Heal Country is a call to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.
Australia celebrates NAIDOC 2021 this week under the theme Heal Country.
The Parkes Phoenix caught up with contemporary Indigenous artist Irene Ridgeway to get a local perspective on what it means to her and to us as a community.
What does Heal Country mean to you?
It means being able to share my knowledge and culture as an Aboriginal woman with others, to sit and talk to family and friends about our traditions, family and our future.
What does it mean for the Parkes community?
It’s about being inclusive with everyone, about sharing culture and awareness and reconciliation, it’s about having a voice, creating pathways of coming together.
How would you encourage the Parkes community to take action to further support this theme now and into the future?
We can only move forward together if we are honest about our history, by sharing the truth we are spotlighting our history. Parkes and the community have already embraced Heal Country. I think everyone who lives in the Central West shares that theme of healing the country, and totally understands what that means, because we are all part of the land.
Do you have practical suggestions or ideas on how people can help to heal country, and do we have specific places that need support for its protection?
There is healing going on right now with everything happening in our community from the creation of the Wiradjuri amphitheater and Garradyang Cultural Garden at Bushman’s Hill, the teaching of language in schools to the Aboriginal Heritage Committee and many more. There are many sites here in Parkes of burial grounds and scar trees, and these are being logged and documented. There is an app people can use to add scar trees and sites when new ones are discovered.
Farmers have been finding artefacts on their properties and are contacting Aboriginal people or Council about their findings. Our Council call in an archaeologist when they find something to ensure the items are passed on to the correct indigenous organisations. Indigenous knowledge of land is carried forward today with cool burns that can help to protect our country from ravaging fires.
There has always been some resistance towards Aboriginal people and it makes it hard, but Aboriginal people are tolerant and resilient and that’s what makes us strong as a nation.
In an era when development and even greed often take precedence over the protection of our land, water, sacred sites and cultural heritage, what would be your message to our leadership when faced with these decisions?
We have all experienced power struggles within our cultures as well as between dif-ferent cultures. We have all come from dif-ferent pathways. Now where do we go? Getting on the right pathway is the thing. I know I am on the pathway – can you join me?
For Irene understanding the truth is a way to repair the past and regenerate an understanding to move forward. “No one wants to talk about it, but talking about it is a release. I feel a strong sense of the importance of linking culture together, seeing how they connect with each other and celebrating what holds us together spiritually.”
This is echoed by Bhiamie Williamson, Research Associate and PhD candidate at ANU who said: “Heal Country invites all Australians to walk with us, to stand beside us, to support us. But perhaps most importantly, it invites Australians to love, treasure and fight for this land, as we have done, and will do, forever.”