Written by Amelie Yamin
Edited by Kati Varela
It was the beginning of April when our family of 4 set off for a place called Narooma, 5 hours south of Sydney. There we met with a group of teachers, some with their families and one ex-student of Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College. For the next three days, we were guided by the Aboriginal elder from the Yuin Country Max Dulumunmun Harrison (just Uncle Max for us) and his grandson Max 3.
Each morning we would welcome Grandfather Sun as it rose, and thank him for all the things he does for us: for the light, for the artwork he was painting on the sky, for keeping us alive, for its warmth, for helping the plants grow and for the food he gives us.
Every night, we would have yarning circles. We gathered and told everyone in the group what we had learned that day and reflected on the stories that Uncle Max had told us.
We also got red bands that we put around our foreheads to show respect to the spirits of the land. We were not allowed to eat or drink while had them on. When we put on the red bands and when we took them off we had to say “through the mother” and touch the earth because the earth is known as Mother Earth.
On the second day, we climbed Gulaga Mountain. We walked up for over two hours. We entered a sacred site where we had to put the red bands on. Max 3 used clap sticks to signal to the spirits that people were coming; one clap for each person entering the site. At the end, he would clap the sticks again to signal we were leaving.
Before entering the sacred site we did a ceremony where we had to get some ferns and then brush the leaves out of the way to make a circle shape. We then walked through the circle one by one with Max 3 and Uncle Max put dots on our faces with white ochre. This was a ceremony to help us see and open our minds to the stories we were going to be told.
This is how Uncle Max describes the significance of Gulaga in his book My People’s Dreaming:
“Gulaga Mountain is where the Creation Story begins for the people of the Yuin Nation (…) Gulaga gives us our stories of Creation. Gulaga gives us our stories of connectedness with the other clan groups that are scattered within the Yuin Nation. Up on Gulaga there are many rocks or tors that form a straight line and each one tells part of the story of all things. Each tor is a chapter is our Creation Story.” (p.19)
“Gulaga is our weather forecast; she lets us know when we’re going to get a bit of water from Father Sky. Gulaga is a woman’s mountain as much as it is a man’s mountain because of the creation of the woman first and the man second. Gulaga is a place of wisdom, a place of tranquility. Gulaga is also a great place for communicating from the first Creation Rock. From there we can send out messages and connect with the other tribes. (…) Gulaga is a teaching place and a birthing place.” (p.34)
We also learned about the Bora Rings which are big circular rings where you do ceremonies that included dancing and performances. Ceremonies were always done in the same Bora Ring. They helped the connection to the land because the land “recorded” the movements made by people.
Uncle Max and Max 3 showed us many sites sacred to the Yuin people. We saw one of them after one of the Sunrise ceremonies at the beach. He took us to the old Middens nearby. These were places where tribes would come together to eat and leave the shells behind. This allowed for the next tribe to know what had already been eaten so they would eat some other types of seafood. That way, they would leave time for these to replenish before they were eaten again.
There were many other examples of ways in which the Yuin People lived sustainably. For instance, we learned permission needs to be asked before harvesting anything from the land. We would ask the tree if we could take a fruit it was offering and the rivers if we could collect some of the water.
They are deeply connected to nature. The names given to the main natural elements show how they are “part of the family”: Grandfather Sun, Grandmother moon, Father Sky and Mother Earth.
This is how Uncle Max describes it in his book:
“It is so important to read the land, to be observant of the changing colour of the leaves, and the changes in behaviour of the animals so we become aware and recognise the message the land is sending us.” (p.51)
“We are never alone out there on the land, our relatives of nature – the trees, grasslands, rocks, animals – they are our family; we treat them respectfully.” (p.77)
We learned a lot of things that “just made sense” and we are thankful to have had this exceptional opportunity.
This is the link to a 15 minutes report on Uncle Max from SBS television if you want to listen to him directly http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/464503875539/our-footprint-max-harrison
NSW South Coast Yuin Elder Uncle Max Dulumunmum Harrison an initiated man is the knowledge holder and teaches the guides at Ngaran Ngaran. His mob have undertaken his teachings that have been passed down to him by 5 masters of Aboriginal Lore (2015).
Today 3/4J we are going to interview Madam Varela about this amazing trip to she took with her family. Above is an account of the trip written by her daughter Amelie. She is a very talented young writer. Lets watch the video and we are going to prepare questions to ask Madam Varela when she google hangouts us after library.