As part of The National 2021: New Australian Art exhibiting artist Alana Hunt will be Carriagework’s inaugural Writer in Residence. Working progressively over the course of the exhibition she will publish Conversations and Correspondence—six texts that take as their starting point the bodies of work All the violence within this and In the national interest both exhibited as part of the exhibition.
For the first in the series, Trespassing, Alana Hunt is in conversation with Chris Griffiths and David Newry, Miriwoong men who share a strong sense of commitment and responsibility in maintaining cultural legacies of Country.
David Newry: All that, the whole concept really: you’re all trespassing (laughter).
Alana Hunt: Exactly.
DN: From me na, you know the way I see, and properly too from thegoobeling joorroong [blackfella one] and thegoobeli-biny [blackfella way], that’s a ngilmib that one.
Chris Griffiths: And what’s that one in English?
DN: They going mucking around la our country, without permission like that, you know. Everywhere they’re doing it. But that’s what that photo tells me now. That’s a ngilmib that one.
AH: That’s exactly the kind of feeling I am trying to get in these pictures. Whitefellas don’t really see themselves as trespassers, or worry about consequences. We think it’s our right to go to these places, to be here. And that assumption is something pretty concrete in people’s minds. When we drove here this morning, Chris was speaking to me about when he was working in tourism a bit.
CG: Well, they didn’t ask us how we feel about doing tours on country. It was just: Oh, it’ll be good for you, it’s good benefit. It’s a way to show your culture, it’s a way to show your history. But there were no questions about how you feel doing tours on country, and does it feel good to do a tour on country? It was just like a…They were just expecting us to do this, do that. Yes boss, no boss. There was no talk about cultural significance or what places we can or can’t go. It was just about business. They just tried to use tourism in showing our culture to the rest of the world, but there was no, you might say, respect for people. Nothing. What we know, was nothing.
DN: If I was chair la MG, you know. That tourism thing now, it would be good to work in with all the dawawang [country owner]. But not make it like a tourism thing, make it like a teaching practice for all the gelengajbeng [future generations], behind mob. Take them and tell them the story about that country, and that lot can join the ride like that. But we gotta lead from the front, not we go all the way do it for them, we do it for ourselves where they can tag along and listen to country, like that. More better.
Just like, if blackfellas come to our country, anytime, countrymen you know, from somewhere, well we gotta take them to that country, mind them alabat1, tell them this and that, like that. But we joodoogeb [straighten out] alabat that country see. That’s why we can use that practice again today, but we gotta lead all the way, la front. Not follow them, not like that before, when you talking like the station days. Not like that. And use them, ‘nother way round na, we sort of get them to be part of that. Gerany [money] can come after. But the main thing is about that dawang [country] na. So we can keep everything in line then. We just tell them what we need to tell them, that’s all. Like that.
CG: What did the old people used to tell you, old chap, in your time?
DN: They used to just tell me the main thing, you know for place. What they bin doing there. But nothing significant. They never used to tell them anything. You just follow the man and learn what they need to learn, not too much. Like that Hidden Valley, where gardiya [white people] go, that’s the Nyoorrging [forbidden/dangerous place] that place.
AH: I was reading one report that the Kimberley Land Council did in 2004. You both would have been around at the time. It was an Aboriginal Social and Economic Impact Assessment of Ord Stage 1, before they did Ord Stage 2. In there, old people are saying that since Kununurra was created in the 1960s Miriwoong people lost control of their water places. Before, when there was just cattle stations there was only a few gardiya here, but the town brought more people. And all those gardiya now rush out to the springs every weekend. When I was in that Heritage Act Meeting with bajoog [David Newry] they were saying when they were a kid there were a big mob of places on the Ord they used to go to, but now they can’t go there.2
DN: All that bulrush, growing down the Ord River damaged that site now, all the fishing place, camping area. Everything, all rubbish bin come up there now. Look rubbish [pointing towards the bulrush and shrubs growing on the banks of Lake Kununurra], you can’t even see through there now. This place was clear. Old road was here. This the old road, this one. You go straight across there, see that point. That’s the old road to Darwin [now underwater]. All the station cars used to cut across here. It was clear this place. All that rubbish, see that jungle there, it wasn’t here before. It all bin clear that part. You can see the creek, clear. But today you can’t see anywhere. You’ll get lost. Blackfella go there you probably don’t know which direction to go. That’s how much impact it been have. And even, all along there they gotta name there, all them places, fishing places. All the way they gotta name, but that place you can’t visit. You can’t tell that story to Miriwoong kids. That’s the impact.
DN: Yeah. That’s why lot of old people been boothal [feeling bad/sad/down] now. They been hurt their feelings in a way. They didn’t bother anymore.
But gardiya didn’t listen to that report. They just put it aside and went ahead with things.
AH: I notice when we go to a spring with Chris and his mob, there are usually no other Aboriginal people there.
CG: Not usually, always.
AH: One time Chris and I were driving home and we passed a gravel pit on the side of the road. And he said with such gravity: I feel so culturally insecure. Because that gravel pit was meant to stop but it was still going, and he was worried. Gardiya think of big mines damaging country, like Argyle Diamond Mine or Juukan Gorge, but they don’t often think of these little, little places, spotting the highway everywhere. These are the mines that make the roads that carry people places.
DN: They don’t even get permission from Thegoobeling [blackfellas], that’s another thing. Proper gerlgang [bad], that’s why some fella don’t go to woorlab [speak] for that kind of thing. Making it no good, this system.
CG: In our way, this would not happen if they consulted. Not just gammin.
DN: Gardiya know it too. You know, they say it in English loud and clear “Australia is a spiritual place”. That not for nothing, that is for good reason. Got a lot of Ngarranggarni [Dreaming] story attached to this country, and for people to come here without permission is no good. That dam there [Lake Argyle], they never consulted with people. But that’s the main place.
AH: They blew up a whole mountain for that dam.
DN: Gardiya keep changing rules you know, trying to still cut through there and go ahead with things. And that Nyoorrging now, for that dangerous place you know you go there you get hurt, likeathat. They still don’t want to listen to that until something goes wrong, and then they come back looking for help. They want to get people to smoke them, you know, when they find out they’ve got a problem (laughter).
Everything has a label, we got it in our language. But nobody is paying attention to it, listening to it. Might be that’s the sort of thing we can implement and make it strong, you know, with that section 18.
But nobody ever talk about this kinda thing either, since I’ve been an adult and listening to people.
AH: Under Gardiya law you don’t really have a right to say no, just that right to negotiate. How would you make it better?
DN: Well I reckon myself, if we have to live together and to understand one another, all this has got to be put together. Blackfella rule gotta work with the gardiya rule. Side by side. So they can put a policy down, and make it work. And have greater understanding of blackfellas and the landscape, and respect. Not pay that respect. Like they said, Oh I pay my respects. You know every time they have a meeting, I ranga [listen]: Oh I pay my respects. Well that’s not good enough. No good to pay that respect. You gotta show that respect. When you’re there la country. I always put my head down sometimes, when I hear that.
AH: For me, sometimes I feel shame when I see my culture running around like little ants greedy for that water. How do we show that respect?
CG: For me most springs here have become like an open access area. There’s no involvement with Traditional Owners to welcome people. We were gamaliwang [stranger] when we went to that place, in your photos. We don’t know what to do or what to say. We are also confused too, when we look that there are no blackfellas there.
But the funny thing is, most springs don’t have any walking track there. But gardiya make their own, like la Molly Spring, uncle. They go round and right on top uncle, keep going na. (laughter) I never go up there.
DN: That’s a boonalgang dreaming. You rangga that word?
CG: Boonalgang? Black snake?
DN: Na, little silver one, emu killer that snake. That’s the country for him, when you walking around there, if you swell up, he’ll finish you off.
CG: Oh, Crikey.
DN: That’s a dangerous Ngarranggarni. We had a few people with a problem there, but we smoke them.
CG: Just say uncle, if we were back in the early days. No whitefella bin here, and if we were to want to go to this place for ceremony or to visit them. What would we have to do?
DN: Well using that blackfella module now. ‘Nother lot blackfella come here, la our country they won’t do that, they’ll wait for that right boss to lead them alabat. They won’t go there. You see that big mob blackfella here, la town, they can’t even go anywhere down the river. They’re too frightened. Or respect too, in other words.
If we go offer them, hey you fella wanna come, we got a good place, you might come there for a day. Might be like that. If you talk to them they might take notice, but they won’t just go there. Unless they’re forced. In their own self they still can’t go.
Some fella come down here, but they see it as a public place, big mob car park. They come here chuck a fishing line for bream.
CG: Yeah, I seen that poorfella.
DN: That’s the only thing they can do.
AH: That’s the respectful way.
DN: Yeah. They show proper respect other blackfella, as they been doing for centuries. They never used to come here and do their own corrobboree. They bin only wait for dawawang alabat to show ‘em their corroboree. And like everybody come wirnan [trade], if we send for them to come that’s the time they can do their own thing. But everything is based on that respect again, blackfella way.
AH: Really, gardiya shouldn’t be going into country until they’re invited by a proper blackfella from that place. Also I forgot to say, the title of these photos is All the violence within this, and those other ones are In the national interest. I feel that this, what you called trespassing, is an act of violence. But one of the reasons my culture can do this now, without fear of being speared or something, is because of the violence that happened earlier. And I think that violence carries on, it persists.
[David speaks in Miriwoong and Kriol to Chris for quite sometime.]
AH: What did they say?
CG: Well, it’s just a theory, not an actual event. But what he is saying is that a lot of young fellas steal cars, and some of the system within the family of that kid, the mother or the father, still has the torment and the rememberance of all the shit—
DN: Trauma, that’s the ‘trauma’, Jabija.3
CG: Yeah. Could be some of that is transferred to the kid. And they think back to what our old people used to go through. So what they did was: Oh I’ll go fix this bloke, this must be one of them bastards, I’ll go steal his car. Make him feel bad about his precious thing, whereas for us it’s the country that is special. It is our value. And the trauma that is set on our old people, is so big—
DN: It been go down to all the woothoo-woothong [children].
CG: Yeah…it transferred within the line of the family. I even have that. I have a trauma with police. Because of the violence and the engagement with us was really bad. It was like shaking in your boots just to see a cop car just parked down the road. Or a cop walking into a shop. We won’t go in that shop if that policeman go in there, we’ll go in another shop. That’s because of the trauma and I guess the devastation of the massacres and bad things that happened to our old people. It still runs within the young people’s systems, even mine. Just the understanding of what my old people been through and the hardship and the torment of these so called Vestey’s was the worst thing that has ever happened to us. Colonisation took everything away from us—our rights, our freedom, our homeland.
DN: On the station, as soon as something went wrong, all the ngelabang [police] been come in. Grab them alabat. They been doing that on Newry Station too. I’ll tell you this one little story, for that ngelabang business. Old man here, la, last one who been fall down [pass away].
DN: Hmm. He been little one, Daddy he been tell me. My Daddy and twofella been tell me. BJ, he been little one, one manager been go belt him for galloping a horse, I think or something. And old man gagoong [grandfather], old father one, old Yoolayi he been go and fight with that manager over old man, na. And another lot, old man, old Garralany Johnny Marrang, you know old One Two Three? You know when he warrgeb wangga [dance wangga]?
CG: Yeah, yeah.
DN: That old man, and another lot brother, all from Pulumpa, some fella been pass away, they been all double bang that manager. And he been call the police. Wyndham police been come there. Just for that little incident on the station, all from one little boy. But police were involved there all the time.
CG: That was the control.
DN: Yeah. And they still got that. That fear is still there in people when they see ngelabang. They all been tell me that story, whole lot, all my aunty. But I been go back la file, search the file, I been find that story there. In that story, that ngelabang fired his gun up in the air. But the alabat story, myself, thegoobeling alabat, he been firing at people in the foot.
CG: Oh, crickey.
DN: Yeah, got a revolver. Make everyone sit back, you know like that. But in that story he got in the report he fired a couple of shots in the air. But what that old people reckon he was shooting them in the foot. Like all the cowboy.
CG: You better listen you little black bastards. Make them do the wangga here.
DN: I been know that story before, but few years ago I did the search and found that different story. But that kind of thing, trauma is still there.
DN: I reckon myself our blackfella rules should be a high priority. When I been have a look later, at that Ngarranggarni site they been do of the Ord, when I been have a look later, after all your ngabang [fathers], all them proper jirrijib [show] for dawang, you know. They never made them like a road all those sites, the anthropologists made it—
CG: Bouncing, from place to place.
DN: Jirrijib likeathat—here, there, there. So when I looked at the map after, everything clear, open. There is no site recorded in between. That’s why gardiya been go through, in between. Gardiya bin do a bit of a different thing, to mark down the site of importance how they work. They been put it all wrong way. They been do it their way. In the end, the end result, that been weaken our structure a little bit too, see.
CG: In reality, blackfella way, there was a site there, site there, site there, site there. No matter they were all separated, they were in line, connected—
DN: Yeah. Well everywhere there. You know.
CG: They were in line. But when whitefella went through there—
DN: They bin point them out—
CG: And cut them out.
DN: Yeah, cut all the rest out and just put it like that. So when I been have a look at the map there, I been say, so where’s the site there? Oh it’s in that little dot there, they been tell me. Well I been look, Hey, na na. But too late, everything been all passed. I never go got them see, when they been doing that. Ken Mulvaney, yeah, Kim Ackerman all that lot. All that anthropologists before.
CG: That’s the one about these anthropologists. I like working with them. But one thing, I think they’re missing the point sometimes.
DN: Well, we never there that time to explain to them properly.
CG: (laughter) Yeah, that’s the point, na. That’s the point where they actually thought they was doing the right thing. But old people were saying yes because, we had no choice.
DN: Yeah, well misunderstanding. They never understood things properly.
AH: And that’s the thing too, gardiya culture is always putting things in a box, compartmentalising. Even with our education system we put maths, English, science, art—all in different boxes, in different classrooms. So when we try to understand what a sacred site is we put them in a box, so we can put the mine outside the box. But it doesn’t work like that, for you mob it’s all about connection.
But even about the stolen motorcars too. Look, stealing cars is not a good thing. But stealing country is also not a good thing. So when I see people complaining about kids stealing motorcars they need to confront that their own culture and way of life exists because of stolen country. There is a very real connection. Anything less is hypocrisy.
DN: We been have a NAIDOC week one time, in the park there. Maybe they want to rangga this story?
CG: Go on…
DN: We been have a NAIDOC week in the park. And they been want to warlayi [cook meat in an earth oven]. Anyway I had to go and get permission from the shire to do that. Just to go and dig a hole there, and cover him up after.
DN: Yeah, I been make them put a backhoe (front end loader) there gotta sand. After we been finish warlayi next day we been put em back everything just like that. But yeah, you know, that kind of thing now, when they go out la our land they should have been doing the same again, getting permission from us to do things. Doing anything on our country, they should be doing exactly the same thing. But all the things, all the negotiation seems to come after. When they’re already doing things. It’s not right.
1. Alabat is a pronoun in Kimberley Kriol that roughly translates to mean ‘all of them’.
2. David Newry is the uncle of Chris Griffiths, and consequently the mother-in-law’s brother (bajoog) of Alana Hunt. Throughout this conversation David and Alana speak to each other indirectly and occasionally refer to each other as ‘they’, due to the avoidance protocols their relationship necessitates under Miriwoong kinship structures.
3. Jabija is Chris’ skin name.
David Newry is a senior Miriwoong person who has worked extensively with the Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre (MDWg) in numerous leadership roles since the 1990s. He played a vital role in the formation of the Kimberley Interpreting Service which operates in the health and justice sectors, delivers cultural awareness programs at MDWg, and was a key figure in the development of the Miriwoong Seasonal Calendar.
Chris Griffiths is a Miriwoong and Ngali-wurru person who has worked extensively in the arts and cultural spheres through Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, Warmun Art Centre and now as coordinator of the Strong Men’s Program at Waringarri Corporation. Following in his late father’s footsteps, he is deeply committed to practicing culture, ceremony and song.
Alana Hunt is an artist and writer who lives on Miriwoong country in north-western Australia. Alana examines the violence that results from the fragility of nations and the aspirations and failures of colonial dreams, both within the area she lives and in the context of her longstanding engagement with South Asia, particularly within Kashmir. Her distributed art practice moves between publishing, exhibition making and public intervention. She communicates with a broad network of collaborators and peers in the development of her interdisciplinary works and regularly contributes to social commentary through podcasts, panels and discussions.
David Newry and other staff at MDWg played a crucial role in the translation and accurate spelling of Miriwoong words in this conversation. To learn more about their important work please visit: www.mirima.org.au