Returning to country brings wellbeing

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Tamika Townsend is a Reconciliation Action Plan Officer at Reconciliation Australia.

I was part of a recent Reconciliation Australia visit to the Ngaran Ngaran Dreaming tour in Central Tilba on the Far South East Coast of NSW. Despite our visit being extremely wet (it rained on us throughout the entire trip!) the two night stay was truly memorable. Being greeted by my people’s neighbours the Walbanga (Yuin Batemans Bay Moruya) and Gunai/Kurnai (Victoria Lake Tyres area) was a great start to the weekend.

The lands of South Coast NSW Aboriginal Nations showing Gulaga’s location

The rain didn’t stop us from climbing Gulaga known by the Aboriginal community as ‘the mother mountain’. Gulaga Mountain is extremely significant to the many groups that make up what is now known as the ‘Yuin Nation’. The ‘Yuin Nation’ is used to describe the many groups who once lived peacefully up and down the South Coast of Australia and consists of many different language groups including my people the ‘Djiringanj’ mob who are the Traditional Custodians of the Bega Valley area with a boundary extending from Bega to Narooma and inland to the sharp scarp of the dividing range East of Nimmitabel Mount Gulaga is factually situated on Djiringanj country.

Gulaga – Sacred mountain

Gulaga Mountain is significant and extremely sacred to all the language groups along the South Coast. Gulaga could be interpreted as the giver of life or the creator which connects us all. Gulaga teaches us dreaming stories, such as the right way to live and treat people, our roles, obligations and our kinships systems. Gulaga also holds many sacred women’s places of significance and is an ancient birthing place for the women on the South East Coast NSW.

Gulaga is shaped like a pregnant woman figure and is often hidden by the intense mist creating a smoky, intriguing affect that is known as her possum cloak. Gulaga has two sons known as Najanuga (Little Dromedary) and Barranguba (Montague Island).  Our stories teach us that Barranguba, Gulaga’s eldest son, said to his mother ‘I want to go my own way, set up camp and become a man’. She instructed that Barranguba move into the ocean with the dolphins, whales and sea animals close enough for Gulaga to keep watch and so he went. Barranguba (Montague Island) is traditionally a men’s initiation site where women should not go.  Najanuga, Gulaga’s baby son, was also eager to go set up his own camp but she said “No you’re too young; you stay here where I can look after you” In our dreaming this is why Najanuga sits directly in between his mother and older brother it is possible to see his face in the mountain when you drive by Gulaga. It is believed that there is an umbilical cord that runs under the sea connecting Gulaga to her sons this is scientifically possible considering Gulaga was once an active volcano with underground lava tubes.

During the walk I led the way to a cultural dreaming place of incredible significance. It’s hard to put into words the strong sense of connection that came over me as I walked on country; I could feel my identity growing it stronger than ever.  I knew the story of Gulaga and her sons and other bits and pieces but not to the extent that I do now; the dreaming stories, the women places, everything resonated so deeply with me.

The landscape is so rich with beautiful vegetation and scenery filled with striking tiny waterfalls, complimented by green moss. The air is clear and the scenery breathtaking and walking back down Gulaga I heard black cockatoos in the trees, looked up and saw a mother and her baby. As we left the mountain there was good old Willy the wagtail watching us; not moving or fluttering just watching. This bird is known by my mob as the messenger bird and we know him as a sticky beak.

As a proud Djiringanj woman our visit to Gulaga was very personal. Returning to country always brings a strong sense of connection and spirituality but also grief for what culture has been lost.  Loss of culture is something I feel strongly about and I truly believe that this disconnection plays a major role in the multifaceted issues faced by the nation’s first People.

Keeping Gulaga’s stories alive and connecting with culture and country is essential for Aboriginal wellbeing, identity and sense of belonging and Ngaren Ngaren Dreaming should be commended for sharing stories that have been passed down for generations.  In my view sharing and beginning to understand each other is of the essence of true reconciliation and self-determination.

Like thousands of her ancestors before her, Tamika fishes on her country
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