It’s a cool Canberra evening. The famous tee-pee shape of Parliament House dominates the skyline to the south-west and the Australian War Memorial’s red parade ground expands out to the north-east. Here, in Reconciliation Place, we gather on the grass and sand to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
As a delegate to the 2014 National Indigenous Studies Conference, I was treated to an evening of high tea consisting of warm scones with jam and cream, kangaroo meat with baby boccaceli, lamb and chutney on a fancy bread thing, cheese and crackers, sandwiches, mini deserts and the most delicious fancy teas I’ve ever tasted.
But the highlight was most certainly the opportunity to share some unique cultural experiences.
Members of the Yolngu and Bininj lands have traveled from the far north of our country to share with us the Lorrkkon Ceremony and Bunggul Djama. This is the first time the Lorrkkon Ceremony has been performed in public and it’s an honour to be present for this event. The Lorrkkon Ceremony marked the passing of Bill Neidjie, a leader of his community who was the last speaker of his language. He asked for the ceremony of his passing to be filmed so that we might all learn about his culture and that film was played tonight. It was moving to see this man I’ve never known on old black-and-white film speaking the lyrical sounds of his language. The dancers then handed over the canister of film to the people from AIATSIS who are working so hard to digitise all the video, audio and photo recordings of one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures.
In the spirit of sharing and encouraging all Australians, including those of us who’s families came from other lands, to embrace the beauty that is the ancient traditional cultures of our land, we were all invited to the specially laid sand to dance the Aboriginal way. Bill Neidjie said that we all walk on the same mother earth and breath the same air. And, in this spirit, many of us present took off our shoes to feel that earth between our toes.
There was an aura of shyness and respect amongst us white folk taking to the sand. Most of us have never had the privilege to learn much about Aboriginal culture, let alone participate in a dance. But, slowly, as the throb of the didgeridoo filled the air and the singer’s voice guided us in a language we didn’t understand, we all started to grow in confidence and move with the ceremonial dancers whose people have danced this way since time began. And sure enough, eyes started to twinkle, mouths started to smile, our bodies copied the movements of the experts and a true small act of Reconciliation took place right there in the part of the same name.