Photos by Joseph Mayers.
‘The action of applying Yindyamarra enables us to work slowly and act responsibly, to engage with honour and respect; to embody a humble nature and to be polite in our relational approach.’ - Wiradjrui Yinaa Annette Gainsford
Wagga Wagga Yarns was a much-awaited trip for some of the 2021 Atlantic Fellows. It was a gift from co-Fellow, Ella Havelka, a dancer and Wiradjuri woman.
We had come to the end of a year of being in fellowship from a distance. Many of us had toiled through our assignments for our degree or diploma in Social Change and were tired. Our relationships were largely moderated through technology with a few bursts of local sub-group meetings that were invaluable in the knitting of these strings of relationality. 2022 was to be a year of recovery and deepening fellowship with travel restrictions slowly lifting.
Ella Havelka’s final fellowship presentation in late 2021 included a series of short videos. She danced on Wiradjuri soil, on the lands of her people in central Western NSW. Our fellowship and study centred Indigenous knowledges. We had explored epistemology, axiology and ontology, and how dominant systems of knowledges can elide and invalidate other systems. Those of us watching Ella’s presentation were hypnotised by the reclamation and celebration of nation; communicated without a word.
In early 2022 we received an invitation to Wagga Wagga Yarns - to sink our heels into Wiradjuri Country. Yindyamarra began with a thoughtful invitation of a full schedule including spending time with elders, spending time on Wiradjuri country walking, and the collective work of world-making in the form of weaving with local grass. The generous invitation reminded me of Indian weddings where the recipient is invited with family and friends to a celebration of individual, family and community.
Co-fellow Marc Bennie, and I, arranged to make the five-hour drive together. We settled into a quiet enjoyment of the drive, each other, and long periods of silence. It was the start of a way of being over the weekend.
Over brunch, harvesting, weaving, and dinner, we spent time with elders, knowledge holders and elements of the land and landscape of Wiradjuri country. Ella’s mother, Janna, whom we had heard of as being a force in Ella’s extraordinary life, was a gracious and vibrant co-host. The guests were diverse in their interests and work: including a furniture maker with an interest in rope-making, a dancer who sat on an arts board, a board member of the Ella Foundation who was helping with organizational development, a farmer whose family had toiled Wiradjuri lands for generations, a tourism specialist who wanted to transform cultural engagement, and me, working to reshape the narrative of immigration as lawful relationality with First Nations, staring with my own Indian diasporic peoples.
The weekend finished with a walk along the Murrumbidgee River with local elder, Uncle James. In the spirit of knowledge transfer, a number of locals from nearby town Leeton had joined to learn and observe how Uncle James shared culture and ran a business. The walk brought to life the historical and contemporary ways of knowing and caring for Country and the erasure and reclamation of Aboriginal existence in the local township’s spaces. A glittering mural above the theatre described Greek theatre and other pan-European traditions complete with Pathenonic remnants, and a clown-like figure in a tutu. We learnt about the resistance in the community to updating this imagery with something that spoke more truthfully to the 60,000-year custodianship of the land and cultural traditions that continue to be practiced.
The group scattered gently after the walk, with gratitude in our hearts and new relationships and understandings. Finding our ways back to our homes I reflected on Ella’s way of being. She had described Yindyamarra as the five connected fingers of her hand, as the five great rivers connected into the Murray-Darling Basin. They embodied the principles of respect, be polite, do slowly, be gentle and show honour. It is something I remember often when I use my hands nowadays.