Uluru Revisited

A chance phone call from the regional mananger of ABC  Alice Springs Radio 783, Stewart Brash, has stirred my memories of attending the handover of Uluru back to the traditional owners in 1985. Stewart traced me after finding  on the internet some photographs I had taken at the event, thirty years ago. To commemorate the occasion, Stewart is collating some photographs for the station’s Facebook website, and a shot I took of a banner being dragged across the sky by a light plane on the day, proclaiming “Ayer’s Rock For All Australians” caught his eye.

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The intrusion of that plane, at the moment of high excitement as the ceremony peaked, was intended to register the offence which some took at the hand-over, although some interpreted the message as a positive one.

A day before the ceremony I was having a beer in a pub in rural Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills, when I saw an announcement on the television news about the handover. I immediately determined to get there, though both time and money were short. There were no direct commercial flights, busses or a train which could get me there on time it seemed, but somehow I stumbled across the possibility of scoring a ‘standby’ seat on a Fokker Friendship, departing Adelaide for Yulara Resort the next morning, a Saturday. With my backpack, a sleeping bag and a camera, and the payment of $70, I found myself flying low and slow over the mesmerising desert country on the way to Uluru.

Every trace of past rainfall and water-course was etched in patterns on the landscape, and the shadows of fluffy white clouds showed dark and sharp below against the vibrant coloured panorama. I wanted to shake my fellow passengers from their idle chatter and newspapers and to share the experience, but it seemed I was the only one captured by the magic.

Hours later, we tilted around Uluru and touched down on the tarmac of Connellan Airport. I stepped from the plane and into the warmest of sun, the brightest of colours, and an incredibly strong feeling of belonging.

I have posted on this blog previously my observations of the handback, so I won’t repeat them here, except to say that I got in a good position to take photographs, and was deeply moved by the occasion. After  couple of days exploring the rock and Katajuta, I managed to get a ride into the Alice, board the Ghan, and trundle back to Adelaide. I caught a cab to Glen Osmond, stuck out a thumb, and was picked up by an old school mate, who dropped me at my home in the hills.

Five years later, after spending two years as the arts organiser at the Yuelamu Community in the Tanami desert, I was back at Yulara, selling artworks from the community at the Sheridan Hotel as they explored the potential for a new gallery in a closed down bar. I spent a lot of time at Yulara over the next few years, during which time I visited either the rock or Katajuta on a daily basis. About this time I got hold of a copy of Ayers Rock, by Charles Mountforda seminal study of the creation myths of Uluru when knowledge of the stories was still very strong. This book confirmed what I had learnt during my time as an arts organiser; that every physical feature of the countryside was shaped by the adventures of the dreamtime ancestors, and that certain ‘skin’ groups had the ceremonial responsibilities for delegated sections of the land. Uluru, as revealed by Mountford, has a story for virtually every physical feature; rocks, caves, groups of trees, water stains and rock-holes, gashes in the surface, and the birds, plants and animals who frequent the region. One vivid tale tells of the evil spirit dingo, Kulpunya, sent by a tribe offended by a lapse in ceremonial protocol to slaughter the hare-wallaby people of Uluru. (Shades of the Chamberlains?)

I would explore a section of the rock on each visit, often sitting in a cave and contemplating the same view ancient eyes had taken in over millennia. It is sobering to realise that this whole great land mass was, a little more than 200 years ago, stitched together by song, dance, and ceremony.

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Today the great monolith towers 350 metres above the surrounding desert oaks and sand dunes, while the Minga (ants) from the Yulara Resort to the north visit in their thousands, forming a line of tiny specks as they journey to the top. The Anangu watch from their third world settlement in the south-eastern shadow of Uluru, and observe the 21st century intrusion of their land. Their observation, from frowning brows, is analogeous to the view Uluru has. The stories are locked into the land, and the Minga an insignificent distraction; but the keepers of the ceremony are fewer in number, as the stories fade into infinity.

The culture is precious, and its preservation, paramount.

Aboriginal ‘Policy’ and the LCP.

Tony Abbott likes to portray himself as the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, a claim which sits comfortably alongside the claim that he believes in global warming and has the policy to lower emissions.

It’s bullshit, and under Howard and Abbott, and with the support of the ALP, he has contributed greatly to the nadir the handing of Aboriginal affairs has come to in recent years. It began with the axing of ATSIC, was expedited by the intervention, which included the dumping of the CDEP, (Communty Development Employments Program) and culminates in Abbott’s pitiful droning on about being the great Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the greatest friend they ever had ad infinitum. This despite severe cuts to funding for Aboriginal affairs, including cuts to legal aid, cuts to support for remote out-stations,  and the effective disempowerment of the Aboriginal voice, apart from Abbott’s hand picked lackeys.

I was working at Mount Allan in 1989 when the CDEP was brought in to replace the ‘sit down money’ which was being paid to most of the residents of the community. The CDEP was effectively a work for a the dole program, in which one would work towards the betterment of the community for wages, with those who work the longest hours receiving more pay. Included in the package was funding to buy equipment, workshops and training, thus providing at Mount Allan, a modern motor workshop for the servicing and repairs of motor vehicles and other assorted repairs and maintenance, graders and front-end loaders for the maintenance of roads and landscaping, and the facilities for mixing and laying concrete.

The CDEP was not without teething problems, and relied very much on the quality of the administrator in the key position, a tough job, but only to be expected in a period of such major change. It was also very flexible, and funding could also go toward the work done in the cattle industry at Mount Allan, or the support of the arts industry. The CDEP was soon widespread in Aboriginal Communities, for the obvious benefits it brought. I will come to the cynical disbandment of the CDEP under John Howard later in this post.

Before 1990, the Aboriginal people of Australia had very little representation on a national level. The creation of ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, was by far the best attempt to overcome this anomaly. Aboriginal people were elected by their peers throughout Australia and its islands. ATSIC was not perfect, but as was often quoted at the time, “The white fellah’s been fucking things up for a long time. Give us the opportunity to fuck things up for ourselves for a change.”

ATSIC also had oversight by the Federal Government, and got off to a good start, with their representatives being seen to participate in indigenous affairs, and with significant public recognition, including for example, an annual cricket match between ATSIC and the Federal parliamentarians. A certain amount of perceived corruption in its later years gave John Howard the excuse he needed to axe the organisation, helped in no small part by the ranting of the Labor Opposition leader of the time, Mark Latham.

In 2006 I was preparing for a visit to Croker Island for some research I was doing. I discovered online, that there was extensive work being done to facilitate the controlled use of Kava on the island. There were extensive boundaries being worked on, and a strict distribution criteria being drawn up. Residents were allowed one small bag of kava each, per fortnight, for $5. I was on the island to observe the first ever distribution of this substance, an island I hasten to add, which seemed to have a complete absence of grog, no doubt helped by the isolation of the island.

Unfortunately, while I was on the island, John Howard, using consequently debunked hysteria about the abuse of children to initiate an “intervention” announced that he would stamp his  mark on Aboriginal affairs, by further degrading and disempowering them. Government cheques would be purloined, so that a certain amount could only be spent at designated stores, to ensure that it wasn’t all spent on grog. No pornographic videos were to be allowed on Aboriginal lands, (but ok for white fellahs). Kava was to be declared illegal in all Aboriginal communities and only allowed for those of Fijian descent or other, for traditional use.

There was a Racial Discrimination law, which made such decisions awkward, so the Howard Government simply suspended the act for the purposes of the intervention. Because the government couldn’t control the wages the CDEP workers were getting, as they weren’t welfare cheques, the Liberals set about dismantling the CDEP. To its eternal shame, Labor, when it came to power in 2007, kept the same policies going.

Now, with its boots on the throats of Aboriginal people, the Abbott Government cuts legal services, training and other support for them. In addition, it is defunding support for the happiest, the closest to their land, and the healthiest Aboriginal people in remote regions; those in so-called out-stations. The ALP is making some half hearted objection to this decision, but frankly their support for Aboriginal people lacks credence, as apart from the Rudd ‘sorry’ speech, the Labor Party has jettisoned any Aboriginal policies worthy of support. It is left to the Greens to provide  a ‘left’ view of support for the downtrodden dumped by the major parties.

The same could be said of the treatment of refugees, but that’s another sorry tale.

”Poor Fellow my Country,” has never been so apt.

The Peramangk

The Peramangk were the mysterious dwellers of the Mount Lofty Ranges prior to the white occupation of South Australia in 1836. Twenty years after the Mount Barker region was settled, they had all but disappeared.
It is difficult to make an accurate assessment of the original number of Aboriginal occupants who dwelt in what we now call the Mount Lofty Ranges. For example, two separate estimates of the numbers of Kaurna on the Adelaide Plains at settlement, suggest as few as three hundred, and as many as seven hundred when the colonists arrived in 1836. Obviously it would be more difficult, given the many forests and a more rugged terrain in the hills, to make an accurate assessment of the Peramangk numbers. 
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Peramangk Man
A further complication was the spread of smallpox, even before South Australia was formally settled in 1836. Having established a foothold in the colony of NSW in 1789, smallpox gradually worked its way into southern Australia, possibly via whalers and sealers who used Kangaroo Island as a base as early as 1810. Smallpox is also said to have come down the major river, which we now know as the Murray, perhaps through native people who had come into contact with smallpox when upstream, and had brought it south. The traditional numbers were therefore depleted before settlement, and it is unlikely any serious attempt was made to obtain accurate numbers in a new, rugged land, where survival alone was quite enough to cope with. Having no genetic resistance to smallpox, the impact on the traditional inhabitants was deadly, as were diseases of lesser concern to Europeans, such as measles. An early account of the Peramangk people puts the greater number of them in the Mount Barker region, and they were often referred to as the ‘Mount Barker Tribe.’ One description tells of somewhere near 300 camped at the base of Mount Barker Summit, and another 300 camped along the Larataringa Creek and the springs to the south of the mount. It would seem a reasonable guess to put a figure of around seven hundred to a thousand Peramangk in the region considered their domain, based on these estimates.
One must also bear in mind that gatherings of this number would be rare, and would undoubtedly have been the result of important ceremonial occasions. Initiation, ‘increase’ ceremonies to ensure the abundance of food and the cycle of the seasons, ‘sorry’ business, (funeral rites) and the practice of allocating future wives to young men, are but a few of the ceremonies practised throughout the vast territories of Australia, and in the remote regions, still undertaken to this very day. In ‘normal’ times, groups of up to perhaps thirty, comprised of an elder, his wives, and his offspring, including in-laws, would roam the land, according to where the appropriate food, shelter or water was to be found.
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Mt Barker Summit (Womma Mu Kurta – The Mountain on the Plain)
Despite the reference to the Peramangk as the ‘Mount Barker Tribe’ their terrain was much more wide-ranging, and in general their territory was considered to be the region we now refer to as the Mount Lofty Ranges, extending from the foothills above the Adelaide plains, Mount Barker to the east, Myponga to the south, and northward to Angaston. Both the Kaurna of the plains, and the Ngerringerri of the lakes and southern river regions feared the Peramangk, who were said to be possessed of magical powers and sorcery. Prior to colinisation, there were three explorations of South Australia directly relevant to the fate of the Peramangk, and following articles will provide an account of those expeditions. Particular attention will be paid to early and first contact by these expeditions as an insight into attitudes and consequences of relationship to the indigenous peoples in general, as there is little documentation of first contact specifically with the Peramangk.
Mathew Flinders
Captain Matthew Flinders of the Investigator in 1802, and coincidentally Captain Nicholas Baudin on the Geographe the same year, commanded the first expeditions to undertake comprehensive exploration of the southern coast. Baudin’s explorations were predominately of a scientific nature, with a full compliment of botanists, artists, and other scientific people on board. He naturally created charts and named places as he went. Flinder’s brief was to circumnavigate the continent, mapping comprehensively, and therefore the documentation of his journey was skewed to this end. When western bound Flinders, (an Englishman) and the eastern sailing Frenchman Baudin met in the bay they called Encounter in April of that year, they exchanged charts and wined and dined together, although unbeknown to them, their countries were at war. They also in part accepted the place names each had given the coast during their travels, thus explaining the mixture of French and English names which dot the coast. The Fleurieu Peninsula is a prominent example of features named by Baudin. The Flinder’s Ranges, Kangaroo Island and Mount Lofty are among the most prominent and well known English names which Flinders conferred on the landscape. encounter bay
Encounter Bay

Incredibly, both of these renowned explorers missed the mouth of Australia’s most important river, not far from their historic meeting. In their defence, the Murray meets the ocean via a large lake before meandering around islands in diverse channels, and a long narrow body of water stretches some eighty kilometres to the south-east, sheltered from the ocean by large sand dunes. This body of water is called the Coorong. Sand dunes on both sides of the modest volume of water which constitutes the Murray mouth, as well as a possible sea mist, coupled with the distance from the shore at which the ships would have been sailing, would all have contributed to the oversight by both Commanders.

Some of the earliest sketches of Aboriginal people can be found in Baudin’s collection, and his party’s contact with Aboriginal people was comprehensive, although not so much in South Australia, where the rugged coastline made anchoring difficult. It was established that Kangaroo Island was devoid of Aboriginal people, although subsequent archaeological work has established that it had previously been inhabited approximately 10,000 years ago, when the island was still part of the mainland. No reliable explanation has been proffered as to why such a large and productive island did not have people in numbers living there at the time of settlement. There were, however, a rag-tag band of sealers of various nationality, including Americans, escaped convicts, and the Aboriginal women they had gathered from where ever they could. This included Tasmanian women, and also women from the mainland. These women were taken by force, resulting in a tragic retaliation in later years. This motley crew would have been living on Kangaroo Island when the next important exploration of Southern Australia took place in 1829-30, although Captain Charles Sturt was probably unaware of their presence. For some detail of Sturt’s journey, click here. A little over a year later, the  death of Captain Collet Barker at the mouth of the Murray River added a tragic chapter to Aboriginal/European first contact.

 

The Tower

Warning. This article contains images of Aboriginal people who have passed away.

I have long been a ‘worshipper’ of Mount Barker Summit, if that is not too strong a word. Standing aloof and dominant over the surrounding lush countryside, this sandstone based and heavily wooded outcrop has been the commanding feature of the region for the millennia of black occupation under its original names, ‘Woma Mu Kurta’ or ‘Mountain on the Plain’ for the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray and lakes, and ‘Yaktanga’, or ‘Rocky Head’ by the hills dwelling Peramangk people. But even the white-fellah name was bestowed on the peak before any European had entered the region.

Captain Charles Sturt, who journeyed down (and named) the Murray in the summer of 1829-30, was the first white man to record the sighting of Woma Mu Kurta, although he mistakenly recorded it in his journal as Mount Lofty. Flinders had named Mount Lofty when he mapped the coast in 1802, and as Sturt assumed the twin peaked summit he saw from the lakes was the twin peaked Mount Lofty, he recorded it as such. The loss of his chronometer some time earlier on the journey affected accurate calculation of the position. View more photographs here.

Captain Collet Barker, a compatriot of Sturt’s, was the next explorer to sight the summit a year later, but his view was from Mount Lofty, twenty kilometres to the north-west. It was Barker’s sighting which confirmed the existence of two separate mounts, and following Barker’s tragic death by spearing at the Murray Mouth, it was Barker’s friend Sturt who named the peak after him. Barker died on the 30th April, in 1831, and the summit was therefore named five years before the establishment of the South Australian colony.

The region was one of the first to be farmed, owing to the lush countryside and plentiful water, and the town which grew in its shadow with the same name has long been a regional centre in the sparsely populated Adelaide Hills. The summit was spared the wholesale clearing the surrounding land was subject to, owing to the steepness of its terrain, and poor soil. It therefore became a microcosm of surviving bush, and representative of what had been lost. It was also representative of the countryside the Peramangk had inhabited, and from which they traded and interacted with the Ngarrindjeri.

For more than 150 years the summit was relatively undisturbed apart from a dirt track to the top, two levels of parking, and a short walking trail to the summit proper. From here a 360 degree panorama can be observed, to the southern lakes, Mount lofty and the ranges to the north-west, Callington Hill to the east, and Brukunga to the north. A magnificent sloping valley of fertility leads the eye to the township in the near distance. View more photographs here.

On the northern tail, a quarry saw the first major assault on the mount, although this did not affect the general ambiance of the experience for those accessing via the track. All of this was to change; in 1984. One day while driving up the track I noticed that a trench had been dug along the left side of the road. I was curious about this, but became more alarmed when I read in the Mount Barker Courier that a police communications tower was to be erected. There was no further information, either of location, height, what procedure had been undertaken to allow a tower on the site, or anything at all; yet the work proceeded. One day I discussed the tower proposal with a fiery red headed lady friend of mine, who had a passion for environmental causes, and the ability to inspire both dedicated commitment, and unmitigated hatred.

We considered calling a public meeting, to which we would invite members of the State Government; in particular the Department of the Environment and Planning, the Mount Barker Council, and representatives of the Police to reveal the details of the proposed tower. Within a couple of days, Aurora was on television declaring the summit a ‘Sacred Site’.

I never had any doubt about the summit being an important and significant place for the Aboriginal People, and had in fact taken a group of Warlpiri men from the Tanami Desert community of Yuendumu (300ks north-west of Alice Springs) to the summit when I met them in Mount Barker a couple of years earlier. I had been running a taxi in Mount Barker from my Littlehampton home, and was surprised to pick up the group from the Hotel Barker one night. They had come south to accompany a group of women who were performing ceremonial dancing in Adelaide for a period. (Yuendumu being a ‘dry’ community, they were also taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a few beers.) I got to know these very traditional men quite well over the next few days, but never dreamed that I would be living and working in an adjoining community to theirs less than ten years later, but that is another story.  View more photographs here.

In 1984, eight years before the stunning Mabo decision gave recognition to land rights for Aboriginal people, Aurora’s flame-haired statement was analogous to a red rag to a bull. My determination right from the outset was to defend the summit from this intrusion as much as possible, to make the instigators answerable, and in the event that a tower did go ahead, to make such a fuss about it that no one would ever dare to try to erect another. I intended to fight the tower from a local environmental point of view, but an early rising tide of Aboriginal activism and awareness was to envelope the issue, and in the process, to reveal a deep seated sliver of racism and ignorance from a wide range of the community; a community which had never had their ‘right’ to take the land off of the original inhabitants questioned.

There was a particular night for me, which I recall as the hinge around which my reality was to swing over the next few months, but effectively for the rest of my life. I had arranged to visit Aurora this night, with the intention of formally organising the public meeting we had discussed previously. I was at home feeling totally buggered, and telling myself that I didn’t have the energy to take the issue any further, and decided to stay at home. I was still running my taxi service, and the phone rang. The customer wanted a ride from Mount Barker to Wistow, a rare destination, but one which took me past Aurora’s house. I completed my fare, but as I neared her house on my return journey, I was still intending to go straight home. As I passed the house, the headlights fell on Aurora’s cat; dead on the road – run over since I had passed by some twenty minutes earlier.

I pulled over, picked up the cat, and knocked on the door.

“I have some bad news for you.” I said.

“My cat has been run over.” she said.

We dug a hole in her yard, and as we patted the soil down, a bird whistled.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a willie wagtail, the Aboriginal harbinger of death,” she said.

“That’s not the wagtail,” I said, but even as I uttered the words the answering familiar ‘chitter’ came. We went inside, and organised a public meeting.

Over the next few days, we booked the supper room of the Littlehampton Institute, and invited the various parties to to the meeting, planned for a week or so later. I would travel up to the summit daily, and was disturbed to see that the work was continuing apace. At about this time I began writing letters to the Courier, expressing my concern for the integrity of the summit. I learnt  that the Mount Barker Council had initially knocked back the Police Department’s application to erect the tower, but they had been bullied, and informed that they might as well agree, or they would be over-ruled on the decision. The Council complied, with the proviso that the tower should be erected in the upper car park rather than on the very top.

Now on my daily visits to the mount, it became obvious that a huge concrete slab would be poured any time soon. A large square of earth had been evacuated, and steel shuttering was in place in readiness for the pour. We had had no response to our invitations from the officials, and it seemed that the slab would be in place before our meeting took place, rendering it pointless, and allowing us and the community in general to be treated with contempt.

I rang a lawyer (who is now a judge) and asked if there was any way the work could be delayed, and he said that if there was a question of it being an important Aboriginal site, one could contact the Aboriginal Legal Rights Services. He gave me the phone number, and I passed it on to Aurora.

A day or two later I called in on Aurora. She had been busy. Despite a rabid response to her television appearance, Aurora had addressed the South Australian Trades Union Council, and pleaded with them to use whatever means they could to ensure a fair go for the Aboriginal cause in regard to the Summit. The union agreed, but insisted that a picket line needed to be formed, comprising Aboriginal people. To my amazement Aurora informed me that a group which included Aboriginal artist Bluey Roberts, the famous Police tracker Jimmy James, Ngarrindjeri elder and historian Paul Kropinnyerri, and various relatives would be arriving at Mount Barker at midnight: and could I guide them up to the summit in the darkness to set up their camp when they arrived? This I did.

What mere words can express the outrage and hysteria which broke out over the next days, weeks and months? Workers who turned up the next morning found the narrow track to the upper car park blocked by two vehicles and a rough stone wall, a makeshift  ‘wurley’ next to a tree on the track, Aboriginal men, women and children, and the Aboriginal flag draped overhead.

The newspapers, television stations and local media swarmed like flies, and the issue had immediately been transformed from an environmental dispute, into literally, a black and white issue. At home my phone rang hot, and many locals told me that they were against the tower being erected, but would not get involved because of the involvement of the Aboriginals. Furthermore, a line was now being run that those Aboriginal people who were now camped on the summit for what turned out to be for months, were being manipulated by white activists. This was the prevailing climate when a crowd of around sixty people gathered  in the Littlehampton Institute a few days later. I was the mug standing up front hoping to keep order.

There were no spokespeople  of the various authorities we had invited to inform us of the dimensions and ramifications of the tower, although a couple of Mount Barker Councillors were there in an unofficial role. A day or two before the meeting, Aurora told me that a local who was active in organising slide-shows wanted to open the meeting with a presentation. I had seen a show by this man previously, which in that case was predominately focused on the threat of nuclear annihilation, and I was concerned that a slideshow might be unsuitable for the occasion, but Aurora prevailed, and I relented with the proviso it should be kept short.

The lights were dimmed, and a slide and music presentation, focused on the environment,  whatever its ascetic merits, rolled interminably on, until many members of the audience began yelling angrily that this was not what they were there for. Sensing a disastrous start to the night, I killed the show by switching on the lights, and turned to face a hall full of angry people yelling at each other.

I immediately announced that if people were going to conduct themselves in that manner there was no point in holding a meeting, and I would be walking out. The crowd quietened down, and despite the dearth of any new information due to the lack of officials, the general concept and known facts were discussed somewhat civilly for awhile, but I knew I had to introduce Aurora, the ‘spokesperson’ for the Aboriginal people, and when I did the mood changed dramatically.

Predictably, Aurora was accused of manipulating  the Aboriginal people, of being a self appointed spokesperson, and of ‘beating up a phony sacred site’. When asked why there were no Aboriginal people at the meeting, she replied that  they did not want to be subjected to white racism. The meeting eventually struggled to a finish, with little civility, more heat than light, a standard of debate and discussion set in stone, and a paucity of information which was to set the tone for the whole sorry story. More pics here.

Now it was war. The police never addressed a single public meeting throughout the dispute, and were obviously pissed off that anyone, let alone trades unions, Blackfellows, and ‘greenies’ should dare to question their authority. They quickly determined that the key to their quest for the erection of the tower was to convince the Aboriginal people to relent, whereupon the union ban would be lifted, the tower erected, and the rest could ‘go jump’.

Further complicating matters, Paul Kropinyeri asked me to pass on a letter he had written to the already hostile Mount Barker Courier, in which he referred to white people using the summit like a ‘cesspit.’ Because of the hostility I was getting on the phone and wherever I went in the community, I held the letter back. When I told him this, he went very cold on me, and we were never close after that. I submitted the letter the following week, but it was never printed.

Meanwhile, the shuttering for the base was removed, and eventually, the hole filled in.

For the next few months a motley mixture of visitors trooped up to the summit. Many were supporters, many were hostile. Mini-buses of Aboriginal kids visited, as did Northern Territory Aboriginals, politicians, louts, and everything in between. A very dominant presence was that of the police. Jimmy James of course, was a police tracker, extremely famous for the cases he had helped the police with. He had tracked lost kids, escaped convicts, criminals, and was feted in South Australian newspapers and media. He was a Pitjantjatjara man from South Australia’s far north, but had married a Ngarrindjeri woman, so became a relative by marriage to Bluey Roberts, who to some extent was taught some of Jimmy’s skills. I was disgusted therefore, to observe a police Aboriginal liaison officer telling Jimmy that the Police had ‘lost respect’ for him, because of his stand.

Now the dispute ground on, for month after month. The weather grew colder, and a small group of three local whites, (including Aurora) and the Aboriginal group negotiated with the Police. Opposition politicians flayed the Government for not getting the tower erected, the Courier editorialised mercilessly against the protesters, and when Paul and Aurora formed a relationship, even my communication with her became more remote. I continued to write letters to the Courier, all of which were printed, and even managed to get a one-on-one  meeting with the Minister for Planning and Environment. He milked me for information while he devoured some Kentucky Fried chicken, and dismissed me curtly when he had finished. The dispute was going no-where, but neither was the tower.

Eventually, having camped on the summit for months, the protesters moved back to their homes. They left in place the wurleys they had built, and the odd bits of furniture they had gathered. This stuff was soon scattered and thrown about, and  the Courier was soon on the spot, photographing the ‘mess’ and lambasting the protestors for rubbishing the summit. One day I opened the Adelaide Advertiser, and read that the Government had decided not to build a tower on the mount, and would find a suitable alternative.

I rang Aurora, to express my delight, though her response was muted. I should have paid more attention to the final paragraph in the article referring to ‘further discussions continuing’. The next day I read that a tower would be erected on the summit, but a higher one, on the lower car park. I was furious, and I let Aurora know it.

Eventually the terms of the agreement, and to some extent the pressures applied emerged. A major component of the debate revolved around the safety of the public, especially in light of the devastating Ash Wednesday bush-fires preceding the dispute. An anthropological survey was promised, and a plaque in recognition of the Aboriginal prior occupation and significance was to be erected. Areas would be landscaped, and the upper car park would be closed to vehicles. The tower was to be erected in the centre of the lower car park.

At this stage myself and some other defenders of the summit called another public meeting, this time on the mount, and to which I again invited the various parties once more to advise the public as to the size of, the use of, and the impact on the mount. All of my invitees refused to attend. In frustration I built a dummy, and dressed it in a keystone cop uniform, and covered it with a sheet. When I was attacked for having the temerity to call the meeting I explained that I simply wanted the authorities, for the first time, to address the concerned public, and I whipped the sheet off the dummy and announced that “This is the only representative we could get”, to yells of outrage.

The mayor of the day announced that he hadn’t been invited to attend, and I responded by saying that I had spoken to the council engineer who had flatly rejected my invitation earlier that day. We then tried to pass a resolution condemning the Government, the Police, and the Courier, but the resolution failed to pass. At least I had tried to utilise some semblance of democracy throughout the fight, no-one else had. During the meeting, the man responsible for the quarry which still scars the northern ridge, informed me that “The Dreamtime is over, Bob.”

There is no doubt that the pressures applied to the group were enormous, but to have come so close to stopping it then relenting, was devastating. To cap it off, I rang the copper in charge of the tower’s erection, and asked him why the old concrete base which was used near the quarry site for a tower, years earlier, was not considered a suitable alternative site. To my amazement, he did not know of this location, and had ‘thought’ the quarry tower was on the summit proper.

Parts of the agreement were kept, but there was an attempt to locate the tower not in the centre of the car park, but on a corner to one side. I noticed and reported the excavations, and the union bans were on again. Finally the tower was erected in the centre of the park. More photos can be seen here.

It looms there to this day. When it was erected there was one building, now there are three. It is now twenty metres higher than first promised. Because of the extra height, stabilising  cables were attached. The bases of the cables had to be protected, so mesh wire cages were erected around them.  But I believe there it ends. My original goal of fighting to the finish was accomplished, and I don’t believe there will ever be another attempt to erect a tower on the summit. Indeed, I sometimes hear crazy ideas about a lease running out, and the tower being removed, but that is a wish too far for me.

Today, councils fly the Aboriginal flag, and the traditional owners are acknowledged. Monuments are erected, and the respect for Aboriginal culture is greater than it has ever been. That status has been accomplished due to many battles fought long ago (especially Mabo) by brave people like Aurora, like Bluey Roberts, Paul Kropinyeri, and their families. And, god bless him, Jimmy James. He deserved better.

Shady Grove Dreaming

I don’t consider myself to be a religious person, but I do have a very strong link with the Shady Grove Unitarian Church, set amongst a bush block off dirt roads near Littlehampton. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, there is a strong family connection with the place. My Great Great Grandfather on my Mother’s side, Frederick Charles Smith was the ‘Preacher’ for many years, and a member of one of the original families who built and established the church. Frederick and his wife are buried in the adjoining Shady Grove Cemetery, as are both of my parents. In addition, the founder of the church, and the man who donated the land  is also my Great Great Grandfather on my Mother’s side. My Mother’s Father was Cecil Smith, grandson of F. C. Smith, and son of Ernest Alfred Smith. Ernest Alfred married Editha Monks, the daughter of the founder of the church, John Monks.

The Unitarians are not set in their ways. They do not use the word Christian in their definition, and although they consider Jesus as a special person whose values they respect, they do not accept the Trinity, the Resurrection or ‘Son of God’ as part of their beliefs. Indeed the Unitarians have no fixed dogma at at all. Thus one may attend a service which contains the music of Bach, readings from Buddist texts, or anything from the wide range of human discourse and philosophy.

Accordingly, I was not surprised, but certainly delighted when I heard that a traditional Aboriginal ‘smoking’ ceremony was to be held as a part of a recent service at the church. In particular, the smoking was to be conducted by a descendant of the traditional Peramangk occupants of the Mount Lofty Ranges,  Ivan Tiwu Copley. I had met Ivan on many previous occasions, mostly when he was presiding at events which commemorated the Peramangk people, something which has become increasingly regular I am happy to say, after an embarrassing silence of more than 150 years.

After a short but dignified service, which featured the music of Gurrumul, Ivan gave a talk on the Peramangk, before exiting and lighting his fire in a traditional ‘coolamon’. He wafted the smoke over the people with the feathers of the black cockatoo and a wedge-tailed eagle as they left the church, then smoked the interior after it was empty. We then moved to the adjoining hostel for more smoking and a feed. It was a deeply significant and moving afternoon, and much appreciated by the congregation of thirty odd people.

It was a pleasure to see Ivan  bridging the gap between two aspects of life in the hills which I have had a lifelong interest in. He was involved for example, in the installation of of a large and beautiful Peramangk sign along the south-eastern freeway, which greets visitors as they pass the nearby Mount Barker Summit and enter the heart of the traditional Peramangk land.

Finally, inspired by last Sunday’s experience, I did some more research on my ancestors’ involvement with Shady Grove, and I was delighted to discover that Frederick Charles Smith was the driving force behind the erection of the memorial to Captain Collet Barker in the township, in 1903.

I have had a life long fascination with Collet Barker, and have done a lot of research on him. Barker was a very close friend of Aboriginal people both at Raffles Bay in the Northern Territory, where he was stationed in 1828, and at King Georges Sound in Western Australia, in 1829-30, (modern Albany) before he was speared to death at the Murray Mouth in 1831. Kangaroo Island sealers were responsible for this tragedy, as they had been mistreating the mainland people, who took their revenge out on the innocent Barker.  (For more information on Collet Barker, see my ‘In Search of Collet Barker’ blog category).

I also discovered that Frederick Charles and I share a common birthday, the 24th June.

The Incomparable Jimmy Little

I didn’t shed a tear for Elvis when he died, even though I had been a fan since 1956 when I first saw Loving You. That was Elvis at his best, before ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker dumbed him down; and even though he made something of a come-back after 1969, he never re-captured the raw talent he had before he went into the army, and before he made the string of crappy movies which made money but sullied his career. For a while he came back, but a descent into obesity, drug abuse and increasingly mediocre performances, in my eyes, saw his death as a relief from his demons.

The announcement of Jimmy Little’s death today however, brought  a flood of tears. There are two very strong memories of Jimmy for me. One was a performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide in 1999, when the then 63 year old performed with poise and humanity, in a cabaret style backed by a full orchestra, which empathised his wonderful golden voice, and his suprememe humanity. It was a polished and confident display of talent, and  I swear he was wearing that gold sequined jacket of Elvis’s at the time, but perhaps that’s just the impression I got on the night.

The second, and perhaps the most endearing memory of Jimmy was in 2000, at Raukkaan on Lake Albert, when a large gathering of Aboriginal talent celebrated the culture and history of this Ngarrindjeri community. It was not Jimmy’s stage performance I remember, so much as later, when he strolled amongst a group of seated elders, mostly women, and for at least an hour entertained them with a huge variety of songs, unaccompanied except for his acoustic guitar, and that huge dose of humanity. He delighted in the pleasure he brought to that tiny audience, but it was obvious to anyone there that these were the qualities he delivered in spades to every performance. But this was simply a wonderful example of his love for his people, and I have no doubt, of his love for all people.

There is no-one for whom the epithet ‘Gentle-man’ is more appropriate. Dylan Thomas thought we should ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ but I don’t think it was in Jimmy’s demeanor. I trust he died gently, for that is certainly how we shall remember him.