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459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

From Hamilton Hill: The Gathering Place

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

From Hamilton Hill: The Gathering Place

Andrew Ryan

When you walk from the supermarket to the community garden near my house, you walk across an expanse of grass, dotted with weeds, surrounding the vestiges of what would have been a much larger chunk of native flora before the council got to it a few decades ago.

Apparently, it was a wetland, and it was a place of traditional importance for gatherings by the original inhabitants of the area; Whadjuk Nynguah people have inhabited this locale for many thousands of years. So many generations of people attending to their tribal relations in that very spot. I like to imagine the songs, the dances, the jokes, the stories when I think of that filled in swamp. I swear that energy still permeates this area, without seeming mystical about it (I’m not); the more open minded residents are involved in their communities, in environmental protection, working together, the freshness of the breeze still coming from the near-by ocean like it has done for longer than most of us could comprehend.

Before the council filled in the wetland, way more decades before they filled it in, it shared the hill with an estate, a big ol’ colonial home for white landowners to live in luxury as they controlled the land, profited from working it with European agricultural systems. The portion of that land which was used for keeping horses still stands today, one of Australias oldest still running stables. Its just there, down the road from me, right near a small chunk of native trees, some old enough to have the scars of Nyungah craftsmanship on their trunks. These heritage protected trees, which could be threatened in the face of local land development, are about an hours walk from the place the first English flag was struck in to this land, an ideal spot for a new colony. And what a colony. Fremantle and Perth enable lots of money to flow in and out of the river systems they inhabit.

I was told that in the 1970s, the council filled in the wetland that had remained mostly untouched the formation of the colonial government. They filled it in to deter groups from gathering by it, you know, that whole “fuck with their cultural sites and you get them out of view”attitude or something. I wonder if they gave a thought to where the gatherings would happen instead of there, if at all, and how actively seeking to destroy a tradition based on place can uproot a sense of identity related to that tradition? Or if they thought about how the act of dispersal, of moving on in a public space can be felt as oppressive? “But this is MY land!” must be a cry that haunts the dreams of politicians and bureaucrats across the nation of Australia.

“Yagan again stepped forward, and leaning familiarly with his left hand on my shoulder, while he gesticulated with his right, delivered a sort of recitative, looking earnestly at my face. I regret that I could not understand him, but I conjectured, from the tone and manner, that the purport was this: “You came to our country; you have driven us from our haunts, and disturbed us in our occupations: as we walk in our own country, we are fired upon by white men; why should the white men treat us so?”

– George Fletcher Moore, Government appointed Advocate General. May 1833,

(Published in Nyungah Land – Records of Invasion and Theft of Aboriginal Land on the Swan River 1829-1850, 2005, Bevan Carter. Swan Valley Nyungah Community)
I saw a thing pop up today informing me that commercial news outlets around Australia are spreading the vibe that the University of New South Wales is “attempting to re-write history”by recommending that students work within the viewpoint that this country was “invaded” and not discovered+settled by Europeans, causing an uproar in weirdos who are somehow offended by this fact about our history, some of them claiming that this nation should not be made to feel guilty about its creation, that guilt is destructive, that in international law we are all good (that’s not technically true btw).

Dude, guilt only arises when you feel like you’ve done something wrong, and in this case, when you’ve got a mountain of evidence that something wrong did indeed happen, of course people are going to feel guilt once they realise, especially given that their way of life is based right on top of on the destruction of those who were here before. Guilt is normal in the face of this information.
“They [colonists] knew that their own welfare depended on avoiding hostilities; and it is due to them to state that their conduct, as a body, has been marked throughout by an anxious desire to avoid, on their invasion of this territory, every unnecessary injury to its earlier inhabitants.”
and
“…establish and regulate, upon general principals of mutual benefit, the future intercourse between the invaders and the invaded.”
James Stirling, the first Governor and Commander in Chief of Western Australia, published in the Perth Gazette, July 1, 1837.

If that guy (and, as is documented, many others of the time) can recognise what happened as an invasion, then for what reason should this truth not be taught in our universities? There is no ideology here, it is factual, and creates a place of cultural safety for First Nations students to learn within.

And if people feel guilty upon learning these facts (I certainly did when I first became cluey about these issues), then they need to be given time to think about it, space to sit with it, and more information to understand how everyone else who knows this information has dealt with it, how this country has and continues to deal with it, how the people who have been fucked over and oppressed since the invasion have been working and fighting to stand up for their rights in the face of such such a big blanket of ignorance and denial of the truth, their truth, our shared truth. More education is needed, more variety of perspectives is needed, and most important of all, we need way less less colonial assimilationist types who benefit from the denial-of-fact telling people how to think and how to vote.

A bunch of people near that old filled in wetland area near my house want to see it brought back to what it once was.
I feel like this attitude is one that healthily works through the guilt of knowing what was destroyed: you see a problem, and you do what you can to find a solution that is respectful and healing and powerful in giving the finger to decades and decades of blatant disregard for and disrespect of the people who’s families are involved in the oldest human culture in the world, one that overcame the compulsion that was the end of so many others throughout human history: a destructive greed for resources.

Imagine how much richer the cultural life of this area would be if the traditional owners could gather here again, with the strength-in-knowledge that they wouldn’t be unfairly shooed away from their places by some white people in suits who don’t like to think about how the past and the present can and does negatively affect Aboriginal people. I feel like the time of everyone thinking about the truth is coming, quicker than I could have imagined only a few years ago.