Fires along the coast (audio transcript)

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Photograph of Shayne Williams.

Speaker:  Shayne Williams, senior Gweagal knowledge holder, 2020 

… As James Cook and his crew left New Zealand, they headed west and the first point of contact with Australia was a place called Point Hicks, which was obviously named after Lieutenant Hicks, like everything else that had been named after them. 

And from that point on, as he turned north and travelled along the coast northward, he noticed that there was columns of smoke all the way along the coastline. We call them bundameri, smoke. And even Banks, who I think wrote in his own journal that it seems that we’re being tracked or followed and, in fact, that's what we was doing, we was actually tracking them all the way along the coastline … 

As well as was smoke signals there was message sticks being brought all along the coast as well. Or letter sticks, as my great uncle says, describes it, and to warn people that they was on their way. So those paintings would've been, it could've been both like a cross between welcoming paintings, body markings and paintings and ones that challenged people as well. We weren't sure who they were, you see? It was probably the first time we’d seen Europeans that close up. 

And there was no time for people to consider their arrival, you know, they was quite hasty, I think. They was keen to get ashore and collect plant species and so forth, above anything else, like, that was their agenda. It was a scientific expedition at the end of the day. But as we know, despite being advised by the head admiralty not to interfere with people they came across, or even to sequester other people’s lands, they did so. 

But welcoming is all about people paying a deep respect to the lands that they're entering on, you know? But the people who welcome them there as well, it's about them respecting their presence to be on their land. So it's reciprocal. 

And we did have a political structure. We were very diplomatic in our own way. So we would always send someone first to negotiate the entry of their group, so it would be like a diplomat arriving to negotiate that, and people reaching a decision as to whether they’re permitted to come here for a particular ceremony and what knowledge, new knowledge will they bring to that ceremony, what value will they add to it? 

So the Aboriginal people here, the Gweagal people, knew they was on their way, they was waiting for them, they was prepared. So I can't see how the British discovered us when in fact we discovered them at Point Hicks and followed them all the way along the coast, you know? 

So what happened here was the beginning of the end for a lot of our cultures right across the nation. And there isn’t one Aboriginal person that hasn't been affected in one way or another by this event, you know? We’ve still got a lot of unfinished business with these governments. And it's taken a long, long time for them to get into a position where can have proper negotiations and talks with them about where we want to go from here. As far as I'm concerned we’re not demanding minority groups in this country, we’re the country’s first people. We are this country, and this country is us.