Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
I was born at Robinvale. We don’t identify the towns as our place on Country, so I was born on Tati Tati Country. We’re part of the Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi and Mutti Mutti tribal lands and language group.
I don’t class myself as an activist but we’ve been protesting at mine sites and large construction sites and projects that are impacting our water and our heritage and our land. We’re uncompromising in how we assert who we are and our rights.
The mining company offered us money to mine our land. We said no, we don’t want your money. We want the sites to stay as they are. Our land is our inheritance as Traditional Owners. No amount of money can match up to the benefit and enjoyment we get out of just seeing our land in good condition. What we’re doing is for our kids, so we make sure we involve them.
I suppose a lot of people don’t realise that the decisions they’re making today, they’re not thinking about the kids’ and the grandkids’ rights in the future. They think that they’re doing the right thing now, but in the bigger picture it’s actually eroding and extinguishing our own rights and our children’s rights. We want our kids in museums and government departments. We want to educate them, but also they’ll have that fighting instinct in them that they learnt from us, that was passed down from our Elders too.
Yulendj is pretty special group of people, Traditional Owners, with a lot of knowledge and understanding of who they are as individuals and who we are as a group. I’m getting as much out of being a part of Yulendj as what I’m bringing. There’s a strong relationship now, and that’s based on museum staff showing respect to Yulendj members, and Yulendj members imparting knowledge back to museum staff here. I think it’s unique. It’s setting a new standard.
I think non-Indigenous people have got an idea, a view, a stereotype, so my first hope is that this exhibition will enhance their understanding and how they see Aboriginal people today and in the past, and will influence how they will see Aboriginal people in the future as well. So as an educational tool, you can’t quantify how important it is. That won’t be seen for years to come. I hope it enriches their life too. I think it will. Showing our culture will enrich everyone’s culture. What I hope our people get out of it, is the understanding that no, our culture is not a past culture. And they’ll get pride and strength out of it.
To be in the presence of these objects which are spiritual and sacred to the makers, the deceased Ancestors, you feel a responsibility because not a lot of people actually got to see these things. It makes you feel a responsibility to make sure that the descendants out there get access to these objects. Without access that’s a ceasing of that aspect of cultural life and history.
We still use our traditional words as well as English. We might not have been using all the words, but we’ve been using our way of expressing and communicating with each other, that’s our language as well. We’re the flesh and blood of our Ancestors. We might be a bit fairer, might have different shape, but how we communicate is still in that way as well, except we’re using an English dialect. In that sense, we’ve still got the skeleton, we’ve just got to put the meat back on the bones. We’ve still got the framework of our language still intact. As long as one person’s still speaking, then the language’s not lost. My cousin, my kids, my partner and our family group are writing songs in language, recreating songs and stories.
I’ve been involved here in the museum, four or five years now, looking at the collections. I came along one time unannounced and one of the workers couldn’t take me in, they were busy or something. So when I went back home to Robinvale I started making objects. My kids, they’re never going to need to go to the museum to see their objects, they’ll be right here. I don’t want my kids or grandkids ever have to need to travel 500 kilometres, unlocking a door, unpacking a box, to see their peoples’ objects. Over the past few years I probably made a couple hundred objects, just heaps of things. Cutting canoes, shields, boomerangs, clap sticks, throwing sticks called woomeras or nyuks, bowls and bark paintings. I’ve done about 20 paintings this year and I want to see that art travel. I want to see it become a force in itself.