Many birds fea­ture in our art and song­lines. But I’m #TeamWedgeTail

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Karen Wyld

Twit­ter, ter­ri­tory of the lit­tle blue bird, has been inundated with other birds over the past week. A part­ner­ship be­tween the Guardian and Bird Life Aus­tralia, the Aus­tralian bird of the year 2017 poll has ev­ery­one twit­ter­ing.

For many First Peo­ples, sto­ries and cul­tural knowl­edge of birds is still vi­brant so, for us, birds have made an ap­pear­ance in twit­ter con­ver­sa­tions way be­fore this cur­rent wave of bird talk.

At least once a day Richie Al­lan, tweet­ing as Koori Brotha, posts pos­i­tive mes­sages ref­er­enc­ing his bird totem, the wedge-tailed ea­gle. On some days, th­ese mes­sages can spark sup­port­ive con­ver­sa­tions.

Birds have been on this con­ti­nent for eons, and for over 60,000 years they have lived be­side Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple. Th­ese re­la­tion­ships fea­ture in story, art, dance, cer­e­mony, and song­lines. With ap­prox­i­mately 600 na­tions in pre-coloni­sa­tion Aus­tralia, each with dis­tinct lan­guages, it’s im­pos­si­ble to pro­vide all the orig­i­nal names for Aus­tralian birds.

How­ever, this re­cent talk of birds has be­come an op­por­tu­nity to raise aware­ness of First Peo­ples’ lan­guages and sto­ries, with peo­ple shar­ing their knowl­edge on Twit­ter.

Birds are part of our ev­ery­day life, even in ur­ban set­tings. With in­creas­ingly busy lives, it can be hard to take time to ob­serve birds. It can be dif­fi­cult to hear bird­song among the sounds of noisy cities. So those rare mo­ments that birds do catch our at­ten­tion are an op­por­tu­nity for re­flec­tion, or strength­en­ing con­nec­tions.

This week, I asked a few peo­ple what birds meant to them and which bird they had voted for. Richie Al­lan is a Ngun­nawal Kami­laroi man who lives on his mother’s coun­try. He says, “The wedge-tailed ea­gle is my Ngun­nawal totem and it helps me send heal­ing to not only our peo­ple but ev­ery­one who needs heal­ing. The spirit of the ea­gle speaks to me through my spirit, and I use it to let peo­ple know it does too. Which is

why I add it to my tweets a lot.”

A direc­tor for Tra­di­tional Own­ers Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion in Can­berra, Al­lan also shares his cul­ture through Ngun­nawal cul­tural tours and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams.

Raelee Lan­caster, a Koori poet and re­search as­sis­tant, voted for the mag­pie. She told me, “I would say my con­nec­tion to the mag­pie is some­what of a cul­tural one. I grew up learn­ing some Awabakal sto­ries, as that is the land on which I was raised, and I learnt a bit about mag­pie Dream­ing as a kid, but I don’t know if the things I learnt were my mob’s sto­ries.”

Re­becca Hunt told me she has al­ways had an ad­mi­ra­tion for birds. She even has five bird tat­toos, so we shared our tat­too sto­ries. I’ve a raven on my an­kle, along with a snake. This bird sym­bol­ises my non-In­dige­nous her­itage, and the snake rep­re­sents my Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage (Martu).

When Hunt, a Yorta Yorta woman, made her se­lec­tion for the Aus­tralian bird of the year, she chose the wedge-tailed ea­gle. Hunt said: “The wedge-tailed ea­gle is sig­nif­i­cant to me be­cause of Bun­jil and his sig­nif­i­cance to cre­ation, spirit and Vic­to­rian Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples. And on a per­sonal note, they are ma­jes­tic crea­tures who pos­sess a beau­ti­ful bal­ance of strength and grace and, specif­i­cally, they are monog­a­mous birds who mate for life. That’s the kind of loy­alty that I re­spect and that I see of­ten re­flected in our mob.”

My choice in the poll is also the wedge-tailed ea­gle. It is called a wal­luwurru in my grand­mother’s tongue, a lan­guage I was not for­tu­nate to learn due to the legacy of gov­ern­ment poli­cies that cre­ated the stolen gen­er­a­tion. If you are also in­ter­ested in ea­gles, you can fol­low a group on them at wedge-tailed ea­gle satel­lite track­ing, as part of Si­mon Cher­ri­man’s PhD project on ea­gles’ ecol­ogy in West­ern Aus­tralia.

Last week I found my­self think­ing of the wedge-tailed ea­gle, and then I re­mem­bered an event that was hap­pen­ing in New South Wales. The next day I saw Paul Dut­ton’s tweet:

Dut­ton, a Barkindji man, was not present when peo­ple gath­ered on coun­try for the mo­men­tous repa­tri­a­tion of Mungo Man. He told me later that it “seemed like the old spir­its were cel­e­brat­ing the re­turn, even 700km away. Couldn’t help but no­tice.” Those wedge-tailed ea­gles (bil­ura) were a re­minder that an­other el­der had fi­nally come back to coun­try, af­ter many years of Mut­thi Mut­thi, Paakan­tji/Barkindji and Ngiyam­paa peo­ples call­ing for the re­turn of his re­mains.

I have seen birds present at many fu­ner­als and gath­er­ings of cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. At a ser­vice for a re­spected Ngar­rind­jeri el­der a few years ago, a for­ma­tion of noori (pel­i­can) flew over as the fu­neral pos­ses­sion came out of the church. Hun­dreds of peo­ple watched the noori in a mo­ment of si­lence, and then we burst into ap­plause. Like us, the noori were hon­our­ing a beloved el­der.

Re­la­tion­ships be­tween birds and peo­ple are still em­bed­ded in First Peo­ples’ cul­ture through­out Aus­tralia. Sadly, with only 50 birds on the poll, not ev­ery bird made the cut.

If you have not al­ready done so, vote for your favourite Aus­tralian bird. And then learn the bird’s name in the First Peo­ple’s lan­guage where you live. You might even hear or read an an­cient story that will leave you with a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for birds. And if you can’t pick a bird, you are most wel­come to join #TeamWedgetail.

Karen Wyld is free­lance writer and con­sul­tant

‘My choice in the poll is also the wedge-tailed ea­gle. It is called a wal­luwurru in my grand­mother’s tongue.’ Pho­to­graph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.