Lake Wendouree is earth’s generosity personified.
Situated in Ballarat, an hour and a half from Melbourne, Lake Wendouree was known in the 1800s by white settlers as the ‘black swamp’. A sizeable aboriginal population inhabited the area around the lake at that time. In 1838 William Cross Yuille a white squatter, settled down south of ‘Black Swamp’ in the area which was to later become part of the gold rush settlement of Ballarat. Story goes that when Yuille asked a local indigenous woman what the name of the swamp was, she used the aboriginal word wendaaree which meant ‘go away’ as a reply to him.
Yuille sold his station two-years later and moved on probably without ever realising the significance of the word ‘wendaaree.’
The First Peoples of every land, whether the aboriginals of Australia, the San of Namibia or the Maasais of Kenya did not own or possess land. They lived off the land without claiming it as theirs and used their indigenous knowledge of local plants, animals and other resources to replenish what they took from the earth.
In the aboriginal Woiwurrung language from Melbourne region, the concept of Bunjilaka meant, one could not go into someone’s country without permission. ‘Bunjil’ meant the creator and ‘aka’ meant ‘soil or ground’.
It is the principle of inter-connectedness that underpinned Aboriginal life for the Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people from north-west South Australia. Their law of Kanyini implied that everybody was responsible for each other.
For centuries we have been interacting with this earth and benefitting from her bounties. We define borders, declare nationalities and draw boundaries, issue passports, drain resources and claim ownership of lands which were not ours to begin with. To believe that the land we live on is our possession or the space we rent is our domain is a convenient fallacy created by us humans. We have all bought into this without any resistance.
I often wonder about my connection to this land where I chose to settle into this year. Will I ever be able to repay my dues for the privilege of witnessing the beauty of the sunsets and the elegance of the black swans on the Lake every day while remembering the ‘First People’ who lived off the ‘black swamp’ a century and a half ago?