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In Australia, when Aborigines share their culture

With its strange sailboat look, Danish architect Jorn Utzon’s opera house is the emblem of Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, and also the capital of the state of New South Wales. A stone’s throw from the port, of which it has become the watchtower, an ever denser forest of skyscrapers with increasingly daring architecture hides a few old Victorian-style buildings and small streets lined with shops and cafes. But who, today, has in mind that before the arrival of the English settlers, the Sydney region was the territory of 6,000 to 8,000 Aborigines?

It is precisely to fight against this oversight that Lindsay Williams leads discovery walks about their history and their culture. An Aboriginal himself, he joined DreamTime SouthernX, a company specializing in education and cultural tourism, created by members of the Dunghutti-Jerrinjha Aboriginal nation, after having worked at the opera.

While walking along the water’s edge and then in the wooded park from which the famous Harbor Bridge – a single arch bridge – of Sydney rises, Lindsay Williams recalls that the Aborigines were the only inhabitants of Australia when n 1788, the English Admiral Arthur Phillip established the first penal colony in the south-east of the country for convicts brought from Great Britain.

These populations managed to survive in a largely hostile environment thanks to an intimate knowledge of their territory and its resources. If in Sydney, the Aborigines ate fish, elsewhere, they lived for the most part by hunting and gathering. For example, Lindsay invites his interlocutors to collect the liquid that has fallen from a flower which he shakes: surprise, it is sweet. Further on, from a tuft of grass, he pulls a stalk, the white part of which is tender and edible. And so on. “Knowing that each plant can provide food or medicine gives a responsibility.sand »he adds.

“Dreamtime”, the “dream time”

In Sydney, virtually all traces of their original habitats have disappeared. However, according to Lindsay, Aboriginal culture remains very present there, because of what English speakers translate as “dream time”, the “dream time”. This complex notion, at the heart of the life of the Aborigines, refers to a mythical account of the Creation of the world: at the time of origins, the ancestors of today’s men who lived in animal form traveled the continent, giving life to rocks, lakes, hills, men.

However, the dreamtime is a timeless space. The “great ancestors” who also defined a set of principles, rules of kinship, obligations and prohibitions, do not belong to the past. Their spirit remains a living force that permeates every place, every act of daily life. Dreamtime is, Lindsay insists, “an ever present moment”. This is also why every man must respect the earth.

Miles from Sydney, in the neighboring state of Victoria, south-west of Melbourne, the intellectual and culinary capital of Australia, Paul Wright is also working to share his Aboriginal culture. He works at the Gundidj Natural History Center, created by the cooperative of the same name. It strives to improve the education, training and social inclusion of Aborigines and disadvantaged people in this region, which is popular with tourists because of the beauty of the landscapes, the richness of flora and fauna. .

Kangaroos, emus, koalas, platypus…

Indeed, campers and hikers come here from all over the world to walk in the Grampians mountains, to admire the Great Ocean Road and of course to see the forests of eucalyptus, mimosas, kangaroos, emus, koalas, platypus… Paul Wright prefers to highlight the intimate relationship of Aborigines with a nature where they have always found something Eat. Suiting the action to the word, he invites you to taste a plant with a mint taste, then another, with very salty fleshy leaves. “Bushtucker” (bush food), he repeats before making a hoarse sound from a didgeridoo, a long wooden instrument, emblematic of its culture. And to propose an exercise in throwing the boomerang, a hunting weapon dear to the Aborigines.

Then, all of a sudden, the man ignites and, in a few well-felt sentences, evokes the suffering inflicted on the aboriginal peoples since the arrival of the British: illnesses, assassinations, rapes, bullying, discrimination, kidnapping of children from their families. , attempts at forced assimilation, confinement in reserves, theft of land…

Australia “terra nullius”

On their arrival, in fact, to legitimize their appropriation of this territory, the English colonists declared Australia ” terra nullius » – that is, without an owner. In the aftermath, they categorized Aborigines as “ elements of fauna and flora ». There followed two centuries of ordeal during which they were almost destroyed. It was only in 1968 that they were recognized as Australian citizens. They had to wait until 1992 for the principle of terra nullius be canceled and that territories be returned to them.

Although they still remain victims of discrimination and racism today, a modest era of “reconciliation” has nevertheless begun since, in 2008, a Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, gave a great speech of repentance for “remove a great stain from the soul of the Nation”. Can Aboriginal culture be saved? ” Yes, slice Paul Wright. We are working to pass it on to younger generations. »

The highlighting of the First Nations and the presentation of a ritual dance during the “big show” orchestrated in Sydney by the Minister and the Tourist Office in mid-May to launch an international campaign to promote “destination Australia”, testifies to the changes in progress. And if centers like Sydney’s DreamTime SouthernX and the Worn Gundidj center hadn’t waited to offer introductions to Aboriginal culture, neither did Maruku Arts.

“Kalyu”, a militant work

For thirty years already, this non-profit company has been working in the incredible landscapes of the central desert, at the foot of the 348 meter high red monolith that English speakers call Ayers Rock and the Aborigines, for whom it is a sacred site, Uluru. Its goal ? Keeping Aboriginal culture strong and alive through arts and crafts. And introduce it to a wide audience through painting workshops, meetings, exhibitions (1).

A fight about to be won. Listed in Europe and exhibited in specialized galleries such as Arts d’Australia created by Stéphane Jacob in Paris (2), Aboriginal paintings and objects – which often express the time of dreams – now see the doors of museums open. Like those of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

Among the many works hung on its picture rails, take Kalyu, a huge painting by nine Aboriginal artists. It looks like a landscape with yellow tones. In reality, it is a map of the subsoil and the waterways hidden there, vital for the preservation of biodiversity. It is also a militant work that denounces the extension of a uranium mine on the edge of a national park. Among many others, it shows how much the culture of the first nations is in phase with the current struggles to save the planet.


Those of the origins

The word “Aboriginal” refers to the original inhabitants of Australia. They came by boat from Southeast Asia, 40,000 to 70,000 years ago.

At the end of the XVIIIe century, these First Nations numbered between 400,000 and 800,000 people, distributed among several hundred semi-nomadic groups. Each had its territory, its social organization, its laws, its language, and moved regularly according to
the need to find water and food.

Today, they would be 680,000 (3% of the population).

In practice :
– Australian Tourist Office:
– Sydney Aboriginal Cultural Tourism Centre:
– Worn Gundidj Center (State of Victoria):
– Maruku Arts:
– Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art:


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