May 25, 2022
Voiceover: Welcome to What the Hills. With a lifetime of living here, we are Adelaide Hills locals just like you. That's why what the Hills is your program for the Adelaide Hills. We focus on the stories from the place where you live. And now he's your host, Kimberley Franklin.
Kimberley: What sparks your fire? The Peramangk people have always been a people of fire. We all know of their history of making and sharing fire with their neighbors. After many long years since the disruption of European settlement, the Peramangk are back, proud and strong, growing that fire of their culture and their language right here in the Adelaide Hills. This week, I caught up with Courtney Hebberman, a Peramangk an Ngarrindjeri woman who's doing everything she can to share and grow her culture in the community. Courtney is an amazing person, and we could have chatted for days about all of her interests and her activities to improve the lives of people around her. Here's just a part of our conversation, and I think there'll be many more to come.
Kimberley: On What the Hills today I'm talking to Courtney Hebberman, who is a really, really busy person. Hi, Courtney. How are you going?
Courtney: Hi, Kimberley. I'm really well, thank you. And thank you very much for inviting me to be on the show today. It's a pleasure to come and have a conversation with you.
Kimberley: It's great to have you here. Now I've got a little bit of an intro to you. It says that you're a Njarrindjeri and Peramangk woman, grew up in the Adelaide Hills. You're a foster parent and mother of six, which is going to keep you busy to start with. But you've also started on the grand ease. You've got one grandson. You're halfway through a law degree, which is on hold at the moment. But you're also a poet, a writer, and working with some different projects and into biocultural ecology and rebuilding a whole language. What do you do in your spare time?
Courtney: Ah, I try to sleep. I've got my dog. Sleep is good. Yeah, I've got a dog. And we like to walk near the waterfall and just around and say hello to birds, meet people in the local community. I try to remain friendly and build good relationships. But, yes, first and foremost, I am, I've always been a writer and a poet, and I feel that my poetry and my writing, it's an expression of my spirit and who I fundamentally am. And as an Aboriginal woman. I have six wonderful children. I also have a grandson who's five, and my mum, Mandy Brown. She lives down in Strathalbyn, and she has a florist shop down there, Desert Rose. So if anyone's ever down there, go and check out Mandy and say Hi. I also currently am working with the Constellation Project. So what that is, is a cross sector, multiple agencies like Red Cross, Mission Australia and a few other places that come together to develop innovative solutions. Sorry, I forgot to mention Price Waterhouse Coopers. They're one of the main ones. We come together nationally to develop innovative solutions around homelessness. And we are targeting a 16 to 24 year old age bracket here on the ground in South Australia. And the team that I'm working with, we are developing what is actually a Systems Navigator. And we've just got research, ethics approval, which is great. So thank you, Selena Tully. You're an amazing woman. And from that, we're looking at a Systems Navigator, essentially, is someone that potentially would help a young person emerging from out of home care or youth justice to navigate the systems out there. Because what we do in our community is if we identify someone that's in need and the systems can be really overwhelming at times, is that you would actually advocate and help that person navigate through the systems, and you would actually identify where the strongest points are, where the help is available, who's going to help that person? So instead of getting the stuff around and that person becoming overwhelmed and having to tell their story over and over again, which can be really traumatic and hard at times, then that person would actually step up and play that role for that young person.
Kimberley: It sounds like such a simple thing to do, but so essential for these young people who are going through a big change in their lives and as you've already said, can be traumatized and not know where to go for help, not know what to do, what's in the system, what they really need is someone to say, okay, here's where you go, here's what you do, this is what you do next, and I'm going to help you through that. Rather than just dump you in the world and say, "There's help out, now go find it."
Courtney: Yeah, definitely. And that's why hopefully we can see the idea come to fruition, because that model could actually be then adapted and used on the ground in any community across Australia.
Kimberley: Really important stuff. But you've been involved in a lot of things over the years, busy in this field for a long time, and you've obviously got a really big interest in it with your family and with all the other things that you do. And you're halfway through a law degree as well. I'm guessing that's a little bit inspired by some of your experiences as well.
Courtney: Yeah. So I have a really strong sense of social justice, and I like to see that people have the correct justice and that they have, I guess, the representation that they deserve. I know some people who are really disenfranchised at times by the legal system, but here, I guess my inspiration came from my grandson. So my grandson was removed under risk of emotional neglect, and it never made compliance for a section of removal. He was actually placed in 14 different homes. He suffered abuse in care. And my uncle was actually sponsored by National Congress to take our case to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, which is really important because us as Aboriginal people, we have the legislative right to self determination here in Australia and that's not what is happening. And hopefully later on we can actually have a conversation around human rights, international law and self determination because we were successful in securing him back. So he's home in our family now and he's doing really well, but that's not the norm. That is just a one off case. We have a really strong family. We're, I guess, really well educated in the Western system. We've experienced stolen generations with my mum and my uncles and aunties were being forcibly removed from my grandmother. I grew up with a really deep understanding and feeling of trauma and grief and what my grandmother had experienced and what my mother went through. I always say that I was born with my grandmother's pain and that I carried this and that I wasn't going to allow that to happen in our lives and that if I could change things, that it would make things better for the future, but that if I could just stand up and I guess push back, it would make my mum proud and actually kind of heal some of those hurts because my grandmother died at a very young age and, for me, I really feel that her spirit was broken. Like having all your children removed like that, it has a massive intergenerational impact on your life. We still have fear to this day, like, any point of contact that any Aboriginal person has, I think, and I don't purport to speak for everybody else, but it just seems to be common that anyone that has contact with the Department for Child Protection, and even if you don't, like, you still have that fear of having your child removed because for two centuries we've suffered systemic genocide and that has defied international law and it's still happening to this day. And I think the Family Matters Report, the statistics that came out towards the end of last year that there's 81% of Aboriginal children, around 16,000 kids under long term Guardian orders. So they are until 18, they are actually in care now. I don't know exactly what percentage are in Aboriginal homes within their communities, but not all of them are. And that is the forced removal of one race, like the children of one race, to another and at rates greater than we've ever experienced before. Now, I really don't think that is the correct solution. It never has been. Like if you look at the evidence base and the impacts that the stolen generations have had upon our people, it affects everything that you do. Like our identity is the core to who we are as Aboriginal people. And if you sever the identity, like what the government does, like that's legal severance of your identity. And I know in law when I was doing some research at University, I actually came across a figure that really shocked me, that since we've had the Westminster law in place in this country, what is an Aboriginal person? So the definition of, has actually been changed six dozen times. So our identities have been changed over six dozen times by the government. Now, I tell you, I know who I am. I was born with a really strong sense of knowing who I am, where I belong, where my country is from. I teach that to my children, I teach them their language. And I'm proud that my children will know more language than what my mum and grandma did. But to have the government, the state, tell you who you are, to me, that's a form of gaslighting. And we don't need to be told. We don't need to have our identities redefined time and time and time again. And something needs to change.
Kimberley: I think it really does. And it's crazy to think that this removal of children from not just our families, but from their whole cultures is still happening. We all think of Stolen Generation as something that happened in the days of the "Rabbit Proof Fence" movie. And it's something that happened a long time ago and it doesn't happen now. And yet my mum's auntie was adopted. She was Stolen Generation as well, and she never told her own children. They had to find out after she had died. There was so much of that culture was lost from her, but she was lost from her family, from her own culture. It happened in my great auntie's time, but it's still happening now. And as you said, it's happening more and more.
Courtney: Yeah, it definitely is. I've seen multiple families had their children removed and there has to be better solutions. Like, it's a reactive response, it's not a proactive response. And if you look at the New York based system where they don't really go and remove kids, but actually cocoon and work with the families and those models of care actually work way better than if you go in and you're removing the child because what you're doing, that point of contact where you're removing the child from their home, their community, the networks that they know, that's severing their identity, that's creating a whole new trauma in itself. And then within the system, sometimes these traumas, they're not being addressed and they carry that like that's an inherent pain that stays with someone for life for generations to come.
Kimberley: And not knowing, as you said, who you are, or being told that actually who you thought you are, no we're going to change that. We're going to tell you who we want you to be. It's not appropriate, it's not the right thing to do. And it's just so bad for the individuals, but also for the culture and the community. Is there any thought that this is maybe changing on the horizon? Is there any plan for that? Perhaps that New York idea to come to Australia and to be a different way of dealing with things?
Courtney: Yeah, there's always hope, I guess I had the recent 21st forum on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Issues that was held in New York, brought First Nations leaders together from around the world. And it was advocated that States, (the whole of Australia is a "state" in international law) and judicial, actually implement the changes that support and protect nations, people's, land and lives. And that's what we really need here in South Australia, on the ground across all States and territories. We need the government to actually start to put its money where its mouth is and actually get behind us and our self determination, because until we have that and the core of our identity, that's the core of the issue here is that we don't have self determination. And I guess the recommendations that First Nations people be given further opportunities to participate in the actual United Nations General Assembly processes, what a mouthful! Which would actually elevate that forum to a level on par with the member States. So I guess there's always hope. And if enough people around Australia get behind and start pressuring and you've seen with protests, with marches, thousands and thousands of people now are aware of these issues. They're aware of the rights that we have as First Nations people. And in my lifetime, I've witnessed that massive change. I see our ancestors and the people that came before us that tirelessly worked towards these changes that are still rolling today. And that's what we can continue. And we can set that in place for our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. Because the hope is that eventually we can decolonize these processes and all aspects of our lives so that we have full self determination. We can have our own state, our own laws, as we've done for hundreds of thousands of years.
Kimberley: Self determination has to be the way to go with a culture that is, well, it's a lot of cultures, but with a culture that can be so strong and has so much to do with family and with people working together, why throw that away? And why bury that when it can be such a wonderful thing? It really has to come down to, as you said, self determination, being able to make those rules, being able to be in control of what's happening, whether it's a single child who might be seen to be at risk or needing help, or whether it's a whole community that wants to decide what they do and how they do it.
Courtney: This is the first time the UN expert mechanism on the rights of Indigenous people is actually coming to Australia. So that in itself is actually really significant. And it's really good to see they are actually invited here by the normal people because of the high rates of child removals. So to have them actually come here it shows that on an international level, our voices are actually being heard, which is really good. It's something that's never happened in our lifetimes. And I'm quite proud that I can tell my children, like, this is what's happening. And I do show my children all the time, like, they're wholly aware of the systems that are in place. They're wholly aware of what um happened to Grandma when Grandma was removed because they had actually witnessed that with their nephew. And they were extremely distressed by that and so forth to see actually things change on an international level. Hopefully one day we'll see those changes start to happen here on the ground, within the judicial systems and within workplace policies as well, so that we do have those rights to self determination and live as we want.
Kimberley: Part of that is rebuilding language and culture that might have been lost or been put in the background over the last decades. And that's something that you've been really heavily involved in recently.
Courtney: Yeah, definitely. So I'm a huge lover of linguistics. Being a writer as I am, I had the opportunity to actually go and study Cert three in an endangered language. So Ngarrindjeri is my own language. We did have Certificate IV, which actually is the teaching component. We now have multiple dictionaries, which I helped contribute to. I've written prose and text and translated songs into my own language, sung it. I'm really proud to say that as a Ngarrindjeri person, that we have that language there now, and that my children, they'll be speaking that. I was going in and teaching it at schools for a bit there because my children didn't want to learn Greek. So I was like, okay, I'll come in and do a little bit of language. It's so amazing to see how quickly the children speak it up and how fluently they can speak it. They can identify, like, multiple different body parts. They can count and they can sing. But when we were doing the course, what really was so moving and significant to me was actually witnessing their elders learning and speaking their own language for the first time. Like, it actually brought tears to my eyes. And I really wish that my grandmother, as a Ngarrindjeri Peramangk woman, that she was here to be able to experience that, because my mother, she never had our own language growing up. She didn't have that privilege. But my mum was amazing. She actually developed our own language. So we had this language that mum had made up and all these different words, and we would speak it to each other and sing to each other, and people would be like, what are you talking about? And we're like, we just weren't aware that people didn't know these words. We just thought it was normal.
Kimberley: It's just how you talk.
Courtney: Yeah, that's just how you talk from that. We as Peramangk, we have around 140 words that were documented. And from that there's actually certain combinations of vowels. If you have those combinations in linguistics, you can actually wake what is a language. So the language, when it's not being fluently spoken among the community, is actually called sleeping. So one of my goals in my life is to actually awake my language because to have that language woken and to be spoken and shared again amongst the community would be like the gold that is the absolute epitome. And it's central to our identities as Peramangk people, to be able to have our language and to be able to speak and pass that knowledge down onto our children because that forms part of that biocultural ecology, and it's central to who we are, like everything we do. And if you go throughout the Hills, there's still many place names that have Peramangk names. I've been working on renaming of places, working with community centers, and that around renaming different structural sites, places throughout the Hills, and identifying and strengthening those areas so that I kind of view it like you have little spots around the Hills that are really important and really special. And if you just strengthen those dots or those places, those meeting places as a woman, and then you can go from those meeting places to meeting places and you can actually start to see where it's being connected and the rapport is being built. And what you're actually doing is rebuilding a whole network and telling stories. You know, you're strengthening the stories on the land. And to me, as a storyteller, it's really important that I see that being strengthened. But that's how I kind of envision it in my head. I'm not artistic. I can't paint or draw anything like that, but I can paint the picture with words in my mind, and that's how I envision it and also with song. So my children's father, he's from the Northern Territory. He is an Eastern Aranda and Gurindji man. He's also an Aboriginal musician of 40 years. He's pretty good. When I met him, he was just a drummer. He couldn't sing. He didn't really like to speak, was really quiet. And I encouraged him. I was like, pick up a guitar. And he practiced and learned and used to sing in the bathroom and would serenade me down the hallway. And I was just like, oh, my God, what the hell? But that's where we both go out sometimes now, and we'll do workshops with the kids. And in those stories that are written into the song, it's about this land and how we can all come together as one and care for the land and listen to the land, which is really important. I teach that the land is the first relationship that we have with anyone. The land is our mother, and the land gives us everything that we need. She teaches us. We go out there looking at the trees and everything around, and it's like the original Internet. It's the Wood Wide Web, I call it. And I'm like, yeah, you can plug in and you can download really easily here. You've got all your networks and it's like a book. It's like the living library. And that's what I call it. It's the living library, literally. And if you're just taking it's like if you go to the library, you borrow a book and you might rip some pages out of that book because you like them, and then you return that book, but some of that knowledge is actually gone. It's missing. And that's kind of, I guess what's happened to us as Peramangk people, like, in the last two centuries, with occupation and ethnic cleansing, we've had massive amounts of chapters and pages torn out of our books. But the book itself, the cover and the core is still there. We are still here as Peramangk people. We are still alive and we're still strong and we're still thriving. And I'm continuing to write those stories. We're filling in those blank pages. So that the book. Even though some of those pages are missing, you can kind of look at that missing chapter and not gloss over it. But I guess you could fill in the blanks from other sources. What do they call them in law? Extrinsic materials or something.
Kimberley: Um yeah, sounds about right.
Courtney: Yeah. And that's what I kind of teach the kids. And it's also about caring and looking after the land. And if you keep taking pages and pages, then there's none left to share. And those pages, even though they might be missing and they might be in someone's home or they're not there to share. But I like to go and teach the kids, and they really love it. You know, I have, like, all these really old possum skins. And I actually worked on the Just Add Water Festival. So that was in 2012, and that was a four year festival that ran with the Fleurieu Peninsula. And for that, I was contracted to do an arts workshop. And I was like, oh, well, what am I going to do? And I like to kind of be original. And I thought, what's something that hasn't been done? So I went into all of the literature that I have on Peramangk, and I've got a lot. And I sort of asked around. I looked and observed, and I thought, what are other people doing? And at that time, I had a really amazing arts mentor, Betty Sumner. And I talked to who's an Aboriginal elder. So I got talking to her and um nobody. What I found is that we used to actually make possum skin drums, and these were actually a really special tool. They were used in dance and ceremony, but they're also used commonly. Like, you would use them as almost a sleeping pillow. And I was like, I want to recreate these awesome skin drums because it hadn't actually been done for 170 years at that point. So about 180 now. And so what we did, we actually recreated we went and spoke with Ngarrindjeri Elders and worked around recreating these. And we got some really old skin. They were beautiful. And you bind a reed circle, and then what you would actually do is traditionally you would stuff it with some kind of feathers, and then you would use Kangaroo sinew. The fur side is on the outside, so the skin is actually on the interior. And I thought, how is this going to work? Like, how is this going to create a drum sound? But when you actually pull that tight and you've got it bound, it actually makes a really deep sound. And so that's what I did. We woke up the possum skin drums. Um and I was really proud of doing that because now down at Raukkan, they're teaching the kids, and I know some of the old ladies down there were making some of the drums with the kids. So I've got skins here that I take with me. I let the kids touch and feel them. And we talk about the possum skin drums. And I love listening to their stories about how they've got possums in their roof. Yeah. Letting them feel the possum skins and letting them tell their stories, too, about the possums. And we talk about, like, possum hideaway. So possums are really territorial. So I teach them, like, possums have got their own networks and they've got their own little highways. And if you watch, like, you'll see them in their little areas and where they like to go. And we had possums once at my old house, and they were really... we had chickens, so I had chickens from the local kindy. And the chickens used to imitate the possums, so they didn't actually crow. They used to make this growling noise, like the possum. And it was really disturbing. I'm like, you guys are chickens. Learn to talk like a chicken. Yes.
Kimberley: It seems like everything that you can do in this Wood Wide web that you spoke about earlier, everything is a teaching opportunity and a chance to talk about the environment, talk about nature, talk about culture, talk about how we make a drum, and then how do we use that drum? And then what stories can we tell using that? And it's a big cycle. Is this what you're trying to do with rebuilding the whole Peramangk language?
Courtney: Yeah, most definitely, because I think it's an art, They talk about linguistics is under Art at universities and stuff like that. And art is central to everything that we do and our identities, our original and especially Peramangk people. But it's also about using what's around us. So using the drums, using the reeds, using the feathers, and actually turning that into art and into song, and that's actually really cathartic. It's the form of medicine, and that's what frequency is as well. Like, that's quantum physics. And I talked to the kids about that a lot. So under that biocultural, I guess that umbrella term that encompasses all that we inherently know and teach. It's paramount. It's the knowledge, the practices and the biological resources from the plants, especially medicinally. I talk a lot about share knowledge um about the medicinal use of the plants. And I think in the Hills, we've got about actually different dozen species of Wattle throughout the Hills.
Kimberley: Just Wattle. And then there's all the other types of plants.
Courtney: Yeah, we have such a wide variety throughout the Hills. It's one of those places, I think, on Earth that's really special. We have such good food industries. And I know that there's a guy that's working with some of the wineries to develop wines. It's really good to be able to share that. And it's always good to be able to build rapport and just see that people living on Peramangk country are actually healthy, because then that tells you that the land is healthy as well. And that's really important to us as well. Like, the land is our mother. And if your mother is sick, then she's not happy. And then you've got to look at why she's not happy and look at ways of increasing her happiness so that you, in turn, are happy as well. There's a certain limit to the extent of what we share. There's a little bit in there about customary law, our values and our belief systems. Not all of it is appropriate to share with the wider public. There's some knowledge that is essentially really sacred and that you wouldn't share. But one of the main goals is to wake up that Peramangk language, because we need our language. Our language to us is central to everything that we do. It's like with my mum, like, if we didn't have that language, that communication, that's the main link of our Wood Wide Web. We've got the trees. And if we didn't have the language, what are we without language?
Kimberley: It's the center of everything, I think. It's how we communicate. Yeah, definitely from that comes everything else. Now, you mentioned this magic number. 140 words is what we have at the moment. Languages are made up of thousands and thousands of words. What do you do to try and rebuild something that has, as far as we can tell at the moment, it's been lost. And when you do rebuild it, is it going to be the same paramount language that was spoken 200 years ago, or will it be a 2.0, a new version of that language?
Courtney: That's probably something that I'd probably have to ask around about. Um but I think that if you have from what I understand, that if you have, like, linguistically, if you have core components and pronunciations and certain structures which we do have, you can actually rebuild the whole language around that because, as you would know, like, language is, I guess, limited. Like, you can always create new words, but you're not creating new letters. So those core pronunciations, those core letters that are needed, they're actually present. And that's my aim. Even with Ngarrindjeri language, like, when we're doing that, there might not be a language, say, to describe a computer, but then you would look at the words that have already been created in conjunction with community. So elders, past, present and emerging, and you would actually then be able to actually create a whole new word, So the language itself isn't stagnant when you wake it up, it is a fluid thing. It's always evolving. It's not going to be something that's just set in stone.
Kimberley: Do you think that the rebuilt language will not just be Peramangk but will be related to the original Peramangk language that... I guess all languages grow and change over time, but 200 years is a very short time for a language to change so dramatically, as I personally think that it might through this rebuilding process with so much of it having been lost.
Courtney: I think bring it back to you've got the core components there that were actually recorded.
Kimberley: They're essential.
Courtney: Yeah, they are the essential and the fundamental building blocks. So from those building blocks, you could rebuild. And it may be that because we're in the modern world, we do create whole new words, but that brings it back to language itself isn't stagnant. I think people look at language and there's a dictionary and the words are just there, set in stone. But even if you look at That doesn't happen. Yes, it doesn't happen. Language is always moving. It's evolving like it's shifting. And that's like us as Aboriginal people. We're not a stagnant people. I think people always look at us in the historical sense and have this, you know what's the word like. They have this concept um that we're set in stone and we must look a certain way or we must act a certain way. But we're in 2022, we're constantly evolving people, but at the same time, we're maintaining those core principles and values that actually are building blocks. What creates us and what builds uh us as Aboriginal people. Like, my spirit doesn't change. My body may change around me. Like it ages, it's sore, it aches. My mouth still works. But in here, in my miwi. So the miwi is the state of your emotions here. Like, my core is always the same. And even after my body is long gone, my core, my miwi my spirit, that's still going to be the same.
Kimberley: We see often you see on the TV "Modern Aboriginal Person" going to University, becoming a lawyer, having this modern 21st century Western life, and gosh, isn't it exciting? But everybody has moved from what our culture was thousands of years ago to what it is now. Why should it be any different for people who are Aboriginal? You keep your culture and you have that culture in today's world. I don't know why people keep getting surprised about this. It just makes sense. I think to me,
Courtney: I think it's like, you know, inherently, I think there's this really deep underlying racial bias. For so long, it was like Aboriginal and Aboriginal people were like, associated us with something that was untouchable, like something could not be seen. The state. That's how they created that whole environment. But now to me, I look at it and I mean, I can't say it's become a trend, but many more people are aware. They're aware of these issues. They're aware of what's happened, they're aware of what's happening, and they're looking at us collectively and holistically and what's happening to us in the future and actually becoming really more aware of how important it is to maintain and strengthen the fundamental aspects of what we are as Aboriginal people before it becomes lost. Once you lose things, like when those pages from the book, when they're gone, it's gone forever. And if you lose the principles of Aboriginal people and I'm not talking as Aboriginal people as a whole. I'm just talking from my own experience and what I feel in my spirit. Once that's gone, you lose the ways of caring for the land. And once you destroy your home and you destroy the very foundations and the pillars of your home, your home is going to crumble. And to me, that just seems like the antithesis of survival. Why would you destroy your own home? Why would you systemically set out to remove, by brick the foundations of your own home? I guess that's how I look at it. It's really important that we start to strengthen and maintain what exists, especially as paramount people. And that's why we're always teaching our children who they are, where they're from, like where we're going. I take my youngest child, Ruby. She comes with me to some of the workshops that I do. And even though she's just sitting there, she may not actively be engaging, but at the same time, she's still learning, right?
Kimberley: Yeah, she's absorbing what goes on.
Courtney: Yes, she is 100% absorbing. And it was always like my mum would take us everywhere with her, and I was sort of "boring". And at the same time, now I get what she was doing. And so I do it with my kids, even though sometimes they stress me out as all kids do, but they're still learning, they're still absorbing, and they'll be seeing that. Ruby is really good. She's been up on the stage and sings and dances with her dad, and she's on TikTok, and that a lot. I do it with all the kids, especially the boys. I get them to come along and I'm like, one day you'll be doing this, and it's really important that we strengthen our foundations.
Kimberley: Do you see that strengthening and growth of culture happening now and into the future? Does it look like a positive future?
Courtney: Yeah, it does. I always try to stay optimistic. If I come across a challenge where maybe racial biases that exist within the processes of workplaces, whether they be NGOs or government, you can always advocate to bring change. They have processes where you can change that. That actually better support Aboriginal people. And I do just that. If I don't feel that it's a safe environment for any person of color, I will really strongly advocate in line with Westminster law as well, that they change those processes to better support people of color, because at the end of the day, everyone needs to feel included and welcomed and not be discriminated against. So, yeah, I do feel really optimistic about the future. In my lifetime, I have gone from seeing absolutely no cultural events, cultural awareness, language or anything, any relationships in the community with Peramangk at all to now. You've got people reaching out. We always have people contacting our Peramangk Council page. We're actively being contracted to go out to do work, to share knowledge, to teach. But it's also the willingness, Kimberley, of people to learn. And it's also about people listening. You can be sit there and talk and talk till the cows come home. But if people don't listen, then there's no point in talking. But I find that people really listen and they take on board what you're actually saying. And most important, it's about teaching the children, and the children do this. They ask a lot of questions. And it's not about painting a rose colored picture of what happened in the past or what's happening now in the present. But it's about staying hopeful and optimistic and actually working towards that in the future so that we can emerge stronger than we've ever been.
Kimberley: I think that comes from both sides as well. I know that in the local area, I like going on these local history walks around the community and stuff like that. And I can remember not even ten years ago when they said, "Welcome to the area. We're about to start our local history walk around town. Now, of course, you'll know that before white settlement, Peramangk people lived here. They all died." And that was what we were being told at the start of the history walk less than ten years ago. And now well, here I am talking to one, and you're not dead. You're clearly alive, truly alive, and you're not the only Peramangk person in the world. So that learning is happening throughout the community, I think. And we're finally realizing that the very simplistic history that we had been taught up until now wasn't the full story. It wasn't right. And maybe there is more that we can learn about survival and about culture and about those important things that we were originally told. "They all died out." No, they went. They survived. They kept their culture as this little glowing ember, and it's coming back to life again. And it's an important part of the wider culture of the whole community, finally.
Courtney: And that little part, I like it when you say that little fire, because that fire is so important. But that's what I say. Like, we're a fire people, and the heart of our country, like Brukunga or Barkunga pyrite, that's fire. And that is what inherently we are like, we're a fire people, and we're still here very much alive. And when I teach the children.
Courtney: We did three weeks at Stirling each primary, and I actually made, like, little smoking sticks with the kids, with native plants. So I go out and I gather the plants and the materials, and then I let the kids take them home and we talk about what they are and how smoke itself actually has antimicrobial properties. And what those kids can then do is actually take those home. And it's really significant that they can light those at home with their families, and they're actually cleansing the air around them. And to me that's, like, children are always inherently connected to the spirit. It doesn't matter what race they come from, I feel. And they're so insightful kids, and they know. They know that by lighting it's cleansing the air around them. And I tell them, you can talk to the land, you can talk to the plants, the trees, the birds, the animals around you, and you can build your own little connection, and you can listen to the Earth. You can listen to the mother and having them light those little fires. I was like, yeah, man, there's going to be hundreds of little fires dotted all throughout the Hills. Little fire smokes just a little bit. And I know that the Earth, my mother, she's listening. She'll smell that. She'll sense that. And that in itself is really cathartic. That's really what I can actually give to the children and that the children can actually give back as well. But they'll carry that. And then I'll probably choose their own children about that, hopefully one day. And it was really important. It was a huge turning point for me, teaching that amount of kids. I was like, really overwhelmed. But I was like, wow, I'm going to go in and do it. And they loved it and had this huge, big old tree that we were talking under. And I got showing them about the little pieces of moss and the fungus and how all these pieces form part of the Wood Wide Web and the original Internet. And you guys can talk to the tree when the tree's sick, other trees will send sugar to him. And they're like, oh, my God! Really? Wow! And get them singing and dancing and stomping, and they've got the clap sticks there going. And they love it, their little voices singing. And some of them are like, yeah, my heart is racing. And I'm like, yeah, that's because you're excited. And I'm like, the land around you, She can sense that. She can feel. And I'm like this is a really happy tree. And I'd point out that the tree is really happy because all the kids are around because they do. They have such an amazing energy. So I kind of had for years not done anything culturally. I pursued my law degree and it consumed a lot of my time. And then it all sort of came to a grinding halt at the end of December 2019. And then from there, I was forced into taking a break, then Covid hit. And I tried to go back for a bit, but um my body wasn't coping with that kind of level of stress at that time because it is really stressful studying a law degree. And out of that, this year, I did a speech for International Women's Day about breaking the bias, which was the theme. And up at Lot 100 in Hills here. And I spoke to those people. I thought, oh, my God, what am I going to talk about? And I hadn't written anything. And it really just was I sat on the toilet and then boom, five minutes. I just poured all this stuff out that I'd been holding in.
Kimberley: Where all the best thinking is done.
Courtney: Yeah. And I got up there and I just spoke it and it was really like the spirit was there. I felt it so strongly. It was such a beautiful venue. And I just kind of went into this zone and it was all kind of like this white mist around me. And I just thought, you know what? I'm just going to speak my truth. So I did. I got up there and I said, it's International Women's Day, but the bias is not breaking for us as Aboriginal women. In the last few years, there's been consecutive numbers of Aboriginal women murdered by white men. And the investigative processes of SAPOL have failed those women. The families haven't been listened to. And the very common knowledge that there is deep racial bias that exists within those systems is what led to the failure in the investigative processes of my own daughter's death. And so this week I start working with the Advertiser Gemma. The editor for the Advertiser, she was at that speech and she got in contact with me not even 24 or 48 hours later. And I actually was really blown away. We prayed for a long time for justice and for the truth to be heard and our voices. And I thought, if I go and say this speech today, even if one voice hears it, that's enough. And even if nothing, they take that away from them and they implement change in their own life and practices. That's enough. And Gemma was there. And yes, she contacted me. And next minute we've got a team that we're going to start recording and actually releasing from July these podcasts around the traumatic experiences of Aboriginal people and their families with SAPOL because it's just in 2022. It's really not cool that it's still happening. It really has to stop. And just to have your trauma compounded further and further and further again, that in itself, to me, that's criminal. It really is. And to not have these families listen, to not have their voices listened to when we have our own precious like we have customary law for a reason that we've had for thousands and thousands of years. And to have white law stand over you and tell you that what you're feeling and what you're knowing as a whole community as an immediate and as an immediate family and your kinship networks are all echoing the same am saying. And to have white systems stand over you and tell you that you're wrong when you know that you're not like it's gaslighting. And it's an absolute failure of justice on all levels. There's no spiritual.
Kimberley: It's just a huge failure to recognize those thousands of years of history of how things have been done, and they've worked really well. So why would you not recognize that and include that in what we're doing now?
Courtney: They really do need to decolonize legal practices for Aboriginal people. Mhm no time like the present. And there are some amazing people at Adelaide Law School. They are so supportive. Margaret Castle, especially from there. Like, she's been incredible. And what she said is that even if he didn't directly kill her, like, he's still responsible for her death. And that is what I see with the other families. They are um directly responsible for the deaths of these women. And nobody is being held to account, which is really horrible, because then you sit with this injustice and it's uh an uneasiness of your spirit. And I've wrote a lot of poetry about it. I've performed a lot about it. And that's how I guess I get my it's a form of healing. My spoken word is my art, but it's also like a political I weaponize the English language. I call it literally. The word is my sword. I go there and I swear, and I say, this is how it is. And people will come up to me and they're like, oh, my God, that was really moving. And they're crying. And I'm like that's your spirit being moved, because any emotions that are triggered that is telling you that there needs to be action. And I think for anything, it should be action. You need to have emotion as your driving force. It needs to be behind you driving it and being like, hey, this is a problem. Look here, address it. And that's your spirit telling you that's right or wrong way, you got to do what is right.
Kimberley: Okay, well, let's talk about Reconciliation Week. It's every year at this time. What's special about Reconciliation Week this year?
Courtney: Oh, okay. So this week I'm really happy to be coming up to the Hills to work. One of my favorite centers in the Hills is actually the Aldgate train station, because long before it was a community center. My uncle, my mum's brother, he used to live in the train station with a guy named Wombat.
Courtney: Yeah. And I love going there to the train station. They had these little cubby houses in there. And it's so different now, like the Hills. But back then there was like all these really cool little pockets and different people and really eccentric and yes, my mum's brother, he used to live in the train station and my mum had a shop like a supply shop in Allgate. But this year on the first of June, I will be going with James and we will actually be running a traditional foods workshop. So we'll actually be cooking traditional foods there. James will be doing some songs on acoustic guitar. And I'll actually be doing just some networking, meeting people and doing a little bit of talk and sharing some of my knowledge. On June the 15th, from 04:00 p.m. To 05:00 p.m., there's actually a specific native plant workshops that I will be delivering. So I use a few different plants and I talk about the use of the medicinal uses of them, also their broader applications, how we would use them as Peramangk people. So yeah, that's coming up at the Hut Center in August. And I'd like to give a shout out from Courtney to Courtney there because Courtney is absolutely amazing and she has facilitated this. So yeah, if people are interested, please come down and you can meet me and you can meet James and have a listen to some music uh and eat some of the foods that we cook because we actually love to party. So we have always held large gatherings. And James being from the territory and especially Gurundji and Aranda, him being a male, he loves to Cook. That's his role. So he cooks amazingly. So if you want to come and try his cooking, please feel free. At Clover, I think it is. So I'll be running native plant workshops there. That's an architectural and landscape design business. So over two weeks I'll be doing some native plant workshops there also with Mount Barker High. I'm going back to visit again. I'll be up there talking about native plants and just some biocultural ecology to the whole school. And I'm like, wow, yeah, great. I got to meet all the kids and I'm really looking forward to that. I'm so happy. That'd be really good. So there's a lot coming up and I'm really looking forward to it.
Kimberley: It sounds fantastic. I'm going to have to get online and book for all of those things. Now. Where else can we find out more about what you're doing?
Courtney: Generally, I'm just word of mouth and what I actually do now, though, I've done up my own bio, so I have bio and I've done up like a price schedule, I guess. And I've actually been talking to Barossa Tourism up in the Barossa Valley about actually developing some cultural heritage tours up there because there's nothing like that at the present time. So if you want to get in contact with me, you could probably just send a message to the Peramangk Council page [on Facebook] and someone we'll get back to you within a reasonable time frame.
Kimberley: Now I know that we are running out of time for the interview and the battery on your phone is about to go flat so it's probably about time for us to wrap this up. We haven't even touched the surface of such a huge topic. But it's been fantastic hearing from you and hearing a little bit about what's happening and why it's so important. I've got a note here that I have written, that's something I really wanted to say to you and that is "Just keep lighting those fires. Keep those little embers going. I think it's so important."
Courtney: The little embers. I love that. Kimberley. Thank you so much and thank you for inviting me. It's been such a pleasure and this conversation and just being able to share with you. I really appreciate it.
Kimberley: I think we could talk for days but that's it for today. Thank you so much for talking to us on What the Hills and I'm looking forward to getting along maybe to the Hut to meet you and to get involved in the food and the music and everything else.
Courtney: Looking forward to it.
Kimberley: That's all for what the Hills this week.
Kimberley: Tune in next week for more local stories from the Adelaide Hills on Lofty 88.9 and Lofty.org au at midday on Monday and in your podcast app anytime. What the Hills is produced on Peramangk land in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Music is written and produced by by Daniel Biggs. Voiceovers by Andrew Challen. What The Hills is produced and edited by Studio 4 Do you have a local story to share? Get in touch with us on social media.