Over the last few weeks Dan and I have been spending the weekends doing puzzles. It is that time of year when it is wet and cold outside, and now that Dan is transitioning into independent living, puzzles have become a great weekend family activity that we can do indoors. Where it is warm. Dan is very good at puzzles, although I do insist on doing them the right way round. Unlike Dan, I have a lot of trouble doing them upside down. Dan has autism so his brain works in very unique ways.
We have also been doing puzzles as a way of sorting through the old ones, checking no pieces are missing, and then sending them on to a new home. Some of our puzzles are quite old, like the one pictured below. I think I received it as a Christmas present when I was at Primary School – a long time ago! Unfortunately, not all puzzles pass the test of time. I’m not sure if you can see it very well, but can you figure out what is wrong with this representation of Australia?
You know we’ve probably done this puzzle a number of times over the years, and I guess it is a product of its time, but I was definitely taken aback: It is so….colonial!
I don’t know how I didn’t see it before, but that is the thing. We often don’t see the ways in which Indigenous people are represented. In this case, as belonging to the past. I wouldn’t have recognised this when I was younger because when I was at school we didn’t learn anything about Indigenous people, their culture or their history. We learnt about Captain Cook. Growing up in the city, I didn’t see any Indigenous people in my neighbourhood. It was never talked about. Some people might think, hey it’s just a puzzle – but it still communicates a message. In not learning anything about Indigenous people, culture and history, we learnt “not to see.”
So you know where that puzzle is going. Fortunately we have a much better puzzle of the map of Australia produced by Australian Geographic. It is quite challenging because it shows many tiny places across Australia we have never heard of and how much of our country we have yet to explore. The places it shows, though, are all the names that Europeans have given to the rivers, lakes and mountain ranges, and the towns and cities they established. At this stage you might be wondering what does this all have to do with NAIDOC week?
After a community campaign to encourage the inclusion of Traditional Country names when addressing letters and parcels, this week Australia Post has revealed its new parcel packaging that allows for the Indigenous Country name. Eventually there will be a database so that we can look up the Traditional Country for the letter or parcel we are sending. I think it is a great way to show respect for the First Nations of Australia. Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, to have a puzzle that shows the map of Australia with the Traditional Country names. There are maps, of course, but a puzzle forces you to look carefully at the place names and find out where they belong. I have seen some puzzles designed for children but I am yet to find one suitable for adults. Or maybe one that superimposes Traditional Country names over European place names – a dual name puzzle.
The announcement from Australia Post was particularly timely since this week is NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC Week is about celebrating “the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” and this year’s theme is “Heal Country.” For Indigenous people, “Country is family, kin, law, lore, ceremony, traditions, and language.” Unfortunately, European settlement of this country has led to the destruction and desecration of the landscape, sacred sites and traditional knowledge and culture of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. The theme of Heal Country is a cry for all Australians to embrace “First Nation’s cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia’s national heritage” and to respect equally the values and culture of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Healing Country requires us to expand our understanding of Country, and to seek not just protection of our natural landscape, but to address all forms of injustice that continue to impact the lives and self-determination of Indigenous peoples.
NAIDOC has a very long and interesting history which you can read about on the NAIDOC website. I was quite struck by the fact that the first NAIDOC week occurred in 1975. It seems to have taken such a long time to have achieved national recognition and to become a household name. All those years at school and I do not remember a single mention of it, let alone any specific activity or involvement. It is hardly surprising then that Australians knowledge of Traditional Country names for their residential area is somewhat average. In South East Queensland it is woeful. Actually, it is embarrassing. It can be confusing because different sources cite different names, but according to the Toowoomba Regional Council, the Giabal are the First Nation custodians for the Toowoomba area.
So what can we do?
A recent article on the ABC website by Rachel Rasker gives a number of suggestions on how we can be good allies for Indigenous people. First of all, it means being more than a once a year supporter. Indigenous concerns do not go away after Australia Day or NAIDOC Week are finished. We can educate ourselves about Indigenous people and their culture, history and contemporary concerns. For those of us who never learnt about it at school, this is especially important. We can seek out Indigenous writers, attend community events and connect with local Indigenous organisations. We can talk about these things at home with our family and friends, and speak up when we hear racist comments or jokes. Finally, in our eagerness to show support we can inadvertently be supporting companies who exploit Indigenous art and culture. Ensuring that we purchase cultural products from Indigenous-owned companies is a really important way of supporting Indigenous artists and their communities.
Every little thing that we can do brings us all one step closer in the reconciliation process.