A Journey of 6,000 Years

This photo of a Hope Valley man was probably taken in the early 1900s. The scars on his chest show he was man of knowledge & understanding, and therefore a teacher.

Many people who come on tour with me ask what I think the future is for Aboriginal Australians. They ask about the problems in our communities, what is going wrong, and how things could be changed for the better. Some think Aboriginal people should “pull their socks up” and make more of an effort to become part of the economic society.

Yes, Aboriginal people today do have a big challenge on their hands. But I think we need to stop and look at the big picture. We need to remember the journey we are on—and when it started. 

In the developed world people slowly stopped being hunter-gatherers when farming was first introduced, around 6,000 years ago. This means they have had 6,000 years of gradual adaptation and change to reach where they are today. Aboriginal people in Australia started making this journey 220 years ago — a frighteningly short time span for us to catch up with modern society. Here on Cape York we've had even less time: my grandfather was born in the bush at the Birth Site where I take people on tour; my father's home as a child was a bark shelter.

When you consider the enormity of this journey, I think Aboriginal people have done astoundingly well. We have people who are in Parliament, who are successful artists, sportspeople, lawyers, doctors, academics. Families have children at University and we have young people with PhDs. There are Mums and Dads who are employed, and work hard all their lives taking care of their families. And we have people, like me, with their own businesses. So whilst there is much that needs to be done differently and which desperately saddens us, there is also much to celebrate and be proud of. 

Bulgan-warra Dr Damien Jacobsen with Dad, Bill. Charles Darwin University PhD ceremony 2010.

If we are to make this journey successfully, education is the key. We have to learn the knowledge, skills and tools of modern society, and embrace the modern ways of learning too. But in our rush to catch up, we still need to maintain our cultural lores and values, and not allow them to be misinterpreted or simply forgotten. We might have changed the way we live—just as other societies develop and change—but we still need our cultural values and lores to keep us strong, and maintain our sense of belonging. That is why I share my knowledge and stories, in the hope that they will contribute to this end.


Photos: Courtesy Lutheran Church archives & the Jacobsen family.


Red Nomad OZ said...

That's an interesting perspective not often spoken of. It changes the whole equation, doesn't it?!

Tracey said...

Thank you for sharing your wisdom Willie. If only those people who believe Aboriginal people should pull their socks up would take off their myth-laden blindfolds to see the treasure of knowledge Australia's first peoples have to offer the world. I do hope people who walk with you keep asking those questions because it means they care and your stories are most definitely being heard by those who are willing to listen.
My very best wishes as always.