David Tournier

David Tournier, 2013.
David Tournier, 2013.
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria
Language is land, land is Country, Country is you.

I’m Yorta Yorta on my father’s side, Ngarrindjeri on my mother’s side, but I’m supposed to have connections through my great-great-great-grandfather within Wathaurong Country (Bacchus Marsh). I grew up between Swan Hill, Geelong and Deniliquin.

When we moved back to Swan Hill I started to learn about who I was. It’s not that Mum wasn’t telling me, it’s just that I didn’t ask her the questions. It wasn’t until she was introducing me to other family members, was when she started to talk as well. But it was the uncles who taught me a lot about who I am and a lot of my cultural information. A lot of the local mob down there don’t know the history, and they’re relying on me to teach them. One of the uncles, if you didn’t do it right, would slap you round the ears. “That’s to remind you, boy, that could have been a snake biting you.” Yes Uncle, I understand now.

I’ve learned a lot about Geelong through older people, not necessarily Aboriginal people, ninety year old plus, who’d had contact with Aboriginal peoples around the area. So I got to know a lot about that Country down there, where things are, and how and why. I’ve learnt this and learnt that, because I’ve made it my business. When you’re in a person’s Country, so you’ve got to respect that Country and know as much about that Country that you’re living in as possible so you can look after it. So that’s what I’ve done all my life. Between Geelong, Swan Hill, Kerang… I worked in Bendigo, got to know about that Country from that local mob there. Kerang, which is actually part of my own history, got to know about that place. It all connects.

I think other organisations around Australia and around the world should take a leaf out of this Yulendj book. If they’re going to talk about traditional peoples of their countries, it’d be good to have the traditional people involved. A lot of us aren’t traditional people – we’re custodians of the knowledge that’s left. And it’s up to us to continue those stories.

Since the late seventies, early 80s I’ve been coming to the museum. They showed us these spears, 200-year-old spears. To be able to touch them – obviously with gloves – wow. The wood’s turned to dust but if you look at the spearhead and the sinew it’s all still perfect as the first day it was put on. Why? How come? Being able to look at some of this old stuff reinforces the intelligence of our Old People and how they made the spears and made them to last.

I’ve been involved in language all my life. When I became a Koorie educator we were looking at Wiradjuri language and then we come across Wemba Wemba language stuff and then we started incorporating local language into schools. It’s brilliant stuff. We all know that language deals with Country and this is what I’m doing, trying to explain to people, if you want to know your Country, you want to learn your language. Language is land, land is Country, Country is you.

Image Gallery

Panel in First Peoples exhibition David Tournier