It happened when I was sitting in (yet another) Zoom meeting. Public servants all dialled in to another national committee meeting about something-or-other. But this meeting was slightly different. The first 25 minutes of it was taken up by each attendee announcing (frequently poorly) ‘the traditional owners of the lands on which we are meeting’.
The Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.
The Woiworung people.
The Kaura people.
Then it was my turn. I dutifully recited the same words I had many times before ‘the Yuggera and Turrbal people’.
In this awkward but well-intentioned exchange of mispronounced Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I had some time to ponder. And then to become vexed. And then ashamed. It occurred to me that if a single attendee of this committee had asked me any follow up information about the Yuggera and Turrbal people, I would have nothing of value to contribute. Not a single piece of information about them, their customs, their lands, their beliefs. Sure, I knew how to Acknowledge Country. But I sure as shit had little to no understanding of what that actually meant.So I set myself a task – to learn.
After some research, I found out about ‘The Last Gundir’, a book penned specifically about the Yuggera and Turrbal people, which might help me better understand these lands on which I work and live. I had to hunt it down at a local bookstore, as it is self-published. I found only one copy of the shelf. And it’s been sitting, staring at me from my bedside table for months. Like a bowl of steamed broccoli. Something that I knew would be good for me, yet for some ridiculous reason I continued to avoid it.
Well, I made it through. It was not a quick read, nor easy. But I am so incredibly glad that I did it.
Nayef Din has pieced together an engaging and important story, giving me exactly what I sought – insight. He meticulously researched his story, piecing together local histories passed down by elders and cross-referenced against settler and convict accounts. Before I read this novel, I couldn’t tell you what a Kippa was, or a Bora Ring, or the complexity of manhood, matriarchal societies, songlines, totem significance or, let’s face it, anything of meaning. I wouldn’t know the story of the three convicts who became lost in a storm and were rescued and cared for by the local indigenous tribes, becoming the first settlers to find the elusive ‘Meeanjin’ (now known as the Brisbane River). I wouldn’t know that it was once blue and full of dolphins. I would be missing a crucial piece of local history.
As I was reading this, I was travelling. I saw so many commemorative statues to white settlers, convict buildings, war history… And it really brought home the sadness of what has been lost in Australia. The stories we should be telling are so rarely known.
I owe Din a great deal of thanks for pulling back the veil on the rich local culture at my very doorstep. And I relish the chance to share this book to anyone who will read it, so they may too learn a little more.
5 delicious roasted bunya nuts out of 5.