Australia’s Cultural Foundation
Australia finally acknowledges that our cultural foundations lie with the 65,000 years+ history of First Nations cultures, the oldest continuous civilisation on Planet Earth, encoded in the Songlines that criss-cross Australia and which acknowledge the immutable LAW of the interdependence of life—of all living forms, the Earth itself and the swirling solar system in the skies above us.
How do we build a cultural-knowledge bridge between this foundation and that of the British institutions encoded in the English language that have shaped modern Australia and its evolution into a multicultural nation that is welcoming a range of non-British settler migrants and refugees of varying ancestries and lineal connections?
The people with lineal connections to First Nations heritage are but 3.2 per cent of total population according to the 2021 census, which accepts the definition of First Nations identity as:
An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he (she) lives. In terms of claims under the Native Titles Act, the High Court of Australia has determined that membership of the Indigenous people depends on biological descent from the Indigenous people and on mutual recognition of a particular person’s membership by that person and by the elders or other persons enjoying traditional authority among those people.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly on the east coast of Australia where British settlement and colonisation was concentrated, carry complex lineal ancestral connections to different language groups and European ancestry. Many are the children of parents who were forcibly separated from their parents. At the time of British colonisation there were over 250 First Nations languages with over 800 dialects. Today only 100 of these survive, of which less than 20 are in daily use as a first language—predominantly in remote communities in northern and central Australia, and among Torres Strait Islander people. As language encodes culture and ways of thinking, there is now an active program to protect existing languages and revive those where possible—such as among the Wiradjuri people of western NSW. It has now become common practice for the media and the public to refer to the areas where they live as the land of its Traditional Owners and in public meetings to make an Acknowledgement of Country, paying respect to Elders past, present and emerging.
These new cultural protocols all help to connect Australians to our cultural foundations in First Nations cultures and allow this to seep into our consciousness, displacing the ‘culture of silence’ that previously privileged a view of Australia as that which proceeded from British settlement and colonisation, most notably present in the celebration of national Australia Day as that of the first British settlement, January 26 1788. Resistance to this occurs through demands to ‘change the date’ and to commemorate it as Invasion Day, rather than Australia Day.
Meeting the Challenge
Embracing Australia’s Foundational Cultural Heritage
While the Government established SBS in addition to the ABC to improve the diversity of news coverage and stories, and further established NITV to promoted Indigenous stories and news coverage, a 2020 report by SBS on ‘Who Gets to Tell Our Stories?’ found that across all media outlets 75 per cent of all presenters, commentators and reporters were from an Anglo-Celtic background, and this was 100 per cent for news directors. The cultural dominance of British and European ancestry is evident in our demographics. Fully 76 per cent of the population are from a European cultural background, of which 50 per cent are Anglo-Celtic, while only 21 per cent of the settler population are from a non-European ancestry, which includes people from Asia (Chinese, Indian, SE Asian, Nepal, Korean), the Middle East, Africa, Oceania and the Americas.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart
As our Government accepts the invitation of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart for Voice, Treaty and Truth Telling, how do we reconcile our ancient heritage with a story of multicultural Australia that embraces this heritage? This is the journey that Australia is now undertaking as we prepare for a constitutional change to the Australian Constitution to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament, to ensure that First Nations people are consulted about any policies which impact their cultural rights and integrity, with a sovereignty that co-exist with that of the Crown (the institutions of British colonisation).
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.
This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors.
This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and coexists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How do people like myself, of the dominant Anglo-Celtic cultural background, whose institutions ‘run the show’ escape the prison/prism of our own knowledge system and expand our ways of thinking to be able to truly embrace Australia’s ancient cultural heritage?
- FIRSTLY we have to understand the unique features of the knowledge systems of Australia’s First Nations cultural heritage founded on a profoundly relationist logic that recognises the interdependence of all phenomena in a thoroughly animated world in which humans are part of nature, not lords over nature, and to recognise its profound difference from the British inheritance that has shaped modern Australia.
- SECONDLY we have to reconcile with our history of colonial settlement in response to the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart – dealing with issues of sovereignty and truth telling about physical, cultural and epistemic violence visited upon First Nations people.
- THIRDLY we have to redress the impact of the extractivist logic of modern global capitalism and its imperative of continuous economic growth through technological intensification of resource extraction from the Earth’s ecosystems—resulting in carbon pollution and climate change, chemical pollution of soils, waterways and food systems, acidification of the oceans, increasing species extinctions and environmental degradation through land clearing and mining, and the rising geo-political tensions tearing apart the social fabric of societies, even the most affluent.
- FOURTHLY we have to develop an all-inclusive story that builds on the relationist logic of the eco-spiritual knowledge system of First Nations cultures to shape the story of Australia’s future as an alternative to the extractivist logic of the ideology of ‘economism’ that privileges continuous economic growth via technological innovation as that basis of human wellbeing.
The Ontological and Epistemic Challenge
I am indebted to Dr Mary Graham, a First Nations Elder from Queensland who has neatly captured this core difference between her culture and that of settler culture—the difference between a relationist ontology and an extractivist ontology in understanding where modern Western culture went down a path that has led us inexorably to our current intersecting climate, political, economic and ecological crises engulfing human societies across the world.
In one of the foundation stories of Western culture, Genesis V.1.26 in the Old Testament, God is said to have created man in his own image and given him dominion over the Earth and all its life forms. Modern eco-spiritual thinkers in Christianity, Judaism and Islam interpret this idea of ‘dominion’ as a responsibility for stewardship. Historically, however, this ‘command’ was interpreted as only humans having a mind or soul, while the rest of nature was seen as ‘brute’, devoid of spirit and soul, and therefore which humans had the moral right to exploit for their own benefit. This idea was further weaponised after the Scientific Revolution, which heralded a view of the world as an insensate mathematical machine whose laws could be known through science and used to further control and exploit nature. Thus the extractivist logic of Western culture has been underpinned by both religion and science.
When, through imperialism and colonisation, Europeans first encountered First Nations people living as subsistence gardeners and hunters and gatherers, they met a people who lived in a thoroughly animated and spiritualised world, where humans were dependent on understanding the ecological laws of nature in order to survive and thrive. Caught up in the hubris of their technological command of the forces of nature and imperial triumphalism, anthropologists, the Western scholars who sought to study such societies, decided that this form of spiritual animism was a sign of primitivism, of a people who were way behind Western civilisation on the cultural evolutionary ladder, which of course placed European culture at the top.
It drew parallels between animist spirituality with Freudian notions of psychological maturation, reinforcing the idea of ‘natives’ as ‘children’ in terms of their intellectual development. Thus the idea of totemic relationships with animals and birds as a form of a spiritual connection with the more than human world was seen as being equivalent to the young child who had not yet sufficiently separated from the mother in terms of their ego-identity. So immersed in the unexamined assumptions of their own cultural knowledge system and so desperate to prove the objective factually ‘scientific’ nature of their scholarship, such anthropologists were mostly oblivious to their role as agents of imperialist aggression and devastating epistemic violence and psychological objectification.
The psychic trauma that this sort of thinking, combined with the very real physical and legal control over them visited on First Nations people around the world, has had inter-generational repercussions that has played out in alcoholism, mental illness, high levels of suicide, and in lateral violence—whereby frustration and anger becomes turned inwards on oneself and family relationships, and feeds into the high rates of juvenile and adults incarceration of First Nations people in the Australian criminal justice system.
The anti-colonialist movement that challenged this narrative through the voices of First Nations and colonised peoples has slowly gathered enough intellectual strength to challenge the citadels of Western academia, and force a complete re-framing of the narrative. In Australia this anti-colonialist movement has been led by such intellectual leaders as Tyson Yunkaporta, Anne Poelina, Mary Graham, Margo Neale and many, many others. Their voices have been amplified through the arts—through film, music, theatre, literature and the visual arts, and through political discussions via radio, podcasts and television—the latter especially through the work of SBS and NITV. As the Blue Mountains City Council acknowledges in its commitment pledge to the Dharug and Gundungurra people of the Blue Mountains:
Despite this massive adversity [through colonisation] the story of the Traditional Owners in the Blue Mountains, like that of so many First Nations communities throughout the continent, is one of heroic resistance, survival, reawakening and reclamation of a rich inheritance and that of an unbroken and timeless connection to Ngurra.
As we non-Indigenous Australians begin this journey towards embracing this knowledge perspective of First Nations cultures, we need to be aware of the dangers of our culture merely absorbing it into its own knowledge framework. As Tyson Yunkaporta notes: “the most remarkable thing about western civilisation is its ability to absorb any object or idea, alter it, sanitise it, rebrand it and market it. Even ideas that are a threat can be co-opted and put to work.” (Sand Talk, 2019:74). In the age of entrepreneurialism, social media, marketing and Influencers, never has this been more so. Yunkaporta warns that ‘strong Indigenous voices’ need to be doing more than recounting our subjective experiences—we need to be examining the narratives of the occupying culture and challenging them with counter-narratives (ibid:133). Most importantly we have to accept and work with the strong cultural protocols that govern uses of First Nations knowledges, protocols that differ markedly from the Western system of open access to knowledge, limited only by intellectual property rights.
Archives and Knowledge Systems
Margo Neale, head of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and senior Indigenous curator and principal adviser to the Director of the National Museum of Australia, suggests we can approach this challenge through the idea of ‘archives’ of knowledge, an idea taken from her role in the museum. She calls the Songlines, the First (Master) Archive, the British-based institutions of modern Australia introduced through colonisation are the Second Archive.
Expanding the Idea of The Third Archive
She posits the Third Archive as a way that we might help modern Australians understand the First Archive by using the technologies and expertise of the Second Archive to provide exhibitions such as Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, which showed at the National Museum of Australia in 2017-18 and has since shown internationally in the UK and Germany.
I propose that we can do more with the Third Archive than explain the First Archive, using techniques from the Second Archive. I propose that we can envisage the Third Archive as a body of knowledge that draws on the knowledge principles of the First Archive to help develop a new story for modern multicultural Australia—the story of REGENESIS.
One that weaves the relationist principles of this ancient knowledge system with the regenerative movement that is transforming agriculture, economics, governance systems and society—a transformative movement that is being fostered by organisations such as the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (ALEA) and Future Dreaming Australia, through its various projects, several of which are of particular interest: Greenprints & Ecological Limits, and Earth Arts. To understand the scope visit: https://www.earthlaws.org.au/our-programs/.
The work of the AELA is closely aligned with the Blue Mountains City Council’s Planetary Health Initiative, a partnership with Western Sydney University and Monash University. Both inform the REGENESIS project, which I lead under the Blue Mountains Creative Arts Network.
The First (Master) Archive—First Nations Cultures
Josephine Mick, Seven Sisters Songline, Ninuku Arts 1994
Songlines/Songspirals—Singing Up Country
The First (Master) Archive, the First Nations knowledge systems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, has been kept alive in their Songlines and ceremonies through the arts—story telling, painting, song, music, dance, sculpture, weaving, and sculpture. At the core of First Nations knowledge systems is the idea of ‘Country’ as an all-inclusive term, recognising the interdependence of all life forms, culture, landscape, waterway, oceans, the planetary worlds of the stars and the invisible spiritual forces at work in the world. The creative power of Country has been kept alive through ‘singing it up’ through ceremony that actively creates a visceral link between the ancestral creation beings and the present moment. It is the responsibility of Knowledge Holders to continue this process of ‘singing up’ Country.
Ngurra (Country) takes in everything within the physical, cultural and spiritual landscape—landforms, waters, air, trees, rocks, plants, animals, foods, medicines, minerals, stories and special places. It includes cultural practices, kinship, knowledge, songs, stories and art, as well as spiritual beings, and people: past present and future.
Included in this idea of Country is a relationship with time that is not linear, but inclusive of past, present and future. Where the sense of time is closely aligned with the cyclical season nature of life and ecosystems in the behaviour of animals, birds, insects and plants. All this knowledge is encoded in a network of Songlines that criss-cross Australia; where different parts of the Songlines and associated ceremonies are the responsibility of different groups, as determined by their lineal ancestry.
The Gay’Wu group of women of Northeast Arnhem Land say we should rather think of Songlines as Songspirals as they are not linear but spiral in and out, infinitely connecting and remaking across time and space, with multiple layers of meaning depending on one’s spiritual maturity and rights to such knowledge. Songspirals are ancestral Law.
Songspirals are the essence of people in this land, the essence of every clan. We belong to the land and it belongs to us. We sing the land, sing about the land. We are that land. It sings to us (Songspirals: Sharing women’s wisdom of Country through songlines, 2019).
The women of Northeast Arnhem Land say ‘Country’ is the way humans and non-humans co-become, the way we emerge together, have always emerged together and will always emerge together. It is all the feelings, the songs and ceremonies, the things we cannot understand and cannot touch, the things that go beyond us, that anchor us in eternity, in the infinite cycles of kinship, sharing a responsibility . . . It is the messages, languages and communication from all beings to all beings. Country is the songspirals (p.XXII).
Underpinning this way of thinking is the role of the immutable LAW/Lore of the ancestral creation beings, which is to say it is based on what we modern people would say are the immutable laws of ecological interdependence that describe the nature of Planet Earth. These are not the human-made laws of nation states and their legal systems that have co-evolved in the British system as the intersection between politics and economics.
Thus the work for non-Indigenous people in claiming our Australian identity as founded in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures is deeply political. It necessarily challenges some of the fundamental ideas by which we have made sense of our world with a new set of principles:
- The archiving of knowledge in oral culture and songlines, with multiple levels of meaning held in trust by Elders who determine access based on the qualities of the recipient of such knowledge, rather than in written texts available to all who can read. Thus some knowledge is sacred-secret.
- The gendered nature of First Nations knowledge with a separation between men’s ‘business’ and women’s ‘business’.
- The importance of place and detailed local knowledge versus the strong tendency in the Western knowledge system for subsuming experience and observation into abstract classification categories in search of universal ideas and principles—so that the ‘map’ is frequently taken to be the actual ‘territory’.
- The integrated nature of First Nations knowledge systems in which the idea of Country encompasses what are known as the humanities, sciences, astronomy, arts, law, religion and mythology and which offer a counter to the strong tendency to subject matter compartmentalisation in the Western knowledge system that thus obscures interdependencies.
- The role of the arts as a knowledge system through songlines and ceremony in keeping First Nations knowledge systems alive as a living breathing presence in the landscape that connects ecological knowledge with that of ancestral creation stories, spiritual powers and obligations under immutable ancestral Law/lore.
- An experience of all of the natural world as animated and interdependent where each have their own voices and ‘rights’, and where deep spiritual connections are developed through different songlines and totemic relationships—where humans are equal with all things animate and inanimate.
- Connection to Country as core to identity and psychological health, and which is held through lineal ancestry and place of birth.
- A complex kinship system that determines intergenerational relationships, behaviours and rights where ‘everything and everyone is related and connected to everything else’, mirroring the actual interdependencies of our planetary ecosystem.
- The role of Elders as knowledge holders and Law men and Law women who determine the rights of access to different levels of knowledge through the Songlines and associated ceremony, which hold multiple levels of meanings.
- A sense of time that is non-linear, folding past, present and future into an ever-present expression of connections, translated inadequately using the English word ‘Dreaming/Dreamtime’, which by way of an ironic explanation of the difference in thinking, and the time-space continuum, Tyson Yunkaporta translates as ‘supra-rational interdimensional ontology endogenous to custodial ritual complexes’.
The Second Archive—The British Western Inheritance
The Second Archive is that of the European knowledge system and its institutions that came with British colonisation and settlement after 1788, at a time when European culture was being radically transformed by the scientific-industrial revolution and development of the capitalist mode of production, linked to ideas of individualism, liberal-democracy, and legally protected private property. We are all intimately familiar with the Second Archive as it is the prism through which we see and judge the world around us, included the contested ideas that are part of its so-called liberal tradition—the separation of powers between the political and legal apparatus of governance, the freedom of the press, ideas of a secular parliamentary representative democracy, a legal system that is based on laws and rules of evidence, freedom of speech and religion, and legislated control over the means of force, vested in the police and armed services under the authority of the political system.
The story underpinning the Second Archive is one of European cultural superiority as is evidenced by their scientific and technological mastery, material wealth in goods and services and global reach, and military power through advanced weaponry and military strategy. First expressed globally through imperialism under British dominance, it was then expressed through USA economic, technological and political dominance as the world’s major super power following the implosion of the USSR as a competitive force. The cultural story of the Second Archive is framed around the superiority of liberal democracy as a political system, free-market capitalism as an economic system, individualism as a social system and the glorification of celebrity and wealth as a values system.
The clash between the assumptions of the Second Archive and that of the First Archive explains the failure of the ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy adopted in 2008 to improve the living conditions of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly in remote and very remote communities, and in places like the Northern Territory where Indigenous people comprise 30 per cent of the population, and where English is spoken as a third or fourth language by many remote communities.
Closing the Gap was framed in terms of the Second Archive and managed by a bureaucratic system of expertise based on its assumptions.
The failure to achieve significant improvements across the Closing the Gap socio-economic targets has forced a radical re-think, finally acknowledging that any progress must depend on a new National Agreement between the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations and all Australian Governments that allows for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to shape the policies that are intended to improve their lives—an imperative that lies at the heart of the call for a Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
The framing of the Closing the Gap strategy and its implementation lies at the heart of the current contest of ideas between those who wish to implement the full demands of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including changes to the Australian Constitution to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Parliament, and those who argue that the focus should be on ‘practical’ measures related to educational and economic outcomes, and issues such as child protection and reductions in family violence.
In this reading that treats the Second Archive as the only valid knowledge system, changes to the Constitution acknowledging the special status of First Nations people is viewed as racist and unwarranted in a multicultural Australia.
This is the viewpoint currently being championed by two leading Aboriginal political conservatives, Senator Jacinta Price and businessman, Warren Mundine. Both are connected to the conservative policy think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), and active on Sky After Dark, the Sky News channel devoted to championing right-wing conservative ideas and continuing the culture wars in defence of the British heritage through the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program.
The Third Archive
Understanding First Nations Cultures through the Arts
As part of the ‘Alive with the Dreaming’ initiative, the 2017 ground-breaking exhibition, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters showcases five Indigenous Songlines from Australia’s Western and Central Deserts, using over 300 paintings and photographs, objects, songs, dance and multimedia to narrate the story of the Seven Sisters and their creation of the continent as they travelled from west to east. Mapped in the star constellation of the night sky, the Seven Sisters equates to the Pleiades constellation in the Western knowledge system, the naming of which originates with the Greeks. Neale explains how using the Master Archive of First Nations knowledge systems from which Indigenous people draw their power, and the introduced Second Archive of British knowledge systems that have shaped modern Australia, the Songlines exhibition project conceptualised a new, hybrid Third Archive to demonstrate how Indigenous and Western knowledge systems can be integrated for a more profound understanding of our shared cultural and natural environment. In line with the protocols that govern Aboriginal culture, the exhibition was developed with the guidance of an indigenous curatorium consisting of senior Aboriginal elders and experts of the APY Law and Culture Council, including the NPY Women’s Council. The purpose was to find new ways of mending broken songlines and commemorating them in new spaces such as the National Museum of Australia—harnessing the power and insights of ancient stories with the capacity of new technologies to make them available to contemporary Australian audiences in the city.
Papulankutja Tjanpi Desert Weaver artists with their woven life-sized tjanpi (grass) sculptures of the Seven Sisters
I was one of the thousands of people who had the great good fortune to visit this ground-breaking immersive exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in January 2018. It has since toured internationally to the UK and Germany.
The Seven Sisters Songline exhibition was conceived within the Anangu (Central Australian) paradigm, whereby Aboriginal knowledge holders proactively engaged in a range of preservation and repatriation exercises for their future generations, working with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal expertise. Margo Neale discusses how collectively, Anangu and Western scholars used their particular skills to track and record the seven Sisters songlines cartographically, archaeologically, ecologically, visually and performatively across three states and deserts (more than 7000 kilometres in length and 600,000 square kilometres in area) in the Anangu Pijanjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (APY), the Ngaanyatjarra and Martu lands—correlating with the way desert people know their Country.
The immersive nature of the exhibition combined elements of story telling, paintings, photography, sculpture, soundscapes and explanations given in the voices of Aboriginal elders. Drawing on emerging technologies developed by Saah Kendrdine and her team at UNSW, the exhibition included a six-metre dome, allowing visitors to have the visceral experience of being transported to Walinynga where the Seven Sisters story is played out in 360-degree vision as if standing beneath the rock art of which is probably the only known rock art site to depict the Seven Sisters. A time-lapsed transit of the night sky is juxtaposed with the earthly activities of the Seven Sisters animated with digital representations of them as life-sized woven figures made by Aboriginal desert artists, to create a space where the ancient and the contemporary are indivisible
As the museum notes, this exhibition tells an ancient creation saga of the Australian desert. It is an Indigenous Australian narrative, and a global story, the equal of great oral storytelling traditions and epic poems throughout history, such as those that informed the acclaimed Lord of the Rings film trilogy based on the writings of J.R.R.Tolkien, and epic poems found in most oral cultures, such as Gilgamesh in Sumerian culture, Beowulf in ancient Anglo-Saxon culture, Mahabharata and Ramayana in Indian culture, the Iliad and Odyssey in Greek culture and the King Gesar legend in Tibetan culture which is regarded as the longest extant epic poem still sung to this day.
The Extensive Role of Contemporary Arts in the Third Archive
This notion of a Third Archive also informs the role of film, music and the performing arts in harnessing modern ‘Western’ technologies and skills to explore and explain the world views and experiences of Australia’s Indigenous peoples in both their traditional and contemporary contexts. Out of all proportion to their demographics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creative dominate the contemporary Australian cultural landscape—from the global success of the Bangarra Dance Theatre Company and Tjapukai Dance Theatre in Cairns to the international reputation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual artists held in collections in major public and private galleries throughout the world. These include the famous dot-painting style of the western and central desert, bark painting from the Northern Territory, mask and sculptural forms in weaving, ceramics and wood carving involving the Torres Straits and a growing body of work of contemporary urban Aboriginal and Torres Straits artists.
Suspended Coolabah in Sydney Festival Barangaroo Event
Live theatre has also played a significant role in this Third Archive, featuring First Nations playwrights, actors, theatre directors and festival directors. A leading figure is Wesley Enoch who has been artistic director of Queensland Theatre and Director of the Sydney Festival, where he created a significant focus on First Nations with the installation and performance at Barangaroo. Leading actors include the late Uncle Jack Charles and David Gulpilil, Deborah Mailman, Aaron Pedersen, Hunter Page-Lochard, Leah Purcell, Rhoda Roberts, Justine Sanders, and many others.
Film has made a significant contribution to influence of Aboriginal creative and their storytelling through a series of films and documentaries by First Nations filmmakers and actors and non-Indigenous collaborators that have told the story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait island people’s lives and their connection to Country. Significant films include Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) by Phil Noyce that connected audiences to the experience of the Stolen Generation; Radiance (1998) by Rachel Perkins, Beneath Clouds (2002) by Ivan Sen, Samson and Delilah (2009) by Warwick Thornton, The Sapphires (20120 by Wayne Blair, and a series of films by Rolf de Heer made with the outstanding actor, David Gulpilip—The Tracker (2002), Ten Canoes, (2006) and Charlie’s Country, (2013). Two other major contributions are Mystery Road (2013) and Goldstone (2016) by Ivan Sen, and their television series spin off and prequel (2018-2021), and the television series, Cleverman (2016) based on an original idea by Ryan Griffen and developed by Jon Bell and others, which draws on the role of ‘clevermen’ as healers and sacred knowledge holders harnessing spiritual powers in traditional Aboriginal culture.
Finally music in all its forms is a pervasive and important field for the Third Archive. Ever since the 18th-century European colonisation of Australia began, Indigenous Australian musicians and performers have adopted and interpreted many of the imported Western musical styles, often informed by and in combination with traditional instruments such as the yidaki (didgeridoo), clapsticks, bullroarer and sensibilities. Similarly, non-Indigenous artists and performers have adapted, used and sampled Indigenous Australian styles and instruments in their works. Contemporary musical styles such as rock and roll, country, rap, hip hop and reggae have all featured a variety of notable Indigenous Australian performers. The documentary, book and soundtrack, Buried Country showcases significant Indigenous musicians from the 1940s to the 1990s.
Those who have enjoyed national and international success include the Yothu Yindi, Archie Roach, Kev Carmody, Troy Cassar-Daley, Jessica Mauboy, Gurramul Hunupingu, Christine Anu, Baker Boy, Moju Juju and new groups such as King Stingray and Electric Fields. Others have taken First Nations music into contemporary classical music and opera, with such well known singers as Debra Cheetham and composers, Eric Avery, William Barton, Christopher Sainsbury and the late Stephen Page of Bangarra Theatre Company.
Weaving the Ancient and the New
Building the Third Archive involves taking this extraordinary creative contribution from First Nations artists, musicians and filmmakers and marrying it with the work of REGENESIS as we tell a new story about Australia’s future.
The contribution of the Arts has shown the way. Now we must link this with a journey non-indigenous Australians are making together with First Nations leaders through the work of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance and Future Dreaming Australia.
It is a story that takes us beyond the jobs and growth mantra of Australia as a ‘Renewable Energy Superpower’ to Australia as home to a Regenerative Society. Yes powered by renewable energy, but no longer driven by the ideology of ‘economism’— the imperative of continuous economic growth at all costs. We are moving from the idea of resilience in the face of climate change and economic insecurity, to one of regeneration—creating a new ontology and epistemology built on the principles of total systems ecological awareness in all its multiple meanings, including our spiritual relationships with one another and all life forms.
One that is no longer anchored in the unravelling narratives of extractivist logic that have shaped the Second Archive, as illustrated in this image of the White House, the symbol of US global capitalist ascendency falling apart to allow new green shoots of a grassroots Regenerative Ascendency to flourish in the cracks of its dissolution. This is the alternative story to one of turning away from liberal democracy to authoritarian nation states—whether those ideological foundations are rightwing populism, theocratic authoritarianism, or the state-based authoritarianism aligned with capitalism playing out in China and Russia.