The Right Stuff #2 – Rom Watangu (The Law of the Land)
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Header image via The Monthly.
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Issue #2: Rom Watangu (The Law of the Land)
Last year I read Tim Winton’s memoir Island Home. In amongst the few hundred pages of Australian literary gold, one phrase remains seared into my brain, seemingly incapable of fading away:
Largely spurned by settlers, ignored by consolidating colonial successors, and either patronised, romanticised or politicised by every generation thereafter, Aboriginal wisdom is the most under-utilised intellectual and emotional resource this country has.
Galarrwuy Yunupingu is an elder from Yolngu country, which covers an area in north-eastern Arnhem Land straddling the Gulf of Carpenteria in the Northern Territory. I had the great fortune of visiting this area of the world a couple of years ago, and the natural beauty of it is truly incredible. Yunpingu has crafted an essay called Rom Watangu or, the law of the land, which was published in the July edition of The Monthly.
In the essay, Yunupingu reflects on Winton’s idea of a distinct neglect of Aboriginal wisdom in modern day Australian society and culture, and provides a welcome and insightful Indigenous voice to the discussion. It is exceptional writing for one simple fact: it is truly honest writing, writing that is not faked, feigned or at all forced. Yunupingu, speaking from the heart, is confused and upset. At times he seems to plead with his fellow Australians: “Let us be who we are – Aboriginal people in a modern world – and be proud of us.” On the other hand, Yunupingu is generous in his openness of spirit and goodwill with other Aussies:
“We are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way.”
Now let me be clear from the outset, this is not a quick read. It’s long. But since when has anything truly worth hearing been read in thirty seconds or a minute? You can read it in print, by buying the July edition of the Monthly magazine – or there’s an online version (FYI – it’ll make it much easier to read if you switch it onto reader view, a function which any decent internet browser should have).
Aboriginal wisdom, if properly respected and understood, has the potential to add such richness to our wider Australian culture and society. We need to think more in terms of accommodating and less about assimilating. I reckon this essay by Yunupingu is a giant leap in that direction.