For over 20,000 years before white people arrived, our people collected shellfish of many different kinds, on the rocks on the beach and in the lakes. These were put into a coolamon to carry back to camp and eat after being cooked on the hot coals.
The children (burris) were taught what shellfish were good to eat and where to get them. This was usually done by the women. The women also taught the young ones how to and where to collect bush tucker, they also taught them what things in the bush were bad for you and what plants could be used as medicine and how to use it. The women were teachers and still are today.
The men made their own tools, such as spears, stone axes and boomerangs. This would take many hours and the men would show the young boys how it was done. The men also used the bark of certain trees to make such things as canoes, gunyas and rope. They had a pretty simple philosophy: if you look after the mother (earth) she, in turn, will look after you.
Gone are the days of large family gatherings where we would all meet up at a designated place to go fishing, collect mutton fish and all sorts of shellfish, and do the pippi dance on the beach.
They have banned the collection of pippies at certain times of the year and even when you can get them you can only get fifty. What was once considered food only fit for the natives is now so expensive most can’t afford to buy it or it is illegal to gather enough to feed a family.
On the work front, a lot of the past occupations that we were heavily involved in, such as the timber industry, bean picking and working on trawlers, are no longer available or are in steep decline. This is due to bad management and taking more than nature could replace.
I used to love to sit around the campfire at night and listen to the Elders tell stories about our people and our culture. The plague of drugs, alcohol and the reliance on government benefits are disastrous. It is a must that our people, young and old, are well educated both culturally and academically to put the pride back into our mob.
One thing, sadly, is that we are still not recognised in the constitution of our country. This is a big issue and needs to be resolved.
With the help of the whole community, not just the Aboriginal community, we can help to preserve our culture and history for all future generations of Australians.
In line with the customs of the past, the Elders need to pass our knowledge onto the children. This could be an Aboriginal Elder recalling stories of his youth and his ancestors past or it could be a teacher at a local school teaching a child how to read and write.
It is all about education and the future is no different from the past. Knowledge is knowledge, we all need to learn and never stop learning and we need to do it together.