OLD WAYS: Tweed Coast Aboriginal elder Uncle Magpie displays  his art .
OLD WAYS: Tweed Coast Aboriginal elder Uncle Magpie displays his art . Scott Davis

Trees cannot grow without roots...

OURS is a nation of two stories.

The first is the tale of the time when white man came to our shores and settled it to become what we know as Australia today.

The second, and less well knownof the two, is of the time before colonisation, the tale of our indigenous culture and connection to the land for many thousands of years.

The stories of the Elders of the Northern Rivers, their Dreamtime tales and other reminiscings are captured in a new book, Our Way Stories, which needs funding support to be published.

It includes the stories of 10 local Elders, including that of Tweed Coast man Uncle Magpie, a respected artist and custodian of knowledge.

Uncle Magpie - also known as Gurrulbu - is a proud Yugambeh man, a father of two daughters and a new grandfather who just this week welcomed his first granddaughter to the clan.

Early childhood

Born in Queensland of a Cape York mother and Fingal father, Magpie spent much of his younger years trying to stay one step in front of the law, particularly the Queensland Aboriginal Protection Act, which gave the government powers to remove Aboriginal children from their families.

"My grandmother took me on the road from station to station," Uncle Magpie said.

"She had seen her brothers and sisters taken from her and didn't want to see her grandson taken too. It was the only way to stay alive."

While much of his childhood was spent in Queensland, he did enjoy intermittent time at Fingal, where he learned the local stories and culture from his father and uncles.

"My father told me of the time when he was a young boy and he went down to the Tweed River and couldn't see over to the other side for all the mullet," he recalled.

"The water was covered in mullet 10 to 12 deep. You don't get fish like that anymore because people are fishing the wrong way, taking the breeders.

"We used to watch the sea eagles - they tell you where the breeders are, and when they have gone you can get the fish from the rest of the pack. That way there will be enough fish next year."


CONNECTION TO COUNTRY: Performing a whale ceremony at Hastings Point to welcome the migrating whales to country.
CONNECTION TO COUNTRY: Performing a whale ceremony at Hastings Point to welcome the migrating whales to country. Contributed

Traditions of the Tweed

Uncle Magpie further recalled the ancient pathways that criss-crossed the Tweed, used by Aboriginal clans for thousands of years to walk between regions.

These included a women's pathway along the coast, mirrored today by Tweed Coast Rd, which circled around Wooyung, a secret men's site, before continuing southward.

Another ancient pathway follows an east-west trajectory, linking Wollumbin (Mt Warning) with Uluru in the Northern Territory.

"Wollumbin was on the same level of sacredness as Uluru," he said.

"They were connected by the pathway. People would walk from this country to the most westerly point of Western Australia."

Elder stories

The idea behind Our Way Stories, compiled by local Aboriginal woman Dale Roberts, came as a means of recording Magpie's stories and those of other Elders before they are lost.

"I just thought to myself 'what a wealth of knowledge he has to share' - and he wanted to share it so generously," Ms Robert said.

"I just wondered if he doesn't get to pass on his knowledge, where does it go?"

While he doesn't like to refer to himself as an Elder, Uncle Magpie said it was vital for young generations to know their past. "Ours is a very important part of Australian history," he said.

"A tree can't grow without roots. You must know your past to go forward - that way the future will come to you much easier.

"For me, I spent a lot of my teenage years feeling lost and confused. The only way forward I realised was to connect with culture."

Returning to his mother's people in Cape York, Magpie spent 22 years learning the traditional ways of the bush - of hunting, burn-offs, the seasons, astronomy and how to find the sacred sites.

Today he hopes to share his knowledge so the old ways are not lost forever.

* Support the Elders Book Project or pre-purchase a copy of Our Way Stories at http://pozible.com/eldersbook.


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