For thousands of years the Djiringanj people came to the Bermagui Waterhole to camp and have ceremony. It was a sacred place and a permanent source of fresh water with an abundance of fish and shellfish. The waterhole lies on a major coastal walking track and is linked to the ceremonial, initiation and spiritual sites of the Yuin people. So, while the waterhole is on Djiringanj land, many other Yuin people and more distant Koori people also camped here, always making sure there was enough food left for those who would come after they moved on.
As we immerse ourselves in these Aboriginal stories, the more we realise how intertwined indigenous spirituality is with their very existence. It wasn’t just a ritual enacted on a Sunday morning, then put aside for the rest of the week, as people went about their lives. Indigenous story is all about how to look after Country and conscious consumption, so there was enough left for at least seven generations into the future.
Each time we visit one of these sacred places, we feel a deep sense of sadness and loss and wish those early Colonisers had taken the time to listen and learn, rather than assuming the Aboriginals were ‘savages’ that needed conversion. Perhaps it is this assumption that everyone who is different to us is ‘lost’ and must be taught to ‘fit in’ and ‘assimilate’ or otherwise would be excluded that is at the heart of all the strife we experience today.
Today, this sacred waterhole is surrounded by urban development that has encroached on the site, despite representation from the Yuin elders. It has now been included as part of a listing of Cultural and Heritage sites in NSW but the waterhole has lost its ability to rejuvenate and I saw no signs of water.
It is also worth noting that today, Bermgaui is dotted with signs that inform us we are not permitted to ‘free camp’ or stay overnight in our self-contained vehicles in the many open spaces in the area. Yet for millennia this ancient land welcomed visitors from afar and provided them with fresh water, food and a place to setup camp.
I can’t help but reflect on the irony of the words of our national anthem — ‘we are young and free’. We have just changed the word ‘young’ to ‘one’…but are we truly ‘one’ and ‘free’? As a friend mentioned to us, can we ever have true reconciliation with Indigenous People before we reconcile with the land?