Blood Line Song Line Pt2

Blood Line Song Line Pt2

Law of Relationships, Law of the Land!

I have always identified as a Nyikina my great grandmothers are of Nyikina Warawa and Nyikina Walmajarri heritage. My life experiences and my life work has never changed from knowing who I am and my responsibilities to my Nyikina culture, the river, my people and communities.

Mardoowarra River people known are known as Yimardoowarra because we belong to the Lower Fitzroy River. We know where our Oongkoorr ‘spiritual child ‘snake’ connection’ is from. This is sometimes referred to by Nyikina people as ray/rai, a special place which gave rise to the formation of a person’s spirit emerging from that place and connecting them to the life force and legitimises and grounds their cultural birthright to that location.

I remember the first night on our return to Balginjirr in 1999 after spending a couple years on the east coast. We had driven down the familiar track covered with overhanging wattle and a full trailer on our new journey as a family with a great feeling in our hearts and minds. This feeling is known to us as 'liyan'. comes with recognizing the relationship is mutually rewarding: we learn as human beings how to read the country, but we also acknowledge the country is reading us. We had spent the day tidying up the home of my uncle and after spending a wonderful evening around the camp fire we bed down for the night. Within a short time I had gone from falling asleep to being awake and walking in my dream. I was out in the middle of the yard, and there were hundreds of people from different places talking and some were singing old songs. I walked amongst them and they were happy to see me as I walked amongst them, they were crying with sadness and happiness, sad that our parents and grandparents had passed on…..but happy to greet me and welcome me and my children. “Good to see you, you are welcome here, this is your homeland!” Everyone and everything was alive and full of energy. I awoke the next morning feeling the world was both in front and behind me. This was the feeling of a new life, a new journey full of commitment but with no expectations, a feeling of connectedness and belonging. My liyan told me this was my bloodline and my songline for and of generations to come.

According to Nyikina people where you are born is very important and has a special spiritual relationship between the person, the place and their jarriny, or totem. Many Nyikina people believe when you pass away your spirit can return to both your place of birth and where your jarriny (totem) comes from. It places your spiritual or your lian/liyan (inner spirit/intuition) connection to and within country…and is not necessarily the place of your physical birth right, it is where on the land and you come into connection with the earth, with country! My liyan is my moral compass, is the 'feeling' which helps me to navigate my movements on country and it helps me to read people and determines my relationship with them. This 'feeling or liyan' is deeply personal and guides my life journey with human and non-human beings; the plants, the trees the birds and other animals. It is ingrained in my inner spirit and enshrines my rights and responsibility to our Mardoowarra, river of life. This is the Law of Relationships! It is personal, spiritual and not for human beings to determine, it is the Law of the Land, not the Law of Man. In our film Three Sisters Women of High Degree (2016) we use film as a modern way to tell stories and build memories and strengthen relationships of and on country, a creative way to bring the audience into country and show the positive and negative issues which impact on our liyan and wellbeing.

Traditional Custodians of Balginjirr also known as Lower Liveringa
We have Nyikina heritage from both grandparents, William (Nyikina Warawa) and Emily (Nyikina Walmajarri) we are the custodians of Balginjirr and we are connected to this place through the songline and bloodline of our ancestors! We know who we are! We have a lifetime of information; songs, stories, memories, films and considerable archival data. Some of the first stories we heard when we were growing up, was you have an aunty (Maggi) buried at Yooloowaja/Yuluwaja, Yeeda and family born and buried at Jarlmadanga/Mt Anderson.

My mother was buried at Pandanus Park in 1997, in fact the cemetery was built and organised by my eldest brother Ernie at my mother’s request. The only native title my mother Dorothy Watson (Hunter) wanted ‘in her life time’, was the right to be buried on her native title land, at Pandanus Park. The cemetery at Pandanus Park, is now sacred ground, a burial ground for many more people, laid to rest in country.

This is part of the history and the evidence I have been researching and building, all our lives. We have and know the name of the sacred Balginjirr ridge and the Living Water, billabong. We are confident we have a strong story, to ensure our cultural, heritage and economic rights for all of our children’s children, remains grounded in our connection to country which has an extensive roam. We are fulfilling our responsibility to the Law of the Land and the Law or Relationships and we are learning our oral and written history, our stories and songs and we are passing them on to the new generations.

When I talk about my connection to country, I talk about the Bloodline of William Watson in his relationship with Emily Edgar. William Watson, whose bloodline, like many of the other ‘half caste’ in the Kimberley were bred and their true pastoral heritage disguised under the names of other white men who trained their ‘adopted’ sons ‘growing them up’ to become the new overseers, of pastoral properties and Aboriginal people.

These Aboriginal people had been rounded up, enslaved and indentured to work the stations. Power and privilege along with hard work and skills mastered in both black and white worlds, saw men like my grandfather, who took on his adopted father’s name Tom Watkins/Watson.

William Watson as many of the other half caste overseers was a complex character, combing, values and ethics for co-existing in two worlds, and becoming a law unto themselves. Powerful and articulate privileged by their breeding from the ‘white’ bloodline, of the cool season pastoral verandah managers. William Watson married Emily Edgar on the 22nd February 1952 and he died 8 months later on 23rd October 1952 aged, 68 and is buried in the Derby cemetery.

The surviving children included William known as ‘uncle Blue’, Ethel. Ivan was the baby as often reminded by his two older sisters, Dorothy better known as Dot and Dora.

My mother Dorothy, ray/rai, spirit child or Oongkoorr was conceived at Balginjirr, her Aboriginal name is ‘Willian/Wiliany’, after the freshwater mussel also known as Wilianyoo or ‘Kakaroo’ which lives in the Balginjirr Billabong and along the living water systems of the Mardoowarra, Fitzroy River. My mother was born on the 29th October 1923 under a tree in the middle of Derby town, as her mothers’ ‘waters broke’ and she did not make it to the Native Hospital. Dora was born at the Derby Native Hospital as my grandmother was a ‘native’ and not a citizen of Australia. There was also Aunty Ethel who married Norman Buckle. Aunt Margorie, was fortunate as my grandfather provided a wonderful home, horses and land right in the middle of Derby town as a wedding present to her and Georgie Ah Chee.

The birthing tree my uncle Ivan Watson was born under on Parlkanjirl now spelt Balginjirr also hold his afterbirth buried by my grandmother. The tree is as my uncle states on film, “his holy birthright”! It is still standing there today…..a testament to the birth and death journey of a strong, wise and ethical man. Many of his stories, written and filmed have been passed around and retold over and over. Grounded in the rules of country and family he lived and respected his Nyikina identity, a language and culture he was confident and strong in. Ivan requested he be buried at Balginjirr where he lived his life as a traditional custodian. His son and his grandsons, continue the blood line and the story telling.

My grandmother is from Noonkanbah and is Nyikina Walmajarri. For many years my grandmother, Emily Watson (Edgar) was a named apical ancestor throughout the earlier stages of our Nyikina and Mangala Native title claim. Towards the end of building our evidence to demonstrate our native title rights and interests, my grandmother’s name was removed from the revised list of named applicants. The justification was she should go back to Noonkanbah and be a part of the Yungora Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC). This was a very sad time for us, as we have heard from many witnesses that Emily had strong connections to Balginjirr as a singer of songs, and stories. She taught Margie May (Bin Saad) to sing and dance the river kangaroo dance, the “bardkooroo nooloo”. She taught Nora Ngajoowaiy to spin hair and make hair belts. She was the midwife who delivered Margorie Jamieson and many more babies after her at Balginjirr.

My grandmother knew the Nyikina and Walmajarri songs, and continued to sing them up until she passed away in the early 1970’s. Much of her history and life journey makes up a very comprehensive story of her life time from Noonkanbah, Yeeda to Balginjirr and on into the desert to Kandarra. While traveling across and under the country in the song cycles she would sing, constantly, according to my mother, Dorothy. My mother would often say to her mother ‘stop singing those songs,’ and my grandmother would answer back, “I can’t stop singing, I will always be Black”. My grandmother could speak to dead people and they would speak back to her, telling her where the police and the trackers where moving through the river country. Often she knew days in advance of visits from, police, strangers and her families.

Balginjirr remains a special place. There are significant sites located throughout this land and its close relationship with the “Registered Water Reserve” shared inter-generationally. My aunt Dora tells of time when she was very young playing on the side of the bank of the billabong when all of a sudden the ground shook and the billabong rocked from side to side and the water almost parted! My aunt said all the old ladies who were involved in a range of activities all screamed as the billabong vibrated, giving the impression that something inside the billabong was moving with great energy and attention. Screaming “Yoongoorroonkoo, Yoongoorroonkoo” the women, were running to get away from the giant Rainbow Snake.

In carefully planning our building of the Majala Wilderness Centre at Balginjirr, we spoke with a man we respected and treated equally as our cousin brother, Peter Francis as he had been grown up and skilled by uncle Ivan. We spent a night looking at where on a planning map we could locate our buildings. We looked at the slope of the country, how and where the water would drain, and where the water levels of floods would recede too. We were constantly reminded by him, it was a “good place” and “no-one buried over there”. “The old people will be happy you are going to look after that place, especially the old garden area”. We could see as he was talking to us, his body was standing in front of us, but his mind had taken him and his memories back in time, and the circular storytelling felt right and we felt good, we could begin to scratch the ground and start building in the area where many of our old people had lived.

On many nights driving along our bush track coming into our community my uncle jarriny (totem), the owl would rise up from the ground and fly in front of us leading us to the open flood plain before disappearing. It is a feeling thing, your liyan, your intuition, it is very powerful. It can teach you to read country and people and pull and push you, it can hide and show you important signs and secrets when you are ready to read and understand them. In the time that we have lived here we have come to build an intimate relationship with Balginjirr, our relationship with all things ‘alive’ the trees, birds, the animals and reptiles, the community, the moon and stars, the ridge and the billabong. This is our traditional homelands and we know we belong here, because we ‘feel it’ in our hearts, our minds and our spirit and ‘we know it’!

Back in 1986 my eldest brother Ernie Hunter and sister, Lucy Marshall were the key informants when a Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) site recorder walked with them all over the ridge to begin the process of providing more information to lodge for registration as an important sacred site, one where for generations and for generations to come we have a deep spiritual connection too. On phoning my brother, a few days ago, I explained what we were doing and how we were working on the site to ensure it is registered with the full status of the law for protection. His mind quickly flashed back to the day he spent walking over the site, looking at the well and talking to Lucy about plotting other sites as part of the process to have the site fully recorded. “I remember the day Granny Watson went to town, and I was there on the ridge with Grandpa Watson. I remember him calling me by my Aboriginal name, Jooba, as we walked among the watermelon patch. On arriving back from Derby gran could see we were having a big feed on a watermelon she had grown. Immediately grandpa deflected the trouble making to me, and that seem to quietening granny’s temper”.

Many of the witnesses we talked to speak highly of our grandmother, and recall how many of them danced and sang late into the nights at Balginjirr, as she was frequently on her own managing the property whilst my grandfather was off overseeing Mt Anderson and the other properties of his heritage the, Roses! Some of this time was taken up by grandpa in his many travels with his mother, Nanni and her promised Aboriginal husband, Dick/Digbee or Balbarra.

They would travel right through the country as my grandfather had considerable station overseer power and influence and as a trapper, always moving amongst many of the Kimberley tribes and camping grounds. The three of them would capture eagle hawks for their beaks and claws along with dingo scalps. William always brokering the deals for and with the money. My grandfather, according to my mother, “had a car, long before many white men in the Kimberley”. It would seem the bounty money from the scalping and trappings, stood William in a good financial position.

Grandpa’s travels also took him throughout the Kimberley and down south into the Pilbara, Murchison and Wheatbelt. It is clear from the stories of many women that my grandfather had many relationship with other Aboriginal women and so the Watson name is well known throughout the Kimberley. It is through respect that I will acknowledge and allow these families to tell their own stories of genealogy and connection to country. It is not our intention to speak for others who do not fall under the Song Line and Blood Line of William and Emily Watson. To this end my extended family believe we know our cultural, economic and human rights and our connection to our cultural and genealogical heritage which connects us to our ancestral lands and waters.

Our native title rights and interests to our ancestral birth rights, native title lands and waters is recognised in Australian state and federal law. This has validated my life experiences as a Nyikina person, who along with my sisters, Lucy Marshall and Jeannie Warbie continue to work tirelessly with the wonderful people who support us to create an extensive Nyikina cultural data base which will be valued, shared and learned by current and future generations of Nyikina and other people.

Our world is in a deep circular storytelling relationship with nature, planet earth and humanity. How we choose to act within gives us legitimacy, placing our responsibility and rights as custodians of Balginjirr, extending our rights and responsibilities outwardly to the world of others! We know our blood line and our song lines and we fully embrace our cultural heritage, rights and responsibilities to our river country and people. This responsibility now extends to fellow Australians, and indeed and through our actions to fellow world citizens.

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