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© NOVA APRIL 2011
'Yet the loss is particularly poignant in Australia, because the
Aboriginal culture is the world's longest continuing human tradition.'
Country (published by Allen & Unwin
2010) because, she says:
"I felt there wasn't a window into the
sheer beauty of Aboriginal culture in the
sense of belonging and the concept of
family that I'd been immersed in during
those times we'd come back to Borroloola."
She realised her experiences over a
period of nearly 30 years were something
most other Australians had no access to
knowing, or even hearing about.
She also wanted to highlight that
in poverty stricken Borroloola, with its
alcohol and substance abuse and high level
of illiteracy, running as a counterpoint is
a wonderful culture and warm hearted
people, who continue to have a deep
happiness about life despite everything
crumbling around them.
John Bradley, who is now deputy
director of the Centre for Australian
Indigenous Studies at Monash University,
first came to Borroloola as a primary
school teacher in 1980, and has spent
30 years living and working with the
Yanyuwa families there. When the older
people realised he was interested in saying
more than just "hello" and "goodbye",
they began to teach him the language.
And from this understanding of the
Yanyuwa language came the understanding
of the Yanyuwa land.
"It's as if the language is just in the
land, and somehow it comes up through
you, and becomes of you and embodies
you," he says.
The old people also taught him the
kujika, the songlines which run through
the country, the rivers, the sea and onto
the islands. For the Yanyuwa people,
these songs are the ultimate way to know
the land and all that's in it, including their
ancestral line. A kukija is "a huge ribbon
of meaning that is travelling through
country, and is saturated with all sorts of
information," John explains. The kukija
gives the relationship of people to their
non-human kin, and it's also an amazing
source of what actually lives in country.
Singing Saltwater Country (Allen
& Unwin 2010), the book John Bradley
put together with a number of Yanyuwa
families, is about the kukija. It includes the
path of the Rainbow Serpent, the Brolga,
the Dingo, the Tiger Shark and also the
Sea Turtle. Traditionally, it's the men who
sing kukija, a tradition seen as important
not only for maintaining a connection with
the ancestors but also with the land.
Today, there are only nine people
alive who can speak fluent Yanyuwa, and
even when John Bradley first arrived in
Borroloola 30 years ago, the old men and
women were worried about their kukija
and who would be able to sing them in
the future. It was because of this that
the elders taught John the kukija, so he
could record them in a form that would
preserve them for future generations.
continued page 35
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