Wadjak Community Leader, Dena Gower, walks down to the banks of the Derbal Yerrigan. Now commonly known as the Swan River, this is the land where her Ancestors lived.
“I always go down there,” Dena says. “I just go and sit at the river, and I always think about what it would have looked like without westernised houses, and all of the boats. And so, I just go down there, and sort of close my eyes, and think ‘I wonder what it was like when my mob was here’.”
“Their spirits were happy and free. It would have just been noise of the language and the people. But there was nothing else, you know? And I just really get a real, sense of peace from that, when I go down there and I think about that.”
When the first fleet arrived in Australia 232 years ago, it marked the beginning of English colonialism in the country.
“The first time they came to the Aboriginal country, they came with firearms, and they started firing within 15 minutes. That’s a criminal act. The second time they come they took possession, and it’s all in history.”
“And it really hit me too, as an Aboriginal person, because I said ‘That was only two acts they did, and it wasn’t a treaty, it wasn’t being respectful to the Aboriginal people. They came here by force and took this land’.”
“And the Aboriginal people are the humblest people, I feel, in the world, who are trying to reconcile for their country. Until the non-Aboriginal people realise and accept that that’s happened, and it’s wrong – it’s a criminal act! – and it’s something that’s affected the Aboriginal people for a long time.”
It’s important to acknowledge this past, and to acknowledge that Aboriginal people are the traditional owners of the land we live on.
“When you do welcome to country, that’s very special to us,” Dena says. Because it makes you think, ‘Yeah, this is our land, it does belong to us.’ You feel because our brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have one father. And it’s allowing their brothers who belong to this land that God gave them, to do welcome to their country, to their home.”
“Because our brothers all come from different homes, from England, China, Japan…wherever. But the men that God placed here, were the Aboriginal men in Australia. So, with the men here, in Noongar Country, it makes me proud that my brothers and sisters in Christ are respecting that, respecting that ‘Yeah this is their home, and they want to welcome us here’.”
“It’s like if I go to Japan, they’ll welcome me there, in their language, and no Australian will say ‘Oh there’s something wrong with that’, would they? They’d accept it. If they go to Italy, or England, or wherever, they’ll respect the welcome to country.”
“Our non-Aboriginal people thrive on things like that,” Dena says. “So why can’t they do it here in their own country, and respect what the Aboriginal people are doing?”
“Therefore, the thing that has to happen now, is to do this welcome to country, and for our Christian brothers and sisters to respect that. And whether you don’t understand it or what, it doesn’t matter, you must respect our Father, we have one Father, who give this land to the Aboriginal man.”
Dena walks along the banks of the Derbal Yerrigan, into the bush that grows alongside it. She crouches down and picks up a shell midden, to show us. This artefact, made of discarded waste, gives us insight to the lives that were lived here, so many years ago.
“I think what Australia needs to learn, is that the land does so much. It feeds us, it shelters us, it gives us finances, it takes care of our children. The land gives so much back to us.”
“It’s like if you go into somebody’s garden, and go ‘Wow that’s beautiful, how did you look after that? that rose is growing lovely, look at that fruit tree!’ It’s like when you come with us, ‘Wow! That river’s beautiful, how did you look after it?’ Well then, we’ll tell you! ‘How did you grow those trees like that?’ Well ask us, and we’ll tell you! We’ve got our elders out there that can tell you.”
“Even this fire thing, they’re going back to our traditional ways,” Dena explains. “Well, who looked after this land, this home God gave to us? He give it to the Aboriginal people, to look after it.”
“And there’s so many skills out there, and until our Aboriginal men can put their hands back into their own land…and the Aboriginal women to do their part that God gave them to…there can be no healing.”
“That’s like…the family’s been all split from a household, and nothing’s going to come back together until you support, help that family to rebuild and bring that home back to the way it should be, and in this country that’s what’s needed.”
Dena has one more thing to ask of us, as brothers and sisters in Australia.
“Allow our Aboriginal kids, all over Australia, to be able to grow up feeling proud of who they are, who God has made them – God has made us Aboriginal people.”
Dena and Garry Gower run Perth-based Ngaama Ministries. Ngaama seeks to provide training and discipleship to raise up a new generation of young Indigenous leaders.
For more information go to Ngaama’s Facebook page.