LYDIA FAIRHALL: So just so you know Bruce, my background, my mum’s homeland is a little place called Karuah just north of Sydney. So we’re Worimi Gamipingal mob.
BRUCE PASCOE: Oh yeah.
And have lived off country for the last three generations. So my great grandmother married an Indian fella and they ended up working the railway lines. Living in tents, moving up and down that east coast. A lot of the usual story. The displacement, disconnection. All of those things. But I’m very grateful to my mum and my uncle in particular for bringing us home.
I’m in the same position. A few people in the family gave me the support and information when others in the family weren’t so forthcoming.
It’s tough isn’t it? But I think it’s always good to connect with where you’re from, who your people are. ’Cause you’re Bunurong and Yuin. Is that right?
Yeah. I was born on Bunurong country. Lived on Yuin land. But we’ve also got that Tasmanian connection, also a South Australian connection as well. You start following the family line and it spreads out around you.
[Laughs]. And once you turn that light on it never goes off, does it?
No, no. You can’t go anywhere. Because everyone knows you some way or another.
Yep. Well Bruce, I’ve been reading some of the interviews that you’ve done in the past, and lots of your writing. And you talk about Acknowledging Country as being good for your health. So even though we’re on the phone, maybe we start our yarn today by each Acknowledging the Country that we’re on.
Yeah. Well I’m on the very southern end of Yuin land. I’m looking, as we talk, down over the Wallagaraugh River. This river reaches right into New South Wales. It links up with other rivers that reach right up to the foot of Kosciuszko and they’re really important spiritual sites for our people. But also incredibly beautiful. There’s just water all around me. Even though we’re not on the sea, this is salt water here and it just snakes all round, all over you, over the land here. It’s real Rainbow Serpent country.
So is that saltwater river country?
Yeah. The sea’s not very far away. But the river winds its way slowly down to the sea.
Wow. Well my mob is from the mouth of the river. So saltwater river country.
What river is that?
Karuah. So Port Stephens.
Oh gee. You are on a lot of water there.
Yes! All dolphin dreaming. And we would go into the mountains for winter ’cause there’s a bit more food and stuff during the colder weather. But these massive, massive sand dunes were the sites for all of our ceremony and business. Right now I am on Wurundjeri country here on the Kulin Nations. And I feel very blessed to live here. And I always think in Melbourne what it must be like being a Traditional Owner of such a big city! And we look around and see all of these houses and cars and skyscrapers, but this is still somebody’s homeland.
Yeah, well like I said I was born on Bunurong country. Most of my family was too. But it was more or less an accident because our people came from other places. That corridor of land that goes from Wilson’s Promontory right around Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay down to Werribee River is all Bunurong land. I don’t think people really acknowledge that as much as they should because that corridor was really so important spiritually and economically. And Bunurong and Wurundjeri ought to get along really well because they were always cousins. You know, all Kulin people are cousins. One of the things I find really difficult in Aboriginal life is how easily we get to argue with each other. And it’s not the way it used to be. Native title is the most insidious thing. If you wanted to design a thing to disrupt community you couldn’t design it better than native title. We ought to take control of that. Our people ought to take control and just say, “No, we’re not going to do it like this. We are not going to have sister fight sister and brother fight brother.” ’Cause that’s what’s happening now. Because it’s such a small pool of money, it can’t be divided satisfactorily. And we just have to start designing our own system. A system that the Old People would be proud of, not ashamed of.
I’m a songwriter and I’ve just finished recording some stuff for a new album. And one of the songs on there is called, “The Smaller the Feed, the Bigger the Shitfight.”
Yeah. That’s exactly right.
[Laughs]. And this is one of the ultimate tactics, right? To divide people. And we’re buying into it and it’s devastating because ultimately, like you said, there’s not enough resources to go around.
And that’s the way they get the best result—to make sure there aren’t enough resources so that we will then tear each other apart.
And this is not the way of our Old People. These are the things that keep me up at night the most. How do we acknowledge that resistance is a part of a daily life for us? But also acknowledge that there is a place and time to connect back and move beyond colonisation towards consciousness. And nurturing each other. And nurturing is a form of resistance in itself.
Well you mentioned it before, that you’ve got dolphin dreaming at your base. And the community that I belong to, part of Yuin community, we’ve been connecting up all the old whale stories. Which are also dolphin and shark stories. That whole dreaming is a dreaming of peace. And the reason that we’re doing it is it’s just naturally interesting to know about your culture obviously. But also because it’s a way of bringing our people together again. So we’ve put a lot of work into the whale’s story and its cousins, the shark and the dolphin and the dugong. All of those beasts are part of us. And when we start talking to people you can see how it binds us together. I was in South Australia just the other day and people were talking about whether the whale beached itself on the eastern side of the river. Well, they always do. It’s part of their Lore. And once we started talking about that, you could see that any negotiation we had from then on would be by whale. That’s the way we work. That’s the way the Old People designed it so that we’ve always had more in common than not. When we fight, it’s typically over some kind of Western system.
And those songlines are so important. We each hold a tiny piece of a bigger story. Without each other, there is no unity or community or connection. It’s all very fragmented. And when you’re dealing with 700 language groups, it gets tough when you try to do that within a Western context. But you’re right. Going back to those old ways is the point of power.