, I'm told that I'm often too diffident. So be it, so be that. I want to tell you now a few reasons why I may be a little bit diffident in this context and hesitating a little bit and demonstrating something less than full conviction that is often required of us in these positions.
Here in the national capital as I am, bringing these tales from the provinces, from the far out reaches of the continent. So I hesitate - I must say I hesitate a little, firstly because I'm going to talk about this really small community based language and story revitalisation project. It's been going for about 10 years, not long, it's still tentative, this is one of the reasons I hesitate. It's tentative because of funding, because of us, the people involved with it and many have passed away and I should forewarn people there will be pictures I'll be showing later of people that have passed away. It's okay with my own mob to do this. It's a tentative - still tentative project because of limited resources, has no connection with any institutional infrastructure. We do this through choice because of reasons to do something to do with the psyche and very much to do with trust, us trusting one another. But it's a brutal reality, like many of these projects, it could stumble and fall over, perhaps at any time.
I hesitate a second time because, as I've said, it's a very regional project, provincial, it might not be so relevant anywhere else but I think it is because I think, and I've already had a quick yarn with Tyrone about some of these issues while we were waiting. I think there's similar things going on and beginning to blossom, I suspect around the continent. And when I say it's provincial, I'm partly - it's partly my diffidence, I'm partly trying to be low key but it is, I think, a reality that possibly some of the most substantial cultural renaissance work, if I can use that phrase, is necessarily provincial and regional when you get down to the nitty gritty of things. So that's why I - are we zipping through these too quickly or something. That's why I had this map - sorry everyone. That's another reason to be diffident, hesitating - technology. That's why I had this map here, not to - that we should adhere to all these language names that [inaudible 21:59] put together in the '40s but to make that point that it's for continents like Europe, there is these very regional cultures, language, culture, connected to place rather than a blanket thing which a pan Aboriginal thing which we do employ for politically strategic reasons and necessarily.
I'll see if this goes back to the way [inaudible 22:26] that I want to keep resting there. A third reason I hesitate if I'll proceed with this diffidence that's part of my way of operating, is because the project produces books and we do that because of the status of books, we do that because it gives us a focus, status in the mainstream world is what I'm thinking, the status of books as cultural artefacts, if you like. We do picture books because you can have multiple produces of them, authors, co-authors and illustrators, so it moves a number of us to the cusp of different social worlds. We use books because they're targeted by schools and it becomes instrumental and strategic. And we use books because frankly I'm a novelist and I know a bit about print culture but not much about anything else perhaps.
I'm hesitating talking about books like this because in fact I'm not that sure that print and Tyrone, to bring you into things again, we've already talked about issues to do with spelling and Aboriginal languages. So that print can be difficult because of the mismatch between sounds and alphabet when you're talking about revitalising Noongar - well any Aboriginal language. Books mean oral stories have to change a bit as they move into print. And quite a serious issue, I think, the difference in literacy levels between that little Aboriginal community that I know and the wider society means that if we're not careful non-Aboriginal people will be learning language before custodians or the descendants of those that created that language have regained a good handle on it, which would be to further disempower some of us.
So, they're my hesitations, that's my diffidence but I do really want to talk about this business of language recovery particularly and what it might mean. So the problems of print and books with language, let me come at it a slightly different way and try and move away from print. I want to give a couple of examples of stories written in sand, written in the land, written in sand. And the first of them is not by an Aboriginal author and is not authored by Aboriginal culture but it's written in sand here on this continent.
It's about 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip enters Sydney Harbour in three small boats, longboats they called them, not yet with a billowing sails of empire, which at this stage anyway have stayed in Botany Bay and he's having a sniff around to see if he can find a better place. He's told repeatedly to go away, people are shaking spears at him, dancing at him to disappear. But then this very strange thing, and I take great pride in these moments, even though they're sometimes politically awkward. Some Aboriginal men wade out to the boat and they guide him in to a little cove, probably because they're madly curious about what's going on. And there is a cross-cultural encounter on the beaches that many of our historians have spoken of so well.
There is exchange and trade and as Inga Clendinnen has emphasised, there was on this instance dancing. There was also a bit of jostling and poking and looking at teeth and into nostrils and pulling at clothing. So much so that it got a bit too much for Governor Arthur Phillip and his men and Phillip writes this. As their - quoting - as their curiosity made them very troublesome when we were preparing our dinner I made a circle around us. There was little difficulty in making them understand that they were not to come within it and they then sat down very quiet.
So his men and their cooking fire inside this circle that Phillip has drawn in the sand. They're no longer convivial at this stage. They're no longer sharing. They have seen it necessary to draw a line in the sand. It bears some thinking about this story, I think. Since it tells of exclusion and it tells of an enforced power relationship, which to me at least seems a very familiar motive in our shared history.
You might remember a song from some years ago, Treaty. I'm tempted to sing but I won't on this occasion. That line, promises can disappear just like writing in the sand. I'm not sure that this particular line in the sand disappeared if we think of it as emblematic of our history, but certainly it needn't be permanent, it can disappear. I suspect it's still there. I do believe that this insistence on power, on exclusion, might seem a defining feature of Australian identity.
What was being excluded from that circle, what did and does it refuse to see, and now I want to rave a little bit. What I intend to do, and I'm keeping a close eye on the time here because I do want to get to the - talk about the language project, is to talk - to remind ourselves here, particularly of what recent non-Aboriginal research has rigorously demonstrated, what was outside of the circle, what is outside of the circle, so I'm thinking of Bill Gammage's wonderful book, The Biggest Estate on Earth, so I recall, where Gammage says, and here I am squinting again. He talks about, I think it's firestick farming, I think that's the phrase he uses, in which Aboriginal people deployed fire across the continent with the complexity and skill, quote, greater than anything modern Australia has imagined. So that was kept outside of the circle way back then and perhaps still.
He talks about colonists speaking of land like, quote, a gentleman's park, unquote. He talks about, quote, an inhabited and improved country in those first years for the new arrivals. And he talks about how a mosaic of grass and trees, of springs, soaks and wetlands, he uses these words channelled, persuaded and lewd, prey and predictable ways so you knew where it would be.
He talks about again quoting him how a mobile people organised a continent with precision. They sanctioned key principles, think long-term, leave the world as it is, think globally, act locally. They were active, not passive, striving for balance and continuity to make all life abundant, convenient and predictable. Sustainability would be the buzz phrase today, I think.
And he talks about those, the many Indigenous cultures across the nation, how they enabled abundance and that abundance, not just - I'm emphasising this just because our history tends not to emphasise these things. That abundance allowed for a voluminous and intricate spiritual and creative practice. Tony Swain in a place for strangers to, quote, other, I think, rigorous work, explains a world view that prioritises place instead of time and says it's not just cyclical which is just a linear, a line, eating itself. It relied on a sense of rhythms. Place, consciousness relies on rhythms. An awareness of rhythms like of the moon, of sun, of the rhythms of tides, of the winds, there's many rhythms in one place, of plants flowering and plants spilling their seeds, of gestation and birth and death, these are all rhythms of place.
And that the intersection of all those rhythms is what makes the now and what makes it possible to predict - to use time as a secondary thing. It takes some thinking that to get a handle on that but that's why I want to talk about it, these ways of knowing and of being that were and perhaps are still outside of the circle in sand.
Swain talks about abiding stories and landscape that contain, that are themselves rhythmic and contain all those rhythms. So they can be instrumental, if you like, but they're much more than that as well. And when I think about abiding stories in landscape, in place, as a good west Aussie, I think of the western Australian novelist, Elizabeth Jolley talking about the great pleasure of dwelling in stories. She's talking about novels and she's talking about fiction but what she means is you can immerse yourself in a story and you can become someone else and you can look with someone else's eyes. If that's the case what might it mean to dwell in abiding stories that are in the landscape and to resonate with the rhythms that those stories contain.
I think it was only in this week's Australian that Noel Pearson was quoting TG Strello, if that's how you say the name, and talking about the great mythic dimensions and resonances in tales of the dreaming across the continent. I agree with him. It makes me think that a renaissance in the northern hemisphere arose from people digging up shards of pottery and broken statues and recovering ancient languages, so what about here in the great land of Oz, what might it mean to not just recover bits and pieces and fragments of pottery and statues, but where we have landscape representing those stories and we also have languages of even greater antiquity.
My point is still about those stories being left outside of the circle, stories like the one from which this image comes. I'm taking a little bit longer here than I thought but I was and I'm still tempted to do it very quickly, to talk about moments in first contact in our history, not in Sydney now but I'll duck back over to Western Australia and I try to be inspired by these things in my last novel, that Dead Man Dance. People, Noongar people, Aboriginal people at moments of first contact acting in such sophisticated and powerful ways because of the stories they had available to them and that they were performing in a way. Things like the monks at New Norcia meeting a few Noongar children as they're walking in the bush, and they show them their Spanish alphabet on the sand and within five or 10 minutes those kids have reproduced that alphabet perfectly in the sand and then for good measure they write it in mirror images. What propensity for literature is there in moments like that.
I think of Noongar people down in my ancestral country being really quick to work out the benefit of ships and asking to get on a ship down on the south coast and go around to visit their Noongar relatives up at the new Swan River colony because as one historian has pointed out, Tiffany Shellam said they saw that ships were a new cultural product that could use to extend their kin and geographic networks.
So this an immense ability because of these stories that carry you to move into the future and new worlds. I think this is neglected when we talk about our history. It comes from stories. I have an image here, it is I admit an amateurish looking image but it's within the first months of colonisation in Western Australia where one of those fellas that asked to go on a ship to visit the new colony and check out what's happening there, was explaining to someone how a camp is arranged and he took up the new technology for him of pen and ink and clearly wielded it with competence and a willingness to see what it could do. That comes from stories, what you know of old stories and how they story you.
Here is a Noongar language text. Tyrone, can I use this language here, are you all right? [inaudible 37:28 Aboriginal language spoken]. So it's got a colonial place name contained within an Aboriginal cultural frame. That's the possibilities outside of the circle, I would think. Possibilities that we haven't yet got to that interest me enormously and is part of why I value language revitalisation among other things.
I'll jump a little bit now, if you'll forgive me. I want to offer another - what I was going to talk about a little bit there was the way some people talk about possibly Australian identity as a psychosis associated with it. A little bit to do with relationships between Aboriginal and non‑Aboriginal people. A couple of - Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra in Dark Side of the Dream spoken of an Australian orientalism in this way. It's exclusion, power relationship, belittling and other things. But we haven't got time for that just now.
My point is that what I'm hoping that in an enlightened group I reckon we've probably got here today, we're all gaining a sense of how important Aboriginal Australia, the many Aboriginal nations, the very many Aboriginal peoples, how important all that is to our national identity as part of what reconciliation is about, I think. How important it is to changing that little tiny circle in terms of healing and transforming the nation. I think this is what a lot of that political legislative talk is about. So after decades and decades of attempted destruction and denigration of Aboriginal culture heritage language, things are beginning to change. I want to offer another little story in sand from a one Noongar person's perspective now, to think about this a bit.
It's a story told by Mrs Hazel Brown, Auntie Hazel, with whom I did a book 10 or so years ago, Kyung and Me. It's a little story lifted out of that book. Auntie Hazel is going - doing a native title survey with her sister and nephew. She takes them to a rock waterhole that no-one else knows about. She's very pleased that she's the one that knows about it and they don't. She takes them there, here's the waterhole, beautiful, fresh water, sweet water. She says, yeah, and a long time ago this little fella, Wardarchi, a little spirit creature, he came here, he was looking for his people all on his own. And he sat down here on that rock where you're sitting, Graham, he sat down right there and Graham, the nephew, said, oh, how do you know that he sat here? And she said, she went over and she swept the sand away off the top of the rock where he was sitting and she showed him this little footprint five or six inches long, six toes on it. That is the footprint of the little spirit creature. Oh, Graham went, oh, and he took a photo of it. But then she said, yeah, he was sitting there, he really shouldn't have been here. And this Noongar woman had been following him and she crept up behind him and she had a club in her hand and she lifted it up and she hit him, bashed him over the head. Oh, how do you know that a woman was there? And again, Auntie Hazel said she swept the sand away and there is, what would it be, the ball of a left foot, the ball of the print put deep into the rock. That's how I know, she says. He shouldn't have been here, he should have been being introduced to country, like Tyrone was talking about before.
Then she says - she's shown them the evidence of this, then she says, I pushed all the - then I covered it up with sand and I said, don't you two show anybody this place, you're not supposed to, you know. We always cover it with sand because if you leave it everybody will want to go and see it, see? They'll make a sort of museum thing of it.
So I want to just let us reflect upon this story using sand. What's being said here? I think this is a protocol document, a protocol in stone. The footprints represent what? I think they represent - they may well represent in my conversation here today, something like heritage and language. Is Auntie Hazel saying we keep it to ourselves and we don't share it with anyone. Is this like that circle, is this little sand story emblematic of Aboriginal people's relationship with non-Aboriginal Australia and accessing that heritage that some of us are thinking is necessary for the nation. Is she also excluding as did Governor Arthur Phillip back then? I don't think so, but maybe. Note firstly that she's not saying it's not just non-Aboriginal people that should be excluded, so she's not making that racist distinction. And she has shown the two people that are with her and in a little way hinting, because we're not at the place she's shown anyone reading the book and now all of us, oh God, what am I doing here, I hope I've got this right.
So I suggest this is a protocol document written in stone and it's talking about the importance of respectful relationships, of negotiated relationships or agreements. So not just anybody, don't just show anybody, they have to know me or you or you and they'll - and you bring them in and you tell them this yarn and you make this point again, here is the text. So that same person [inaudible 44:46] Hazel Brown, has been a major figure, the central bossiest figure in the Wirlomin Noongar language and stories project that I want to talk about for a while now.
How are we going with time, Cathy, I've lost it. Only got five minutes or so, okay. I've got 10, perhaps, I'll go very quickly. How could Cathy say anything different, I suppose. Okay, thank you very much for your lovely audience. Here's - look, and I was diffident and hesitant about books, it's not the biggest deal about this, there's reasons why we do books, it's focus and all those other things I see. [Inaudible 45:37 talking in Aboriginal] which contains colonial experience in a very inclusive way, [inaudible 45:47]. Here is a group of us at one of the workshops and I'll put up a number of these photos. I'd like to name all the people but I won't do that on this occasion but I do want to make a point that as a collective endeavour I do the writing the novels, that art form that comes out of industrialisation and isolation. Some people say it's a one on one person and there's some bad things about that. This is all of us getting together and recovering and consolidating and running our ancestors' language through our bodies making ourselves instruments for that old sound and doing it collectively. There's no other way to bring it alive to enable it to be shared, I don't think, though there probably is.
So I've talked about language and heritage as a powerful cultural source from which to draw. I've suggested that it's outside the circle of Australian society. But the truth is that those cultural sources in my experience anyway, the little bit of Australia that I know are in danger. The circle of Governor Arthur Phillips, if we can keep using him metaphorically, has expanded and the world outside of it in some ways has become poorer and has shrunk because of these fundamentals of our history and I don't mean to be assertive or aggressive in saying this, these fundamentals of our history, stolen country, something like in my part of the world a tiny percentage of the original population surviving the first 50 years of colonisation. And then some sort of a apartheid like regime to crush people in culture and language and probably many of us here know about that. So that's why the world outside of the circle has become a little impoverished. It's an endangered language, the one Noongar language.
So the Wirlomin Noongar language and storage project is, as I've said, about recovering of ourselves recovering through reconnecting and rebuilding that pre-colonial heritage language and story particularly and their connection with country. And gathering momentum from that source to bring us to now and continuing on into the future.
Auntie Hazel who's in the middle with the walking stick there and her siblings have been key figures, as I've said in this. And it was partly - it partly flowed from the book we did when we realised that what she knew for a whole range of reasons wasn't being transmitted and consolidated in our little home community, let alone anywhere else. So that, we wanted to get it back and consolidate it there first, and I think what's happened is we get empowered through sharing it, it heals because of that difference sense of identity and the other stories it gives us of who we might be and also in sharing that. And I want to quickly in the few minutes left try and talk about that. So there's a series of workshops.
It looks a bit teacherly. Sometimes they are, sometimes they're around a camp fire, a range of us involved, kids, different generations, different ages. some of us know about education things, some of us don't. There's a range of things we're bringing together.
Again, the groups, so the first time we got together, 2006/2007, and what we wanted to do at this occasion was give particular archive material back to the descendants of the informants. There was some material collected in 1930 in Albany and we pulled together the children in some cases or grandchildren of these people and we wanted to pull them out in front of a group and say here's your dad's stuff, here's your granddad's stuff, here's your uncle's stuff. It's yours, but we got some ideas for how we'd like to work on it together. Within five minutes of us all getting together like that and people were saying, the old ones were saying, we only get together like this at funerals these days. Within five minutes we're all crying. Me too and I like to think I'm a tough fella. And it was something to do with the emotional intensity of that. Something to do with reconnecting and the possibility that we could listen to those old people again and it was that that had brought us together, those stories and that language, was at the heart of us. It was a wonderful crying to be happening. And it continues to be of that kind, people getting together. Some of you might know Aboriginal communities can be fiercely political, the one I know can be, and we've had sometimes people ringing me up being cranky, what are you doing, that's some of my family's material you're working with. And we've had the pleasure of inviting them along and it's different once they're there and they see what we're doing and what they can join in on.
So we go through this sort of thing. We - sometimes it's an archive collected in the last couple of years from family, older family members. Sometimes it's the Daisy Bates or some other collection. And we look at one or two of them. Here's the scraps, the fragments, the raw material. Some of us, particularly if sometimes it's in international phonetic alphabet or something flash, some of us will read it aloud, others like these wise ones around me here will speak up and say you don't say it like that or you say it like this or they'll say, no, no, I know another story like that or they'll remember the informants. And I make this point because in doing that we're value adding and we're escaping that binary of paper archival history and oral history, we're value adding by bringing them together. And we're beginning then to develop stories out of these fragments and cross-reference what different individuals know and the paper knows.
Again, this is largely our reference group, I think. This is Auntie Roma Wynmar, who produced the image that I've put up there a while ago and is a wonderful person to have in the mix. So we put the stories together then we bring in someone who knows about doing illustrating picture books and we do a little workshop on that. That's skilling up some of us, it gives us an opportunity to engage in safe ways with the stories so it's those of us who are not too confident about using language, we can experiment in little safe circles. In doing the artwork means you have to engage with the story and work out what's going on here and how am I going to picture it, how am I going to story it in images and in doing all of those things we're singing it up, for want of a better - we're fanning the embers of what's there.
And then in a third stage of these workshops we put on an exhibition of the artwork and we invite a wider circle of people, so the circle is expanding with trust, to come along and see what we've produced. Then a further stage, you'll see the bottom there we've got the uniforms on, I like to think that's us, the Wirlomin Wiggles, if you like. So we go through schools in the region and do little public events, eight or - a group of us about that size. Some of us have got a bit of nous at working in classrooms or a little bit of public speaking, others of us haven't, but the places are left open for them to step in and have their share of the spotlight whenever they want and as soon as possible. And people, there's youngsters, there's Elders, the Elders are very good at connecting up Noongars in the school classrooms with who their families are and doing all that really important work. So this is healing going on in all these phases of this.
I wanted to play a couple of minutes of this. This is Auntie Roma. So another thing we do other than school tours, we go back to country for the older members of our groups to share back in the old days the apartheid-like days when you had to be ducking for cover a lot of the time, where people camped, but also to reserves and missions and places where these stories belong. I want to play a little bit so you can hear other voices than mine of Auntie Iris and Auntie Roma speaking.
<Voice recorder playing>
Auntie Roma: And we call her Mama. And [00:00:00] have a special connection, very strong in spirit because -
Auntie Iris: Yes.
Auntie Roma: [Inaudible 55:44], he actually raised my mother as well for a short time. I got very emotional back there at the camp site and you can't really explain it, there's no explanation for why all of a sudden it's all full and I said to them, I just feel full and what do you mean, well you can't - I feel full of tears, I feel full of joy, when you've been away - when somebody's been away for a long time and they've actually returned on a journey and you rush out to meet them and there's all these hugs and tears. It's a joy but to shedding tears and it's the same kind of thing that I felt back there, well I'm still feeling it actually. And being here with this mob it's great but before my mother died, she had a massive stroke and before she died she said, Roma, as soon as I get better I'll take you back down to where I came from and I'll you to all these places. The project now has enabled me to come to these places but without my mother. I suppose it's the feeling that the loss of her not being here but yet maybe she is here in spirit. And that dream being fulfilled for me, so if I just - this happens, take no notice. I'm feeling really good and it's a spiritual journey, it's -
K: There's a quote that talks and this is - probably many of you know about the talk about wellbeing and health that comes from reconnecting with a pre-colonial heritage. It means you've got other stories other than just tales of a legacy of oppression and of being beaten down and fragmented to speak of who one is.
I'll read out - and I know I'm going on a little bit long here, I want to read out a couple of words from people in the Wirlomin Wiggles, some of the participants in those school tours. So someone - Connie Moses says this. I'm just so proud to be part of the journey, we are a team, you know, and we're growing together. I just can't wait to get up and dance and sing. It's just so wonderful to hear everyone speak, especially the Elders. Another one says, an Elder, I want to tell you, it's a privilege to share what we feel with the kids, I get emotional at times but when I get emotional I'm listening to the old fells because they're talking to me along with them talking to you guys. Prior to this I was lost, I had circumnavigated Australia three times looking for my identity and it brought me all the way back to Katanning. I heard of the Wirlomin mob. I thought, no, they don't want me. That's all changed now. We've got something tangible. I always tell you, we've got something tangible. What we've lost we are resurrecting. So, my people, we go with our head held up high proudly. I love to hear - I get no feedback like this from working on novels, I'm afraid to say. So it's a way of being a literary man in a home community other than just a minority of my own mob reading the novels.
But, so this about how it heals and benefits and transforms home communities, but I think it also these sort of things, this is where I'm getting to the paradox of empowerment through giving. You just heard something of that. I think it can also benefit the wider community, so this - I want to go through this little story, I know I'm going a bit long but I've got finish, all right.
This is a man from one stage when we have the exhibition of artwork and we hand out draft stories to the wider sector of the Noongar community, going beyond our own little mob. And my thinking as the politically sophisticated fella in the group was that we'd only invite Noongar people there and we'd pull them out one at a time ceremoniously and give them the stories as one of the wise heads in the different factions of the community. Auntie Hazel and the other said, invite this man along, and he's one of the pioneering families, the third or fourth, fifth generation. And I remember vividly saying what do you want to invite him for? They're the mob that stole our country and you lived like a slave on their property and cleared the land and made them rich back in the day. And Auntie Hazel and her siblings said, he grew up with us, we grew up with him and he speaks a bit of Noongar too, bring him along. So we did and I've got this photo of him after he'd come up to the front and received the books in front of 95% Noongars, a hundred or so of us there and he's going back and he's crying. So that interests me enormously because that's politically unorthodox, I know. But it is about this empowerment through giving and who are the powerful ones in this mix, because we've moved into the centre of that circle now, is what's going on. The storytelling situation has changed the structure of the power relationship.
And there's other examples. This work informs my new novel Taboo, this sort of thing. My ancestral country is infamous for killing that occurred there and for a long time it was - other Noongars would regard it as taboo because of that. And because I suspect the apartheid-like legislation meant you couldn't go back to country to reconcile yourself what had happened.
A couple of years ago, see that bus in the background, 25, 30 of us went onto this massacre property. Here's Auntie Hazel having a talk with the owner of it. He gifted us grinding stones and apologised for collecting them, that he'd picked up from his property in that time. He gave them to us as recognising us as owners really of that. He didn't give us the land back but we'll see. You never know, but we didn't mention it.
He showed us sights on his property, so here is what we call Anama hole where the water holding granite collecting run off and a slab is a [inaudible 1:02:42] with - and his knees about to lift it up. And it's symbolically wonderful to go on a private property in massacre country with a community descended from that area bringing the language and stories back and being nourished and opening the earth to be nourished and nurtured by it.
Here is a final thing then. A text in stone, again from Auntie Hazel in country that's devastated, over cleared to within an inch of its life. She stops our cars on the highway, leads us walking stick and all across the barren paddock to a granite rock formation at the top and tells us a story of the kangaroo and the moon, [inaudible 1:03:36]. And the kangaroo is lying there looking up at the moon, saying - and Daisy Bates recorded this story, it's a safe public story but the site is special to go there. Kangaroo, I'm going to die and my bones will lay here and dry and turn grey in the sun and the he'll grow up around me. What about you, moon, [inaudible 1:04:05] and the moon says, well I waste away, I get sick and I get small and small, but I come back like this. And it's a wonderful immortality story in granite, in Noongar country that comes and she tells it in language. And it's written there in the rock, circles of stone and the mark of a kangaroo. The first time they took me there I remember looking around, where's that kangaroo. I'm looking for the silhouette like on the Qantas plane, see. But it was the mark that a kangaroo leaves in the earth when it's lying there time after time, it's in the granite.
I've taken up a little bit too much of your time, but I wanted to talk about the possibilities of healing and transformation in reconnecting with a pre-colonial heritage. I wanted to say a little bit about this paradox of empowerment through giving. We Noongar people, we - some of us are Aboriginal people, it's not for me to speak for anyone else, through sharing aspects of our heritage and also non-Aboriginal people giving space and giving their ears and giving their interest. The paradox of empowerment through giving.
I think these things are major denominations in the currency of identity and belonging and I use those phrases to tiptoe towards legislative and political talk. I say this is cultural capital, currency of identify and belonging, this cultural capital that we need to find ways to invest in together, not just bracketed for Aboriginal groups to come up with the funds all on their own because it's their stuff. It matters to all of us, I think. Thank you very much for your time.
M: I heard somebody say today that fundamentalists give answers and scholars ask questions and I think we'd agree that novelists and people who know that language matters step like this and look at it one way. They look through an eye in different directions, they draw circles, they slip a script and read it in mirror image and that actually the diffidence is so important for us to approach this issue. But I think you'll also agree that we were invited into a circle tonight and I feel welcomed and I hope that your circle and your community will continue to expand out that language and that story.
So now we have gone a lot over time and I don't think anybody cares about that at all, but so I'm just going to - Kathy, we'll take a couple of questions, okay. And do excuse me, we'll take a couple of questions from the floor. We won't have very long questions because we can talk afterwards but as per usual can you until the mic comes your way so that those using the hearing loop and for the video can hear.
A: Firstly thank you, Kim, the generosity that took. Can I just ask you, your love of Noongar language and the reworking of that, the regrowing of it is fascinating and you're allowing all of us to be included in that story tonight is very important. I'm fascinated by where your love of Wadjela language of English comes from because the precision and the obvious love of language in your books is also very striking.
K: I think it's all one. I deeply value Noongar language, I think it's a manifestation of the spirit of place and I really need to emphasise, there's many languages across the continent, I'm using this as an example of course it belongs in a particular little small area. But I think it's all one, it's about rhythm and sound and it's about languages as an expression of something inside our bodies, something like spirit, that's what I love about language and the idea that language speaks us, some people say, or we probably - it's not quite that one way, but there's a lot of that in it, we are instruments for language and I'm a wannabe muso, so that might be part of it. Yeah, language is just - it's beautifully expressive.
The thing - yeah Indigenous languages matter so much and I know TS Elliott, The Wasteland, I don't know if anybody knows that, no-one reads poetry these days. But a lovely poem and expression of a sensibility, but at the end of that poem about a modern damaged sensibility, if I can put it like that, the persona is healed through sand script, through the ancient language. And I think well what about here, and I've tried to talk about it, the possibilities of healing there. Something like that, that's my answer.
M: We're just going to take one - Stuart is just going to read - with somebody in the online community's got a question so thanks Stuart for reading.
Stuart: So this one's from a Meredith, through Facebook. Thinking about the fact that we are all living on stolen land, she's wondering if it's been suggested that as a minimum all of the boundaries of every first nation's territory should be marked and also should contain [inaudible 1:10:37] land which belongs to that nation. Or would Indigenous people see this as a meaningless or token gesture irrelevant to their current reality.
K: I heard the first bit about boundaries being marked, what was the next bit?
Stuart: Would Indigenous people see that those boundaries being marked are a token gesture irrelevant to their current reality?
K: I'm not sure and again I really don't want to speak for anyone else. I think the idea of boundaries is a little bit problematic. I think boundaries, it's not a step over the line, despite what I was saying before, I think one of the strong things of what I know about Aboriginal cultures is boundaries are flexible things, they're negotiated, they're shared and there's all sorts of give and take that happen - that's what's interesting about boundaries. They're not about excluding that much.
The whole business of using language in our shared society always runs a great danger of being tokenistic, I think, and one of the reasons - one of the things I'm trying to do in this little yarn I've had today is just talk about the importance of consolidating in home communities and so it's stronger there than it is in the wider community because that's how you get the right power relationships going. But things like dual signage and interpretative work is starting to happen, places all around the country and that's part of language being shared, I think. Are you all right with that? Feel free to speak up, Tyrone, it's your home here. Wasn't I cunning to talk about being diffident and all that and then I went over time by a long time, apparently.
A: Hello, in the mid-'80s I took advantage of the [inaudible 1:12:31] to undertake a study of sociology, one of which the elective was Aboriginal studies and the text, I think the academics were all La Trobe graduates and they were rather Marxist. The text was [inaudible 1:12:53], I can't remember the title of the work because it was always referred to as [inaudible 1:12:58] but it was a very formal study of an anthropological nature which went into each of the categories of what constituted Aboriginal society. And it was expressed at a very formal academic anthropological language. Now I'm sure for myself and probably for a lot of those students who undertook that, their concept of Aboriginal society would have been just so - it was so erudite and academic that -
K: And anthropological.
A: Anthropological. And what does -
M: We might just ask Kim to think about how is that different with I guess when you're taking a community approach to this?
K: Well sometimes - I must admit I sometimes get briskly with anthropological notions and other people's definitions of - I don't want to go on too long about this, other people's notions of what it is to be Aboriginal or any particular subgroup, a Noongar or whatever. I go so far as to say when people might say to me, what's your Aboriginal name, I'll say Kim Scott is my Aboriginal name. And that's informed by that text I put up that's all Noongar language and it's got King George town in there and Noongar's taking on ships and learning French and doing that - playing with the alphabet and doing an oral recitation which uses the structural features of an expedition journal. Being threatened, a shepherd with a gun and taking the gun off and rendering it harmless and then giving it back to him, all those examples are about a culture and a people moving into new possibilities and claiming them as their own. And I really like to think about it in those terms rather than anthropological bracketing of Aboriginality. Key things, though, need to be about a sense of place, I think a sense of kinship and connect - I like to say I am one among those that call themselves Noongar and I do that because there's a little bit of self assertion in there, self-identification but it's all those - I'm one among all those others. So that idea of kinship and community and place and perhaps language is a major thing of that. They're the key things I would rely upon and I greatly value diversity in Aboriginal people. I like to see as much difference as possible because that's creating new possibilities for how we might be rather than being compartmentalised in some little bracket that's convenient for a wider group of people.
A: [inaudible 1:15:55].
M: Well that might be convenient - it might be a convenient -
K: Have a yarn soon, my friend.
M: - stop to - yes and those of you who were at the Library regularly know that actually we're going to start throwing people out at 7:50. And we've got to have a drink beforehand and Kim has kindly offered to sign some copies of his books as well so I think we'd better call the formal part of the evening to a close and thank him again very much for inviting us. Thank you.
End of recording