On Sunday the fifth of August I took a walk with Uncle Max Dulumunmun, an elder of the Yuin tribe, at Bundeena south of Sydney. About twenty-eight of us were there to learn from him and get a sense of what this stunningly beautiful spot may have meant to the first Australians. It is just inside Port Hacking, with Cronulla just across the water and the city towers floating in the distance like a film set. I have been on a number of culture days with Uncle Max. He is a bridge between whitefella and blackfella.
We walked down to a beach. An interpretive sign said that we were on Tharawal country and the name given to the area was Jibbon. The Tharawal would have had this harbour and the river to fish in. An observer with the First Fleet described the dexterity with which Bennelong’s wife would fish from a canoe in Sydney harbour. She would have a fire going in the canoe and cook the fish as she went.
Up the beach, Uncle Max showed us the remains of shells poking from the sand. This was a place for eating shellfish, but not just any shellfish. He explained that a group would study the shells left behind in the midden by a previous group, and avoid collecting that particular food resource. In this way, ‘Jibbon’ and all its diversity was cared for.
A few watercraft were anchored in the bay; we walked along the beach and up onto the headland. There was a watercourse there, where Dulumunmun continued his teaching about respect. He always tells us that we must ask for permission before using a plant or picking a fruit, and I have adopted this practice in my garden at home. It’s quite interesting asking the mandarin tree whether it is ready to give up its fruit. If it isn’t ready to let go, the peel tears around the ‘bellybutton’ of the mandarin, so then it must be eaten straight away. We sat in the sun while he showed, with the help of Lee and Mel, how to respectfully gather water. I didn’t quite understand some aspects.
A pile of dead wood was another reason to pause and really think. “What do you call this?” , Uncle Max asked. “Dead branches, ” I answered. Wrong! They have stored in them all the energy that Grandfather sun once poured into them. I love his teaching about Grandfather. Once, at Kodoji, we all went out into the morning sun with him, faced Grandfather sun and expressed gratitude for our life, for life. This is a wonderful practice to do every day - and especially if you’re feeling sour and bitter about something. For a while I practiced it every morning. And later on, walking out at Mt. Bindo which is a very high place in Gundungurra country, I wrote this:
A lick of orange
from grandfather sun
on the dozing mountain
Some places, Uncle Max said, should be left untouched. Yes. Just left alone to unfold the way they’re going to, and not seen through the prism of utility. We walked on up the headland into the bush and he led us to a very large sandstone rock shelf. I found axe grinding grooves there, with another faint marking which seemed symbolic but may have been nothing. But the main engravings which he showed us were a great variety - sea creatures, beings, kangaroos. There are hundreds of rock drawings like this, right across the Sydney basin, he said. In the Royal National park, where we were, many of them are buried under plants. We went to a stingray. The way it was aligned showed that it had come from Port Hacking and it was making its journey in a southeasterly direction. There was also a jellyfish and an orca. Uncle Max referred to humans’ relationship with orcas ( he called them ‘mooji’), similiar to man and dog. The mooji would round up whales and bring them into shallow waters where aboriginal people could then spear them. I have heard of this happening in Eden, NSW.
Do you see the fin at the top of this mooji? There appeared to be at least two whales here, two stone whales. One of them had a hairbelt around his middle. This makes it related to us, to humans, since this was a decoration of Aboriginal people. And beside it was a dillybag. That whale also was heading out to sea, to the south-east and perhaps Tasmania? I’ve walked with Uncle Max elsewhere in the Royal, seen another whale like this with a hairbelt. Uncle Max said then that whales regurgitate the law for humans, when they beach. I do not understand this.
When the whaling ship Britannia neared Sydney harbour in 1791, this is what the captain, Thomas Melville saw:
''Within three leagues of the shore, we saw sperm whales in great plenty. We sailed through different shoals of them from 12 o'clock in the day till sunset, all round the horizon as far as I could see from the masthead.” He wrote this letter to his company in England. He wrote, “ In fact, I saw very great prospects in making our fishery upon this coast and establishing a fishery here.'' The whaling industry did establish itself in Sydney and within a decade or two, decimated the right whale population. It then switched attention to the humpback. Within three decades the industry was nearly finished.
We stopped for lunch on this rock. I was a bit bothered that some people did not heed where their feet were treading, and added a little bit of wear to the engravings by standing on them. This is not a good thing to do, as these carvings are no longer being renewed in the old way, where they received TLC when people gathered near them for story and ceremony.
When we walked back along the beach, there were more boats in the bay. Two little figures sat high up on a top deck, masters of their conveyance.
We went next to the Burnum Burnum reserve on the Woronora river. Near the entrance to the park is a plaque, and on it is his declaration which he made in 1988, on the cliffs of Dover. It begins:
“I, Burnum Burnum of the Wurundjeri Tribe, do hereby take possession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal Crown of Australia.…”
And so it goes on, in conqueror style.
Uncle Max took us to the grandmother trees - angophoras. Because these trees guard or mark birthing rocks, they are womens’ places and therefore are not his business. I like this idea of ‘grandmother’ and ‘grandfather’ - to think that they are my ancestors, they are related to my being. It is true on a level other than the literal.
If you’d like to see Lee Nutter’s photos of Uncle Max, there are 8 on his Flickr website:
Dulumunmun is leading another walk soon.
SUNDAY 28th October…. From 9.30am till 3.30pm in KURINGAI NATIONAL PARK
Bookings now are open for this. Limited numbers.Cost $90
You can contact Caroline Josephs for all the details on :firstname.lastname@example.org
Get in quick because this walk may book out. A group of us walked up Gulaga, on the south coast, with Uncle Max some years ago. I wrote this, using the Gundungurra word for "wedgetail eagle':
drawing sky circles
above the farmlands