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This Invasion Day, march for the future

  • 22 January 2019


A lot of Aboriginal people talk about the healing (emotional and otherwise) of being 'on country' and a couple of weeks ago, I went to Central Australia for exactly that purpose. Being out on my Arrernte homelands, I am able to get out of the daily hustle and bustle I experience living in one of Australia's big cities. Out there, I am part of something bigger — a feeling of belonging that is difficult to explain to those who don't have such ties to land.

When I'm in the desert, I'm in a place where my ancestors walked and thrived for centuries under some of the toughest conditions in the world. Where they carved and painted our stories into stone, and navigated these vast landscapes via song or stars. Where they found enough food and water to stay nourished and strong. Where they swam in and camped by pristine waterholes. In the middle of nowhere, the red dirt of the ground reflects the red tinge in my otherwise dark hair. Knowing where you've come from is a powerful feeling.

Beyond that though, it's a special experience to drive through the cattle station on which your grandfather was born, or through the one your great grandmother was born on. Ancient places which acquired new names as settlers brought cattle in and used traditional custodians as free labour.

These are names and words which many Arrernte people are fighting to retain and pass down to their children so they're not lost. Despite colonisation, Arrernte remains one of the more complete Aboriginal languages, yet as successive governments try to stop bilingual educational programs in NT schools, or as misspellings of words persist all around Alice Springs (Mparntwe), it remains under threat. Without the hard work of committed people, who knows what will remain in a generation or two?

Being on country is not all healing. On these ancient landscapes the impacts of colonisation become clear to see. Invasive buffel grass dominates the landscape, taking over from native spinifex every time a fire goes through. Animal species that are reliant on these native grasses become threatened. Wild horses, camels and marked cattle stomp through the ancient dry waterways damaging the beds and the plant life which marks the edges.

There's a saying in Mparntwe which goes 'If you've seen the Todd River (Lhere Mparntwe) flow three times, you're a local.' Despite my not living there, I have seen it