Comprehending the Difference Between Land and Country
To begin to understand the importance of Country to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we have to grasp that the term means so much more than land, earth, sea, or sky – Country isn’t close to the nouns we use in English.
Rather, a connection to Country is better explained as a sense of belonging and identity to the original people of Australia.
That connection to Country and land is deeply spiritual, a relationship formed in the footsteps of ancestors.
For tens of thousands of years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have relied on the land for sustenance and shelter. They treat it as a family member; a living, breathing entity captured in stories, music, and culture.
Country doesn’t just refer to the physical land Aboriginal communities lie on, but the collection of animals, plants, and people that live there.
These connections include seasons, creation spirits, and heritage; Country is a belief system and a home for First Nations people.
The Importance of Knowledge and Culture Development
In a world where sustainability, environmental awareness, and global warming are high on government agendas, we have much to learn from the ways Indigenous cultures are connected to Country.
- If Country is unwell, it needs to heal.
- We must listen to Country and what it needs.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures live in harmony with the world around them, placing great value on Country not just as Aboriginal land but as the foundation of the Aboriginal people, past, present, and future.
The cornerstone of the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Country is reciprocity.
That means mutual respect, maintaining balance, and nurturing the connection, taking only what is needed to ensure the natural resources of the world are never exhausted. A common expression is “healthy Country, healthy people”.
Acknowledging Country is a way for us all to demonstrate respect to the Traditional Owners and custodians of the place we all call home.
Knowledge development is crucial to ensure all cultures understand the heritage of Aboriginal people and why colonisation, discrimination, and persecution have eroded the relationship between First Nations communities and the land they have cherished for hundreds of thousands of years.
Embracing Learning to Form New Levels of Connection, Awareness, and Respect
Aboriginal culture is steeped in rich history, old traditions, and beliefs that each new generation continues to follow. Part of that means adding value for the future, giving back in another way.
If Country provides an Aboriginal community with drinking water or bush medicine, the first thing they may do is plan a traditional ceremony of thanks or a cultural burning to restore nutrients to the soil.
When we begin to form a better understanding of Country and the complexity of this term for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we gain knowledge about why disrespecting the land or ignoring the intrinsic importance of Country for future generations can be deeply hurtful.
Land development, as an example, can destroy natural environments, so having the knowledge to direct our actions can help to preserve vital areas of profound spiritual significance, enabling County to provide for and protect.
In this extract from our Heal Country On Demand Webinar, Aunty Munya shares her cultural knowledge about Country. You can access the webinar here: https://pages.evolves.com.au/NAIDOC-2021