It’s Time: The Fate of the Ramindjeri
By Steven & Evan Strong
WARNING: TO AUSTRALIAN ORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLAND PEOPLES: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS- IMAGES AND MENTION OF A DECEASED AUSTRALIAN ORIGINAL PERSON
This article is not a throwback to the early 70’s, to a time and place where Gough Whitlam’s call-to-arms to the electorate to embrace radical change and a new vision for an independent Australia resonated ever so briefly. The whole episode came and went in five years, then everything returned to ‘normal’ soon after and those pulling the reins resumed business transactions. The inherent flaw in this fleeting dawn of a utopian lifestyle, was that such radical departures from the accepted norms could never evolve out the current political and economic systems and had to be marginalised and ridiculed at every post. If nothing else a collective seed was planted in field of rocks and weeds and did not germinate until very recent times.The only difference this time around is a growing realisation that the structures and morality of the current systems of law and order are crumbling and many now understand that until the present political and economic regimes are gone for ever, any attempt to make meaningful amendments and deletions around the edges will never succeed. For many it is no longer a question of repairing that which is doomed to fail, but what comes next? If there is no prototype or model to use as a template then how different is this from that earlier momentary flash of illumination which demanded to walk away from what was broken, yet had no practical solution of alternative avenues beyond ‘dropping out?’ The fundamental flaw in the radical social change taking place in the late 60’s and early 70’s, many refer to as the hippy counter-culture, was that it lacked meaningful contact with Indigenous culture and wisdom.
That was then, which was too early for anything beyond preparing the way until the Indigenous peoples of the world had the time and opportunity to re-establish the Old Ways, but today it is those pagan mystics who are in contact with ancient ceremonies and ritual that now stand at the helm. Tribal in complexion driven by spiritual principles and an obligation to share, this ancient wisdom provides a tangible alternative to the compliant society of consumers the bankers and moguls have fashioned in their image. So many Original Elders and Custodians of Lore and artefacts are adamant the reason they are revealing many sacred, secret treasures is because a change in consciousness, beginning in Australia then spreading throughout the globe, is upon us.
A Call to Commit
There are Original communities all over Australia who are responding to the call of the Spirits of the Land. What the Ramindjeri defenders of their sacred island, Karta-Gateway to the Heavens (Kangaroo Island), are doing is far more than regaining their rightful heritage and culture. To begin with this large island lays claim to a special status, in that not only the Original people who died on the island, but the recently departed souls of men and women from many mainland tribes, also departed from this earth through a sacred passage on the island.
There are many good reasons for eminent archaeologist Josephine Flood to correctly observe that the “island of the dead”(1) has “all the ingredients of a classic mystery story, which scholars have been trying to solve since 1802.”(2) What Flood could never appreciate is that this mystery of over two hundred years in stasis is about to reach a fork in the road, which begins at the Ramindjeri Culture Centre.
Not long after Ramindjeri Elder Karno W. passed over, there began a deeply divisive split within the Ramindjeri Community as to who should act as cultural ambassador and keeper of the sacred ways of the island. At this stage of proceedings I have to declare a personal interest, in that It was Karno who orchestrated the first ceremony I was given and he is still my boss in all Original matters. Equally, I am of the belief that the island is so blessed and sacrosanct at every level and will make the perfect open-air on earth permanent display for the marked and magic rocks we are currently caring for. They are the most important and sacred collection of Original rocks ever assembled in Australia, if not the world, and demand the very best place to be stored, displayed for the public to view and used in special ceremonies.
However, as important as these issues are, they serve as a backdrop to the present situation. Christine, Karno’s wife, was evicted early in the legal parrying, but once a gathering was held some months ago on the island she has returned on many occasions to the Culture Centre. Another valued supporter and dogged defender of the return of the proper people, Nitehawk is permanently living at the centre. His continued presence, along with the contributions made by Christine, Unbulara, Wirritjin, Kurt and so many other of the “holy warriors”(3) Karno was so fond of mentioning, stands resolute in never allowing the centre to be stolen by any institution or statute.
The Division Bells are Ringing
As the in-fighting and dividing lines between the officially endorsed central Aboriginal organisation in South Australia began to intensify, representations were made to political parties, departments and the media. In some cases we requested they intervene and mediate, elsewhere it was to present a story of injustice and institutionalised apathy, whatever request was made it came to nothing as no-one lifted a hand or passed an encouraging word. From the time I made mention of Original dissension from within, no matter who was on the phone there was a palpable hesitation in commitment, a yearning to obey obscure legislations and find reasons to sit on the fence.
More than once I pointed out that the monotonous regularity of conflict between Original communities is merely symptomatic of a colonial strategy that was refined to its highest level of insidious efficiency when the British invaded Sydney Harbour: divide and conquer. Knowing that the raising of the British flag was contrary to every notion of International Law, it has been in the interests of the invaders to denigrate and dehumanise the Original inhabitants at every opportunity. They crafted a regime where the Original people spend an inordinate amount of time in conflict with each other. This ongoing internal strife is tragically reminiscent of the many scenes in the “Life of Brian,” where the revolutionary groups are constantly at loggerheads. Whether a parody or factual such a combative atmosphere scares away potential support, emboldens the detractors and only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes that are a staple diet of many media outlets.
In a Just World …
As things stand, the vision the Ramindjeri have for their Culture Centre is as much an inspiration as it is an unrealistic ‘pipe dream.’ The many buildings, which include a main residence and two separate units, are already stationed on the ground. Of course, if this is to become a viable functioning Culture Centre/Meeting Place, an amenities block with more showers and toilets has to be built. The recurring stumbling block in this circular equation is that the Ramindjeri fought the central funding body for the state and still have some way to go before winning the battle, but are now financially destitute. Even though the infrastructure is all but complete, the proper people are ready, willing and able, without real assistance or sizable funding from the same corporation they are in dispute with, nothing will never progress forward.
The Ramindjeri now receive nothing, not one solitary cent for either upkeep or incidental expenses like electricity, rates, etc. Christine paid for the last electricity bill from her personal account. In what only adds to the financial pressure, with no funding on the horizon, all plans to run cultural activities and build a secure permanent display for the Original marked and magic rocks on site sitting on the earth are suspended in the ether. With a basic amenities block and a secure apparatus to present these rocks, the centre could soon become financially independent. With nothing in the bank, nothing can be added or improved beyond struggling to maintain what is already there.
Two Missing Ingredients
We have a functioning Cultural Centre in need of some finishing touches and a collection of marked and magic rocks requiring a secure holy post. We have many good dedicated people fully committed to seeing Karno’s legacy of Old Way thinking and wisdom as a beacon to aspire towards. We have a tribe that is colour-blind, so much so that the Elder from this tribe I am liaising with is a white-fella. Thinks like a black-fella, talks like a black-fella, but has white-fella genes, that is true Wirritjin (Black-fella White-fella Dreaming). And to top all of this off, we have an extremely sacred and enigmatic location to act as a centre-piece. As impressive as this stock-take is, it is flawed twice over.
The two missing ingredients in this incomplete equation form a huge impediment and have to be overcome before progressing any further. There is no escaping the economic reality of the current system, without a government or private organisation providing funding life will be difficult. That impost is already a pressing concern, Christine has to plan her visits to and from the Culture Centre around her pension checks. She has just enough to get across but has to wait until the next payment arrives before she can return to the mainland. Money aside, good people who want to experience life on a sacred place in the company of people devoted to Culture, Lore and restoration are invited to join in this bold experiment of reconnection. As a tangible example of real Wirritjin, there are vacancies at the Culture Centre for volunteers to join them that pays no account to colour. Assistance in building, constructing and many other tasks will be invaluable in restoring and extending the Ramindjeri Culture Centre and revive something that could resonate throughout the land.
What Makes This Original Cause so Special?
Undeniably, there are many fine culture programs designed to bring younger Original men and women back to country, Old Way protocol and ceremony. We have no doubt that there are many programs on the ground right now could prosecute a compelling case for continuation and, in many cases, an immediate increase in funding. Barely a week ago I saw a brilliant program reported on SBS TV “Living Black,” which highlighted a stunning tool-making out-door workshop that leads on to time spent on country, campfire and informal talk about so many examples of the Old Ways of looking at the land and finding the Spirits within. The main Elder, Mark, who has led and guided this initiative from its inception was very aware of the need to convince anyone watching they needed more money to continue. I still remember my immediate reaction to their undoubted credentials was to question what makes the Ramindjeri plans for their Centre any more worthy.
Fortunately, that doubt had no chance to register for more than a second, there is a one major difference which has nothing to do with any comparison about the merits of either approach. What the Ramindjeri are focused upon is the next step, the others seek to repair the considerable damage the Original people still suffer and give them hope, tools to cope with and a connection with their land. All Black-fella stuff desperately needed now, but after that it is time to spread our wings and help all Australians find their spirit, totem and the chance to seek out a reason that cannot be costed. In that respect, this program sets a precedent that cuts across so many boundaries. It can be a cultural gathering point for tribes when involved in ceremony or conference, give the youth of any culture a chance to go bush, camp out, take on responsibilities, find a path to the mystical and to top it off, one day soon the most important collection of sacred Original rocks in this country will take up residence.
There is a huge change in consciousness flowing within our planet and will soon burst forth and spread throughout the lands and into the Cosmos, that is well understood by the Elders and Custodians advising us, but past that point of no return there will be a need for new structures and lifestyles that see each person bond with the earth at every conceivable level. We will need ceremony, connection and portals flowing. Under those charged conditions it is essential to resurrect certain holy locations such as this Culture Centre to provide guidance and practical examples.
Right now two priorities have to be addressed, beginning with more people with good intentions spending some time at the island helping in any way they can. With people on the ground there are materials to be purchased and expenses to meet and the only present solution is to appeal to benevolent organisations and individuals for financial assistance. If you can help either way, or perhaps in another way, it will go to a great cause, and if so, please do not hesitate to contact the Ramindjeri through …..contact details:
Calling all to stand with me in solidarity with the Ramindjeri tribe of Kangaroo Island. Their legacy is ‘Wirritjin ~ Spirit knows no colour’ and is seamlessly aligned with the philosophy of ‘Ubuntu – Unity in Diversity’.
The Ramindjeri are under threat of losing their land to the Indigenous Land Commission since their Elder Karno Walker passed away a short time ago.
Please donate, share this campaign or write to me and tell me how you would like to get involved. One Love!
**** Read More & Donate: https://www.gofundme.com/wirritjin
By Louise Clarke
For the first time we are publishing an article I am far from happy with. It is not as if this is a rushed draft, far from it, volume has never been an issue and flows at a solid clip. No this time around the task took far longer than normal and although I fell short it does need to be known about asap, so was released still far too biased.
The problem is I am too close to the place and people, something we try to never to do, and hence have lost of our customary impartiality. We always acknowledge the other side of every site, piece of archaeology or issue raised, but not this time. Can’t be done, because to do so would upset Karno, he is my boss in all Original matters and that stays solid till my last breath. If we had the money I would not be asking, but alas the bank balance is always on the wrong side of minimal and because of that personal shortfall, we are now making our first ever personal plea on behalf of the Ramindjeri.
This Culture Centre was something Karno put his life, soul and continued presence into. He is still there and we have to honour him in the only way we can. So Karno, the Ramindjeri and your less than impartial writer, invite you to join us in something special. Please gives this serious consideration, as it is only a phone call away.
(1): Josephine Flood, 2004, “Archaeology of the Dreamtime”, (J.B. Publishing: Marleston, South Australia), 139.
(3): Karno W….., (Personal Communication).