“Aboriginal relationality and the city”: Green Institute Conference 2023
This recording is from The City Transformed: Urban life at the end of the world as we know it – Green Institute Conference 2023 featuring Day 1 Keynote Speakers Dr Mary Graham and Dr Michelle Maloney speaking on “Aboriginal relationally and the city”.
The microphones were a bit scratchy and the talk was incredibly important and inspired, so Karen Oliver – a wonderful volunteer for The Green Institute – has transcribed it into text. A big thank you to Karen!
Transcript of Aboriginal Relationality and the city
TH = Tim Hollo
MG = Mary Graham
MM = Michelle Maloney
TH: I’m really delighted to welcome our first two speakers, um, Dr Mary Graham is an adjunct associate professor in political science at the University of Queensland. She grew up in southeast Queensland and is a Kombumerri person through her father’s heritage and a Waka Waka clan member through her mother’s heritage. With a career spanning more than 30 years, Mary has worked across several government agencies, community organisations and universities. Mary has been a dedicated lecturer with the University of Queensland, teaching Aboriginal history politics and comparative philosophy. Mary has written and published many prominent works including publications in the Aboriginal Encyclopaedia, training modules for cross-cultural awareness, and a host of academic papers. Mary also gave the keynote speech at our first Green Institute conference in 2017 and people are still talking about it.
TH: Mary will be joined by the wonderful Dr Michelle Maloney who is the co-founder of national convener of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance. Michelle began her career as an environmental lawyer and then broadened her work to include multi-disciplinary approaches to creating earth-centered governance and systems change she now designs and manages social change initiatives that collect law, economics, education, cross-cultural knowledge systems, community development practice, ethics and the arts. Thank you so much Mary and Michelle.
MM: Thank you so much Tim. And Mary and I will be sitting down for most of this, but I just wanted to make sure… is there a clicky thing? It’s fun being the first speaker. I was wondering where the title of our talk went oh there it is hooray okay.
MM: Thank you to the conference organisers and to Tim for the enormous amount of effort that goes into running these events, but I would really like to thank Auntie Kathy for that beautiful Welcome to Country and reminding people not only of the lip-service to stolen land but what it meant for people to be stolen from their lands and put in other places. And as someone who’s in her early 50s watching the absolute powerful resurgence of those things that were never lost, which is Aboriginal culture, history and pride has been one of the highlights of my personal and professional lives is watching other people wake up to the fact that this is Aboriginal land and this is Aboriginal places and we not only have a lot to learn, we have to work in solidarity together to make these transformations
So thank you to everyone for being with us today and just quickly I will do a brief intro of what we’re talking about and then hand over to Mary. So in our presentation some of this is based on a chapter that we wrote for Marcus Voth who I know is here and it is called “The City Of Good Ancestors.” And I love that Mary is fascinated with, “well look what Westerners have done to the first 10 000 years, what might the next 10 000 years look like?” And I love that long vision. So Mary’s going to touch on a bit of that and then I’ll chat afterwards about some of the initiatives that we sort of daydream about and admire and look at what could exist if we built Australian society on the relationist ethos and what that might look like.
I’ve already acknowledged Country. I want to acknowledge the Turrbal Peoples. I’m from Jinabara and Kabi Kabi Country up in Narangba, now. Lots of trees it’s beautiful. But I just want to acknowledge Country, acknowledge people and how much we all love this place and the powerful words that a beautiful young Aboriginal man said to us when we did our citizens inquiry down on the Darling River. He looked at the non-indigenous people in the room and said with tears in his eyes, “You’ve been here long enough, you should love her the way we do.” And I think that has echoed for me for years: That that is what this is about. It’s about loving place and Country, getting to know the damn joint and looking after it better but now I’m going to hand over to the always fabulous Mary, and then she’s going to
flick back to me and we’ll have a yarn with you. So thank you.
MG: Hello? So, thank you very much for inviting us to contribute today. Acknowledge sister Kathy Fisher there. Old mate from a long time ago, we’ve worked together on the old childcare agency and, uh, other things, eh? And amazingly she’s still going. Kath still works in this same area and it’s a huge task and her and her sister are really up there with it. It’s wonderful
I acknowledge the Turrabal and Jagera people too, in whose area this is. Um, so it was already introduced, I guess. I’m from the Gold Coast. On my father’s side Yugambeh language-speaking mob. Um Kombumerri the exact smaller group within that. Waka Waka on my mother’s side. So yes she used to refer toCherbourger’s Barambah, always, she was there for that long she called that her mob. Eventually, um, becoming what do they call it exempt, uh, marrying my father and so I’ve got relatives all over the place. Southeast Queensland here.
Um, yes, I just wanted to start off because it’s only very brief, about what we find ourselves in at the moment; the whole world. It’s like it strikes me as like a um hub, or a gathering of perfect storms. Several perfect storms: climate change, wars, plagues (well you know the uh the other thing; Covid) economic disaster (especially for poor countries in the world, and for people in countries like this, Indigenous people).
So um just um I’d like to start off with, try and explain what uh what a relationalist ethos is. It’s a relationalist ethos and a survivalist ethos; they are entangled. All human groups, all life forms have this this thing through them within them and so on, and so on. And ours of course is the relationship. And the very first cab off the rank – relationship – is with land, of course. So their thinking is like land has invented us, created us, invented us, so we’re obliged forever to have our custodial ethos, um, a stewardship ethos if you like towards land. And
um the survivalist ethos, though. There is survivalism, so it’s two-parter thing; relationalism and relational ethos, survivalism and the survivalist ethos. So survivalism is straightforward survivalism. Ancient, it’s like um you know, the world uh all countries are full of you know dangerous bitey things you have to be careful, you can be poisoned and so on and so on.
Um, small scale. Um a small scale modern you’ve got to be careful crossing the road might be hit by a bus. Large scale; escape from wars and revolutions, and of course large scale crises like colonialism.
And too much of a connection between (both um, as far as I’m concerned), between survivalism and fascism. You think about it for a while, what fascism is and what survivalism is, um what colonialism is. I remember asking my father, “Why did all these (8.19-ish) evils(?) happen?” And he thought about it when I was quite (8.23) willing to listen(?) and he said the most amazing thing he said, “They don’t know what they’re doing.” He said.
And I thought of all the things he could have said, you know, swearing and calling them names, and so on so on so on. But that’s what he said. He said “they don’t know what they’re doing.” I had to think about that. I thought he was wrong of course but then, normal teenage who knows everything, you know. Um, but, I waited and learned things learned things and finally I read a book by someone called Hannah Arendt and enough people are familiar with Hannah Arendt’s writing? About trying to understand. And then I understood.
He was right. Amazing.
So uh that started me on finding out what is all this about, where did all this come from, and for that eventually over the years I had to go way way back, way back when agriculture first starts. So large-scale agriculture which leads to a great um, not critical, uh, I’m saying, great brilliant old systems. First they started off with a slightly softer governance system and then as they grew wealth – great wealth and power – from agriculture, large scale agriculture. Our poor old mob didn’t have large scale agriculture, which is just as well in a way. Had small scale. Um but that led on to that was the main like turning point in Homo Sapiens you know the lives of human beings. Land makes us human, but what we learned was this idea of, “Well it’s a great reciprocal relationship. We are obliged forever to look after it because it’s always looked after us.” Plus not just in the framework of resources and so on but wouldn’t even be um we wouldn’t have oxygen would we? We would be floating in space actually if it wasn’t for what we walk on. So you set about is this ancient culture, setting about working out this kind of ethos to look after and then that becomes the kind of governance system you have. So you have a stewardship of governance. Part of that idea I’ve been thinking
about for a while is I wish um some very smart other political science people (Greens hopefully) would join up and work out theoretically and then, do, you know (people are
already doing this) to join up citizenship and stewardship so it’s an actual system that runs society it’s an actual system. But of course you’ll have a big a big argument in store with the
state with the state with the boys. Anyway here we are.
Uh as Tim was saying um you know right at this crossroads and looking at this crossroads, I see it as Homo Sapiens standing on the edge of a cliff; an existentialist, um survivalist, um system. Right on the edge of it, and I know this is a bit out of the way but you know those cartoons – Daffy Duck, I think – he’s being chased he’s running and running and running and then all of a sudden he realises he’s off the cliff and there’s nothing under his feet you know I call that short-termism. Short-termism. And what’s needed is long-termism, starting from now. It’s a smart way of thinking about things um approaching anything at all you know. But to get back to agriculture, that’s where big things change and real serious war-making starts from there. Sooner or later uh sorry. Throughout the last 10 000 years roughly 10, 20, 30 000 years there’s always some group that wants to be the hierarchical, hegemonic ruler over all of this and the awful thing is it hasn’t changed. As far as I’m concerned it’s all these wars going on everywhere that’s exactly what it’s still about one particular group will remain nameless if you can guess um wants to maintain hegemonic rule that means owning and controlling all the resources in the world nobody else must own these or control these resources. A long time ago it’s food and talk about turning around in a circle it’s about come back to food. You know, who controls it, but there are a whole lot of other resources of course you know that hegemonic order needs to have in order be ruler of the world, basically.
Well, nothing like that happened with our lot. What you’ve looking at there is what happened, basically. Even though it’s the Whitefulla’s system. You see there are hundreds and hundreds of places. All of them are autonomous. They are interdependent. They rule themselves. Um, nobody rules them no central place that dominates all the others. Um, no no system like that. So they went with what that says is they went with and followed – and still follow the custodial ethos the stewardship. Um a great, a straightforward way, of saying it is uh in a sentence uh it’s our own old system is a sacralized, ecological, collaborative stewardship system.
It’s not a religion uh that is you have faith. You don’t have to have faith in the dreaming, you know. You can have faith in religion, yes, and can have both. They don’t contradict each other. Um so uh that that kind of system would be wonderful for me and many people I don’t know I have to I have to be honest and say I don’t not quite sure about democracy. Knowing, having done lots of, being involved in different – ur, what do you call it – different research focus groups and so on. When a choice was made should we have ATSIC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which was an experiment in democracy something like 80 percent of all the Aboriginal people questioned over a year all around the country they all said no. No ATSIC, no democracy, we’ll go back to our own old system of consensus. Consensus where everybody is their own boss and so on and you don’t have. But what we should have representational idea, a representational system that covers all of that.
So, so here we are on the edge of a precipice, you know, um existential system. Deciding that we’re not going to take a short-term view we’re going to take the long-term view so the long-term view looking forward into the future and not just a few years see a street sign up ahead and the street sign says ten thousand years in the future.
So what kind of world governance system should you choose now that the resulting thing has come from large-scale agriculture, Resources who controls it, has wars about it and so on and so on. Maybe we should be deciding something like that. And maybe Indigenous people everywhere might have some very good clues about that; how to have a have a um a long-standing governance system – logical, collaborative – that lasts for tens of thousands of years. now I’m not a I’m not an Aboriginal adult. I’m not saying go back go back and live the way we did, you know, 400 years ago or anything like that but uh but um cultural um uh cultural economic, strengthening uh regenerative. Regenerative songlines, actually. The regeneration of our own old culture and passed on to young people.It would be wonderful if Australian schools could teach philosophy. They could teach and learn about their own philosophy. How they got to be where they got to be got to be. All these wars everywhere and so on, and also learning Aboriginal philosophy is our way of running a country because we’re, you know, we’re so old where it’s highly likely that we probably did invent governance election. So it would be a good idea to follow some of those ideas, um, and looking at this map again actually. You could see uh we probably – but of course we wouldn’t have used words like this – but um now a lot of countries and a lot of people and thank heavens a lot of Australians are against AUKUS. I think that’s very smart very very intelligent. um a lot more people countries are for multi-polarity you might be familiar with that word multi-polarity, uh instead of unipolarity. Like an Empire, hegemonic ruler, that sort of thing. Get rid of that. It’s past the to use by date. Honestly it’s past it’s use by date. If you want to look ten thousand years ahead, you’d better come up with a smarter system uh than that.
So this is where we’re at all this hub of different things threatening us all over the place, um uh and choosing which way to go and of course you won’t choose that in a moment um but it’s a good idea to look at everybody else’s you know Indigenous people all over really um to get some clues about that. I was saying ah multiple polarity is a good start, long-termism. They couldn’t do worse than look at this old country, because this country is multi-polarity in one country. Exactly what it is; multipolarity in one country. So to try and build up, work hard on the capacity for having a multi-polar country, preferably a multi-polar world. Actually that would be that would be fantastic.
MM: Thank you Mary for setting the stage for what this relationist ethos and bound within the parameters of ecological care and the law of obligation which I love.
What I will do – just for um probably five to eight minutes keeping it on time, Tim – we just want to sort of take some of these ideas – and this is what we did in the chapter we wrote – and think about human habitats. Most of the kind of output ideas aren’t new. A lot of the cool ideas that are out there with biomimicry, biophilia, there are land bridges for creatures – all of that stuff’s already out there – we’re just not doing enough of it. So what I’m going to do in a really quick overview is reflect some of this sort of dialogue between Mary and my background cultures, background thinking, and the book that we’re working on which I’m hoping eventually to get finished later this year, which explores a whole range of elements within Australian society and what they could look like if we look down the barrel of another 10 000 years and try to learn and do things better.
So my interest is in having human habitats and societies focusing on life – all life – the plants, the creatures, the foundations of life as well as human beings. And what Mary talks about and other Indigenous friends say about patterning ourselves into place. A lot of folks see this now as a bioregionalism concept of the people are now calling that bioregioning because they’re trying to move away from the sort of almost a fascist approach to “Thou Shalt Have Your Bioregion Right Here.” It’s like, “No it’s all still a human construct,” but focusing on the living world, what it tells us about our place and how is the best way to live here. That, to me, is a really important learning from Aboriginal Australia and that the ultimate thing for my people – I’m a descendant of the Irish convicts who were carted here by the British Empire – my people, we can do better. We can pick the very best from our culture and our ideas and our innovation and do things better and have an awesome life into this weird and strange future.
So modern Australia is – uh I ponder it a lot – I ponder my history, the cultural origins of the colonial project. I’m a history nerd and in other talks that Mary and I give we dig a lot deeper into the kind of cultural history of Europeans because we often think we don’t have a culture because we’re the dominant culture and it’s really good to pull that apart and understand these key elements of who we are and what we’re doing, and if we can do things better. Which bits do we keep which bits do we have a look – barefaced look – at and what do we move away from.
So I’m interested in governance – self-declared governance nerd – because governance is sexy. Um, sorry that sound’s coming in and out. It is! I keep trying to tell everyone governance is sexy it’s all about the rules we make to live work and play together whatever “-ism” you’re talking about, it’s simply about how human beings live, work and play together. At any scale in our modern lives that can be all about laws and regulations, but it’s actually deeply about the world view we have. And the work that Mary and I do is about amazing conversations challenging the very foundations of our thinking and how we can do things better.
So if we reflect for just a moment on some, some very simplistic ways of thinking differently about non-indigenous culture then you can think about how do we redesign human habitats and then we’ll get to the theme of cities this [referencing slide] is a very lumpy thing that I’ve knocked up once wrote it up because Mary and I were talking I’d learned from Mary and Anne Paulina and others this term of first laws that the law is from the land and for non-indigenous people that often seems mysterious but it’s really all about what does this place need to live well.
Forest laws for forest people, desert laws for fesert people and what I did was my analysis on the other side. Normally Earth jurisprudence is in the middle – but I don’t have time for that today. But when you think about it, our Western legal and governance system does not actually have an embedded Earth ethic some people may have an Earth ethic but our institutional systems do not. We do not have first laws. We spend all of our lives looking at second laws: “What can people do?” It’s all about what can we do and if we apply the lens which we have now – economic growth – then the way we look at a problem is solved a certain way.
So what might Australian society look like if it were built on the relationist ethos? In the chapter we wrote and in the book we’re developing there’s a lot more ideas in here and Mary’s got some fantastic ideas and we’ve been bringing out examples from around the world. But all I’m going to do is literally a three-minute snapshot of pictures you’ve seen before, but just to jolt us into thinking what the relationist ethos could mean for us in Australia. If we start from country as our foundation, would we have big straight lines and state borders that govern the political structures that are completely disconnected from what country needs? Probably not. How would we see nature how would we fit ourselves into places and what might be different?
And then it comes to caring for each other, and one of the best examples of thinking about caring for each other is what would human cities look like if they were literally built for children. If children were first, what would pedestrian areas look like? Play places look like? Eating places look like? The obsession with bitumen and roads. What would a city look like if children and Elders were put first and able-bodied folks were put later?
So. Would the relationist ethos think this is a good idea? Clearing land, terraforming the soils, and then whacking in houses that have no room for trees or plants. Everyone needs a place to live, but at the same time the people in these houses are isolated from each other because there are no community spaces. There’s no places for ceremony, celebration, interconnection. And a lot of people are stuck cleaning those houses, paying for those houses. What if we all whacked them on top of each other to about two levels high and have much more garden space and massive wildlife corridor? This is a little better [references slide]. There’s a few more trees, but you know my vision is living under that bridge [referencing slide]. I want to be the little troll where all the animals are going over “tippy-tappy tippy-tappy!
If we have to heat up, which is what this planet’s facing, and if we rethink how we live, we’re going to need massive refuges for animals to escape from fires in the summers. We’re going to need places where we support their live their livelihoods. They’re going to need us. We need them. But they’re going to need us too because we’ve destroyed so much habitat. If we can do this for one patch of road and herald it as an amazing thing, why can’t more of our towns and cities be built in such a way that the creatures and the people are able to live in a way that we all flourish? Call me a dreamer, baby, but I am. Um – this you’ve probably seen [references slide] – it’s an awesome crab bridge on Christmas Island. They’ve got these remarkable red crabs that cross their – um – their little island every year and people used to drive over them. And they were trying to block things off. Then the crabs couldn’t get through, so they built crab bridges. So it’s a seasonal thing. People keep driving underneath, the crabs go over the top, and the drive for those crabs is important because that’s how they get to the place to make baby crabs. So you know, it all works. Why couldn’t we have a world full of spaces for the creatures? In Australia, most of our animals won’t want to eat us. We’re not dealing with lions and bears, oh my! We’re dealing with a lot of mammals who are pretty groovy and pretty – you know – herbivorous. So let’s get this – you know – this is New York [references slide] if they […] [interacting with audience member] Cuddly! They’ll cuddle us to death! Yeah! Pocket mammals, as Billy Connolly calls them. [continues] And if we want children to be our future, then let’s make sure we have a future for the children. These [referencing slide] are just pretty images of kids having fun because I want to remind us that without each other and without Country, we are nothing. And we have – we are smart enough to learn from the oldest continuum one of the oldest continuous cultures on Earth but to embrace those “small shreds of innovation” in Western culture that are still worth hanging on to and ditching the negative extractivism stuff and doing something better.
And I just want to end on this there are a lot of people who know my work now. I bang on about a project we’ve created called Greenprints, and it is literally about retrofitting ideas into how we enable Western societies, but particularly Australian societies, to pattern ourselves back into place so that our vision is healthy Country, Aboriginal self-determination and governance. Looking out – [references slide] look at the map of the Australian 89 Western scientist-approved bioregions that looks a bit more like Aboriginal ountry than the
state borders we have, yeah? And when you look at the sub-bioregions, it’s even closer. Or you could play with catchments, but either way we need to take those steps and we need to build a very different future and we can start with getting some political power around challenging these awful developments that are happening. And I’m now living in Narangba which is the heartland of those hideous “cut-it-all-down-stick-in-nasty-boxes-no-trees.” So here’s for the trees! And that’s all I wanted to say, and we still have time for some questions.
TH: And finishing with your gorgeous blue banded bee.
Thank you so much Mary and Michelle. Wonderful presentation.
Um, to get out thinking flowing we do have about 10-15 minutes for questions um from folks I want to I want to take my Chair’s prerogative and and ask you um, Mary – but also Michelle if you’ve got any reflections. When I, when I kind of first invited you to speak I kind of said “what do you think about the idea of decolonizing the city?” And you sort of laughed and said, “No!” And I’d love you to yeah explain to us – I guess – a little bit of the thought around how you know, as you think about the next 10 000 years as you say, you know – it’s not a – it’s not a Luddite conception. It’s, er, taking where we are and moving forward. What – yeah – what capacity do you think we have to really make the city a somewhat decolonized to flourishing place?
MG: Well first of all a lot of the things that Michelle just mentioned to about was
[mic testing] hello? hello? hello hello thank you yeah hello hello
MG: Um, what was I going to say? Some of the ideas that you mentioned, some of the ideas that you mentioned, about the city, Tim – and um some of the ideas that we work with Marcus, Marcus Voth – about how to – um, almost like – redo the city. So things like that, um, and I thought all of those things about relation list views the relationalist ways of doing things.
Um I’m putting that in a firmly broader – more obvious – in and around the city, you know? Going up higher, or whatever. Um, but the only thing I see would have to really work on – to do with cities – is when you look at the Aboriginal map. Everything is about groups. Different groups, um, anchored into a particular place. It’s, it’s more than just “Well they just happen to live there” or, or “Um, they’ve had to move because of some large crisis.” Um, natural crises like volcanoes and earthquakes. Well [then] you had to move. Or the ,the sea came in and um reclaimed land. You know all that. Well you had to move then. Um so um, how do you maintain this, um, true very deep cultural anchoring of people via a city? But I think it’s something that could be worked out as long as people really worked on the relationalist idea. You know really that rather than a survivalist idea because our survivalism our survival ethos is a result of people being affected – by um hopefully there’s no third world war – but after something big crisis some people take a different some hope and that’s probably usually because of relationalism. Others don’t. They see the world as a dog-eat-dog place. You know, “Look after number one first.” It’s a very hard-line thinking and that’s, that’s survivalist thinking and there are people and whole groups – whole countries are like that you know, unfortunately. So what we always did was use relationalism as a counter, a thing to counter the survivalist tendencies. Now if that could be really firmly placed and worked out within and around and near cities – um because cities have often had a bad reputation. You know, the ancient the, ancient idea – very ancient, um – is that the city is a bit like a – has been called – a “whore,” you know? “Terrible, terrible systems. Bad, very bad, full of bad people” and so on and so um so. We want to change that completely. Completely. So it’s nothing like that. Or it’s called uh the city it is um just – I think you said before – for economics. People who live there, who live and work in the city, the city is symbol for capitalism. Um so to make it more better than that I, I don’t know. But anyway we’ve got ten thousand years to work it out, ha ha, so better get moving.
It might take that long. But while I did say that, I was seeing, um, big agriculture as the keystone term. We’ve come to the point now where a keystone – a key thing – is either going to happen to change, change the whole – all Homo sapiens again – and I don’t know what it is myself. I think off the top of my head, something like AI. Which a whole lot of people are very suspicious about. Others are very excited about it. I don’t know how is that going to turn out. Other people have to have your own ideas off the top of your head. What would be, what would be a big thing? You know, the turning point? So that was a turning point back then – ten thousand years ago. We’re at the point where a turning point is right there outside the door, basically, you know?
TH: yeah, and bringing this multi-polarity into the idea of the city. So that it’s not a unipolar institution, I think as well. So yeah.
MM: Snd as a non-Indigenous person, I really want to remind people that decolonizing isn’t just about becoming aware of the colonial project. As people like Professor Yin Paradise points out, it’s about challenging notions of modernity and that comes down to everything from linear time to ideas of human beings always progressing through technology. You know, this idea that we’re always going to get better – we have to get better, everything’s going to be, you know?
Aboriginal people didn’t think that, they knew what we had right now was enough, and it was good. And keep up looking after it, and this endless obsession with growth. And we’ve talked about this in the New Economy Network. Professor Louise Crabtree Hayes reminds us that the property, real estate, housing problem is driven by this idea that houses will be worth more in the future, because that’s how future works. And that if we didn’t believe in a future but it was today, the entire property market would be different and these ideas are really important to challenge. To decolonize. Firstly I think all non-Indigenous Australians need to get in touch with their history and their own culture, but then try to get a bit of a grip on what modern life has been telling us for four or five hundred years because there’s some ideas in there that are really not fit for purpose anymore. And the question I always put to people is we have to rethink the systems to live here forever. European, Eurocentric culture has always expanded, extracted, and moved on again. And you see this in the space industry; “Oh we gotta go to the Moon! We’re gonna get the water from the Moon!” I’ve sat on panels where I’ve had to ask the question, “What gives you the right to go up there? Why can’t we just, you know, sort out how to live here? Why do you want more of everything all the time?” And I met with a wall of cranky old White men. Normally who are quite silent. They think I’m an idiot. No, they do! They think I’m a dreamer, but when I look at societies that have lived in a place – forever – there’s a different way and I find that inspiring, no matter what the future holds. There are other ways
TH: have we got? Yeah.
Kathy Fisher: Mary triggered something in me, um, and I know I said earlier that language, language in our is our identity and you all got it no matter where you come from that’s your identity. Um, we were born in the Garden of Eden. Aboriginal people were born in the Garden of Eden. We didn’t need to build anything. Everything was there laid out for us in the bush, in the rivers, in the trees. And I often think, “now why did they all have to come from the Northern Hemisphere, to come here to the Garden of Eden?” Because they need us. They need us. Because eventually that world of -isms will collapse, you’re going to be looking for the native people to show you how to live in the bush and off the land, okay? And um because we live in world of -isms. And now they want to bring an artificial intelligence is it going to mow um plough of the fields, or whatever. I addressed um the farmers thing one, like the International Farmers. I said “what’s lacking,” and I’ve worked on the farms, “is they don’t open green space between each row of ploughed ground. And then when that dries up when the drought comes, the dust comes there goes your dust there goes your soil.” So then I’m putting a green belt for the animals nor to save their own plants.
And I admire farmers because they do a lot of work for little reward. And talking about going back to language. Yeah, it’s good for us to go back to where our traditional language. We should be all speaking in one language. We should all learn one language that includes survival, relationship, communication. All the all the things that go with that. My mind is slow today. But the language of the land – and I’ll even go further to where I come from – a spiritual language. We live in the land of the spirit. Now here’s what comes from different heritages. But you also add your traditional, we all live under the one traditional law – the whole world live under one traditional law. It’s just that Man bastardised it over the centuries for greed and power. They took over the land. We’re common people, we’re common people, we’re down-to-earth people we’re grassroots people, but there’s always someone who wants to be, who is on that egotistical journey. “I want more. I want I want to control this person. I want to control this land. I want to make myself rich off the backs of others.” So if we all speak in the same language we can beat these
[Other audience member] So far conference organisers I haven’t earned the $300 worth.
Kathy Fisher: Thank you for letting me ever say I can disappear now.
TH: I do want to offer – which I do want to offer – if there’s if there’s a burning question or
[Online Audience Member 1] pay more attention to Indigenous wisdom and um we need laws to protect the environment.
[Online Audience Member 2] Well, I know you need to go to a conference.
[Online Audience Member 1]I want to be in tune with the work before I jump up on the stage and say oh this is what we’re here to talk about.
[Online Audience Member 2] Yeah right, yeah.
[Online Audience Member 1] Just need to have some context.
[Voices speak at once. Tim Hollo speaks to people in the room toward answering question]
TH […]essentially around traditional cultures there’s fables and stories which help um encapsulate the law and the ideas and how can we do that better?
MG: Traditional cultural here is stories, um, dreaming stories. Dreaming stories. I don’t know myself where the word English word dreaming comes from. How did it develop? Yeah, probably. Anthropologists. Um.
So the stories are essentially the same. It’s the same basis of stories of this connection. Um spiritual and energy between other life forms and humans. They’re connected. they will always be connected. For example, a dreaming story might be about something, and quite often it is, between the very tiny like green ant dreaming – you might have heard of and whale dreaming, you know? Or butterflies or something like that. Well that’s the same principle when you look at the biggest the biggest dreaming story in the whole world – the Sphinx – the body of a lion and a human face. It’s the same kind of idea, the only difference is we didn’t build or make things out of stone. We just told endless, endless stories, you know? And having looked at some of those ancient Greek ones, one that always struck me so I won’t talk about to it. Um, and I checked not long ago – the story of Narcissus. Everybody knows that story because it’s been popularised across the Western world, really. Um so, a beautiful young man falls in love with his, um, reflection. There’s lots of meanings to this too, quite opposite from the ancient ones. Ovid, yeah. Right up to um Oscar Wilde. Right up to modern writers. You know, they all had a different idea. But, um, the way that usually is is Echo, the female character, behind. Belonging – for them you know – and she he just ignores him, he’s obsessed with himself. How I read that from an Aboriginal point of view, was he is obsessed with, not just with Self, but with physicality. And he knows that that figure behind him is a spirit actually, otherwise he wouldn’t be alive. But he refuses to acknowledge her. He just simply refuses. So she does go. So he ends up with a pure physicality. So no conscience, no spirit, no, and to me I I don’t doubt that the old Greek meaning is that uh you’ve got to be very careful, it’s dangerous. You know what a lot of the old stories are – you know – and she believes but she is good. So we are physical spirit beings, and to me, um, in a whole world anchored into the land. And I see that is extremely important for Australians to understand. To get. And I know a lot of Australians do get it, you know? I do, and I know that there is, um, not just pure reason – you know reason is the king – but not all Western philosophers thought like that. And I always thought that um uh I don’t think I’m anti-Western because I know I sound like it sometimes. I’m not one of the greatest things I think West has ever invented is its own music. Um classical music. I really like it I think it’s the best thing they ever invented because there – right in front and full of feeling and emotion, which is spirit. It’s great.
MM: I know that we’re running out of time, but I just wanted to mention that reflecting on what Mary has said. Let’s think about our culture now. What is it? I’m not going to into that but let’s think about stories that are told in our culture. Depends where you look. Um, on Australia Day, what’s the story we tell ourselves? “Aren’t we great, greatest country on Earth. Let’s all relax and have a barbecue. Let’s eat some lamb. Um, let’s celebrate Anzac Day.” What do we tell ourselves? “Aussie Battlers. Aren’t we awesome?” We send all our people over to someone else’s war – the poor buggers die. No, let’s retell that story. It is of the first time Colonial Australians went to a place and supported the British Empire and we were awesome. So what are the future stories? And the way – in the one thing I will mention – is that the one thing we have pummelled into our brains all the time is advertising. It’s like when Aboriginal cultures I imagine or other cultures sat and talked every night, they told stories that were important to them that taught each other over and over again. If I say Coke is Life!”
No, think about all the logos. There’s certain logos. There’s certain you know, um, Jingles that will trigger in your brain and you know them. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something else in there, not “Coke is Life,” but “Country is Everything. Care for Country.” You know, not um “growth is good” um “Living here forever, how do we do that?” So there are stories in our culture. There are stories in our advertising, and I can tell you now, “How do we get the good stuff out into the world?” is literally the thing that many of us dream about, think about, walk dogs and think about. All the networks, all the social Progressors are grappling with. How do you fight a mainstream media that couldn’t give a rats about most of the good stuff, and get the good ideas in? If you had a government that spoke like Mary. If you had advertising that spoke like Mary. What do you think the culture would look like with Mary’s ideas? So we’ve got a lot of work to do in that domain.
I think that’s our time we should go, we’re holding everyone else up. Thank you!
Dr Mary Graham
Dr Mary Graham is an Adjunct Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Queensland. She grew up in South-East Queensland, and is a Kombu-merri person through her father’s heritage and a Wakka Wakka clan member through her mother’s heritage. With a career spanning more than 30 years, Mary has worked across several government agencies, community organisations and universities. Mary has been a dedicated lecturer with the University of Queensland, teaching Aboriginal history, politics and comparative philosophy. Mary has written and published many prominent works, including – publications in the Aboriginal Encyclopaedia, training modules for Cross Cultural Awareness and a host of academic papers. Mary is a Director of Future Dreaming Australia, an Indigenous and non-indigenous partnership organisation working to increase cross-cultural ecological knowledge in Australia (www.futuredreaming.org.au)
Dr Michelle Maloney
Dr Michelle Maloney (BA/LLB (Hons), PhD) is the Co-founder and National Convenor of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA). Michelle began her career as an environmental lawyer, and then broadened her work to include multi-disciplinary approaches to creating Earth-centred governance and systems change. She now designs and manages social change initiatives that connect law, economics, education, cross-cultural knowledge systems, community development practice, ethics and the arts. Michelle holds a Bachelor of Arts (Political Science and History) and Laws (Honours) from the Australian National University and a PhD in Law from Griffith University. She is Adjunct Senior Fellow, Law Futures Centre, Griffith University; and Director of the New Economy Network Australia (NENA) and Future Dreaming Australia. Michelle is on the Steering Group for the International Ecological Law and Governance Association (ELGA) and the Advisory Group of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN).