was whilst at the Botanic Gardens that we found out about Nugal-warra Elder
Willie Gordon, who wants his aboriginal culture and history to be understood and
appreciated. He does this through leading trips to sites deep in the bush where
he lives and to Wangaar-wuri a landscape of giant rocks and sandstone
escarpments where his ancestors have left cave paintings. We walked for four
hours and he talked of the lives these people lived and the way in which their
to understanding the people is the emphasis they put on their spirit and that of
the animals and plants of the environment in which they lived. Note the birth
painting behind Willie.
walked through the bush to a number of caves hidden from view where people had
left their primitive paintings of themselves and the key moments in their lives.
The boulders were quite spectacular in their own right as can be seen
rock was of particular importance because it resembles a python and was believed
to offer protection to the women who came to give birth in the cave below as
some of the paintings depicted . One of Willie's own relatives had been born
here only 2 generations ago.
of the paths down to the cave areas were very dramatic too.
birth cave was used for this purpose until last century and the paintings, made
only with red, black and white ochre, are beginning to fade. One of the issues
facing Willie and modern day Aborigines is whether the paintings should be
restored or whether they should be left to gradually disappear. Only in the more
inaccessible places are the pictures likely to survive long like this hand
course, the Aboriginal way of life was trampled and destroyed by the white man.
Willie told some tragic tales of the way in which their lives were
changed, sometimes even their children taken from them for “civilising”.
one case a white woman was found to be living with an Aboriginal
family, she was forcibly removed even though she had been brought up
from a young age by Aborigines as their own after both her parents had died of
influenza. This “rescue” ended tragically when the woman fell from the horse her
rescuers had put her on and died as a result of her injuries.
callousness with which the people and their lands were treated is just
overwhelming. These people had lived in total harmony with their environment
for, in all probability, 35,000 years. The society was highly complex with
regional groupings of people living in clans or family groups who often spoke
totally different languages to the people in neighbouring lands. There were
strict laws governing who a girl could marry (to avoid inbreeding) and usually
this meant the girl travelling away to her new clan and learning a completely
new language. Yet when she died her bones would be returned to the homeland so
that her spirit could return to the earth that had helped make her.
according to Willie, only 250 years since Cook first met (and showed great
respect for) the Aborigines, there are none living a self sufficient,
traditional way life any more. Willie bore no ill will toward the white man but
is trying his best to perpetuate the knowledge and the spirituality of his
ancestors and incidentally to try to get the current generation away
from the dependency culture of living off government welfare. Only in
recent years has the national government shown real respect for these people and
begun to realise how much knowledge and understanding of the environment has
already been lost and could be lost forever.
Despite having been a boiler maker earlier in his life and later a mental
health nurse, Willie has kept the power of observation that is apparently innate
in Aboriginal people. He demonstrated this on the drive back to the road when he
suddenly stopped and got out of the minibus and brought back this frilled lizard
that he had spotted in the bush as we drove past.
Willie was able to explain some of the philosophy of the aborigine in
relation to hunting, food gathering and coping with the environment which
enabled these people to live in harmony with the land for millennia. However,
many of the life skills have been lost due to the enforced movement of people
off their homelands, children removed from families and educated in different
skills, impact of white settlements and attitudes. This has caused a dependency
previously unknown to them and has created great a loss which Willie and others
like him are trying to address.