In the first of its kind in 150 years, the Narjong Healing Ceremony brought together men and women from across the country to the mighty Murrumbidgee River.
The aim of the ceremony was to heal the waterways and country, and to push the questions: what is culture and heritage? And what is worth protecting?
The ceremony was organised prior to the fish kills in the Darling and was hosted over two days at the beginning of March.
Reclaim Kosci Campaign Coordinator and Wiradjuri man, Richard Swain, was one of the organisers of the healing ceremony. Mr Swain is a loreman practising under Uncle Max Harrison.
“We know we can’t turn back time, but we need to make the average Australian realise that their actual heritage is the country, the land they’re standing on,” he said.
“There’s another part of this, it’s an awakening of blackfellas. There are many issues in Australia like the flag or the treaty, but we should always make sure to stand up for country. Caring for country is our true culture.”
Mr Swain is particularly concerned about the impact of feral horses on country.
“We took people to the actual spring where the mother gives birth to the Murrumbidgee. It’s been absolutely desecrated by feral horses. It’s not until someone goes that they feel that—it’s one of those things people have to see. It is really emotional, it is hard to comprehend. Water can’t come out of the ground because it’s been trampled for an unnecessary feral animal,” Mr Swain said.
Swain said he hopes this will provoke both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people into moving towards change.
“We are lucky to have a core group of loremen who really care and we are putting in the effort to support each other and to stand up for country.”
Others in attendance included Uncle Max Harrison and Uncle Major Moogy Summers, a Ngarrindjeri elder from Coorong at the mouth of the Murray River.
Wayne Thorpe, a Gunnai and Yorta Yorta man, said the invitation was open to all people, with an event posted on Facebook.
“We invited people from around Australia and we included within our ceremony people from different rivers, so we can identify the languages of the rivers that join the Murray.”
“Identifying the languages from the peoples is giving back the languages to these rivers and helping to heal them,” Mr Thorpe said.
Mr Swain said on the Sunday of the ceremony, men representing the Murray, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and the Darling rivers, as well as Uncle Moogy and his men from the Coorong, all came together.
The loremen were led in ceremony by Uncle Max.
“We cheered up, walked everyone a kilometre to the river, and had the ceremony there. We did the lighting of the fire … we smoked everyone who came, then we buried the smoke and washed the ochre in the river,” Mr Swain said.
Many non-Indigenous people were in attendance, several of whom were in favour of the presence of feral horses.
Mr Swain hoped that witnessing the ceremony will push non-Indigenous people to reconsider their ideas of culture and heritage.
“Water is life, and I believe we need living rivers. Before you put a pump in a river, the river should be allowed to live. What I’d like Australians to embrace, all Australians, is that the country you’re standing on is your heritage. Get over your meat pies—the responsibility of caring for country needs to be our culture.”
By Rachael Knowles