Home' Scoop : Scoop 53 Spring 2010 Contents 88 scoop SPRING 2010
“This is the spirit of the place, and you’ll find it
through many of the great sites of Perth.”
He g oes on to share a similar parallel, just over
from Kings Park where Parliament House now
stands. Here, he says, is where the elders and senior
law people of the Nyoongar community would
gather to make decisions on behalf of their people.
“It was a very powerful space, where only a
select few with the knowledge and experience would
enter,” he says. “They’d discuss all kinds of things,
most importantly where the next major ceremonies
were going to be held for the community.”
The son of an Injarbardi woman (from the
Geraldton area) and a Nyoongar man who was
put in a mission at age five, Noel learnt many of
the stories of the land from his Uncle Thomas.
While he too had been sent to a mission, Thomas
was a “bolter” – as Noel colourfully describes him
– s o he was forced to learn the ways of the bush
for his own sur vival.
“They couldn’t hold him,” Noel laughs.
“Every time they’d close those doors, he’d find
a way to get out. My dad was only little so there
was nothing he could do. But Uncle Thomas
– he’d spend months on end as a teenager
wandering the bush, tracking water and learning
these stories from the elders.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my own personal
journey to have had this knowledge passed
down to me. I remember when Uncle Thomas
would bring his stories into our home when I
was eight. I hung on every word – it was like
rote learning. And it just stays.”
As he became more immersed in his culture
and started to understand its significance on
both a personal and global scale, Noel moved
east to study Indigenous Education at The
University of Canberra (one of only two
campuses offering it at the time).
It was here that he came to appreciate the
power of storytelling and the important role it
would play in keeping his culture alive.
By bringing tog ether this new knowledge with
the skills and stories of the “old people,” Noel
has gradually mapped thousands of kilometres of
ancient trails throughout Perth and WA.
He shares another story of resonance about
the traditional process of initiation into manhood,
which in Nyoongar country saw the teenag e boys
travel from Kings Park to a spot at Lake Claremont
where the men of the group would car ve a scar into
the boys’ ar ms to denote their place of belonging.
Once they’d received that scar, the young men
would be brought to the edge of Freshwater Bay
– known as Birri Point in the Nyoongar languag e –
where they would rest and heal for 10 days.
“Lake Claremont has always been a place for
boys,” Noel says. “And just look – If you g o there
now, you’ll find two important institutions for young
men: a primary school for boys and Scotch College,
a high school for boys. Also, built on the edge of
the river is Bethesda Hospital – a place of healing.
“You see, the whole thing fits nicely together.
And it’s not a coincidence either. As you get your
head around all these stories, there’s really only
one conclusion: we have a spirit that looks after
this place. A spirit that maintains the natural order.”
It is these stories and experiences of the land
that Noel is using to combat the high percentage
of Aboriginal youths facing a lifetime in prison.
In his view – and that of several other elders and
magistrates in the community – the best way to “get
these kids back on track” is to take them out to
country and teach them the “old ways” of the land.
“Aboriginal people believe that each person
is born with a totem to care for and look after,”
Noel says. “And totems are from the natural
world. So we’re conservationists of the highest
order – and it flows through our veins.
“If we can get these young people back to their
roots, it’s g oing to give a far better result than sending
them to detention or prison. Otherwise they become
hard core – and that’s not good for anyone.”
According to Noel, Aboriginal people make up
85 per cent of the young males incarcerated in WA
detention centres, while for females, that figure has
been known to hit 100 per cent as recently as last year.
He says the cur rent sentencing process is
counter-productive for all parties involved, which is
why alternative measures like sending the kids back
to countr y with their elders needs to be addressed.
“What we have to do is say to the magistrate, we
have a group of elders – an incorporated body –
who can provide an alternative to putting these kids
in prison. And it’s g oing to cost half what it’d cost
the State to incarcerate them. If you give the work
order to this group of elders, they will give you back
a child who’s going to be a taxpayer.
“Everything is about stories – whether
it’s Joseph... whether it’s Jesus or
Jundamarra. It doesn’t matter what
your belief is – it’s a story”
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