Weaving Story, Weaving Lives by Melissa Lucashenko
Western science is beginning to understand the powerful medicine of connection. Indigenous cultures around the globe have understood this medicine for a very long time. Here in Australia, our corroborees and other traditional gatherings have many purposes. One main one is to bring people together, to share, to learn and to heal through safe connection to each other. Traditionally, women of a clan would weave together on a regular basis, strengthening ties and families as a result.
Culture everywhere is always adapting. Since 2019, the Bulaan Buruugaa Ngali project has mustered up women from around Bundjalung Country (and occasionally beyond) to continue weaving practices. Goorie dubay have taken part in these workshops to learn techniques, to share yarns, and to grow, under the guidance of senior cultural Elders and artists.
When we stop in our busy lives, making time to create, we might end up with a piece of art, or a basket for everyday use. But though weaving has this obvious result it has invisible outcomes too. Regardless of who is sitting down, quietly working with wool, fibre and feathers, the act of weaving can be a path to harmony. Time spent together at ease is a crucial building block of community. It reminds us that we are meant to live in peace, and that our sovereign families normally did enjoy peace on Country before colonisation.
The Bulaan Buruuga Ngali project grew out of an earlier project of the late Aunty Phyllis Torrens. Aunty Phyllis was a Bundjalung Elder, and one of the courageous founders of Casino Wake Up Time art group. Decades ago, she was deeply impacted by the violence she witnessed being perpetrated against Bundjalung women, and the despair of those suffering. She wanted action and empowerment, and knew this meant building a nurturing space that would remind women they were loved. Casino Wake Up Time became that space. Today the Bundjalung weavers continue her nurturing vision in a different form.
The life stories of some (not all) Bundjalung women weavers have been gathered in a new book, which will be launched at the Byron Writer’s Festival in August. The life stories have been collected from women including Aunty Irene Harrington, Aunty Julia Paden, Aunty Gwen Williams, Aunty Lauren Jarret, Aunty Margaret Torrens, Aunty Janelle Duncan, Theresa Bolt, Tania Marlowe, Kylie Caldwell, Bianca Monaghan, Kyrstal Randall, Maddy Grace Richey, Kyra Togo and other members of Casino Wake Up Time.
Aunty Rhoda talks often about passing on the values of ‘repair and pride.’ Values taught by her Roberts clan Elders, whose own parents lived very close to colonisation, and who had to invent ways to survive. Repair and Pride. Bundjalung people have so much to be proud of. The sustainable lifestyles we created over thousands of years. The ancient wisdom of waterways, landscape, wind and flora and fauna. We were the first scientists, first astronomers, and first geologists. Bundjalung mob learned how to live well in this beautiful and complex place. How was our vital information traditionally passed on? Through art! Through oral storytelling, in song and in visual art. Through designs etched onto the landscape, recreated on our bodies, or in dances or paintings, or weavings.
The Bundjalung Weavers group today are doing the work of fostering cultural pride and of community repair. Most of the women featured in the book have been intimately involved in the Goorie community all their lives. Huge obstacles faced them, but they have come through. A small number of the weavers were not raised on Country, but Elders have guided and mentored them, bringing these dubay through.
Words by Melissa Lucashenko © 2023
Bulaan Buruugaa Ngali is edited by Melissa Lucashenko, and also features an immanent woven prelude by the Miles Franklin Award winner.
Join the official publication launch at this year’s Byron Writers Festival –
Saturday 12 August, 10am – 2pm