Wednesday, 26 June 2013

River Mother of the Paakandji

This is the text from a sign (undated) in the old Broken Hill library Writer's Centre, which I have had the privilege of using as an office the past two weeks.

I am writing on behalf of the Aboriginal community of Wilcannia regarding the desecration of our much loved Darling River.
For too long we have talked too much about how the Darling River has been dying. Please let me try and explain what the river means to us and how the violation of it has affected our people. 
First and foremost our people are the Paakandji tribe. Paaka in our language means river, therefore we are the river people.
For countless centuries the  Paakandji people have lived along the river and depended on it 'like a mother', which in fact it would be, according to elders who have been born on the banks and lived in huts on the river's edge as recently as 1976. In those days water was drunk straight from the river fresh and clean.
Stories associated with the river are embedded in our culture and to this day the unique feeling that it gives us when the river runs is felt by all in our community, Aboriginal and non Aboriginal.
Everyone who grew up in our community has played along the banks and spent hours exploring and learning and the river has to offer.
I believe it was in the mid 1980s when we first started to see our river in danger and the water started to drop and cease to flow.
The feeling in our town was one of tolerance, as you would be with a sick and weakening mother. We were sad but sure she would become well again, after all she had been there for all of us for so very long.
But when we couldn't fish anymore, we stopped camping out along the river and it seemed we started losing our sense of family.
Our children became wayward and it appeared as if our people started losing control of their lives. How could we ascribe this to the troubled state of our river? What mumbo jumbo is this?
When the river started flowing again we could all feel a sense of calm. Our children played at the river for hours and would come home excited at the day's adventures, tired and hungry, glad to be home.
Trails of people could be seen heading to the river. At the river were many more, grilling their fish and cooking Johnny cakes. It seemed too far fetched! 
In a survey conducted by the Central Darling Shire Council in the late 1990s a comparison was made on the height of the river and the crime rate and it seemed to show that when the river was up the crime rate in Wilcannia was down.
Everyone could see it before and now they had it down on paper.
Be it economic or ecological, in the end the Paakandji people truly need the river.
The  Paakandji tribe extends the length of the Darling river and down as far as Wentworth. Wilcannia's community is just a small sum of the whole Paakandji tribe.
Of the rest of our people suffer for the biases of the ministers in charge and the irrigators upstream our culture will soon be gone and the identity and pride of the Paakandji people will be torn apart.
There are so many people who are extremely passionate about the plight of our river and have nowhere to go with their grievances.
We sincerely hope that this letter will make a difference and we may be able to at least achieve some compromise with the power so that we can start to heal our river.
Karen Riley, Wilcannia Local Aboriginal Land Council 


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