The oldest continuous culture in the world today

This week’s fortune was to take a tour with an Aboriginal guide, Ben, in the Botanic Gardens. He spoke sincerely and passionately about our obligation to care for the land “When we take care of the land, the land takes care of us.” He also spoke of his pride in being a voice of all that had been before him; strong, determined people, their connection to country, their successes and struggles. He wanted to honour them through sharing their stories in today’s world. For us to remember that they were here on this land too.
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Welcoming ceremony, giving permission and welcome to visitors to the land

That resonates completely with me. I feel that I too, am being a voice for the past. For me to appreciate, connect with and understand the land I am on, I need to go deeper. I need to know the geology that has shaped it, the ecosystems that have thrived and disappeared, the creatures that have and continue to slither and stroll across the land. And I need to hear the voices of the many people whose footsteps have crossed this earth for longer than I can appreciate. This is a living, changing land and all who have come before us can give us their perspective of the shape of the land in their window of time. By looking back we can see how far we have come.
Imprints of time on the land

Yet this comes with a complexity for me that makes it difficult. I am not indigenous. Not for a moment do I wish to speak for indigenous people, or represent their culture through my own lens. But I acknowledge that Australia’s indigenous history has not been shared enough. We are still having trouble looking back and acknowledging many of the realities of colonisation. Much of our contact history is unspoken. Even more so, the speed at which many tribes were decimated and the remaining few rounded up and moved to vastly different places, means that their stories were fragmented and ceased to be shared as they once were.

So much indigenous knowledge has been fractured and lost. So many stories have been left unheard. I would like to share some of these stories on this blog where I can, because I want to acknowledge the many tens of thousands of years of indigenous presence on our land. I want to acknowledge indigenous people’s intimate spiritual connection with the land. I would like these stories to be heard today so we can all be awed by this complex, living culture that continues to be an important part of modern Australia.


‘Bunjil’ the ancestral creator and spiritual leader of the Kulin people of Victoria, leading the ‘Moomba’ parade in 2018

Yes, many of these stories come from the mouths of white colonists, who are viewing indigenous culture through their own Euro-centric eyes. But for me, this is a chance to peep back into the window of time of the 1800’s, to see what the shape of the land and its people were like then. I hope the stories I share here take away the generalised history where all indigenous people are painted with the same brush. In these stories, we get to meet individual people, with a name and a personality. At times, we even get to hear spoken words from these people, so that their own, unique voices are heard again.

St Helena Island’s history coincides with the late colonial era of settlement in Moreton Bay. Through the earliest part of the island’s history, I’ll explore Colonial society and its attitudes, whether that be fascinating or uncomfortable. I’ll not hint as to whether something is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ as it is in the complexity of these times that we see life in its raw state. And I’ll continue to explore the life story of many individuals at this time in order to move away from sweeping generalisations and unearth how colonial attitudes and thinking touched everyday citizens in their daily lives.

I might finish with another of St Helena Warder James Aird’s diary stories – as a follow up to ‘Book of Past Scenes and my own experience among Blacks My life in the Wild bush of Australia.’ I’ll give you the full story tomorrow, but for now please meet an Aboriginal man that James Aird calls “Captain Gainey” from Stradbroke Island, and let this story conjure him up in your mind as he sails the seas of Moreton Bay…

Amanda boat stillness
Moreton Bay. Image by Amanda Thepanda

“The boat that went to the island returned with a fresh pilot. He is captain of a tribe at this side of the Bay. His name is Captain Gainey. So the captain comes on board. He walks aft, shakes hands with Governor and other gentlemen; is taken to dinner. The captain’s clothes is nearly worn out. He is bare footed, bare headed, old pants on, one old long tailed coat. So after dinner, the captain mounts the bridge, points the channel to steam by. The steamer by this is nearly afloat. Gainey is making signs and giving orders. It comes on to blow hard. 

We are sailing and steaming fast and rolling much, Captain Gainey on the bridge. He sees a very bright star falling from the heavens and sings out loud to me who was standing by him something that I could not understand, and points direct to it. Then, as it disappears, he sings a little verse, very mournful, like praise. Another steamer comes to meet us and see us over the bar as there is plenty of sea on tonight. Gets up the Brisbane River late.  I seen Gainey next day in town with a long Bell Topper on and other clothes.”

2 thoughts on “The oldest continuous culture in the world today

  1. Hi Belinda, well even though we have a long way to go, some progress has been made: I don’t remember any mention of the traditional owners of Melbourne when I was growing up there in the 1970’s. Let alone in the Moomba Parade! I look forward to more stories 🙂. Cheers, Paula

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