Thursday, March 12, 2009

White Man on a Walkabout

On Kangaroo Island I had a glimpse deep inside the treasure chest of human culture. I met Karno Walker, who traces his lineage to the first black man seen by explorers in South Australia. In a strong Australian accent he explained how he is fighting a court case to get his tribe, the Ramindjeri, recognized as the original occupants of Kangaroo Island and the adjoining mainland.

He took me on a walkabout through the dry landscape. We passed an ant mound with an eagle skull on it, which Karno had left for his brothers, the ants. Picking up a feather from the ground, he did an elaborate ceremony, almost a dance, whirling the feather about and presenting it to me. “The bird is welcoming you to his land,” he said.

Approaching a large solitary eucalyptus tree, Karno told a story of a giant kangaroo bigger than the tree. The men wanted to hunt it but had only one spear. They cooperated and some men herded it toward the spear thrower. Others threw rocks. They were successful and cut up the body at the joints. There was food for everyone across the land. The rocks strewn about the landscape represented all the pieces of meat. The men then hunted a giant emu. Karno pointed at rocks that were the perfect shape of an emu footprint.

He held up his left hand with the fingers spread. “When I bring young aboriginal fellers here, I explain that my fingers show their way of life: drugs and addiction, flashy cars, loud music, bright lights and bullshit.” Then he did a broad sweep with his right hand, “and this is what you’re giving up. This is what’s really important,” I tell them. “The environment is essential to life, not the dole.”

Further along he told a story of paddling a canoe with a young man. It was a story-dance as he made the motions of paddling first a large canoe, then a small canoe and got out and back in.

He told more stories and explained that he was only scratching the surface, that each had many more layers. He also explained the enormous importance of such stories and dances to his people. They belong to individuals and telling someone else’s story is stealing.

I left with my head whirling at the richness and meaning of aboriginal stories.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Hans,
    I am an Aboriginal man, a descendant of the Yaraldi people, who has spent time with Karno as well. His stories are very enlightening and grounding, definately for myself and many other of our people.

    I mean no disrespect, but feel you may need to look deeper into the meaning of the words
    Walk About.

    It is often misrepresented and derogatised by many people, as if to describe aimless wandering.

    Walk about has very deep layers of meaning to our people. Anywhere from Firestick farming method, to initiation and traditional education.

    Would just like to share this with you.

    Great blog,
    enjoyed reading about my Uncle,

    Thank you

    Brett Waller
    Aboriginal Tour Guide.