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Monday, 20 December 2021 15:45

Growing up in Kakadu - by Carla Rawlinson

My name is Carla. I am 22 years old, my skin name is al-godjok and I am from one of the many clans in Kakadu. My family clan is Murumburr, the traditional owning clan for Cooinda (Ngurrunggurrudjba). My mixed heritage reflects our country’s history, and I am proud to embrace all aspects of myself.

Raised in Kakadu, I am grateful for the knowledge of country passed down to me from my family, and every day I am learning something new as the depth of knowledge of the landscape and history is boundless. I am fascinated by Bininj culture and relations between clan groups throughout West Arnhem as there is a complex kinship system still practiced in the region.

Your skin name is part of a complex kinship system that determines how you are related and can interact with those around you. It shapes your behaviour and communication, outlining appropriate behaviours and respecting protocols. The skin name you are born with is passed down by your mother and within this Kinship system you have two marriage choices. Overall, this system provides a social structure and restrictions to promote cohesion. Plants, animals and people are split between two Moieties, Yirridja and Duwa.

My first memories of growing up in Kakadu are of living at South Alligator in an important jungle pocket. Growing up in such a place sparked my interest in nature and the importance of preserving our most vulnerable species of plants and animals. The orange footed scrub fowl, my favourite bird species, Gurdulguldun inhabit this area and build their nests that appear as mounds. The Gurdulguldun calls are a home comfort from my time living there.

In my spare time, I record the Gundjeihmi language names for our native plants and animals as well as any significant information about them. It reminds me of the importance of maintaining meaningful connections with my family and country. I also always carry with me my recorder and a notebook. I document any plants that my grandmother can give the Gundjeihmi name, and I will take a photo and write a short description of the use, area it’s found and appearance. Learning the names of each plant, you begin to see the land in a different light, more personal... you start to care more. I share this with my friends and family in the hope they can appreciate the beauty that surrounds us as much as I do. I think much of Australia is lucky in this way.

Gundjeihmi is the language we speak in my region and in past times it was more common for Aboriginal people to know multiple languages to effectively communicate with each other across clans. It was also common practice to speak the language of who’s land you were currently on. Gundjeihmi is a relatively simple language to pick up however it is the place names that are most difficult to pronounce. I think this speaks to what is most important culturally with beautiful and interesting places being given these equally beautiful and interesting names.

“There are many sites in Kakadu that hold cultural, historical, and archaeological significance. Kakadu is a spiritual place, the landscape is ancient, you get a sense of stepping back in time.”

I particularly enjoy the dry season during the period when the Warramaninj are flowering and I like to go fishing for BlackBream and Saratoga. We eat fish with pickled onion and chilli as well as damper bread that’s cooked over hot coals. The heat and bread help cut through the fat and richness of the fish.

A favourite pastime is sitting in the shade along sandy creeks with the dry season breeze carrying the smell of fresh water and flowering water lilies - it is a peaceful experience, unmatched. Daily stresses don’t exist during these moments.

I go fishing and foraging with my grandmother, mother, aunties and sisters. It’s a time we can relax, laugh, make jokes about each other, eat good healthy foods and tell each other stories. I love to hear stories of my grandmother’s upbringing and early life. Travelling all throughout this country on foot and horseback she talks of trees as if they are buildings and landmarks to orientate herself and memories. I really think it’s beautiful and there is much to be learnt from a tough but simple life. My generation are truly privileged but we miss out on a more immersive experience and I believe the opportunity to build a good character. Days such as this one I described are so important cross culturally whatever it may look like for you.

The flora of anywhere you travel tells a story of how the environment shapes plants growth. The same tree can look different depending on the conditions and environment it's growing in, whether it's spring country, open woodlands, rainforest or rocky outcrops. The natural variation in plants is remarkable and I enjoy observing the subtle differences.

My favourite areas are freshwater springs where I can see lots of an-yidingbilk trees. My family do wet season burning in the fire sensitive areas to protect them from destructive fires during the hot and dry seasons. I take a lot of pride in preserving these names, fortunate enough to learn and record a language so ancient. It amazes me that so much depth of knowledge and teachings have been passed down verbally through generations, and I am honoured to carry that knowledge forward into the next generation.

Murrumburr people still hunt and forage for traditional food sources and practice land management current day. One aspect that is kept alive is traditional fire management that is being taught and passed on through working alongside our eldest traditional owners and knowledge holders. Burnings are done to reduce spear grass, reducing the fuel load that causes hot damaging fires later on in the year.

I love hearing about how life was prior to modernisation as the region has been developed for about 40 years now. Life before bitumen roads, bridges, electricity and modern infrastructure and times when people travelled long distances on foot and horseback.

Aboriginal people today live on their homelands on outstations, or on town or interstate for work and will visit their family and country although some aspects of culture are not practiced fully. There is a balancing act between keeping tradition and culture alive and maintaining a modern adaptive lifestyle which looks different for everyone.

As a proud Aboriginal Australian, I would like there to be an open dialogue between Aboriginal Australians and Non-Aboriginal to ask questions in a respectful but honest manner. We are all Australian and proud to be a part of this country. There are misconceptions and assumptions often made about Aboriginal people, so by having an open dialogue we can learn more about each other, and Non-Aboriginal Australians can learn about our diversity of cultures, life experiences and what I deem most important, diversity of thought.