The Names the Land Remembers

By Faith Baisden

I’m standing on a soft dune of milky white sand with my face to the wind that’s blowing in over the ocean.

It’s a warm salty wind that carries the rolling song of the waves. I look down at the footprints following me up from the edge of the water, and this is always the moment when I feel the power of tens of thousands of years of history — just now as the water washes lazily up to sweep away my prints in the sand.

The sliding sheets of water have done this forever to the prints of my ancestors and I wonder how many of those footprints are captured in the memory of the sands below.

The vision of sand and ocean in front of me is exactly the same picture as seen by the people who were here thousands of years ago shared. Everyday swept new and forever recreated.

And I can’t help wondering — who wouldn’t want to feel this connection to such a timeless vision?

Who wouldn’t rejoice in being able to sound out its ancient name — Karangal — and know as you say it that you share a link in an unbroken chord of knowledge.

You come to stand beside me on the dune and ask what I’m thinking. Soon I’m telling you about the name that means satin wood, used for making boomerangs and the special times that people gathered here. The way the sky spoke of the seasons and the plants would help predict the weather.

Then you go quiet and you ask. “How do you reckon your old ones felt when people started to call it Surfers Paradise?”

“Oh, they would have wondered why everyone kept calling it by the wrong name, but deep down they wouldn’t have been really worried. They knew the name would never go.”

“How could they be sure?” you ask.

“Well” I say, “It’s just like this. If you picture the whole time of aboriginal history as the length of an old man crocodile, then the time since the big boats arrived is the size of bull ant on the end of the croc’s tail.

And no crocodile’s going to die from a bull ant bite.”

So now you’re asking more, “Well what about the mountain over there, what’s it called? And how about that river, why are there names for different parts of it?”

And I think “Yes it’s time now we shared this knowledge. It’s too beautiful to keep to ourselves.”

So I turn to you and say:

“Wahluwamgin jimbelung — You come along and listen up to the stories behind the real names of the country. The names the land remembers. You’re going to love them.”