"I learned many of our traditional beliefs from Dad. One of the most important traditional beliefs is that an individual’s spirituality is central to everything else that is significant. My spirituality is central to my identity, my country, my family and my culture. It is all connected and rolls into one."
My spirituality is my Aboriginal beliefs and values passed on to me by both my parents. My father was of course stronger in his spirituality than my mother. This was due to the fact that my father was raised by his parents on his traditional land. He had learned and experienced a great deal of cultural practices during his life.
I learned many of our traditional beliefs from Dad. One of the most important traditional beliefs is that an individual’s spirituality is central to everything else that is significant. My spirituality is central to my identity, my country, my family and my culture. It is all connected and rolls into one.
My father believed in and spoke with spirits, at times scaring the hell out of me and many others. Dad taught me to accept and more importantly respect the spirit world. By doing so, I lost what fear I had of spirits at a young age.
I was five-years-old when my grandfather died. I remember seeing his spirit many times on the reserve. Being only five, I told just about everyone, including Mum. Mum’s explanation was, “I was just dreaming.” I remember answering her with a question. “Well, why is he sitting on Gran’s veranda where he always sat? Also he jumped out of the taxi yesterday with Gran.”
Mum asked me how did I know it was him and not someone else? I responded, “I know what he looks like. He had his hat on and he waved to me.” Frustrated, Mum would tell me not to talk about people who had died, because it wasn’t right.
My father on the other hand never questioned what I saw. Rather, he told me that Pop was making sure we were all right. He told me the spirit’s responsibilities, which were to protect and care for us, as well as our land and the animals. Spirits, my father told me, would also warn us of bad news.
I soon learned to only speak to Dad about the spirits I saw, as he was the only one who never got frightened. I could vacate the whole house in a matter of seconds by informing family members that a spirit was in the house.
Mum had her own cultural beliefs. Even though she would say she didn’t believe in ‘those things’ she respected the spirit world. Mum also believed in ‘the signs sent’ and did so until she died. She would often say, “That little bird isn’t hanging around for nothing” and sure enough someone would ring or turn up with some bad news.
I also remember that she never said her first husband’s name. She referred to him as, “My first husband” or “Phillip and them’s father”. In her own way, Mum still held onto some of her cultural beliefs and practices even though she was strongly involved with her religion.
My father’s sisters, on the other hand, although practising Catholics, also practised their own Aboriginal religion, having their own cultural beliefs and values. Unlike my Mum, they were never ashamed of their beliefs. They spoke openly and were always willing to do so.
In fairness to Mum, my aunties never grew up in a mission. They were never made to feel ashamed of their cultural beliefs or practices and certainly were not influenced the way she was.
I loved to visit them on my own, just to listen to their stories. Similar stories to what my father had told me. I would often prompt them about certain stories I wanted to hear again. They were both great storytellers, just like Dad, or as other family members would say, “They could tell some great yarns.”
I remember visiting them after they returned from their first trip outside Western Australia. They had been to see Pope John Paul II in Alice Springs. They were so excited, showing me photos of their trip and of the Pope. They showed me their copy of the Pope’s address and drew my attention to his words:
“For thousands of years you have lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. And during all this time, the Spirit of God has been with you. Your ‘Dreaming’ which influences your lives so strongly that, no matter what happens, you remain forever people of your culture, is your own way of touching the mystery of God’s spirit in you and in creation.” (Hendricks and Hefferan, 1993, p 90)
My aunties were so proud that the Pope had acknowledged our ‘Dreaming’ and in doing so, our ‘Aboriginal culture’. My aunties had always practised both, but they now had permission to practise their culture along with their western religion. I remember one of my aunties saying, “Permission not just from anyone, it was from ‘The Pope’, next one up from him is God himself.”
At the time, I didn’t really appreciate where they were coming from, but can certainly understand now. To me, my aunties are two great examples of being able to live in two cultures, taking the best from both worlds in a spiritual sense.
Today, I try to express my own spirituality by reaffirming my cultural beliefs and values taught to me by my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties. To me, it has always been important to hold onto the cultural knowledge given to me as a child, and to pass such knowledge onto the next generations just as it was passed onto to me.
> My Culture