Rick Nelson Interview Part 2 at Bet Bet Creek, Dja Dja Wurrung Country
Rick Nelson, Jaara descendant, interviewed by Lucinda Horrocks on the banks of the Bet Bet Creek, in Eddington, Victoria, part of the traditional land of the Dja Dja Wurrung language peoples, 9 April 2015, part 2. Produced by Wind & Sky Productions.Contributors
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Wind & Sky Productions
In this extended audio interview Rick Nelson, Jaara descendant, is interviewed by Lucinda Horrocks on the banks of the Bet Bet Creek, in Eddington, Victoria, part of the traditional land of the Dja Dja Wurrung language peoples.
Rick talks about the impact of colonisation on his family and the loss of story that resulted, reflects on the generosity of Aboroginal people who saved colonists from flood and drowning, and talks of the importance of remembering history.
Lucinda Horrocks: The stories of King Tommy or Tommy Farmer, have they been handed down through families or are you piecing it together? How do you get the stories?
Rick Nelson: We just get the stories what we come through with research. Even in my father's days, the culture had died out and was dying in his father's day, my grandfather's day, they were more, a little bit more into surviving and working and making a living in the white man's society and getting ahead in that lifestyle. So things like the language and lots of cultural practices had died out by then. Now we’ve basically got what we can find with some research and maybe if you go a little bit north you can utilise some of the practices as well. My theory is that a long, long time ago, however many hundreds or thousands of years ago, the people were a lot more closer together. There's practices, what we had in Victoria which they found in Central New South Wales that are similar. Similar words in Victoria as in Alice Springs, similar words, just a couple of different letters. My belief is that hundreds of years ago, or possibly a couple thousand years ago, people were a lot closer together, possibly through trade and song lines and trade lines, they just knew stuff that was going on, hundreds of miles away.
Lucinda Horrocks: You can use those stories to partially reconstruct a story?
Rick Nelson: Yeah, there's similar stuff going on all over the country. It might not be the same cultural practices, but there'd be similar stuff, even with the Kulin nation, the half a dozen Kulin language groups, they could understand each other from 40 up to around 70%, so some of them could understand each other a lot more than some of the other people. Some they got on better with, some they didn't get on so well with. Some they intermarried with. That'd bring neighbouring language in and it would end up working its way into that clan's language.
Lucinda Horrocks: If you have a word that has come from another language group in the Kulin nation, you can sort of do the linguistics and construct a ...
Rick Nelson: ... Construct a pattern in there.
Lucinda Horrocks: Yeah.
Rick Nelson: Yeah, for sure.
Lucinda Horrocks: Interesting.
Rick Nelson: Yeah.
Lucinda Horrocks: Getting back to canoes and the symbol of the canoes, and this research that Fred Cahir has found of just these interactions on the riverbanks, throughout Victoria, between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people, at this time of colonisation, at this time where culture is disrupted, but there's also this kind of ... It's almost this recognition of a skill that Indigenous people have, a knowledge, a technology that they have, that's actually really useful.
Rick Nelson: Absolutely. Aboriginal people and culture they tend to share stuff a lot. If they went out hunting, they shared the catch. The elders would get the good cuts of meat and et cetera, more of a sharing society. If someone come along and was stuck on one side of the river and said to the Koori fellow down there, "Can you help me get across the river?" He wouldn't say, "Bugger off." He'd probably say, "Yes, of course I'll help you." More of a sharing society. It doesn't surprise me that they used them to do certain things like the bridges and ferry people across the river.
Lucinda Horrocks: There's actually stories, not in Dja Dja Wurrung language territory, but other places, of white people being rescued in times of flood.
Rick Nelson: Yeah.
Lucinda Horrocks: Saved at risk to the person in the canoe. Women too sometimes, on the canoes, would go out and save miners or ...
Rick Nelson: Yeah. Like I said, in those photos at Coranderrk, you can see women on the canoes. Yeah, I'd imagine all people would be taught how to make a canoe and how to sail it up the river with a sail or however they did it with the big stick thing. In some of those photos, there's 3 and 4 people in it and a couple of kids. They're quite the canoe craftsmen.
Lucinda Horrocks: It's quite a skill. We were talking before about ... Up in Janevale, at the Janevale Bridge at Laanecoorie, there's a newspaper article from the 1870s of a white man who drowns trying to cross the Loddon River in a native canoe, and the native canoe up turns, and he falls into the river and drowns. You needed to know what you were doing.
Rick Nelson: Yeah, of course. They're not like the canoes that we see with the American Indians or Daniel Boone, with the big, high sides. They're only basically a flat, we say bark but it's not bark, it's the little cambium wood. It's only a thin little piece of wood, a couple of centimetres, usually only had little sides on them, little walls, so it would be a little bit of an art to master, I imagine. If you weren't very good at it, you could tumble off quite easily.
Lucinda Horrocks: Yeah, you couldn't just step on one. A lot of Europeans didn't know how to swim, they weren't very savvy at all around water.
Rick Nelson: Yeah, right. I didn't realise that, but I can imagine.
Lucinda Horrocks: What do the canoe stories say to you? When you hear them, what do you think? What do you feel? What perspective does it ...
Rick Nelson: It give me a bit of a high sense of admiration and to think that the Indigenous people were out there, helping the early settlers and helping the people who overrun their lands. They learnt to adapt and some of them were quite smart and could see what was happening, so they tried to gently steer that process and assimilate into the society. They knew that thousands and thousands of white men were coming and they're going to overrun the land and they had guns. They adapted and learned to assimilate into society and help. I get a great sense of admiration for those people. Absolutely.
Lucinda Horrocks: Looking through the eyes of someone like King Tommy, what sort of choices did he have to make? What did he see?
Rick Nelson: At the time he would've sensed that was happening as well, he would've seen a whole change happening in front of his very eyes. His people dying out and getting moved on, and moving on in some instances. Although, they didn't like to move out of their traditional lands, particularly. He would've seen a great, life changing situation unfolding in front of him. I'm not surprised that he would want to stay here, rather than go to Coranderrk, hundreds of miles away, out of his tribal lands. He'd rather just stay here and battle on in his own lands and his own self, be his own person, and live semi how he used to and try to adapt some white society things into his life.
Lucinda Horrocks: What significance should we draw on that story today, reflecting back?
Rick Nelson: The significance would be a reconciliation type situation. Aboriginal people didn't have a so much of an it’s a mine or a yours thing, it was a sharing society. To adapt and try and change and get into the white man's way of living, that's a pretty smart survival thing. Like I said before, with the technology of making the canoes and stuff, I've seen little stone blades that they've made and I could really touch the blades up to resharpen them. To work out that sort of industry, technology, it's amazing where that come from. Some of its thousands of years old.
Lucinda Horrocks: I think it's the length of that history that as a modern society, in this modern world that we're only now coming to grips with.
Rick Nelson: Absolutely. I think it says something about this country itself. Like I said, about Victoria being overrun so quickly with thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of hard-hoofed animals, they've actually stamped the earth down that hard, that now some of the food resources don't grow anymore. The myrnong daisy, the yam daisy, that's virtually extinct in most parts of Victoria now, but it was fields of yellow of the myrnong, but the hard-hoofed animals have eaten it down and stamped the ground down so hard. If you look at all the Australian animals, they've all got soft paws. That says something about the interaction between the wildlife and the country in itself. It was quite an interaction with the country, and the people, and the animals.
Lucinda Horrocks: What would you like to see told as part of this story that we're producing? What message would you really like to be in this story?
Rick Nelson: A good, strong message would be that we're starting to realise now, more communities, I’m seeing in town, non-Indigenous communities, are starting to know and understand about local history, Indigenous history. For all those little interactions to happen, with the non-Indigenous society, that shows mostly a friendly peoples and that they adapted. There's lots of stories about fighting and the two societies clashing. Of course that's going to happen in early times, but it generally shows that the people were friendly and adaptive, and would just take on whatever happened, that they could adapt and assimilate. It shows an ingenious people, I think.
Lucinda Horrocks: Yeah, it sure does.
Rick Nelson: Yeah.
Lucinda Horrocks: Is it important that we had this conversation here today?
Rick Nelson: We're putting the stories out there into society, into the communities. The more we can make people think about the earlier times and the Indigenous people, if I can make one more person think about it a bit more, I am doing my role. Absolutely, it's important that we get these stories out there and told. More importantly, it's the kids, it's the children we need to focus on and teach about these things, so they can pass the knowledge on again to the next generations. Yeah, we've got a strong push for that in our community. It's all about teaching the kids. If some of the kids can hear some of these stories, you can see them sometimes sitting quietly and still for an hour while we talk and for that to happen to primary-aged kids, that's amazing. They are quite interested in some of these stories, particularly of men going up on bark canoes up the river and ferrying people and goods across the river. I know some kids would love to hear about that.
Lucinda Horrocks: The canoe itself, what meaning does it have to us now, this Indigenous canoe?
Rick Nelson: It's got a lot of meaning. It helped to settle the country, particularly our country, Victoria, Central Victoria. That could be a difference between some settlements being established, and some not perhaps. It's a huge story, a huge impact. It shows that people just helped in lots of ways, not just with their canoes, there's a whole list of ways that Indigenous people helped the early explorers and settlers, and even down to Mitchell, one of the first explorers. I think it's huge.
Lucinda Horrocks: Is there anything else you'd like to add or comment, as we've had this conversation?
Rick Nelson: Just that there's probably a whole book of these stories out there, that some that we still haven't found and some we have and some we need to explore a bit more, so it will probably go beyond my lifetime. I think probably kids that I talk to will take this right along and will still be researching when they're young adults. If I can help get that started, I'll be a happy old man. Yeah.
Lucinda Horrocks: Thank you.
Rick Nelson: My pleasure.