Amy Toensing: The Aboriginal Homeland | Nat Geo Live

Amy Toensing: The Aboriginal Homeland | Nat Geo Live

(classical orchestra music) (tribal percussion) that you might not realizeAMgabout Aboriginal Australia. They have the oldest, longest
running culture on Earth. Sixty thousand years. It’s a really sad history. It’s a litany of dispossession. Maybe my job here
as a story teller wasn’t to just document
a disappearing culture, in this modern world. Maybe it was to look
at this living, breathing, thriving part of their culture,
and how important it is to the future health
of their communities. ( Aboriginals singing ) (applause) AMY TOENSING: I am going
to talk to you tonight about my journey through
Aboriginal Australia, which began in a cave,
in Western Australia. And I was wedged between rocks, trying to get the best
angle on a piece of rock art. I was working on a story
for National Geographic magazine about a group of animals
that had gone extinct all at the same time,
50,000 years ago. And there was a raging debate
as to whether or not humans, specifically
Aboriginal Australians had something to do with it. The critter that you see at
the end of this hunter’s spear was maybe one of those animals. There is also
a 10-foot kangaroo. There is an 18-foot
constrictor snake. And there is an animal that I
don’t know how best to describe except ask you to imagine
a hairless marsupial chipmunk, and then make it the
size of a rhinoceros. And then you have a Diprotodon that walked here
80,000 years ago. My husband, Matt Moyer,
who is in the audience and also a photojournalist, came
on this assignment with me, and here we are on his assignment
in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt for National
Geographic magazine. And we try to do it as much
as possible because otherwise we wouldn’t see
each other very much. So, our journey to
get to this rock art began with a chartered
flight to a remote community and then a good part of a day on a dirt track in
a four-wheel drive vehicle. Not really out of the ordinary if you are trying to get
to anywhere in the world remote. It’s a lot of logistics and just trying to get
to where you’re supposed to go. And, so in the midst of that, it’s really important
to remember what’s important, what’s the big picture. And, so I had one
of these moments when I finally
got to my rock art and I was like, “Ah, okay,
I’m going to make my picture.” And I thought, “Who is this person
that drew this hunting scene?” And I assumed it was a man because of the traditional
hunter roles. And I thought,
“Who is this guy?” He is documenting his day. He is documenting
the world around him. And I started to feel connected
to this fellow storyteller. This person that
was communicating to me from tens of thousands
of years ago, something into the
future about his people and his people’s relationship
to these animals. So, something that
you might not realize about Aboriginal Australia. They have the oldest, longest
running culture on Earth. Sixty thousand years,
they’ve been around. So, a few days
later I found myself sitting across from
Jack and Lily Karadada, in the Aboriginal
community of Kalumburu. It’s the gateway to and from
this rock art. So, Matt and I decided
to stop for one night and we were going to see if we
could find some Aboriginal art. And we were led to Lily, because she is known
globally for her paintings. So, when Jack found out that
we are from the United States, his eyes lit up. And he told me how
he worked side-by-side with the Americans
during World War II. And how with his bare hands, he helped build
a strategic airstrip that helped fight the Japanese, who had invaded Timor, just a couple of hundred miles
to the north of where we are sitting. And then Lily started to
talk to me about their childhood and how they both grew
up naked and in the bush. A hunter-gatherer lifestyle. And then Lily started
to talk about her country. And when Aboriginal Australians
talk about their country, what they are talking about is the land that’s theirs
by birthright. Where they are from,
the land that they are of, their ancestral lineage. And so then Lily started
to tell me how everything in her country, the rocks, the trees,
the water, the fish, the birds, even the sandflies that bite really horribly
and hard, were her family. That she was connected
to all of them and they were connected to her. So, these are
things as Americans we read a lot about
in New Age magazines and we’re like, “Oh yeah,
let’s get connected.” But in Aboriginal Australia, it really– it, it is
the structure of their society. It dictates who you marry,
how you address somebody and even what you eat. So, let’s go back
to that thing of how long Aboriginal Australians
have been around. So, if the indigenous
population of Australia today– that’s Lily and her ancestors–
have been around for 60,000 years, the last 250 years
of colonization, have brought around the
more– most change than ever. Albeit kind of
slow in some areas, because it’s this really huge,
vast, remote country. The last hunter-gatherer group walked out of the
Gibson desert in 1984, into the town of Alice Springs. Still, if you think
about it then, Aboriginal culture went
along pretty much uninterrupted, at least nothing like
colonization, for 59,750 years. Jack and Lily were able
to walk in both of these worlds, because they remained
in pre-colonized Australia until World War II
pulled them out. And I thought back to that
ancient storyteller in the cave who made that hunting
scene and I thought, “Wow, Jack’s life as a kid was probably pretty similar
to that ancient storyteller’s, hunting on the same landscape.” Jack and Lily were bridges
between two alien worlds. And when Lily talked about her childhood and her
connectedness to her country, her eyes just lit up,
she had a glimmer in them. And it made me wonder
where could I find that connection
in Aboriginal Australia today? Because it was so contrary
to the prevalent story that I was hearing
everywhere about the downtrodden indigenous
group of Australia. Don’t get me wrong,
it’s a really sad history. National Geographic staff
writer, Cathy Newman wrote, “It’s a litany
of dispossession.” Their stolen land. There are government policies
that controlled their movement, who they married,
where they worked. They even took
their children away. From 1909 to 1969,
government agencies went into the home of Aboriginal
Australian families and removed their children
without any proof of neglect. And today they are known
as the stolen generation. So after meeting Jack and Lily
and the rock art, I was hooked. And so I proposed a story to
National Geographic and they accepted. And I learned that after
250 years of dispossession, the Aboriginal Australian
population had the highest rate
of heart disease, kidney disease,
cancer, diabetes, and they die on average
10 years earlier than their white Australian counterparts. Sixteen percent unemployment, as opposed to five percent
for the rest of Australia. And they make up a third
of the prison population. Trying to impose a
European style of education on an indigenous group
does not always work very well. So only 37 percent
of Aboriginal students graduate from high school. I was in a community where the principal had to go around
every morning, door-to-door, and round the kids up. Otherwise she said
no one would attend. And the teacher cried herself
to sleep almost every night, because she was
so frustrated about not getting through to the kids. So, you see
little Matty down there,
on the left hand corner. He’s four years old, completely
disconnected in this classroom. And here he is again
completely connected, learning about his culture and how to manage
his land with fire, just as his ancestors have
for tens of thousands of years. So this moment
from disconnect to connect really connected something
for me. And I thought, “Maybe
my job here as a storyteller wasn’t to just document
a disappearing culture, in this modern world. Maybe it was to look
at this living, breathing, thriving part of their
culture and how important it is to the future health
of their communities.” Most non-indigenous Australians have never met
an Aboriginal person. And most Australian news stories
about Aboriginals are negative. I felt like there was some
piece of the story missing. And the Aboriginal population
is sort of faceless. They don’t have education,
they don’t have jobs, all the things that we value
in Western hyped up society is not what they have. And so I thought
maybe if I could find that connectedness
that I saw with Matty, it would– they would
see something different. So I started to look
to the remote communities. And I learned about
the homelands movement from the 1970’s, when a more liberal Australian
government gave incentives for people to go
back to their homeland, and utilize their
land and live there. “Homeland for the Aboriginal
person is your being. It’s where you have
been for thousands of years. Dispossess the person from
that and they become nothing.’ Maybe this was where
I could find that glimmer I saw in Lily’s eyes.
The homelands. Extensive studies
have shown that Aboriginal families
that are utilizing their homelands are healthier.
They live longer. They hold on to their
language and culture. They pass on their language and
culture to younger generations. And they utilize their homelands
for food and cultural practices. They spend more time
with their family. And Aboriginal youth that spend
more time in their homelands are less likely to get
involved with drugs and alcohol. So, my first night on a homeland
went something like this. It’s always a crazy
road to get there. You’re gonna get stuck,
you’re gonna get bogged down. Really deep sand,
so it was a really long day, and we got there
really late at night and I had this big truck
and some young Aboriginal boys were helping me because
they knew the roads they drove. We got in really late at night. Set up my tent,
went straight to sleep. Next morning I woke up, go to my truck
to go find something, and I heard this crashing
and banging and sand flying everywhere. I couldn’t figure out what it
was, I was looking up and down. And I look in the back and
there was a 400-pound sea turtle in the back of my truck,
on its back, upside down. What– like these
are the moments that challenge
you on assignment. They are kind of random. You wouldn’t be able
to predict it, but it’s like, “Yeah,
that would be challenging.” So it turns out
boys will be boys, and they went out hunting
after I went to sleep and they found
themselves a sea turtle. And they figured that because
they had the keys to my truck, you know, that was where
it should go for the night, in the back of my truck,
on its back. And so they were waiting
for to keep it alive until the rest of the family
came, so they could butcher it. And I have to admit it
really wasn’t easy for me to watch it get killed
because I swam with these, but I’m also not
a vegetarian, so– And then I saw how they utilized every part of this
animal for food. And here they are
washing the guts for soup. It was amazing. And somehow I got
talked into eating these. These are– These are the eggs straight from the
belly of the turtle. And there is a number
of other foods that got me, like pushed me
to my limit on this– I wasn’t brave enough to eat
these witchetty grubs raw, but cooked they taste
like cheesy eggs. These are cycad nuts and you– they get turned into flour,
and then bread, but if it’s not prepared
correctly, you die. And this is Wallaby, which
is really delicious, actually. But this is really what my diet
looked like most of the time. So, by the time I got
to the end of this assignment, I had cast quite a web of connections
throughout Australia. You can see all those
red dots are places where I actually
spent some time. But one of these
connections spun me back up to the top there,
called Arnhem Land, which is right up there in the
clump of red flags that you see. And it also spun me
back to National Geographic. So it turns out,
almost 70 years ago, in 1948, National Geographic
ran a joint expedition with the Smithsonian Institute. And then, Arnhem Land was
really, really remote. You couldn’t even drive there.
You had to go by boat and it was months and months.
They spent almost a year there. And they collected
all the things that they do in
a 1948 expedition. They took like birds,
and flora and fauna, and all sorts of data.
But they also took human skulls. And a couple years ago
as part of a global trend to return human remains
to the rightful owners, the Smithsonian decided that they would return these
human skulls to Australia, to Arnhem Land and to the
community to which they belong. This is actually,
this is the photographer, the National Geographic
photographer on the assignment, Hal Walker,
photographing some kids in the same area that I was in. So you might wonder,
“Okay, how did they figure out how, where those
skulls belonged?” Well, it turned out those
skulls had paintings on them. And those paintings
had the story of that person’s
country on them. And so when they showed
the skulls to some elders in the area, they knew exactly
what land they went to and to whom they belonged. So the descendants
of these skulls decided that they
wanted to honor them by bringing them
back and burying them with the traditional
log coffin ceremony. And a log coffin ceremony had not been done in this
community for over 40 years. So anybody here who knew, who had seen it were just
little kids when it happened. So this whole community
was coming together, trying to piece together
how to do this ceremony. And it goes something like this: so you bury the deceased and you
leave their body in the ground until just bones remain. You exhume the bones; and then you find a
log hollowed out by termites. And you paint the story
of that person on the log, like they are here. So all these critters that you
see on this log are the story of that person who died,
and their country. And then you put the remains
back in the hollowed log, and you let them go
back to their country. You just leave it out there. So finally ceremony
day happened. ( Aboriginals singing ) One of the ceremonies that day, or a part of the ceremony,
was private. And it was for men only, and it was for only
the men of the deceased. But they asked
me to document it. And I said, “Sure,
of course I’ll document it.” And they said, “No,
this is not for your magazine. Nobody else can see this.
This is only for us. We want a visual record
of this ceremony so that if it doesn’t happen
again for 40 years or more, we– our future
generations will know what happened and
they can do it themselves because they can learn from it.” And so,
I documented the ceremony, and I can’t show
it to you today. But maybe that visual record
will be a bridge across time just like that story in the
cave by that ancient storyteller with the hunting scene. And it will offer
a pathway for this community to speak to their future
generations about their culture. And maybe somebody’s grandson, or better yet, great-great-
great-great granddaughter, will watch this visual record, and she’ll learn
something about herself, and her people,
and her homeland. Thank you very much. (applause)

59 thoughts on “Amy Toensing: The Aboriginal Homeland | Nat Geo Live

  1. I liked this video a lot! People tend to forget that they are at some point descended from a tribal race much like in the video, in part due to the fact that around the world most cultures adopted agriculture while the Australian aborigines stuck to their hunter gatherer ways. It's unfortunate that many of Australia's megafauna disappeared when humans first came upon the continent, but I think it's wonderful that they have such a long lasting culture and string ties to nature and their ancestry. I'm a little disappointed that they killed a sea turtle, though, because they're an endangered group of species ( one could hypothesize that's how the aborigines killed of the original megafauna) but it's just the way that they live.

  2. 60,000 years and they still live the way they do… no grand civilizations, no advances in sciences, no empires, no history what so ever…

  3. Amazing history. But if you are an american you dont6 need to go so far away. You can study the indians. Such an advanced culture like the Navajo nation and all the others, completely obliterated jn less than 3 centuries. One of the most horrible story of our modern times.

  4. Thank You!!  It describes a reality we have forgotten.  One that connects and for these people this connection is the land itself,  This is their being.  So all are connected — dog person and tree.  The same applies to all of us but we have forgotten the stories and the myths that told us how these were.  Well Presented.  Captures the excitement, aliveness and beauty of the story,

  5. As someone who lived in Australia this past year and learned so much about Aboriginal culture, I'm glad to see this story being shared!

  6. في كل مكآن تجد ثقافات مختلفة و أساليب حياة مختلفة تعبر عن مآضي سواءآ كان جميل أم حزين !! شكرآ على مشاركة هذا الفيديو



  9. It's amazing to me that 3 years after the 1981 Mad Max the Road Warrior came out the last uncontacted Australian Aborigines first make contact from the same Australian bush. I wish more tribes like that still existed now. I'm torn about whether I think ANY uncontacted tribes still truly exist, directly or indirectly, but I hope there are some out there. All the cases I've seen or heard of like North Sentinel Island, the Javari river, and New Guinean tribes have at least had some light contact or traded things from the outside world with their contacted neighbors. It's like with extra terrestrials you want to hold out hope that something is left out there we don't know about yet.

  10. Sounds like the USA treatment to Native Americans, African Americans & Hispanic Americans! Happened all over the world…nothing new.

  11. Beautiful culture but today aboriginal people have freedom and rights to their ancestors land.montagnard indigenous Central highland of Vietnam we have no rights to our ancestors land , the jungle, animals what we depend on all destroyed by VN . Today is 21 centuries we still persecution by VN government.

  12. I'm trying to sort out the facts from the liberal political agenda in regards to Aboriginals. Education and globalization is not what everyone want. You cannot take an hunter-gatherer out of indigenous hunter-gatherers and force them to assimilate, that is a crime against humanity. Anthropological research has shown people are healthier if they are allowed to retain their way of life. Forced assimilation/globalization is never the answer!

  13. I enjoy these NatGeo lectures very much, but every time, I want more pictures and less time watching the lectern.

  14. Amy did a great presentation! And she did it in a respectful way toward the Aboriginal community. One of the best I have seen.

  15. Their is no country that caucasians have gone to and not destroy. They need to fix this psychotic disease they have of thinking everything is theirs.

  16. The oldest humans lived in Kenya Tanzania…2.5 million years ago..about 50 times as long as the aborigines of Australia lived there…

  17. Just another example of how Europeans are much like a plague, everywhere they "colonize" is left negatively changed forever.

  18. Aboriginals look like a mix between people from the indian subcontinent and the african continent. I so wish we could find out what their history is

  19. Maybe they are so resilient because there were no invasions, untill the europeans came. Also they kept life easy, no grand civilizations, just the simple life.

  20. I remember when our current national anthem replaced God Save The Queen in '84 and we had to sing it all the time. The Aboriginal kids would have to sing "Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free…." Meanwhile, some of their grandparents graffiti can still be seen 60,000 years later. Like most of us at the time I was too ignorant to even think what a kick in the teeth it was to them.


  22. 'saving aboriginal culture' isn't just about saving them, it's about humanity saving itself. Sounds trite and like a bumper sticker but it's true.

  23. what proof do they have they have been here for 60,000k,non.its all hear say.there liers.full of deciet,they still live off the land,killing everything that moves,they never grew grains.cultivation,they draw wheels but never made one.they came from png.they dont want modern tech,they dont want to learn,they dont want to advance past the stone age.there a conquared nation,either live like us,or go find a tree to live out your sorry life.i dont dislike aboriginals i just hate all the lies they tell.hindmarsh island for example.ayers rock,if they can exploit it,they will.WE TOUGHT THEM THAT.!!!.

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