Uncle Kevin Buzzacott – Arabunna Nation, Lake Eyre, Cultural Practitioner, Activist, Advocate Storyteller & Educator
Kevin Buzzacott (born 1947) often affectionately and respectfully referred to as Uncle Kev is an Aboriginal elder from the Arabunna nation in northern South Australia. He is also a custodian of the largest body of water in the driest state on the driest continent in the world; this body of water is commonly known as Lake Eyre, 144 km long and 77 km wide, the lowest point in Australia, at approximately 15 m below sea level, and, on the rare occasions that it fills, the largest lake in Australia and 18th largest in the world. The Arabunna people hold native title over the lake and surrounding region.
Uncle Kev has campaigned widely for cultural recognition, justice and land rights for Aboriginal people, and has initiated and led numerous campaigns, among them protesting against uranium mining at Olympic Dam, South Australia on Kokatha land and against the exploitation of the water from the Great Artesian Basin. Uncle Kev is a passionate and effective advocate for sustainable water management and for taking responsibility, showing respect for and recognition of the rights, aspirations and traditional knowledge of Australia’s Original people.
He has a higher profile on the world stage than among the general Australian populace. His awards are numerous, for instance, in 2001 he was awarded the prestigious Nuclear Free Award in Ireland and subsequently invited to travel and speak with supporters of Indigenous land rights and concerned citizens across Europe. The Australian Conservation Foundation awarded him the 2007 Peter Rawlinson Award for two decades of work highlighting the impacts of uranium mining and promoting a nuclear free Australia. Travelling tirelessly, talking to groups large and small, about the impacts of uranium mining and the threats posed by the nuclear industry, he has had a profound impact on the lives of many people and has been an inspiration – especially for younger people – fighting for the environment.
Some of Uncle Kev’s achievements include:
He drew attention to and claimed Alexander Downer and Robert Hill’s refusal to pursue World Heritage listing of Lake Eyre amounted to genocide against the Arabunna people (April 1999). Instead Downer and Hill allowed a mining company, BHP Billiton to commence mining operations. The appellant, Buzzacott v Minister for the Environment was heard in the Federal Court of Australia which predictably decided in favour of the Government. Uncle Kev initiated a Peace Walk from Lake Eyre to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and another from the Olympic Dam Uranium Mine to Hiroshima, Japan.
In 2002 he reclaimed his tribes’ Emu and Kangaroo totems used in the Australian Coat of Arms from outside Parliament House, Canberra. He was forcibly arrested three years later at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for theft of the Coat of Arms. This resulted in a lengthy court battle where he served the government with a counter writ on charges of genocide.
In 2003 the Australian Film Commission Indigenous Unit and the Special Broadcasting Service produced a documentary called We of Little Voice in the Australia By Numbers series, which featured Kevin Buzzacott on a journey through northern South Australia to hear the stories of Aboriginal elders who have experienced the effects of the nuclear industry from uranium mining to nuclear testing.
He has given support to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra where he lit the Fire for Justice in 1998. He was also involved in the 2006 Camp Sovereignty at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, called by many indigenous people as the ‘Stolen-wealth Games’.
In Melbourne on 21st of April 2007 a group of non-indigenous and indigenous supporters raised money in support of his efforts to raise awareness about Uranium Mining issues.
Ruth Forsyth, said of her meeting with Uncle Kev, ‘The decision for me to drive the 5,500 kilometre round trip was a heartfelt one made in response to an invitation to come to the desert from enigmatic and charismatic Arabunna elder Uncle ‘Kev’ Buzzacott:
‘Sleeping underneath the ground there is an old lizard, Kalta the sleepy lizard.
The lizard ain’t so sleepy any more,
BHP is mining right into that lizard’s body.
Kalta is angry and wants revenge.
Arabunna elder Kevin Buzzcott is calling the
people of the world to help the lizard shut down the mine.
He is calling for the people to come and heal the land in the name of peace and
Justice for the next 10,000 generations to come.
The land, the lizard and the creatures of the earth are summoning everyone who cares to the gates of Roxby Downs.
Come and be involved in the creation of this autonomous zone
for the peace and healing of this land.’
Ghillar, Michael Anderson
Water ‘Ownership’ – Water Rights Across Australia
“To every story belongs a song. To every story belongs a dance. To every story belongs a person. To every story belongs a place. And they all connect when we go through the ceremonies.”
Ghillar, Michael Anderson, was taught Euahlayi customs and traditions through his people’s sacred ceremonies. His is involved with connecting the sacred songlines of the ancient traditions of Aboriginal peoples around the world in an attempt to prove that they have a Dreaming that links them to the original creation.
“I was fortunate to have grown up with my family and senior Lawmen and Lawwomen of the Euahlayi and far Western Gomeroi, who secretly handed on ancient knowledge in ceremonies. These men and women were born in the late 1880s and early 1890s, all were taught by their grandparents, who in most cases were the generation who first saw the whitemen come into their Country when they were teenagers. I have been encouraged by our People to share with the broader Euahlayi community and the far western Gomeroi, the Stories of the universe that can be told publicly. I have been doing this though oral presentations and now for a broader audience in the recently premiered film Star Stories of The Dreaming. In these Star Stories I have revealed ancient Stories of the stars, the Blackholes and the creation of the natural world that we all now belong to.”
Ghillar is the National Convenor of the Sovereign Union, a new political movement in Australia that is promoting worldwide the continuing sovereignty of indigenous peoples, a Senior Lawman and Cultural Knowledge Holder for the Euahlayi Nation and Peoples, and, on behalf of his people, the Native Title claimant to Euahlayi traditional lands in north-western New South Wales. He runs a sheep and cattle property on his ancestral lands that cross the New South Wales and Queensland border in the lower Ballone river system. Ghillar has also lectured in Aboriginal studies and Aboriginal politics at several Australian universities, writing and teaching units in Aboriginal studies that were inclusive of traditional Aboriginal society.
For many decades, Ghillar has been a human rights activist. In 1969 he was a leader in the Australian Black Power movement. In 1972 his peers appointed him as the first Aboriginal ambassador to white Australia after he and three comrades established what was later called the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the front lawns of Australia’s parliament house.
[On 27 January at 1.00 am in the morning, four Aboriginal men: Michael Anderson, Billie Craigie, Tony Coorey, and Bertie Williams arrived in Canberra from Sydney and set up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy by planting a beach umbrella on the lawn of Parliament House (old Parliament House)].
In 1973 Gough Whitlam made arrangements for Ghillar to go to the United States to see firsthand how America was ‘dealing with the causes and outcomes of the 1960s, 1970s racial conflicts’. It enabled Ghillar to be present at the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee – the longest lasting ongoing civil protest in 200 years of U.S. history – and, after the siege to meet with the Wounded Knee leaders at the New York University.
Whitlam further requested that Ghillar spend time with Australia’s mission to the United Nations, under the tutelage of Richard Butler, Australia’s Ambassador to the UN. Ghillar felt inspired by the profound insights into racial conflicts and human rights he gained.
In 1979 he was appointed to the Office of Public Prosecutions in criminal law as an instructing officer (the equivalent of a solicitor) in the state of New South Wales.
Uncle Martin Ballangarry – Gumbaynggirr Elder
Gumbaynggirr Elder, Chair of Bowraville CDAT, Deputy Mayor of the Nambucca Council, Director of the Muurrbay Language Centre.
Uncle Martin Ballangarry is a dancer and musician. He leads an Aboriginal dance group and family band called Jumbaal Dreaming (Carpet-Snake Dreaming) and has performed on many stages along the east coast of Australia. An artist, musician and Aboriginal community leader with a long record of service to numerous organisations including the Bowraville Community Alliance, the Nambucca Valley Reconciliation Group, the Bowraville Aboriginal Medical Service and the Bowraville Local Aboriginal Land Council.
When Charles Perkins and the Freedom Ride came to Bowraville, Uncle Martin was 10 years old and one of the Indigenous people who attended the segregated picture theatre at Bowraville. For attempting to sit in the seats reserved for white patrons, he was escorted from the theatre by Police. In 2009 part of his life story and the old Bowraville theatre seats were featured in the National Museum of Australia’s travelling exhibition From Little Things Big Things Grow. The exhibition traced the fight for Indigenous civil rights in Australia from 1920 to 1970 and toured until November 2011. It told a generally unknown or forgotten story using a combination of photographs, objects – among them the seats – protest material, and the personal memories of these activists of the repercussions they suffered as they brought unwelcome truths to light and fought against disbelief and denial. Source: http://www.nma.gov.au/
Uncle Martin’s leadership was critical when the Bowraville community rallied together to form a Community Drug Action Team. Their mission is to work collaboratively to provide positive health and wellbeing-focused programs that address some of the challenges and trauma caused by the unsolved murders of three children [these murders took place over a period of five months from September 1990 to February 1991 in Bowraville, New South Wales], and trauma caused by the ongoing intergenerational impact of first contact and white settlement.
Since their formation in 2017, CDAT have delivered several different programs such as, establishing sporting pathways – netball girls to participate in the NSW State trials, and starting up junior cricket teams for both girls and boys. To address the challenges faced by women and girls – particularly around alcohol and pregnancy – CDAT offers on-going education and information, providing transport and gym memberships, and delivering a healthy eating /bush tucker initiative. They deliver a ‘Capturing Culture’ program, utilise digital tools such as cameras and phones, to record stories from the community and engage elders and youth in an intergenerational exchange of knowledge. They are also working towards providing a men & boys cultural reconnection program with the aim to engage with parents to work together in order to build skills and strengths and help ensure healthy outcomes for the community.
Dale Kerwin, PhD – Worimi man
Dale Kerwin’s book, Aboriginal Dreaming Paths and Trading Routes; The Colonisation of the Australian Economic Landscape published in 2010, explains that the dreaming paths of Aboriginal nations across Australia formed major ceremonial routes along which goods and knowledge flowed. These paths became the trade routes that criss-crossed Australia and transported religion and cultural values. His book is essential reading for all those who seek to have a better knowledge of Australia and its first people, it inscribes Aboriginal people firmly in the body of Australian history.Dale’s current research shows how Aboriginal dreaming stories and communication ways (story ways) traversed Australia along waterways. The surveyors, explorers, drovers of the colonisation period in Australian history followed the same paths post-invasion. Aboriginal knowledge and the names for the traditional walking tracks and travelling routes were overlaid with the ‘new Australian names’, traditions, histories and concepts. The inland water systems became the travelling stock routes for graziers and are known as such today. Aboriginal knowledge of these paths, tracks and roads was suppressed or made subservient when the dominant cultural group renamed these routes, the river systems and the waterways.
“Does Aboriginal knowledge of water-flows and water ways flowing along the main river systems, from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Goolwa in South Australia, still survive today? Is this knowledge still remembered as story ways? I wish to explore these questions and to put the existing knowledge, still held by Aboriginal people, back into the historical landscape of Australia by naming the rivers and the dreaming stories, still painted, carved, drawn, and told in oral histories by Aboriginal traditional owners of country.”
Fresh water midden
Knowledge of water flows is important in Native Title and in relation to the Murray/Darling River flows. Stating Aboriginal knowledge of water flows provides a distinct alternative to the dominant narrative of Australian history and delivers crucial rights to Aboriginal Native Title holders for the use of water.
Uncle Chris Tomlins, Arrernte Elder
“I am Peltherre Agnillinga Agkmoura, one of the most ancient names on the planet.”
Uncle Chris Peltherre Tomlins from Central Australia, mother Warlpiri woman and father Arrente man.
“Through my father I claim that Arrente, my sisters go Warlpiri, through my mother, see. Its through my father that I have that status, especially because my father was born on the country on which he is buried and on which I now live.”
Uncle Chris has been involved in the land rights movement since the early 80’s and was instrumental in establishing and running Yipirinya, a bilingual, two-way learning primary school for bush kids in Alice Springs.
“I took my activism skills out of politics and legalities, into the healing and the people movement, the people’s healing.”
Since attending the Aboriginal Tent Embassy as a delegate of the Freedom Summit in 2015, Chris has been travelling the countryside as a voice for Country and an activist of peace, lending his support to many actions, often involving the protection of sacred sites.
“Upon my return to Alice Springs after four years away, we were confronted by an elder who had concerns about a a sacred site that was about to be mined, about an issue going on between a sacred site and a multi-million dollar mining company. and the challenge was between the mining company and the sacred site and thats what we’re here for, to open that up, and to open that up to explain to the mining companies and the rest of the world and most importantly, the people here, of Australia, that our sacred sites are sacred for a reason. And I would like to do a presentation in regard to this situation, and use it as a stepping stone to spiritual healing.”
“We want to target the spirituality of the country, we want to do a demonstration, we want to unveil, the unveiling of this Wampere Possum Dreaming and what it means, and its creation time, you know, its the beginning. . . just unveiling that in a small way. . . through just one story, that connects to a lot of other stories.”
“These sacred sites are our spiritual connection, they are our stories of creation, before man and woman. They are about Mother Earth and all the animals that were here before us. The truth about our Creator . . . in one little story, emanating out of Barrow Creek, for us all to bear witness to.”
Uncle Chris is a custodian, a peaceful protector of his country and and a passionate activist. Among other things, he supported actions such as ‘Close Pine Gap’, Indigenous Sovereignty, and recognition of the Frontier Wars.
Pine Gap is the extensive US military and intelligence base that occupies Aboriginal lands of the Arrernte people, the original custodians of country. The Arrernte were never asked for their permission to build Pine Gap on their land.
When in 2016 six pacifists were arrested at the US’s Pine Gap military intelligence facility, together with other Elders, he offered a Smoking Ceremony and spoke of the healing power of the smoke, the cleansing powers, but most of all he spoke of its protective powers. He told the peace pilgrims that the smoke would shield their spirit and protect them as they entered the courtroom.
Uncle Chris wrote in a letter: “It’s not only Black Australia that has a sovereignty issue. The Arrernte people have been the custodians and peaceful protectors of their country for thousands of years. Our sovereignty is contained in our songlines, stories and dances, which have been handed down over thousands of years.
“As the lawful custodians we are responsible for what occurs on our land and the harm it brings to the rest of the world. The activity of the facility at Pine Gap has implicated us in criminal military actions, which threatens the dignity of all people, implicates us in war crimes and generates instability and conflict around the globe as a consequence of US imperialism.”
Another focus of Uncle Chris’ work is his push for the recognition of the Frontier Wars. He says the desert pea, as a national symbol, would encourage Australians to remember their long forgotten history. Uncle Chris says the desert pea symbolises a story from deep within our past and parallels one of the most historical stories known to the Western world.
“It’s a story of the past the desert pea, its written in the Bible about Kane and Abel where one brother slayed the other,” he says.
“[It’s] thousands and thousands years old as well where one brother slayed the other and that’s what the desert pea is about, the blood of the earth from our past, the history of the country.”
“To understand that they have a past that’s built on genocide and slaughter its something they can come to terms with and learn about. And that way we can grieve and heal and move forward together. At the moment its all hidden secrets, to heal this country we need to heal the people. And to heal the people, we need to look right back into our past and move together from there.”
Wandianwanderian Murramurrang Tomikin
Uncle Paul Jrumpinjinbah Mcleod
My name is Jrumpinjinbah (crow medicine). I am a direct blood line descendant from my maternal Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother’s Country Wandianwanderian Murramurrang Tomikin within the Bherwerre Dreaming of the Booderee National Park.
My Ancestral homeland is from the Clyde River in the south of New South wales to the Shoalhaven River to the north, between the Budawang ranges and the sea. We call this area in our Language the Northern Murring.
I show respect for my Grannies Jillabino from my father’s clan of the Underthurgetti , Jaithmathang and Yaithmathang First Nations People located in the Eastern Alps of the Great Dividing Range.
My opportunity: Promoting awareness of our traditional culture and working with Local Governments, Traditional owners and Elders, communities and other organisations to better understand, develop and strengthen cross cultural relationships throughout our entire community.
with students from the Australian Studies Centre
Cultural exchange: Promoting awareness of our traditional culture and working with Local Governments, Traditional owners and Elders, communities and other organisations to better understand, develop and strengthen cross cultural relationships throughout our entire community.
Our connection to our culture and country is fundamental to our well being and extends from the past to shape our present and survey our future.
We must ensure that we continue to keep our cultural heritage alive by passing our knowledge, arts, rituals and performances from one generation to another, speaking and teaching languages, protecting cultural materials, sacred and significant sites, and objects.
Further presenters bios to follow – watch this space for updates!