When my Dad was little, Burriwi, the emu, was common all around this area, and an important food source for Bama. Its meat was highly valued for its oils, so it was always given to the Elders first before being shared amongst the clan. The eggs were also eaten, and the oil used to rub on the skin and ease muscular aches and pains. You didn't go out to hunt emu - you had to wait until you stumbled upon one. Then you had to know the tricks to lure him towards you until he was close enough to catch with spears, clubs and boomerangs.
When we got guns, hunting Burriwi became much easier. I was born into a house with guns. In our ignorance, we used to shoot at anything and everything - especially birds and animals. If they weren't around, then we'd shoot at trees. It was a 'game' that everyone played, until we gave our guns back under the Buy-Back Scheme, initiated by the government in 1996 in response to the horrific Port Arthur massacre. I gave back six guns, and most people in Hope Vale handed back all theirs too.
But for Burriwi it was too late. He had already disappeared from our landscape. The last time I saw him was at Coloured Sands, way in the distance, about 20 years ago. We still had the cave painting of him to remind us how important he'd been to our culture. We still danced the Emu Dance at Corroborees, and a few people had precious emu feathers they'd kept for decoration. But Burriwi, himself, had gone.
Then, last year, I couldn't believe my eyes: at Elim Beach I found Burriwi tracks. And about a month later I spotted three birds in the same area. We were so excited, but a year went by and there were no more sightings.
Until last weekend. Not far from my home, there they were, two of them, standing tall and proud in the long grasses. We stood looking at each other for some time, and I was able to take the photo below. The children were in awe - they'd never seen anything like it before. It was a wonderful moment.
So, hopefully Burriwi is coming back. And hopefully, now, we will all treat them with the respect they deserve, so that this time they'll come back to stay.
Galin-Galin and other totems
How we all gain strength from the land
About our tours
22 July 2011