A Day on Country
It was hard to avoid feelings of raw emotion as an incredibly brave Gunditjmara woman, Denise Lovett, and rightly proud Gunditjmara man, Ben Church, guided LGSC participants through Gunditjmara lands. Budj Bim National Park, Lake Condah and the associated Weir are breathtakingly beautiful yet tarnished by a lamentable history for the traditional owners. The strong connection that both Denise and Ben, as well as speaker and fellow Gunditjmara man, Denis Rose, still have with the lands that their family have lived on for hundreds of generations was evident throughout the day, as was a genuine sense of welcoming that extended to us all.
A smoke ceremony and heartfelt words from Ben helped participants feel genuinely welcome to such a sacred place. Denise walked the group to a stunning lookout over the volcano and spoke of how Aboriginal people believe the creation spirit Budj Bim revealed himself in the landscape as a volcano and shared his blood and teeth with the people in the form of a lava flow which was witnessed by the Gunditjmara. The resulting lava flow forms the areas that make up the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and the abundant food pantry for the Gunditjmara people. No question seemed unanswerable even at this early point of the day with Denise’s wealth of knowledge and warm, sobering, and considered responses creating a safe and inviting environment for participants to explore the history of family, landscape, politics and culture with her guidance.
Similarly, a Lake Condah Mission walk proved to be an emotional rollercoaster for everyone present as Denise spoke of a deplorable abuse of human life, racism, prejudice and loss, but also of resilience, strength and fond childhood memories shared with her by her elders. Resilience seemed to be the especially dominant theme, which saw traditions and knowledge survive, and was spoken about with pride. As Denis spoke about the long journey toward World Heritage acknowledgement, that resilience and persistence shone through once again, as he told us of the ever changing system that seemed to be obviously stacked against the cause. The ingenuity, intimate knowledge of the country and sustainable farming techniques that were wiped from historical records by design were also astonishing to hear about.
Hearing Denise, Ben and Denis speak from the heart as they told their story, undoubtedly left participants feeling enlightened, frustrated, sorrowful, and angry at an extraordinarily painful history. Equally, the strength, determination and pride that was also obvious as each speaker shared their experiences and stories was infectious and left each participant wanting to play our own part in closing the gap, and the story that is yet to be written, together.