Connecting to Country

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Words || Neenah R. Gray

Yarma, Goodamilli, Hello.

These are the languages of my mother and father: Kamilaroi and Dharumbal.

We identify with our mother’s tongue. We introduce ourselves from our mother’s country. The women in our community play a distinct role to which our whole system would crumble without them. It’s primitive to say that there are mens’ and womens’ roles within community, rather these are our obligations as men and women to create a fluid, symbiotic relationship with one another and the universe around us.  

There are concepts in our culture that relay to an individual their obligations to the land, and the continuation of the cyclical family obligations. When I was six years old, I came home from school and asked my mother what my totem was. She told me to call my Granmeo, my grandmother on my Bina’s (father’s) side. I remember this conversation very clearly. Me asking my Granmeo what my totem was, and her giving me two options despite her already knowing what I was going to say. It was the Green Tree Frog. Ever since, this has always been a crucial part of how I identify on a physical and spiritual level. This is one of the ways I connect to country.

It is our elders’ obligation to pass on knowledge to younger generations in order to maintain a level of cultural integrity as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. When I was 14 years old, I went back home to Rockhampton ⁠— Dharumbal country, my fathers’ country ⁠— to celebrate my Granmeo’s birthday. It was during this trip that her and my Bina had sat me down over a cup of tea to reinforce my traditional name: Boobah Budaroo. This again, added another level of spiritual identity in conjunction with the obligations I had happily accepted with my name. As my Granmeo was getting older, as I was getting older, she knew certain things had to be done. Although this wasn’t an official naming ceremony, in my Granmeo’s own way it was an opening up of a new passage of knowledge. Things that I still ponder about today.

As we travel through our life’s journeys, and knowledge becomes more accessible to us, the heavier the obligation is to learn. When I was 16 years old, my Granmeo sadly passed away. I had to return to my father’s country. My mother and I did a road trip from Sydney to Rockhampton stopping off at Toowoomba on our way through to pick up my Nan. Sorry Business is powerful, and requires all members of the family to be present to undergo the spiritual journey of the one who has been lost in order for them to pass properly. After we had our send off for my beautiful Granmeo, I spent the night with my family and extended family around the campfire, reminiscing on old stories and celebrating her life. She played a role in giving each and every family member their traditional name, telling us stories of the land and putting a fire in our bellies that would never die out. My Granmeo had succeeded in her obligations, and it was now our time to continue her legacy. 

We feel the obligations both spiritual and physical as we grow older. We understand that our old people have never left us and continue to guide us through all of our mishaps and successes. When I was 19 years old, my Bina felt he had some unfinished business to do when I returned back to country. He took me officially through my naming ceremony, giving me my name on country: Boobah Budaroo Dharumbal. We went down to the beach in Yeppoon, and overlooked Great Kepple Island. This was where my ancestors had accepted me and allowed me to move into the next stage of my life. To this day, this beach is the first place that I will go when I go back to visit my Bina. He’ll tell me to put a seashell in my mouth and spit it back out into the ocean and call for the spirits so they know that I am home. So they can hear me and feel me. 

My Nan on the other hand has been my best friend since the day I was born. Alongside my mother, she has been the most significant person in my life for 22 years. I cherish her every day and despite her being a little binugarri (deaf), she will still chew your ear off. Both of my grandmothers grew up on missions prior to the Referendum in 1967, although my Nan was never one to talk about it. She never liked talking about how she grew up, until I started asking her questions. She knew in her heart she was obligated to tell me about her past even though it pained her to do so sometimes. 

Our grandparents are our wisdom keepers and we are a reflection of the world they fought for us to have. Every day I am grateful for the journeys that my grandmothers and my mother have been on, stretching the limits of the barriers that were placed on them for being Aboriginal and setting higher expectations for their future generations.