Our Aboriginal Past and PresentHave you ever wondered who lived where you are now – who walked the streets, played in the park or combed the beach? What ghosts and spirits inhabit the place around us?
I am regularly in awe of what my ancestors have given me, as I live happily here on Sydney’s glorious Eastern Beaches. I can go back quite a few generations in the stories passed down from my grandparents about their grand- parents – warts and all, heroes and villains, ghosts in cupboards. I am lucky to have this knowledge. It is grounding.
I am fortunate to have my feet planted in two great cultures. Greece has given the world many things – democracy, philosophy, theatre, architecture and mythical superheroes – and only in a relative drop of time. Where we live, the Australian Aboriginal has given the world its oldest living culture. Greek and Western civilisations are mere grains of sand in time by comparison.
There is a lot to admire about Aboriginal culture, which is not told as well as ancient Greek culture, I am sorry to say. In 60,000 years here, Aboriginals have continuously adapted to the environmental conditions of the day. They lived in harmony and didn’t bugger the place up. They didn’t need writing and schools as we know them, they had storytelling and used nature as a coded encyclopaedia. The supermarket and chemist was all around them, seasons gave them fresh produce and medicine, and if it didn’t they went searching over the hill.
For technology they had fire stick farming to create animal feeding grounds (read paddocks) and regrowth vegetation (read vegetable gardens), canoes from tree bark and the awesome boomerang, which could do its thing and then come back. The expensive naval hardware down at Garden Island can’t do anything clever like that.
If you look around you can see quite a few things that are part of our Aboriginal past and, if you try hard enough, you can feel some spirits. There is the glorious birdlife that happily cohabits with us – the cockatoos, the parrots, the noisy minors, the fairy wrens, the kookaburras, the cormorants and many others whose ancestors go back past Aboriginal occupation to the dinosaurs.
Our landscape still has eu- calyptus, banksia, grevillea and lomandra as floral descendants. Animals are scarcer. Fortunately the sea still has many species that the Aboriginals feasted upon, though not in such abundance. My favourites are the groper, schools of blackfish, the stingrays and the spectacular kingfish.
The Gadigal people left prolific rock engravings of marine life they admired on the Bondi cliffs, both south and north of the beach. What totems will we leave?
They were resilient, adaptable people from whom we can learn a lot. Many surfers don’t know that the shoreline wasn’t always where it is now, but many kilometres out to sea when water was frozen in icecaps and glaciers, and the current seabed was lush with vegetation. And that is where they roamed.
They are resilient people. We are lucky to still have a strong Aboriginal community amongst us at La Perouse.
Many Beast readers are probably unaware that the spirit of our sea country is carried on through our iconic names, interpretations of Aboriginal words including Boondi (Bondi), Cramaramma (Tamarama), Koojah (Coogee) and Merooberah (Maroubra).
One of the more remarkable aspects of our Aboriginal past was that there was no congestion. They lived in a quiet peace, something I can only find when snorkelling off a headland or meditating on the beach at midnight. Lessons from our Aboriginal past about living in harmony with nature gives us all something to aspire to. And their Dreamtime stories are of far more interest to my grandchildren than the old Greek ones.
Source: For title, place names and inspiration, please have a look at ‘Sydney’s Aboriginal Past’ by Val Attenborough.