Uncle Andrew

Uncle Andrew

I’ve been living around Kyogle for most of my life. This area is part of the Bundjalung nation of the Gulli-bul people who are one of the largest tribes or clans of the Bundjalung nation. Their area was around Kyogle, out to near Tabulam, Mummulgum, to Casino, so it was quite a large area. Gulli-bul were one of largest clans of the Bundjalung Nation which before colonization, about 23 different clans. We also have the Walibal, which is around Tabulam/Jubullum way. The Githabul, which is up near Mount Lindesay and Woodenbong area. The Waibul, Widjabul-Wiabul around the Lismore area. The Banjalang people extend up to Mummulgum, Busbys Flat, and then all the way back down to the coast to Evans Head. All those clan areas or tribal areas intersect in the Kyogle area. 

So, jingiwallah – Welcome to Country here, to the Gulli-bul area.

I’ve worked in the areas of environment and bush regeneration for 25 years. This gave me a lot of insight into current nature and environment ecology. I studied flora and fauna. Learnt about the interdependence of all life. How it all works together to create an environment. How everything plays its part. Chiefly fire and water; balan and wehbar.

Fires were a number one method of looking after country

I’ve worked in the fire area over the last 15 to 20 years, with cultural fire, which we’ve done through Fire Sticks all over Australia. Our particular organization here in Bundjalung territory is called the Jagun Alliance. Jagun means country, which recognises all the different aspects of country. Spiritually, but also about looking after country, the place of everything. All the animals, the birds, trees. Everything, including man’s place in there. I think it’s actually not so well understood in the modern times, the relationship that First Nations people had with the land, especially in terms of ecology. I would actually describe First Nations people as ecologist, who lived as ecologists. I mean in that actual sense, even though ecology is a modern scientific term.

Fires were a number one method of looking after country. A cultural fire is a cool fire, a very slow moving fire. The smoke has a different nature than smoke in a bushfire. It’s pure white, and when the animals smell that smoke they don’t panic. The animals know it’s the proper fire, the right fire. Cultural fires are about preserving the country, looking after the country for everybody and everything. They’re about keeping the country open so that animals like emus can travel through and find their foods. They’re about preserving habitat for the whole entire range of flora and fauna, right down to the insects.  This is quite the opposite to the terrible fires that were experienced in 2019 – especially in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. So many animals, large and small, right down to the insect, were destroyed. Numbers that you couldn’t even measure. 

Everybody was practising
Everybody was participating

We would be using the cultural fire all year round. People may have heard of mosaic burning – it’s kind of a patchy burning, where you’re not burning everything. You get this gradual effect over the entire landscape, and so there’s always these buffer zones where all of nature is benefiting from it. Mob would burn a little patch here, a little patch there. Then all the mobs would burn patches, even a long way away. Everybody was practicing the cultural fire which all added up to stimulating food production, and keeping the country safe, keeping it open. Not only for man to walk around on, but all the animals as well. 

Everybody was participating. The women and children doing little bits of it here and there. Having an understanding of it without any fear. It was the number one method of looking after country. It’s like how modern people keep their homes clean, how they look after the inside of their house, using detergents and water. But First Nations people saw everything as their home, and used fire. We sometimes equate fire as a cleaning method; smoking ceremonies are purifying peoples’ energies, blessing their energies. If you see some someone doing a smoking ceremony, or people participating in a smoking ceremony, they’re brushing the smoke over their body to clean themselves up.

First Nations people lived in their own country, and didn’t move around a lot. The country was like their home. It’s like someone knowing every section of their house. It’s that familiarity, and that familiarity was very primary. It’s not really worrying about how it might be somewhere else. It’s about right there, where you live, and being connected with that. Being familiar with the country that you walked on, that you lived on. In modern terms this can translate to the local RFS having a good understanding of the areas that they work, where they’re called to come and deal with the bushfires. That local RFS is much more connected with the areas that they work in and the different types of environments. 

I believe this practising of the cultural fire can be taught to everybody. And, even though it might be slightly controversial, I believe everyone can be taught to read country. I believe, and it’s not just me or the Indigenous practitioners, that cultural fire should be one of the main techniques. Also, of course, using other techniques which take into account how over time things have changed; the whole structure of having cities and towns and the infrastructure of modern life. I believe that it can be such a great benefit as one of the main tools to make the place safer, and more user friendly. And help people have a better understanding of right fire, or proper fire, and make the country so much safer and so much more resilient. We need to connect with the grass roots people, whether in the RFS, or cultural people of that particular land, to access that information, to get it happening on the ground. Getting teams of people to work in that space. To bring back the safety of this country in general, because this is how we looked after the place for thousands and thousands of years. 

Things are going to get extreme, I think. It’s part of climate change, which is something we’ve always had. We have it in our oral stories and song lines, how we experienced climate change. During ice ages, people adapted. There’s always that element of our people, how they adapt to the land.

We had a civilization, what I would like to say was a very advanced civilization actually; to be able to ‘live as one’, as you call it these days, with nature. To feel connected with the land, that feeling of being connected with everything, the whole universe. So this kind of feeling that came out of that really is not really wanting much, not having all these endless wants that we have these days. Feeling satisfied with a little bit of food, with a little bit of water, a bit of shelter. That’s all we need. As human beings, we don’t need too much beyond that. That equates with a kind of happiness or contentment that we feel content with what we have, appreciate what we have. And this is our First Nations people’s lives. The day they’re born till they left this world. And also understanding where we came from, and where we’re going. And a kind of contentment results out of that, which to me is actually very civilized.

Boogelbeh/ thank you.  I hope all this helps to give some understanding, that it’s some little bridge to our world that may be helpful in this modern time.