‘We were happy there’

By JONATHON DALY

               The

            Waakal

   was in that water

   He was the spiritual

               creator.

                        Religion spirituality and culture,

                                       we respect that and throw

                                                                 sand in the water.

                                                                      We respect the sacred one.

                                                                      We had religion here long

                                         before Captain Cook and the colonisers,

                             we had it for thousands of years.

                   In them trees,

                            in that swamp,

                                       all around it was there.

                            We don’t own the land

                                    the land owns us.

                                                   The land is

                                                                   our

                                                                     mother.

 

 Ben Taylor - Cuiermara
Cuiermara, Ben Taylor                                     Photo by: Ingrid Cumming

Noongar Yued Elder Ben, Cuiermara, Taylor sits on his favourite lime green lounge chair in his East Perth flat.

An acoustic guitar sits in the corner and pictures hang from each wall.

One is of Taylor with with his arm around his daughter, another is of him with a group of painted boys, proudly holding didgeridoos. But a black and white photo of a young, smiling Noongar boy in a crisp, white uniform catches my eye.

“Cuiermara is my proper name,” he says.

Taylor fixes his glasses on his nose and looks at me with curiousity or suspicion, I’m not quite sure.

I ask if I can make myself a cup of tea. “As long as you make me one,” he says.

Taylor doesn’t put up with much nonsense. His voice carries authority from a long life, and a faded skull tattoo reveals itself from beneath his sleeve.

IMG_1048“My grandmother, in 1940s, used to take us down to Moore River and talk to the spirits. They are all there,” he says.

“She is calling spirits, next thing you can hear sticks cracking and everything, I am talking about 1943 when I was a boy.

“That’s why I protest at that Beeliar [wetlands] there. Warra [no good]. Those animals have kept things alive there for thousands of years. You destroy that, you destroy the spirits again. They’re the spirits that have come back in the form of those animals of our dream time people.”

Taylor says there were a lot of camps in the wetlands at a time when Noongars were subjected to segregation and discrimination. “You know it was a racist state. We were out of sight, out of mind,” he says.

“When I was a kid we was camped near Fremantle Cemetery and we used to get our water from there.” He says his family lived off the wetlands. “Dad used to go down, show respect to that wetland.

IMG_7756“We were happy there. We shared our last bit of damper, kangaroo and turtle and everything. Gilgie and different other food grew along there,” he says. “I remember it as a kid in 1940s we had a possum back at the camp and there were turkeys getting around, and cockatoos.”

When I ask what Noongars traditionally used the Beeliar wetlands for, Taylor turns quiet and pensive, taking a slow sip at his black tea.

“There was men’s business. There was corroborees,” he replies. He is reluctant to go into detail.

To him, not all stories are meant for wadjelas.

Photo of Ben Taylor sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 Licence

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