Story and photos by Harsha Prabhu
Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson got down and dirty with the Arakwal Bundjalung Bunyarra dancers at Apex Park for Survival Day on Tuesday, 26 January, to mark the continued survival of aboriginal and islander culture in the face of the dispossession and genocide against first peoples in Australia.
Welcoming people to the event, Arakwal Bundjalung spokesperson and Byron Shire Citizen of the Year, Delta Kay said: ‘For us aboriginal people Australia Day is celebrated as Invasion Day or Survival Day, because we want to celebrate the survival of our culture. Here in Byron shire our culture is alive and strong and thriving.’
Introducing the Bunyarra (which means ‘deadly’ in Arakwal Bundjalung) Dancers, she said:’ One of the ways we do that is through dancing. Dancing tells a story, keeps us connected to the land, to mother earth. She gives us everything, food, water, shelter, fresh air. We don’t own her. We belong to her, we respect her, we protect her.’
Yidakiman Nigel Stewart said: ‘The government tried to take our culture away, but, like the boomerang, we’ve come back again.’ He played the didgeridoo to honour ‘our fallen soldiers, our aboriginal ancestors who fought in the war for our country.’
Actor and activist Tony Barry said: ’We’ve lost our perspective. ‘ He recited a poem by his mate, bush poet Denis Kevans, Ah White Man Have You any Sacred Sites?, which read, in part:
‘What is sacred to you, white man, what is sacred to your heart?
Is Australia just a quarry for the bauxite belts to start?
Where the forests are forgotten, and the tinkling of the bell
Of the bell-bird in the mountains, is just something more to sell?’
Congratulating all the young who were at the rally, he said: ‘You young one’s are going to have to develop an appetite for activism, because the polluters and plunderers are in charge at the moment and they are hell bent on just carving up what’s out there without having any appreciation, no spiritual connection, no harmonic attachment to this land. We can learn much from the original protectors and carers of this country.’
Calling for all to come together to work in unity Githabul man Jarmbi said: ‘We need to reset the time clock. 26 January will be the day that tomorrow started, when the future started.’
Several hundred punters attended the day’s celebrations despite the rain and the mud, which saw performances by Cleis Pearce and Greg Sheehan, Kobya Panguana and Back Deck. Master percussionist Greg Sheehan also led differently abled ensemble Out of Order in polyrhythmic patterns involving hand clapping and plastic cups that would have made the shires best drummers blush at the sheer dexterity and ingenuity of it all.
When Byron’s mayor hit the deck at the deadly dance, songman Pete Jangla quipped: ‘This is the first time we’ve seen the mayor on his hands and knees.’
But there’s a lesson in this for us all: will we learn from aboriginal people the care, respect and custodianship of land and country that our civilisation seems to have forgotten? Our very survival depends on this learning.