By Richard Frankland
Gunditjmara man, singer, author and poet Richard Frankland. Credit:Justin McManus
Early mornings on Gunditjmara country!
Where the south wind blows so cold and hard,
It can blow the scars off your soul
And the sunrise is so golden it makes a poor man rich beyond his dreams
And a body could travel the world and never be at home ’til he touched those golden shores of his dreaming
’Cause when I’m there I walk where my grandmothers and grandfathers walked before me
And when I’m there I taste the wind that my grandfather tasted long before me
And when I dream, I dream where my people dreamed before me
I dream of Gunditjmara winds and I’m rich far beyond my dreams
Coming home from various places around Australia, and the world, was a cold drink on a hot day for me. I had seen and tasted the bitterness of poverty of spirit, war and discrimination and all the things those sights and feelings bring.
As a peacetime soldier in the ’80s, I witnessed fellow diggers go ‘boong bashing’, saw hundreds if not thousands of my mob living in ‘humpies’ from the far north and the far west to the islands and to the south south, those people being excluded from broader society.
I talked with children overseas who had been shot, survivors of massacres, and held the hands of mothers who had lost children to suicide or who had died in custody.
I investigated deaths in custody throughout Victoria, Tasmania and a bit of NSW.
I was often reminded during those journeys how Captain Cook never landed on a land called Australia. He landed on different Aboriginal countries, and in many ways is still landing on First Nations people. When I travelled I would often tell my children how many First Nations countries I was from home.
When I came home to Gunditjmara country to live I was tentative, excited, scared, in fear that the land Ngeerang Meereeng (mother earth) had somehow forgotten me, one of her sons.
This was not the case. I was home. In some countries overseas the land often felt empty under my feet until I met and talked to first nation people. Then I felt comfortable.
Home fulfilled me. I bought a house and built a home in that house, going eeling with my kids, family and friends, going camping (not often enough). Watching the kids grow up on country always made my spirit sing.
I held a totem naming day. Many members of my mob came and we who had totems revisited them. Those that didn’t got their totems.
When I travelled away from country I would wake early, drive four, five, six hours to be home to see the kids and to feel country. I’d get excited when I crossed the Eumeralla River, and my heart would skip a beat when I saw Nayamat (the sea) around Tower Hill.
I have paid homage here on country, to massacre sites, tried to find battle sites and murder sites, wondered while doing this why we know so many massacre sites, few if any battle sites and hardly any murder sites.
I read an article about my great-grandmother trying to buy a house during the First World War. She was saving her only son’s war wage; he was fighting in the Somme. The authorities of the time would not let her. She died without a home.
I bought some land, started to build a ceremony ground. It was a slow process, writing language prayer-songs, walking and feeling it, taking people there to see it and feel it. Talking business, ceremony business.
I’m having a go at building a healing centre there so we can help heal this nation Australia. It feels right to do that. In some ways I am helping to fulfil my great-grandmother’s dreaming path.
What does land mean to me? Everything. We must help build a better nation, a home for us all.
I do not know what our nation’s collective vision for victory is.
I know this: we need a tomorrow Australia, a home for us all. The land cannot feel empty under our collective feet. We all need to come home.
Once we get through this dark period
We will be able to say
We are bound together
We will have reawakened old skills
Reimagined old values
Dusted off old memories and created new ones, golden ones
We will remember
The pain, the loss, the suffering, the fear
And be grateful how these things have bound us together
Tighter, stronger, with more appreciation of our individual and collective humanity
We will remember gentle smiles, hands that have reached out to others with friendship and love
A gift of food, of milk, of a smile or a gentle word
We will look forward to a new day dawning with great hope
These acts will inspire us and from this we will have opportunity to build something new and far more balanced than the system we have come from
Once we get through this dark period
We will be wiser, stronger, walk more gently on mother earth
We will see the truth in each other
For some of us, some truths will terrify us
There will be other truths
We will unravel the cultural tapestry of a nation
And weave together a new tapestry
A new way
We will take the best of the old
We will rise up from the darkness
We will have a home for us all
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