Eileen Alberts

Eileen Alberts, 2013
Eileen Alberts, 2013
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria
We've been fighting for our Country for a long long time.

I was born in Heywood in 1953. I grew up about 12 miles out of Heywood at Little Dunmore. I grew up in extended family with my grandparents, my great-uncles, my aunts, my cousins, in a house that was moved from the mission to Little Dunmore. I affectionately call it ‘the old place’ and I stayed there until 1969. In 1970 the house burned down, but it's still a place of reflection and a place of peace, a place of serenity and a place to gather strength.

I've got lots of favourite memories out there. We were taught to hunt. My playground was the lava flow we'd walk across the mission and approach it from the side where the bridge was washed away in 1946. I’m definitely an outside person.

My mum and dad were a mixed marriage and everyone kept on saying they wouldn't last. Mum took on dad's way of life where women always took care of the children and men first before thinking about themselves, and she did that right up until the time he passed away in 1983. But dad decided that mum needed to have things a little bit easier. So in 1969 we started moving from the old place into Heywood and we did it gradually. Each time the distance to Heywood got smaller and smaller. Power and running water was something we'd never had at the old place and there was no more washing the clothes in the copper, so it certainly did make life a lot easier for mum, considering that she had dad had six of us to look after.

Both my uncle and my great-uncle used to wear emu feather shoes. You knew when they were coming home because you'd see the smoke rising from down at the swamp. That was to smoke themselves, and then they would return home to the old place. They used to talk a language that wasn't quite Dhawurry or Bukabitdj. It was kind of a mixture of both. They wouldn't teach us of course but the stories were brilliant. Stories about Country, about the land, how to utilise that land so that we weren't dependant on store-bought produce.

Emu feather shoes were worn by special men who had special talents. My uncle Harry used to travel home across to Point Macleay, up to Dareton and then back down again. Don’t ask me how he got around because I don’t know, it’s a huge distance, and he did special things as well. My grandmother was the midwife for the area and she brought a lot of people into the world.

Passing down of knowledge is so important to me. I now work for Budj Bim Land Management Team where I go in and mentor the workers about the land that they're working on that particular day and who that land belongs to or who belongs to that land. Last week we were walking around and I said to a worker, ‘this is where YOU belong. You're Kerruptjmara’. She goes, ‘nobody's ever told me where I belong before’. That was such a moving experience for me and it reinforces what I'm doing with Yulendj and in the role that I've taken on now, that people need to know. Her parents were taken away and so they had no knowledge of Country or land. They weren't able to pass that down to their children. It's lucky a lot of us have stayed on Country all the time so we've kept the genealogies and knowledge alive. The same thing with Yulendj - we're not just sharing it with Gunditjmara people, I hope to share it with everyone. I hope that non-Aboriginal people, non-Indigenous people of Victoria, will gain a greater understanding of how we care for our land and care for us so that perhaps they'll step on our Country a little more softly and not harm it as much.

Every year right from the time my grandchildren were born I'd give them one page about their history going right back to the early 1820s before the settlers come into Portland. When they were born they got an emu egg and a little message saying what the emu meant to our people. Every school holidays I have one day with my grandchildren and we go out on Country and we walk the tracks. We have an emu dreaming tree that's been there since my father was born back in 1925. And the emus are still nesting underneath it, so we go out there to make sure that they're fine. We walk past things like the whipsnake and where the wise men went and we talk about the men's business area and the women's business area so they get to know Gilgar Gunditj country. When we go out onto other people’s Country we talk about who it belongs to or who belongs to it and their story. As I say to them, I can't tell you the people's story. I can only tell you the facts about what happened on this Country. Because their real story is not for us to know or to claim because we're Gilgar Gunditj people so our stories are there for us to know.

Image Gallery

Panel in First Peoples exhibition