I am keenly aware that no Aboriginal group or nation ever ceded it’s land to the colonisers. So those of us living in Australia are all living on stolen land. There is a lot of unfinished business that needs to be resolved, starting with negotiating a meaningful treaty between First Nations and the rest of the people living on this continent.
For a long time, indigenous people and traditions were white washed out of mainstream narratives about the mountains. As traditional owner groups reassert their connection to Country, that is slowly changing, and we can see it across the Alps. The first Aboriginal person I knew who had a strong connection to the mountains was Eddie Kneebone, who I met through our campaign work in north east Victoria in the 1990s. He had an astonishing depth of knowledge. He was instrumental in the campaign to have the Niggerheads on the Bogong High Plains renamed. It got me thinking about the power of language and names.
Recently I was looking for an indigenous name for Mt Feathertop. I couldn’t find one. While public awareness of the traditional name for Mt Bogong is growing, there are vast gaps in the knowledge base that we hold about names. In the Waywurru and Dhudhuroa languages, Mt Bogong is named Warkwoolowler, meaning the mountain where Aboriginal people collected the Bogong Moths. (source). I hope that, over time more places will receive formal dual naming as has happened with The Grampians/ Gariwerd in the west of the state.
Despite massacres and dispossession after the arrival of Europeans, many First Nations people managed to hold connection to the high country, and communities are reasserting that connection now. The Victorian government’s Right People for Country program is assisting First Nations to identify the boundaries of their country. Because so many nations shared the Alps, there was also shared country, and in recent years, traditional owners across the state have been discussing where each nation ends and what areas are shared.
The Gunaikurnai and Taungurung Traditional Owner groups have connection to the Victorian Alps over thousands of generations, and in recent years they have sought support from the Victorian government’s Right People for Country program to help clarify the boundaries between their respective countries.
Other groups are also reasserting their connection.
As non indigenous people, the least we can do is support this process however we can. One small way to do this is to support efforts to use dual naming for places in the landscape where traditional names are still known.
In future, Mountain Journal will make an effort to identify the traditional name for places named on the website.
Because mountain areas are often shared country, there are often several names for the same feature, so this will be a complex and, at times, fraught process. But that’s OK. There have been disagreements about the renamed ‘Niggerheads’. And in the Snowy Mountains there is a process underway at present which is seeking to identify a traditional name for Mt Kosciuszko which is acceptable to all Monaro-Ngarigo People.
In other places it will be fairly easy. For instance, in lutruwita (Tasmania), there are already 14 official Aboriginal or dual names in the state. These names are in palawa kani, the revived language of Tasmanian Aborigines. (Although this article covers some of the difficulties in reconstructing language, and this one covers some of the politics of aiming for dual naming).
I look forward to us all deepening our connections to the Australian mountains as we learn more from First Nations people.