Jamie Lowe Interview Part 1 at Fyans Creek, Brambuk, Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali Country
Jamie Lowe interviewed by Lucinda Horrocks at Fyans Creek, Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre, Halls Gap, Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali language Country, 21 March 2015, part 1. Produced by Wind & Sky Productions.Contributors
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In this extended audio interview Jamie Lowe, a Djab Wurrung man, talks about the founding of the Brambuk Cultural Centre, how canoes were made in Djab Wurrung country, the loss of history due to the disruption of colonisation and what that means today, and why the struggle for Aboriginal self-determination is important.
Lucinda Horrocks: I'm Lucinda Horrocks and I'm sitting with Jamie Lowe who is a Djab Wurrung man. Jamie, tell me about the significance of this place and describe it for the audience.
Jamie Lowe: The significance of the place for me is that it is my home. I guess you could call it my spiritual home, something that my ancestors have lived here for over 2000 generations. The scenery here is quite amazing. To have a place like this that you can call home, it's a pretty special place to be. It's surrounded by mountains, surrounded by trees. In the middle of such a peaceful place, it's a special place for me. Wildlife, the nature, just great place.
Lucinda Horrocks: We're at the grounds of the Brambuk Cultural Centre which is in, well it's in the Grampians region in Halls Gap. Why is this place significant?
Jamie Lowe: The significance of this place probably at a more contemporary scale, Elders, 25, 30 years ago got together and so they want to create a meeting place on a contemporary scale and they talked about a vision. From that vision, the Brambuk concept was born. It's a cultural centre, a meeting place for our people. Five communities across the southwest of Victoria.
Something that was traditionally a meeting place where people would have held corroborees here, ceremonies here for thousands of years. Now we have an established building that we can still continue that culture on a contemporary format. We meet here and people come in here. They have weddings here. Have celebrations on that contemporary scale and we still meet here on a traditional format as well and have dances and conversations, and today we're filming a documentary. It's used for all types of purposes.
Lucinda Horrocks: It's just beautiful to be here. It's wonderful.
Jamie Lowe: The building is significant within itself. The name Brambuk, which has two meanings. Black Cockatoo, the totem for this area but also another meaning with the Bram Bram Bult Brothers who were the two helpers of Bunjil the Creator Spirit. Which is our creator spirit in our dreamtime story from around the Victoria region or the south of Australia region. The building itself was significant in building its name but also the shape of the building’s in the shape of the Black Cockatoo as well.
Lucinda Horrocks: The reason we're talking is we're looking at Indigenous use of canoes and how that worked in colonial Victoria. How did the Djabwurrung people use canoes?
Jamie Lowe: Well, canoes throughout Australia for Aboriginal people, they'd been used for all types of purposes. For transport, but also they'd be used for hunting and gathering on the water ways. My people very much the same as that. There's a number of water ways around this area, creeks, estuaries, lakes where we'd use that canoes to transport across from point A to point B. Using them also to collect and gather around this area. There's a number of bark canoe trees which connects us back to those stories around the region which some of them stand 20, 30 feet high. The scar in the tree which we still can see today, which are hundreds of years old.
Lucinda Horrocks: Yeah, it's so visible when you know what to look for, aren't they?
Jamie Lowe: Yeah, absolutely.
Lucinda Horrocks: It's a canoe shaped hole in a tree.
Jamie Lowe: Yes, canoe shaped, yeah. It's amazing. To think of how many there would have been around. I know up on the Murray River, some areas out there that there's 20, 30, 40 scars in one kind of condensed area where they just use the trees to create their canoes. Down in this area there’s not as many visible bark canoe trees but in some areas, it's just an abundance.
Lucinda Horrocks: We're trying to explore what happened with colonisation and how canoes were used in the colonial period. Do you know much about that from a family perspective?
Jamie Lowe: Some of the stories that would have been around, they’ve been lost to our community, especially those traditional stories and those kind of everyday things that we'd kind of use. We still have the big stories, like the dreamtime stories, Creator Spirit of Bunjil but a lot of those, the stories such as bark canoes and whatnot have been lost to our community so I don't know a great deal in detail of the everyday use but we know that from research.
Trying to make a connection back to those stories and recreate culture and regenerate culture. I try to surround myself with people with knowledge, Elders and other people who have done research in this space, so I've got a bit of a thirst for knowledge. Connect back and it's a bit of a journey for me as an Aboriginal man. Every day is a learning for me and just trying to have the right conversations with the right people to gain that knowledge and understanding of whether it be bark canoes or other, kind of traditional kind of practices that my people had.
Lucinda Horrocks: What does it mean to you, personally, this loss of story?
Jamie Lowe: I have mixed emotions. Sometimes, my most pessimistic times, you get angry with the system. I know my Dad, he was really, for lack of better term, kind of pissed off with the system. He'd call it this white man system that kind of made him be where he was. He was brought up on a mission station, taken away from his family. And his story is not a unique story. It happened to so many Aboriginal people around that era. He's a product of the system. As a result of that, being disconnected, oppressed since birth, basically and generations before that, he was in trouble with the law, dependency on alcohol. That obviously filters down to me as well, so I kind of get, we're on this situation because of policies in the past.
So then we get loss of story that build up on that as well. You can't help but feel a little bit of annoyance, but you reflect, also, that we're moving forward from that conversation, so what's the next conversation to have as a community. My people, the Djabwurrung people, my Uncles, Aunties, the terminologies that we use in these days is around self determination and being able to ... We can acknowledge the past and we understand there’s been this disposession but what does that mean for our people in the future, in the next generation? I've got a young daughter, what does it mean for her? I'm lucky enough to be in a position now where I can choose.
I wouldn't say I've gone all the way and have the pure definition of self determination in my eyes, but hopefully to create that space where the next generations, like my daughter, will be able to move freely and choose to exist wherever they want to, and be proud and strong as young Aboriginal people within the system.
Lucinda Horrocks: It's a process.
Jamie Lowe: It's a process, it's a journey. And to keep connected is a strong element of that. You live in an urban environment, you're working 9 to 5. You're doing the things that we all do in general day to day life but still keep connected and keep grounded to your traditional ways and conversations and stories, is something that's really important to me. Last week, we had a naming ceremony at Framlingham, Hopkins Falls. My cousin, he thought it was an important rite of passage for his children.
They're all teenagers and to go through naming ceremony and keep connected to their home. They live in Melbourne, you go to private schools. They do all these things in which most people's eyes, you'd say oh, that's success. You're going to private schools, you're getting good jobs, kids are going to university, they're getting degrees. They're gaining all these knowledge and people will say well, you've made it. There's this other element where we need to keep connected and keep grounded to our culture so nobody gets lost in the conversation of living in an urban environment such as in cities.
It's still important to keep grounded so when you're challenged as an Aboriginal person with your identity, you still know where your home is, you still understand the stories, still can have the conversations, so that is a continuation of culture.
Lucinda Horrocks: Is it important that we're having this conversation here in your traditional country?
Jamie Lowe: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's significant that we're having it here. We could have just had a meeting room and booked out a meeting room in a city and do it that way, but it's important to do it on country. That's a special significance to me, absolutely.
Lucinda Horrocks: Going back to the question of finding your history, uncovering stories through the historical records, what does it feel like to read some of those records? They're pretty, I mean the way they saw Aboriginal people was pretty, what we would now consider would be appalling, so you're reading your people's stories through this ...
Jamie Lowe: Through this lens?
Lucinda Horrocks: Yeah.
Jamie Lowe: Yeah. It was quite similar to the other conversation. You can't help but get annoyed. You realise that there was a period of time, 150 200 years ago wasn't only happening to our people. There was a different way of doing things. You have to have that kind of, I guess in the back of your mind as well. You also can't help but think you're reading it through the lens and where is the Aboriginal perspective or where is my people's perspective on this conversation. I don't think it's changed too much today, to tell you the truth.
We still have the conversations and I think governments of the time and also governments of today are quite strategic in placing Aboriginal people in the right positions so then they can feel like they're getting the community's approval because they've consulted with a Aboriginal person or a selected group of Aboriginal people. We've talked to this black fellow over here and they said it's a good idea, so we can go ahead and do things. The stories, like the native police story where they had other communities rolling to other communities on horseback. They had Aboriginal people doing it so it kind of made it all right to them.
That, in my eyes, still hasn't changed much today. You got Indigenous Advisers to Federal Commonwealth Governments, State Governments. It, in some ways, allows them to be able to get in that process. They represent the people as a whole instead of consulting with the community it’s a lot easier to consult with one or two people.
Lucinda Horrocks: Yes...
Jamie Lowe: You feel like things haven't changed a great deal. I guess my community has always been very political in the sense that they've always been fighting. Victoria as a whole because this policy is being introduced in the southern states and filtered out to the rest of Australia. The state of Victoria has always been strong in the political sense.
My people, in particular, have always been on the front line fighting for our rights as Aboriginal people, having conversations, marching the streets. Some would say the progress is kind of being halted and been stagnant for probably the last couple of decades, at least anyway. You can feel within the communities the real sense of momentum at the moment. In the conversations that I'm being involved with, especially over the last 12 months, I feel a there’s a real optimism as a gathering of the people and people are starting to have the same conversation.
One of my uncles always say, united we stand, divided we fall is the thing. We're trying to bring to Aboriginal people as a collective. He'll live in the middle of the desert in WA, how do you connect with the Aboriginal brother or sister that's living and working as a lawyer in Melbourne. We need to build that connection, share our stories, have the same message, get on the same page until we move together as a nation of Aboriginal people rather than kind of living in isolation. No matter where you are whether you’re living in the urban environment of Sydney or Melbourne, which can be isolating within itself even though you've got millions of people around you.
As supposed to kind of living at Brambuk or in a place like Halls Gap which is quite remote in the sky of Victoria, or you're living in the desert of WA or Northern Territory. We've got commonalities within our community and we need to draw those commonalities of Aboriginal people as a nation and move forward together as one. We're going to have differences because all communities and Aboriginal, and non Aboriginal have different thoughts and political and non-political sense. We do have a shared history as well that Aboriginal people are moving forward.