When Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again he of course meant it in an emotional sense. The “home” that he so eloquently wrote about meant the people. And he was right. People grow up, change, move away from home. But some people stay in their homes their entire lives.
When I say “home”, I mean hometowns, the familiar, the landscape, the memories, and the people: family, extended family. Added to that, always, is the actual land itself. The land that your body instinctively knows is a part of your being, that awakens every sense, familiar smells, sounds.
The land that when you shed your shoes and walk, you feel every grain of dirt and every blade of grass and for a moment, everything is right in the world and you are in your rightful place in it.
I live in a rural town. Many of the traditional systems of my people are no longer. That chain of knowledge broken by dispossession, massacres, missions and direct edicts that our culture never again be practised.
Of course, some customs still remain, like kinship structures – that intricate structure of families and knowledge of everyone, and each other’s links to ourselves. Our town is not made up of one clan, it has many, from the lands surrounding this town that we all now call home.
We have our sacred places which we care and fight for, not only to honour our ancestors, but because it is right to do so: to care for, remember and pass on. Strength through culture is not just words. It is a state of being in a world in which our very bodies are looked upon with disdain.
It’s not all doom and gloom. People in this town work tirelessly to reinvigorate our languages, keep our stories strong and pass strength on through keeping the lights of pride in our culture burning bright.
You don’t find these people in newspapers, at award ceremonies or talking about Aboriginal issues on TV. You find them quietly going about their business lifting up the community. Away from the glare of what is now becoming to be known as “the Aboriginal industry”.
There are many towns spread across Australia like mine, trying to reconnect with culture. Be it through languages, story revival or identifying places of Aboriginal significance – this is happening. Research shows that people who are connected to their cultural heritage are happier.
While we reinvigorate our culture, communities that already have an incredibly strong connection to ongoing traditions may be closed. The thought of it just seems grotesque.
I have read article after article about the forced closure of remote communities. Some of these communities have unbroken ties to their lands. Customs and values thousands of years old. I imagine the link I feel to my home country and cannot even begin to wrap my head around what an unbroken link must feel like.
I try to picture coming home and finding no one here, and my heart grows heavy. This will never happen though, because many white people live here.
But what if tomorrow there was no cotton, no wheat, and no white people? Will we be forced to move to a different “home”? Put on the outskirts of a different town, where our link to our land is further smashed?
Who will look after our sacred sites? Who will pass down the stories about that particular rock? That lagoon? The great warrior buried there in that place? The countless memories and stories that have shaped us as a people? Who will be there to tell others no, you can’t mine there, to do so would be “sacrilegious”? No you can’t build that there, put that there or take that from there?
No one. There would be no one. And within one to two generations the stories and memories will be gone. The link rusted. The beginning of the destruction initiated. Our old ones will weep while we are forced to forget.
This is not about governmental failure, financial woes, thoughtless policies or grandstanding apartheid devil’s advocates. This is about people, their lives, their cultures and their absolutely inalienable right to determine their own way of life. If that includes a desire to reside at home, then who is anyone to deny them that right?