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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fran Bodkin's talk - National Parks Association

Tonight, Frances Bodkin, a respected D’harawal Elder gave a talk on the Aboriginal perspective on Climate Change to the National Parks Association (Southern Highlands Branch) in Moss Vale.
Fran is the author of the book: "D’harawal Seasons and Climate Cycles"
  • Aboriginal science is one of the oldest sciences in the world. Especially in an ancient place like Australia, where western science and knowledge of the ecosystem cover only a blink in time, the knowledge preserved in Aboriginal stories is invaluable for our understanding of the environment.
  • Aboriginal people have observed the ebb and flow of nature’s cycles for thousands of years. The blossoming of a flower, the activity of an animal and sea levels, the so called cycle indicators, mark the change of seasons and the changes in nature that follow. The flowering of a tree may coincide with the arrival of migratory animals, heralding the beginning of a new cycle and predicting further changes in the natural environment. The succession of these events in nature form an Aboriginal calendar that does not use dates as non-aboriginal people know them, but is based on a deep understanding of the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
  • It appears that the phases of the Dreaming cycle are getting shorter and changing faster. The cycle indicators are out of sync with each other, and it is believed to be the result of pollution and climate change.
In person, Fran is a charming speaker, with a very relaxed manner, which no doubt suits her to the task of being an educator at the Mt Annan Botanic Gardens. She is also someone who has grown into her position as a "knowledge holder" for the D'harawal people, and a collector of the Aboriginal "stories" of the Sydney Region generally.

One of the things which Fran spoke about first was the "poster" for the book (which happens to be the folded as the dust jacket of the book). The illustrations were created by a close friend of hers, based upon stories that she told her friend.
Fran spoke of her childhood memories of her mother taking her to visit other families, where they would close the doors, and windows, and then everyone would speak in a "strange language" (which she was told was "Spanish"). This was a measure of secrecy necessary in those days, to prevent people being aware of their "Aboriginality", in the days of the "Stolen Generations". So, clearly, while she was growing up, she did not identify herself as Aboriginal. My how that has changed.

Once she realised what her heritage was, Fran set out to re-connect with her Mother's friends, and started to re-build the "stories". She is now a very proud Elder and Knowledge Keeper of the D'harawal people.

She and her husband Gavan then spoke at length about the preservation of traditional "knowledge" (which is much more than just "data" or "information" in the way most of us think about it). The point of dispersed "knowledge" is that, it is not just the memory of a single individual (for we are all mortal), but rather an exercise in collective sharing of knowledge.

While Gavan was talking, it occurred to me that there is a parallel between our own society's shift away from the emphasis on grand Libraries, and the development of the Internet. People criticise the Net for being "unreliable" (in some cases it is), but goodness knows, it had been an effective way of communicating and sharing knowledge. Indeed, supposedly the "Net" was developed for strategic reasons, because it would be so hard to knock out the entire system, precisely because it is so decentralised.

Anyway, back to Fran's talk. It was more about the Aboriginal way of operating, particularly the preservation of Knowledge, and traditions, than the details of particular knowledge and traditions themselves. Fair enough, too, if you think about that approach. There are obviously strong areas of sensitivity about particular knowledge and traditions.

However, she did illustrate her talk with frequent examples about plants and animals which the D'harawal people used as away of gauging and predicting changes in the seasonal cycles, and indicators of forthcoming weather changes, and fires. Some cases, such as a particularly heavy flowering of Acacia decurrens, are said to be an indication of a likely bad fire season, some 18 months later. She also spoke extensively about Ants, and their complex communal lifestyle, and their valuable role as a predictors of imminent rain. Much of this is discussed in her book: "D’harawal Seasons and Climate Cycles". I have a copy personally signed by Fran.
It was a very interesting talk. The NPA President Tony Hill was very pleased that her talk was so well attended.Well-known Environmental Journalist, and Author (and fellow Nature Blogger) James Woodford wrote a very interesting report on the launch of Fran's Book, on his blog "Real Dirt". He has also published an extensive report on the issue of fires by Greg Watts, a Ranger and Landcare officer, who himself credits Fran Bodkin for much information on traditional fire management.


Duncan said...

That would have been good to attend Denis, a refreshing change from some of the rants by white fellas.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Duncan

Indeed, the rants have been awful.
For a counter view, I suggest that you read James Woodford's latest report, over at "Real Dirt".
It is long, but well worth the read.


Mosura said...

Friends of ours many years ago always attributed their darker than average skin to their grandfather who was a Spanish sea captain. We later learned he was actually aboriginal. I was way to naive at the time to understand the deception.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mosura
Apparently it was a common-enough way of "explaining away" one's dark skin.
Lets hope the wheel has turned, but I somehow doubt it.

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