Jamie Lowe Interview Part 2 at Fyans Creek, Brambuk, Halls Gap, 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 2. Produced by Wind & Sky Productions.Contributors
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Wind & Sky Productions.
In this extended audio interview Jamie Lowe, a Djab Wurrung man, talks about balancing traditional life and contemporary life, the process of building a bark canoe at Brambuk and the conversations and connections that arose from it, the contributions Aboriginal people have made to Victoria, the origins of cricket and AFL in Australia, and the importance of researching and talking about history today.
Lucinda Horrocks: Given the really pressing, contemporary issues that you've just talked about so eloquently, is there any point going back to the history and looking at the stories that Fred [Cahir]’s researched?
Jamie Lowe: The more stories I hear of historical records and more conversations I have with people like Fred and other academics that have done a lot of research on this space, which their knowledge exceeds mine in a lot of areas, I make a deliberate attempt to surround myself with those type of people to draw on their, like a bit of a sponge, draw on their knowledge. It's amazing how history just tends to keep on repeating itself. 150 years ago, Fred's done a lot of research around the gold rush era.
There was a whole conversation around democracy which started in Ballarat which is only 150 K’s from where we're sitting today. There's this whole conversation, Peter Lalor, and we want to fight for our rights and democracy of Australia, we want equality. We're still having the same conversations today for Aboriginal people. How can you have equality within a community where the gaps so big in so many different areas.
Life expectancy, still 15 to 20 years difference for Aboriginal people, non Aboriginal people. The true sense of equality and true sense of democracy is that everyone has an equal say. When you've got the whole segment of a community which, you know the closing the gaps, it's well documented, how can we call that equality and democracy within the land that we stand. That same conversation was happening 200, 150 years ago and the more you uncover the layers you peel back, you're just somewhat astonished or astounded by the control that Aboriginal people have been under for so long.
Then we attempt to go back to our conversation of self-determination but what does that really mean? Does it mean you, as an Aboriginal person being assimilated into the white community? What does success mean? That you've got a good job and you're being educated into the white men's way? It's hard to get a true sense which is ... I guess the most important thing to me is my life's all about balance. Then I always need to check back in, what does success look like for me, I’ve got a lifestyle choice. Where do I want to live?
Do I want to live in country? It means I have to sacrifice some other things that I like which I enjoy. Going into a café and having a nice coffee and those kind of things. You make sacrifices and you try and balance your life out which could mean sacrificing other things. The more you find out, the more you understand that it makes you even more passionate to set things right, which is why you still march the streets and still fight for the rights of Aboriginal people because you understand the history and makes you more passionate about today.
Lucinda Horrocks: Tell me about building the canoe here at Brambuk.
Jamie Lowe: Building a canoe is a conversation that – I think Fred [Cahir] and I were kind of just catching up, we catch up for many different reasons. I think he wanted to do it and I said, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. It's just another element of me being able to practice culture and traditional way of practicing it. There's always other ways but I thought it'd just be kind of fun thing to do. We don't really have the usage of a canoe. We're not going to build it so we can go out fishing or something like that.
It's more just something that, yeah, that'd be pretty cool and recreate culture, regenerate it. We had a little bit of a plan. Fred being Fred, did a bit of research in how to build the canoe and whatnot and I rounded up some of my Uncles and some cousins and whatnot so we went out on a journey trying to find trees and whatnot. But you know best laid plans. We just jumped out of the car and axes are flying everywhere, bark was flying everywhere and we eventually got some bark off a tree to build the canoe.
It was actually fairly successful exercise. Done it over a couple of days and the product was pretty amazing. As an Aboriginal man being able to do that and reconnect and just to think, doing it on my country, something that's been a practice for thousands of years and being able to do it. Something that, I wouldn't say it was being lost because there’s still the knowledge there but something that my people haven't practiced for over a hundred years.
It's a special feeling. Being able to share that with Uncles and cousins and whatnot, it's just the conversations that get drawn out. It's a sense of achievement, sense of pride being able to practice that culture. There are some restrictions around even kind of accessing the land to able to do that these days. Even, we had to jump through some hoops to even be able to practice traditional elements of culture on your traditional land. You still have to go and ask someone for permission.
You get back to that conversation around being able to truly self-determinant, can you just go right there and practice culture if you want to today and there are some elements that you can't. You can't go hunting in the bush if you wanted to right now. You have to have that balance of you still have to ask permission to the system to be able to practice elements of our traditional culture. All in all, it was a great exerices. It's a special moment for me, and I know my people that were involved in it they very much see it the same way.
Lucinda Horrocks: You told me earlier that the conversations that you had afterwards were almost as important as recreating the canoe itself.
Jamie Lowe: I think for men, just in general, it's important. We don't talk a lot. We just hangout and how's it going, mate, oh things are all good. I think when there's activity created, you draw out conversations so when men are doing something, the conversations seem to flow a lot easier. The conversations that we had, the group of men getting together doing something, there was conversations about all types of things. It's a real political conversation, but we're talking about canoes, making canoes.
There's a lot of knowledge here and you have Fred who's done a lot of research, we had our uncle there, Uncle Geoff who's got a wealth of knowledge within the space, myself, my cousins. We're all coming from these different perspectives and different angles and different knowledge bases. The conversations that were drawn out were quite robust. Coming from different angles, talking about making the canoe itself but also talking about those things that we had the conversations, 150 generations of Aboriginal people on this land, this country.
We talked about what does it mean today. We talked what did it mean for our people back in the day. Talked about what does it look like moving forward, partnership started to be created, friendships were established. It's just a special moment to be able to have, especially as that, you can call it male bonding type session, I guess. Practicing that element of culture is just a great way, a format of doing so I think.
Lucinda Horrocks: Are you going to make another canoe?
Jamie Lowe: We’re keen on doing it again, so that was the practice run, you can call it. It's pretty successful. I think we're going to have another couple of attempts at it to kind of refine our canoe making skills, and kind of try and branch out to more communities to get more communities involved. Younger people and whatnot. Sometimes I think when we practice culture, we tend to want to get as many people involved when making something special like a bark canoe, but sometimes that can inhibit us from actually doing so because you can't get enough people involved.
And you’re ringing around. I think this first attempt, we said oh well, let's just do it. Let's just set a date and people can come, people can come and we'll just do it. I think down the track, we can refine that skill and get somewhat a little bit more organised. We can involve more community in it because that's important for the young people to be involved in that and practicing these traditional elements of culture to keep connected to those stories that get drawn out as well.
Especially for young males to be able to keep connected, have conversations with Elders, leaders, mentors around them. It's more organic doing it that way instead of me going into a classroom and saying I'm Jamie Lowe and I'm an Aboriginal leader and this is what you should be doing and these are the stories. Kids are in classrooms every other day of the week so it’s good to be able to get them out. Such a natural setting. It's a different way of learning for our young people and it's a way of learning that we've done for a thousands of generations. It's good to be able to connect back to that. Learning that way again, it still works. It's good to be able to get out of the classroom and into such a natural space to be able to learn in that respect.
Lucinda Horrocks: Yeah, totally.
Jamie Lowe: Yeah, so we're looking to do it again in the right season. There's some different techniques in being able to make the bark canoe. The one that we attempted or we did make was from the stringy bark tree but there's other techniques with the red gum bark canoes and whatnot. We're looking at some maybe exploring some other techniques down the track as well. Hopefully, once we get organised and get the timing, yeah we'll definitely attempt to make some more.
Lucinda Horrocks: I couldn't help but notice that there was a crack in the canoe.
Jamie Lowe: Yes. [Laughs]. I think that we need to go back to some different techniques to figure out those things. How to keep it moist and the burning technique and whatnot. Definitely, refine those skills. There's some experts out there which Fred’s made connection to, so maybe being able to draw on some of their expertise and inviting them down to kind of help us through the process which might be a good idea next attempt.
Lucinda Horrocks: It just goes to show that even though you can make it in a day, it still requires a lot of skills and knowledge.
Jamie Lowe: I think to do it ... That's right, we can make it kind of a make shift type of canoe, but to do it properly, it requires a lot of skills, lot of technique and lot of knowledge to be able to, if it was actually going to be something that was used down in the water ways. The one that we made [laughs], none of us were putting our hand up to jump on it and go out on a river or something like that. It was more of a display piece, but the technology, that would have been passed down that was available at the time and people still hold today to be able to create it and use it, everyday use, would have been quite amazing.
Lucinda Horrocks: Yeah. This is skilled job.
Jamie Lowe: Absolutely. Our people, within any community, there's people, you've got your mechanics and you've got your butchers and whatnot. It no different within our community. We had people with the skills and the knowledge to keep the community running. Whether that be hunting, gathering, making tools, making canoes. Women had their roles as well and men had their roles just like in any community that we live in today. It's good to be able to have that skill still to be available to us today, absolutely.
Lucinda Horrocks: What does it make you feel like when you hear those stories of Aboriginal people in colonial times? Perhaps not necessarily from your country, but Aboriginal people in colonial times saving white colonists in times of flood.
Jamie Lowe: Thing is that I always think one of the elements of those stories is that I don’t think they're of spoken about enough, it needs to be celebrated a lot more. We have got this history, it was kind of with a chequered past and policies that were introduced to Aboriginal people but there's also this whole other element where Aboriginal people had worked together with colonial Australia.
It's important to know those stories as well. For our people, there was, in a lot of areas where Aboriginal people working together with the non Aboriginal community and those stories around the bark canoe where people are being saved in flood areas and used for transportation across rivers and lakes and whatnot.
There's whole range of other stories. The gold fields, Aboriginal people working together finding gold. There was trade, possum skin cloaks, tools, shelter that was offered for non Aboriginal people. There's all these stories as well as where Aboriginal people were actually, their relationship was okay. It was good. Even in this area here, we got a game of Marn Grook which is the traditional game of AFL, which this is the birth place where we are today, my people played.
Lucinda Horrocks: Really? Wow.
Jamie Lowe: Down the road, Tom Wills which is who the name is synonymous with AFL football. They say he invented the game of AFL whereas he was playing the game of Marn Grook, a traditional game that my people played for thousands of years. There's those stories as well, Tom Wills also took the first cricket team across to tour England. First cricket team ever to tour England was an Aboriginal Cricket team. Like not non-Indigenous and Indigenous, it was an Aboriginal cricket team from this district.
Lucinda Horrocks: I've heard those stories but I didn't realise it was from ...
Jamie Lowe: It was all from this area. Our two national games which is cricket and AFL, this is the place where history began as far as AFL is speaking. Also, we've got a strong connection to another national sport which is cricket where Aboriginal people were touring England. This is all in a period of time where there was a lot of destruction but there's also these other stories of where Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people were working together. I think that's important to know those stories as well because I spoke earlier about balance.
You need to have balanced conversations. There was this destruction, there was people being placed in mission stations, there was massacres, there was devastation to the Aboriginal community but there's also this other side where Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people co-existed, as we do today. There was some good news stories out there as well. It's important to have that story as well as the other stories as well because you can get caught up. You can get quite jaded if you only listen to all the bad news stuff because when you research, there's a lot of it. It's important to be able to read those and listen to those stories around the good news stuff as well.
Lucinda Horrocks: What thing would you like to see an audience take out of this story that we're creating? What would you like someone to watch or listen and walk out thinking?
Jamie Lowe: I think it's important that knowledge is power, it's a bit of cliché but knowledge is power and every day you kind of learn a little bit more. If someone is listening to this conversation, this is just one little snapshot of one story, Aboriginal bark canoes and hopefully for them, if someone's listening to this, it gives them an appetite for more knowledge within this space.
I work for the Department of Education, I do a lot of teacher training, professional development in the space and one of the things that I always say that within this kind of space, you're only going to learn so much. We're talking to each other for an hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, I can only pass so much knowledge on. I always get them to have an affirmation or a commitment to whatever it may be. As an individual, what are you going to attempt to do to kind of build on this conversation? If someone is listening to this conversation, I would say to them, this is just one small conversation, I would say to them attempt to find out more knowledge.
Just as a community member, it's important to know the history. One of my other Uncles always says before you know where you are today or where you're going in the future, you need to know where you've actually been. That can be as an individual, as a nation, your generations before you, you need to understand what's going on before you before you can understand the space and why we're sitting here having conversations about bark canoes and feeling it why we think it's important. Why you're working where you are, because your Dad was a lawyer, now you're a lawyer, your Mum was a chef, now you're a chef.
Need to understand these stories to have the connection of why you're standing here today and in the bush and having conversations about bark canoes. It's something that I always think about. I work in the Department of Education, why am I working in this area? Then I reflect, this is why my passion lies here. Why am I having a conversation with yourself about making bark canoes. It's always important to have that reflective practice to understand anything. I would say to them, go out and find out more.