What about January 26?

[Warning for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples – this post contains images and names of those who have died.]

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about a memoir I’d written. You can find the post here. I wrote it in celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday but also as an exploration of her life and mine.

In the memoir I reflect on the Indigenous people’s history, especially through personal connections, with the Lardil First Nation of Gununa/Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Sydney – Aborigines Woomera Dance Troupe circa 1974

In the 1970s the distinguished Lardil man, Larry Lanley, and the dance empressario, Keith Glennon, created the Aborigines’ Woomera Dance Troupe.

Song and dance were already embedded in Indigenous people’s culture, of course, but in creating a touring group of Lardil dancers, Keith and Larry hoped they would be revitalising the songs and dances of the elder days (pre-Mission times) and helping celebrate First Nations of these lands with the rest of Australia.

The Dance Troupe has been touring ever since. They performed at the opening of the Sydney Opera House, have toured all over Australia at many different festivals, schools and celebrations and have toured widely overseas as well. You can find out more about the Mornington Island Dancers here.

Aborigine’s Woomera Dance Troupe touring schools in the 1970s.

My family lived with the dancers when they were based in Stanmore in Sydney in 1974. They were so kind to us. They brought us finely painted turtle shells, gave us bark paintings and food and clothes and hats and once, a baby wallaby that had lost its mother. The dancers hung the wallaby upside down in a bag on a hook in the kitchen. They fed it milk from their fingers and took it to the local park so it could eat grass.

We toured with the dancers sometimes, watching from the sidelines as they joked with the audience, made magical sounds with their didgeridoos, and astounded with their mimicry of animals and birds.

My Kunus’ (younger brothers) Kantha (father), Gordon Bunbadgee Watt, says of performing:

When we first go out (out on tour in the late 1960s)…we can’t be frightened of people, even children.  You just got to face them when you’re dancing.  You can’t be dancing with your head down all the time, nothing.  You feel a lot better when you doing something, dancing…that’s bin how I feeling when I first dance…I just love it.  Some week we might be do two three schools in one day…I feel really tired but we had to do it.  It’s our culture.  We gotta keep culture going.

When thinking about January 26, perhaps think of the ways in which Indigenous people’s have kept their culture strong through severe disconnection and fragmentation as a result of colonisation.

That is something to celebrate.

Until next time,

Jacqui.

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