2021 David Hunter Memorial Lecture – How can we heal Country? – video link

ANTaR ACT held the 18th David Hunter Memorial Lecture online on Monday 27 September 2021 with keynote speaker Bhiamie Williamson.

You can access the lecture through YouTube: David Hunter Memorial Lecture 2021.

Selina Walker welcomed us to Ngunnawal country, acknowledging her grandmother, Aunty Agnes Shea. Aunty Agnes knew David Hunter and had welcomed us to country for all previous lectures, but was not able to join us online for the 2021 lecture.

Bhiamie joined us from Goodoogo, north-western NSW, his grandmother’s country. He is living there and working remotely for CAEPR (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research), ANU, while unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Image of Bhiamie Williamson from Zoom

Bhiamie talked about what country means for him and other Indigenous people. He talked about how the land, water and sky possess life, and the sense of responsibility for places and spaces.

To illustrate this, Bhiamie provided examples (with stunning photos) of country – its beauty and importance, and also the difficulties.

  • McArthur River, NT – so full of life but struggling with the impact of a huge mining operation.
  • Bushfires of 2019-2020 – frightening in their impact, Bhiamie talked about the north coast of NSW in particular
  • Barwon River, particularly between Brewarrina and Walgett – rivers are the lifeblood of the land, connecting him to previous generations – and so devastating to take his young son back to country to find a dry and barren river.

Bhaimie talked about his deepest sadness for the land – these examples are not in isolation but part of a phenomenon – greed and corruption, mismanagement of land and water, climate change driven drought.

Bhiamie then turned to how we can all heal country – treasure country, fight for country – no matter where we are. Heal Country invites non-Indigenous Australians to engage with the country through their eyes, to find solace in the natural values of place. If you treasure what is special about country, need to get into the fight with them. This is the legacy of David Hunter – being a strong and passionate advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people. Being an advocate is not a part-time role, it becomes part of who you are.

Bhiamie concluded with the lyrics from an Archie Roach song – Heal the People (you can find the full song on YouTube).

   Don’t let the beautiful die
   Don’t let the innocent cry……
   Heal the people, heal the land
   Then we better understand
   It goes hand in hand
   Heal the people, heal the land

Unfortunately, Dean Freeman, Aboriginal Fire Management Officer with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service, was unable to join us on the day. Dean co-authored a paper with Bhiamie and Jessica Weir, published earlier this year, about cultural burning in the ACT – details below. Dean also said he is happy to answer any questions from those who watched the lecture – ANTaR ACT can pass on his contact details, so please let us know if you want to get in touch with Dean. We’ll share any updates we have about the initiatives in the ACT.

Find out more:

‘Although we didn’t produce these problems, we suffer them’: 3 ways you can help in NAIDOC’s call to Heal Country, Bhiamie Williamson, 5 July 2021, link here in The Conversation.

Cultural burning and public sector practice in the Australian Capital Territory
Dean Freeman, Bhiamie Williamson & Jessica Weir (2021) Cultural burning and public sector practice in the Australian Capital Territory, Australian Geographer, 52:2, 111-129, DOI: 10.1080/00049182.2021.1917133, published May 2021
(Cost involved or via academic institution – please contact us if you would like to read the article & have difficulty accessing a copy)

“A new initiative for the 2019–2020 RFMP (Regional Fire Management Ploan) proposes the Aboriginal Fire Management Zone within the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. This zone has been proposed to encourage cultural burning and other cultural activities to support traditional use by the local Indigenous community. These include encouragement of bush tucker, production of fibre for weaving, access to bark, traditional medicines and other materials, maintenance of a desirable vegetation structure, and connection of community with country.” (p53, ACT Strategic Bushfire Management Plan (SBMP) 2019-2024).

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