PETER (COCO) WALLACE – ELDER, STORYTELLER, SONG KEEPER & SENIOR NORTHERN ARRERNTE LORE-MAN
70 year-old Alice Springs elder, storyteller, song keeper & Senior Northern Arrernte lore-man of the central desert tells the aboriginal history of Alice Springs in book and video. Uncle Coco holds Central Desert lore including important dreaming stories and totems relevant to non-indigenous Australians, such as the caterpillar, the uninitiated man, ‘Pine Gap’, yam, water dreaming and more as well as the intercultural history of Central Australia.
Uncle Coco has spent his life working for the protection of culture and country: https://caama.com.au/news/2018/peter-coco-wallace-an-amazing-life-journey-caring-for-country
He says, “My Father’s country is Alatyeye, Yam Country, Gem Tree. I’m Apmereke-artweye for that. My Mother’s country is Antulye (Undoolya), Eagle Dreaming: that’s my Mother and Grandmother. Kukatye, Gum Tree Dreaming, that’s my Grandfather. I’m Kwertungurle for that. The sacred site near Pine Gap, that’s my Mother’s and Grandfather’s. I’ve seen people standing there, like soldiers, you know, like that … but that’s my Mother and Grandfather’s country.”
“I can speak for Antulye. I don’t speak for Mparntwe. But if people need me, I can help them. If they ask me. Because it’s all connected, see. All those stories were told and kept for us.
“To be able to hand it over to younger ones. I got it all up here. I learned it all from my Grandmother and Grandfather, when I was this high. I’m over 70 now, and I’m white on top. But I still got it all up here. From way back then. I still remember it.”
UNCLE PELTHERRE CHRIS TOMLINS, ARRERNTE ELDER
“I am Peltherre Agnillinga Agkmoura, one of the most ancient names on the planet.”
Uncle Chris Peltherre Tomlins’ mother was a Warlpiri woman; his father was an Arrernte man.“Through my father I claim that Arrente, my sisters go Warlpiri, through my mother. 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 80s 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.”
A strong 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.”
“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.”
Part of ‘moving together from here’ is The Bonnet Series. A Collaborative Art Project uniting Indigenous participants from Central Australia with non-Indigenous participants from various parts of the country. The project focuses on direct participation with the Kaytej community living in the area of Wilora (Barrow Creek) which is approximately 250km north of Alice Springs, but will also include involvement with neighbouring Arrernte and Walrpi peoples.
There are two parts to this Project. Firstly it is an outreach program focused on skill-based learning in a safe and culturally engaged space. Secondly it aims to clean up communities by repairing discarded vehicles dumped across the landscape where that is possible, or re-purposing to create a sculptural legacy from the junk metal where it is not.
Resident Elders: Kemarre Martin MacMillan, Pelterre Chris Tomlins.
Community Representatives: Evritt Tomlins (Alkgnirrweltye), Raymond Campbell (Ankweleyelengkwe)
Artist in Residence: Corey Thomas (Sculptor, including Welding, Fabrication and Tooling Tuition)
Project Manager: Jason Freddi
Project Architect: Anna Ancher
Documentary Team: Jason Freddi (Producer), Shahnaze Martin (Stage Manager) Daniel King (Video & Photo Documenter)
UNCLE JAMPIJINPA NED HARGRAVES –
WARLPIRI SENIOR LAW MAN & RAINMAKER
Warlpiri Elder Jampijinpa Ned Hargraves is a keeper of ngapa jukurrpa (rain dreaming) and senior law man of his country. In Warlpiri language, law is called Tju-Tju, from Tjukurrpawarnu, The Spirit Creator. Law is transmitted through the Pulkapardu, the old men whose white hair is a sign of the wisdom and the knowledge they have gathered over the years. The Pulkapardu are the custodians of the law, the ceremonies and the history of the tribe. It is their responsibility to uphold and keep these strong and to teach the coming generations.
In August 2006 the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of serious sexual abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. An inquiry was established to find better ways to protect the children [editor’s emphasis]. On 15 June 2007 the commission released its report, called Little Children are Sacred. Less than a fortnight after its publication, on 23 June 2007, the federal government staged a massive intervention in the Northern Territory (site of data collection) sending in army troops. This was referred to as ‘Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER)’. Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people however quickly labeled it ‘the intervention’.
What the “Intervention” changed:
Legislation passed by both major parties (Labour and Liberal)
• removed the permit system for access to Aboriginal land,
• abolished government-funded Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP),
• subjected Aboriginal children to teaching in a language they don’t speak for the first four hours at school,
• quarantined 50% of welfare payments,
• suspended the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA),
• expected Aboriginal people to lease property to the government in return for basic services,
• compulsorily acquired Aboriginal land and
• subjected Aboriginal children to mandatory health checks without consulting their parents, and against the sacred oath of doctors
Critics of the invasion/intervention point out, however, that the word ‘child’ or ‘children’ does not appear once in the hundreds of pages of the NT Emergency Response Act. [Editor’s emphasis]Because the Act has plenty of references to land, many Aboriginal leaders see the intervention as a land grab to make it easier for mining companies to access Indigenous land, in particular in the N.T.
Source: Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) – “The Intervention” – Creative Spirits, retrieved from https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/northern-territory-emergency-response-intervention
Uncle Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves states unequivocally, “As Yuendumu community leader I have called on the NT Government, and call on you again today, to respect and place the importance of our environmental concerns above the loss of profits that only benefit a handful of multinational corporations who are stealing resources from our land without our permission.
- This country belongs to the people of the Warlpiri nation
- We carry the sacred law and the dreaming as our ancestors taught it to us and as we teach our children. This is our sacred Tjukurpa. It belongs to many people and it is vital for the wellbeing of our country and the health of our people that we keep our stories strong
- It is our sovereign right to protect our land, our water and our people from all harm
- There has been no consultation with the traditional custodians of this country to discuss any form of mining, water use, “fracking” – all of which endanger and contaminate the precious and limited water for our people
- There has been no consent given by the people of this land
- Limiting the water available to the Warlpiri people or forcing First Nation people to use water contaminated because it has become stagnant or polluted through mining or “fracking” practices is an abuse of human rights and tantamount to genocide
- We demand the end of lies about “job creation and better living conditions”; lies that exploit the poverty we are forced to live in, lies used to trick us into giving consent to the gas extraction industry
- We demand the end of blackmail where consultants tell us we can either choose to agree to the terms offered or miss out because the mining and fracking and theft of our country will happen anyway whether we want it or not
We, the people of the Warlpiri Nation
- demand the Northern Territory Government bans fracking once and for all
- demand the protection of all water in the N.T
- demand the full respect of our sovereign rights
Ned Jampijimpa Hargraves, NT fracking inquiry 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D26yyiiigL8
Warlpiri Traditions: Jurntu is a ceremony that teaches about law and justice. Four themes from the traditional ceremony are: Justice, Respect, Discipline and Responsibility. These themes were matched with songs, stories and metaphors related to traditional Warlpiri artefacts. For example, boomerangs symbolise respect, digging sticks symbolise the search for knowledge and the stone axe is a mark of responsibility. The performance culminates with the songs and dances for the Milky Way. In Warlpiri Law the Milky Way is a symbol of the path or road that a person should follow to be a productive and moral citizen. This Milky Way is also connected with the Emu stories, which stress the importance of teaching, and the Southern Cross stories that outline the essential principles of Warlpiri culture.
Milpirri – Jurntu 2009 tracksdance.com.au/milpirri-1
UNCLE LEWIS WALKER – BUNDJALUNG ELDER & WAHRLA-BAL CUSTODIAN
Bundjalung Elder and Wahrla-Bal Custodian, Uncle Lewis Walker was born on his country in Tabulam. He belongs to the Wahrla-Bal Bygal clan from west Bundjalung and springs from the Walker family. Poppy Harry Mundine Walker’s Clan are the custodians of the Tabulam area, and highly respected for their cultural knowledge. Uncle Lewis’s people still live very close to the land on Jubullum Community. The Clan’s relationship with Mother Earth is a deep and living reality. Uncle Lewis’s tribal name is Spirit of the Night or Possum Spirit.
His mother, aunties and grandmother taught him language. It was not until the age of 13, on entering the formal school system that Lewis began to learn English. Uncle Lewis is a visual artist, dancer, and musician. His work reflects the country between the rocky outcrops of the east-coast ocean and represents the natural bush and animals from the Rocky River country, around Tabulam.
He is a Keeper of the ancient Songlines of the Whales. “I’m going to tell an old story, an ancient story from way, way back. About a whale, my grandmother, my great-great grandmother, the old ancient white whale, the storyteller. The blue whale is my grandfather, the storyteller of the bottom of the ocean, the songman of the ocean, the caretaker of the ocean. He also gives us visions of who we really are. They sing their songs. As they ride the waves, they dance upon the water, reaching for the stars to give us a vision about who they really are. They are caring for country, like we do; they sing songs, like we do; they dance, like we do. Doesn’t matter what colour you are, we are all individual sprits belonging to the one spirit. We are of the water spirit. We are water people. As they ride the waves and disappear to the bottom of the ocean, they are going down to teach the newborns to be free. Se we’ve got to let them be when they are under that sacred ocean. So, we are all one, we need to protect and care for this sacred ocean and care for the animals. It’s a must for the future – today and tomorrow – it’s in our hands. We are the next caretakers to pass it on from generation to generation.”
His profound understanding of the relationship between the water, the whales, the Earth and humanity and can teach us that all Earth’s creatures are our brothers and sisters. His role, in his traditions and culture, is to be a bridge between the wisdom and way of his people and the global community. He has been chosen to share the essence of the aboriginal ‘creation song’ globally to bring, once again, unity among all people.
David Robertson – Warlpiri man, painter, storyteller Indigenous media presenter (1970s- 80s)
Aunty Judith Hargreaves
and others … stay tuned!