Besides the great humanitarianism applied to all that the respected ABORIGINAL ACTIVIST AND AUTHOR Oodgeroo Noonuccal undertook (see PROFILE), many acquaintances were struck by her unfailing determination to speak openly, honestly and directly on any important matter, to anyone, and in any circumstances. Her manner and skills here meant that her words, no matter how frank, rarely caused offence to a listener, even when the matter under discussion might be regarded by some as controversial.
Her encouragement of others, to speak just as honestly and courageously, inspired many who knew her. However, sadly this important quality nowadays seems far less prevalent - ever since spin-doctoring, public relations, opinion polling and ‘poli-speak’ has frequently turned language into a tool for evasion and manipulation. It is not by accident that public disillusionment with politics has also become so rampant at the same time.
This more cynical contemporary communication style, now so evident in western societies where it has become increasingly rare to see powerful people saying exactly what’s on their minds, clearly lacks Oodgeroo’s great example and personal courage. She had great faith in the capacity of honest communication, and the powers of the natural world, arts, humour and education to foster tolerance and human understanding.
Aware that people are not born with intolerant and narrow minded attitudes already entrenched, Oodgeroo Noonuccal had a conscious preference for working with the young, who she always believed had an openness which stood at the opposite end to the spectrum of the ‘mental constipation’ she observed in many adults.
She acted on this belief by opening up her tribal land at ‘Moongalba’ (meaning ‘sitting down place’) on Stradbroke Island to thousands of kids - 30,000 over 20 years. In the process, she helped young people evolve clear headed directions for their lives. Her fundamental confidence in their capacities always strongly guided her activities and will help ensure that her contribution to Australian society reaches out across the generations.
© Dropbearito.com 2004
Oodgeroo on cultural change
QUESTION: What do you think lies behind the growing evidence of a new appreciation of, or greater
open-mindedness towards, Aboriginal culture in
That’s easy. The young people of today, be they black, white, blue or purple, want to achieve communication. And it is the young people who are saying to the old people “well look, I don’t believe you anymore … I’ve got to go and see for myself”. And it is the young people who are bringing the change on. I think this is why I concentrate more with the young people because change will come with the young people anyway and I’m sick of talking to mentally constipated adults.
Oodgeroo on her island home and the concept of 'Moongalba'
Would you like to expand on what you are trying to do with young people
at ‘Moongalba’ (Oodgeroo’s tribal home on
There is no point in trying to do things for young people … when young people come there they do it themselves. It’s most important to understand that one. I do nothing at Moongalba but welcome them in. They do their own thing there.
Then what are you hoping to see come out it?
People who have their feet firmly on the ground, who can see things straight without having to go through the shemozzle of the falseness of living up to the Smiths, the Jones, and things like that. And to come out with their feet firmly on the ground and saying ‘well I know where I’m going and what I want to do, and I know what is right and what is wrong’.
So how does Moongalba contribute towards their appreciation and understanding?
Hopefully it does contribute. I’ve always had faith in it doing so and I’ve had 13,000 children on that land in the last six years.
What do they experience while they are there? What do they do to achieve these results?
Well they get introduced to what I call the Aboriginal way of life. You know … the first thing they learn is the most important person on Moongalba. And 9 times out of 10 when they first come in, when I say ‘who is the most important person on Moongalba?’, they say ‘Kath Walker’. And I say ‘rubbish!’ ‘She is not the most important person on Moongalba’. And then this throws them for a ‘sixer’ of course, and I then I say - ‘the most important person on Moongalba is your fellow man’. ‘And your duty is to your fellow man first, yourself after.’ And that is the concept of Moongalba.
And what about the link between Moongalba and an appreciation of the environment? There is an Australian environmental awareness created through it as well, isn’t there?
Oh yes. So what we do is we teach them how to go out and hunt for their food. My grandchildren do it, my son comes back and he loves to go out hunting … in the mangroves, he loves to go out fishing, he loves to go out after the shell fish (to you people) and the crabs. And so they live off the land. And the rule in Moongalba is ‘if you go out, don’t come back empty-handed’. If you don’t catch any fish, pick up a piece of wood … we need it for the campfires. So it’s that type of logic. You must contribute. You only need one rotten apple in the barrel to turn the whole of the barrel rotten.
How do you see those environmental issues actually changing people? What’s the link between experiencing that sort of activity and …?
I don’t want to change them, they must change for themselves.