Imagine this: unfamiliar beings in humanoid shapes exiting waterborne vehicles and making sounds that mean nothing to you. Then imagine this: the land you once walked over untethered is now sectioned off. Your trade supply is stopped. Your family is separated and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Finally, imagine this: sickness you had no idea existed has come with these strange aliens who have fallen from somewhere over the horizon or perhaps even from the sky.
You may think this scenario sounds like a scene out of a sci-fi movie, but it actually happened in Melbourne in 1835.
Dan Turnbull, pictured, CEO of the Frankston-based traditional owner organisation Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, explains: “Aboriginal people are currently reflecting on what our ancestors went through from the early 1800s onwards. We have all heard the stories from back then. This pandemic has brought up feelings of something our ancestors had no control over. COVID-19 has nothing on what our Old People went through and look at how it is impacting our lives every day. There is also fear for family in the Indigenous community because the government has told us that we are high risk. We understand that we are high risk but there has been no explanation on the details of why. We are assuming it is due to Aboriginal people being separated from the rest of the world for tens of thousands of years, but it could also be because of the health gap that exists within Aboriginal people and communities today.”
And we all know what lack of clarity can do to the psyche, yes?
Dan continues: “There is another reason our elders are finding restrictions difficult. They have inherent responsibilities to the land and waters as Traditional Custodians. It is not a choice; it is a part of who they are. Caring for Country is a cultural obligation, a cultural heritage which is an inherited legacy. Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation has also had to reimagine how we do our field work. When we go out to an archaeological excavation we drive in separate cars, don’t share tools, wear gloves, masks, glasses and stay 1.5m apart. Even the simplest of things have had to have a COVID-19 methodology. Much of our work revolves around meetings. We are constantly needing to look over maps and sites together or meeting with community. Like everyone else, we’ve had to find new ways of doing things.”
Indigenous Australians are the oldest living culture on the planet. They are our first scientists and astronomers who had complex social structures in place long before the ‘aliens’ arrived. Although this pandemic has brought up a collective trauma that should never be underestimated, it has also shown just how strong and resilient our original peoples of Australia are. Perhaps now is the time to reflect on just that and ask: just how strong do you need to be to survive?
As strong as the land, the trees and the sky. Imagine that.