Originally published on The Guardian on 21/09.15.
I am from West Arnhem Land. I grew up there, spent 40 years of my life there. It is my mother’s country, my identify and it is where I have birth rights. My family taught me a lot about country and how we are connected to the natural environment in Arnhem Land: touching and feeling and tasting, what plants to use, what animals to eat, what wood to use for cooking and what natural herbs to use. Our herbs are special because they are natural medicines that we need for our body, especially for elders and children, but all ages really. It also shows a balanced system of harvesting and protecting special areas for the next season. This is how I grew up and developed an understanding of country and this is why they say to me “you are country”.
I had limited schooling in my early years and was it was mostly in the bush. In the past 10 years I have studied hard in education. At the age of 30 I began my education journey at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and completed my teaching degree in 2015.
It was unusual for anyone like me to know the best of both worlds. I did gain some knowledge and base skills from the adopted family who had the chance of raising me up, and I also had the opportunity to gain deep cultural life skills and knowledge. I always knew where I came from and who I was.
While I was growing up I had the opportunity of learning about my family members from my mother’s side. Even though I never had my mother around me I still had many family members with me growing up. They made me share and speak my mother’s language and I still carry the understanding of two worlds: the western way of learning and the natural, traditional ways of Indigenous culture in Arnhem Land.
I now work as an Indigenous educator and campaigner with Lock the Gate for our Protect Arnhem Land campaign against fracking and oil and gas. Working with Lock the Gate activists has been challenging and rewarding. As a group from diverse backgrounds we are becoming closer and gaining trust and I feel hope that we will keep fighting to maintain and manage a healthy environment for future generations.
I have developed new skills that allowed me to grow into a freedom fighter to campaign for my people and for the Northern Territory. Recently we protested to the NT parliament and never expected a big number but a big mob turned up, even with horses. I never expected a horse to go to parliament! We confronted the ministers of Northern Territory and I never thought I would be up there. On that day, with the power of peoples’ voices, I understood we can do it and I am capable of confronting them in my own way and as a united force.
I am thankful for the people who support us and Lock the Gate, without them I don’t think we would have made it there. My job begins to fight to support our families and the future of our children. My fight is to stop mining and fracking because in the long term it creates bad health and destroys the environment.
My way and passion is centred around education. I believe we are capable of running our own communities to be successful in our own way. I also fight for our rights to have a voice in quality education and what we believe is important. We need a strong leadership, a traditional leadership that is handed down from generation to generation. We are building a pathway for others and our children to keep our leadership strong and bring the fight to an end.
We are the people of the land and sea. We have been handed down tribal information on the rights of law, rules and justice to protect and care for life. The six seasons guide us to care for the next generation, not to destroy our land and sea. We are the custodians of the land – the land owns us. We need it to survive the huge push for fracking in the Northern Territory as it will destroy our lands and seas. We need it to live and survive with our fresh water.
We don’t need fracking, there are other ways to make money. We want to see leadership and protection on land and sea from the Australian government.
We want a fracking ban in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory and Australia. We are the custodians of the land and sea and together we unite as one voice, one Australia for all future generations.