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Under the shadow of the Black Knight Pt 6: vegetation and water
Title : Under the shadow of the Black Knight Pt 6: vegetation and water Under the shadow of the Black Knight Pt 6: vegetation and water
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Creator : Taylor, Isabel J Dingaman
Place Of Creation : SA
Date of creation : 2008
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During many of our travels throughout my childhood, I was taught by my Mum, aunties and grandmothers, the do's and don'ts of traditional marriage laws, the little secrets of searching and finding bush tucker. I was also taught how to avoid the poisonous plants and anything that looked like bush tucker but really wasn't, how to find medicine bushes and how to use them. They also taught me how to track small lizards, how to know exactly where they would be hiding, and how to dig them out.

My Mum was the one who showed me a certain prickly flower bush and how to take out the prickly bud before it bloomed, and how to burn it and use it to make tattoo marks on our arms; she said this is an initiation rite that all women have to go through. She said the tattoo would last forever if it is done right. She had a whole row of tattoos on both her arms, as did all the other women in the family and most women from other tribes as well - it was a very important part of traditional law and customs. This ritual does not however, make one automatically a part of another tribe;that privilege is restricted solely to one by birthright, as is the custom of Kokatha Law. The same applies to the male gender of aboriginal law. I think I would probably still be able to find that bush today, because it is one that I grew up with all around me, it still grows most everywhere as far as I know.

My Dad however, taught me about the sacredness and importance of water, because he was the keeper of that particular area. He always began the teaching as we travelled between Andamooka Opal Fields, Roxby Downs Station and Woomera, because this is where all the 'green', spots were. He always got all us kids together in the big old green Buckboard truck. I always stood next to him as he drove. The gearsticks were almost as tall as myself, and I mastered the art of moving and shifting in motion with Dad's changing of the gearsticks - it was quite funny.

Dad taught all us kids together, but I will just tell my side of the story. The green spots started to show just before Roxby Downs station and before Woomera, so it was in that part of the country where it was flat and very dry and arid looking. The strangers (whitefellas) called it the 'wastelands', but it was no wasteland to me and my family. Dad always started by saying 'you are the water girl now, so you have to watch out for the green spot'. So as he drove, I kept a look out, and my eyes rolled over the dry dusty countryside, the shales and shales of flat small and large rocks laying everywhere like they were laid out in a very professional way by some paver. Then there were the wildflowers, the pretty pale yellow and white paper like billy buttons and the two toned purple pea flower. Whenever I saw the flowers I would yell at Dad to let me pick them and he would pull up and let us kids go mad picking flowers. After satisfying our hunger for flower picking, we would run to Mum and all the other family members and hand them bunches of wild flowers, the gooroo burlga's (Sturt peas) or big black eyes were every where, and the reds, purples, greens, two tones yellows and purples were just an amazing sea of pleasure and happiness to a little girl. These wonderful pictures of my country will stay with me, forever, like a photgraph that will never fade away.

Then it was time to get back to being the water girl again, and as we moved off slowy, the scenery slowly began to change from pretty coloured wildflowers to a dry rocky dusty country side again. Then suddenly I saw the tall yellow stalks of canegrass first and I knew that we were getting close to the green spots. Soon, there it was, and we all yelled out 'gubbi, gubbi, green spot, green spot!'. Dad would make a big issue out of it and pretend to miss it and keep driving, and we were all yelling at him to stop. Finally he would pull up and turn around and drive right up to the green spot. Jumping down out of the truck, I would run and try to part the green cane grass, which was taller than myself, to peer into the middle. I was to learn a lesson that would make me a lot more careful in the future. The pretty looking green cane grass was sharp as a razor blade, and cut deep into my hands and face; of course, that started a row between my parents, I was always causing some kind of row over something between my parents. Anyway, all was well and I was all wrapped up with torn pieces of old sheets or something, and made to feel special. Finally, Dad used a shovel to hold down the sharp grass and stepped onto it to hold it down, as he held me and showed me the water in the middle. Of course all the other kids had already had their fun, and they were off checking other green spots.

Dad knelt down, and sat me on his leg and said 'Ssh, look and listen to the water, it will talk to you in a minute', as I stared into the muddy puddle, I saw the water bubble and it sounded like water just starting to boil in a kettle. Then there was a slight pop, and some water splashed onto my face making me jump. I looked at dad, and said, 'it said poop to me". He put me on the ground and said 'you are standing on top of a big water hole. I looked at my bandaged bare feet in the dry dusty sand and said 'no I'm not', laughing. Then he said, 'that is your water to look after and keep clean for all the other old people and kids who will come after we have travelled on'. Only today, am I understanding the significance of those words that my ole Daddy said to me a long time ago.

Then he went on to say that all the green spots are the taps where the water comes out from underneath the ground for us to have a drink and a wash. The old people always told us kids to clean out all the stones and other rubbish after we have had our fill and washed up, that we must always leave the green spots clean for the next lot of old people who will travel this way after us. Before we leave, the old men would dig up some of the sweet white juicy roots of the cane grass. In this way, they are also pruning or cutting back the grass, so that access to the water is always easy. As we travel along, we chew the sweet juicy root and suck on the moisture; it is a very restful quiet pastime after all the hustle and bustle of the day.

Today, I look back and reflect on everything that I learnt from the old people, and I read about the Great Artesian Basin, and wonder how the old people knew about the 'gubbi Boorlga' (big water) underneath the ground. This was the sacred water that my father taught me about, and this was the water that Aboriginal people drank and bathed in. It was, and still is, sacred water, because it was the life blood of Aboriginal people for hundred and thousands of years, and today it is still sacred, because it is the life blood of all humans, regardless of creed or colour. The old people, the teachers from time, my old people knew the water was there, long before it was given the name, The Great Artesian Basin, (Gubbi Piti Boorlga), big water in a hole. The old people knew that the water travelled from a great distance under the ground to get to the top, and when it did it exploded and created the green spots. Dad said these green spots are like taps, where the water is released after hundreds of years under the ground, sort of like the release valves on gas pipes.

Throughout my childhood, I watched my parents, grandparents and aunties and uncles clean and take care of the green spots, because they felt sorry for all the other old people who came after, and because they had a deep love and concern for their people and country. Today, I don't travel there anymore. Firstly, because all my old people are gone, and it would not be appropriate for me to go there because it is overrun with strangers who don't know where and couldn't care less about the green spots. Secondly, the country has been poisoned off by bombs and our sacred sites have been destroyed by government and mining companies. Thirdly, I want to keep the good memories that I have in the archives of my heart and mind, and it is from those memories that I get all the information that I need. These good and wonderful memories of my childhood, both good and bad have shaped my life, and it is from the security of my home and public library, that I continue to fight for the green spots that would all soon disappear once the expansion of the Uranium mine at Olympic Dam begins. It is still my job to protect and keep the water clean and fresh for all the younger generations who will come after I have travelled on, but what chance does a bare footed little black Kokatha girl stand, when the opposition are giants like BHPB, Western Mining Company and Rio Tinto, except to tell her story and hope for the best.

Place : Roxby Downs Station and Woomera in SA
Further reading :

Low, Tim Bush tucker: Australia's wild food harvest North Ryde, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson, 1989

Flora of South Australia / J.P. Jessop and H.R. Toelken, editors. 4th ed. Adelaide: South Australian Government Printing Division, 1986

Sveiby, Karl Erik Treading lightly: the hidden wisdom of the world's oldest people / Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2006

The story behind the landscape / G.W. Krieg ... [et al.] Lake Eyre South monograph series; vol. 5 Adelaide: Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, 2000

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