The Australian Indigenous story has many chapters, some coloured with discovery and some blacked out with dispossession, some heartwarming and some heartbreaking, some hidden and some heralded.
The story of this land starts in the Dreamtime with the smoky subterranean swoon of the didgeridoo that swells behind ancient songs, along invisible tracks, and visible landmarks; where country is church and the altar of wide open spaces is throbbing and thrumming with the noise of creation breathing, alive to heaven under the vast star-spangled dome of the southern stars.
When Pope John Paul II visited the red earth of desert dreaming in 1986 he affirmed The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the sap and root of Indigenous culture still being strong despite the depredations and disconnection that have characterised more recent history. The Pope reminded all that the Gospel speaks all languages and that its message is one of reconciliation with God and neighbour.
I chat to a couple of my neighbours, my students, one a young Yorta Yorta woman (from the Shepparton area) and the other a Wardaman woman (near Katherine in the Northern Territory). Their Christianity and their Aboriginal spirituality find a complementarity that enables both inheritances to flourish alongside each other.
They talk and I listen; to the hopes they have, to the concerns they have for young people their own age who are lost between the two cultures, to their plans and dreams, to that bran nue day they believe is coming sometime in the not too distant future.
The girls want non-Indigenous Australians to try to understand who they are. This understanding must go beyond the stereotypes that are often seen in the media. They share concerns that blurred or misguided perceptions bury their tradition and richness of culture.
They want the truth of their stories to be told.
The girls talk about their respect for the women in their communities, their mums and aunties. They are keen for more knowledge derived from the life experience and wisdom of their Elders and they want to connect more closely with the land of their tribal ancestors.
The girls value the opportunity of education and intend to go to university. They see themselves as role models for other young Indigenous people. They look up to Michael Long and Cathy Freeman. They love Jessica Mauboy. In fact, the uncle of one of the girls is Tony Briggs, who wrote the screenplay for the recent hit film The Sapphires about the experiences of his mother Lois and her singing group as they entertained the troops in Vietnam in the '60s.
All Australians, whether newly arrived or here for six or seven generations, regardless of country of origin, have much to learn from the Indigenous stories of people and place. Especially in the sacred spirit of place, we can connect with our own inner dreaming, our deep listening, our dadirri.
We, new settlers of a mere 225 years, have much to learn if we pause to listen, really listen, to the songs of the land; songs heard in the rush of a river or the carolling of a kookaburra, songs rumbling in ancient stone formations, the hymn to creation that is Kakadu.
We have much to learn if we listen to the stories of our first people and hear their truth.