National Reconciliation Week. Uncle Cecil- knowledge holder and visionary.

In 2020 Reconciliation Australia marks twenty years of shaping Australia’s journey towards a more just, equitable and reconciled nation, with celebrations commencing tomorrow to mark National Reconciliation Week. We chat with Uncle Cecil Briggs about traditional indigenous traditions and how these might bring hope for a reconciled future.

In 2020 Reconciliation Australia marks twenty years of shaping Australia’s journey towards a more just, equitable and reconciled nation, with celebrations commencing tomorrow to mark National Reconciliation Week.  But what does reconciliation mean for our local Gumbaynggirr people? How far have we come?  What is needed to attain true reconciliation?

Uncle Cecil Briggs is a proud Gumbaynggirr elder. (Pictured above with daughter Nicole celebrating his 80th birthday). He has lived all of his 80 years on Gumbaynggirr land.  But he is somewhat ambivalent about the term ‘reconciliation’.  “Reconciliation is a word- it’s something but it’s looking for a place to land,”  he says.  In his eyes, true reconciliation would be a coming together, working side by side to repair mother earth.  Therefore, he is buoyed by the theme for this year’s National Reconciliation Week ‘In This Together’.

“We have to give back and stop taking,” he says.  Uncle Cecil grew up with the words of his wise elders and lore men.  Like them, he understands the importance of working in balance with nature.  “This is our only hope.  For many thousands of years before white settlement, this country was our provider and we were the keepers of our provider. We protected everything that was put on this earth, never destroying a thing,” he says.

He sees the pending reconciliation celebrations as more of a chance to share Indigenous stories of old  and in doing so, waking us up.  Yes, we are ‘in this together’. Our survival depends on it.

“We believed in three things. The Heavenly, Earthly and Spiritual realms. We had the earth, water and our garden that we lived in. Nothing lives without water. The earth provided food, medicines and shelter.  Everything was here for a reason.”

Of special significance was the tree, as symbolised on the Aboriginal Land Council logo.  “Trees provide food and medicines, they attract water to the surface, clear the air through the production of oxygen, provide shelter and corridors for animals, buffer the winds and provide shelter from the sun.  They hold the riverbanks together and rain follows the timber belt.   Without the trees- our landscape becomes desolate. Ploughing acres will result in as much heat coming up from the ground as comes down from the sun,” he says.  

In fact, Uncle Cecil believes the value of the tree should be mandatory learning in schools. “We need to think about the value of the tree when we destroy each and every tree.”  

Like the trees, he despairs the fate of the Indigenous peoples.  “We were the richest people in this world because family was our wealth.  We lived according to traditional lore. Women ran this country.  We understood birthing was spiritual. Women taught the children and knew when the young men were ready to be passed over for ceremony. Men would never question the women.”

“The rite of passage Ceremony was a learning and spiritual time for the young men.  A fire was alight for the duration. During the day young men would learn to make their tools. Nighttime was for the spiritual.  They would study the stars, telling the time by the stars and reading the star patterns.  The moon provided information about the seasons, whirlwinds would provide information about the approaching weather.”

“We used traditional mosaic burning principles for many purposes, always burning at predetermined times and in season. This would make access easier through thick and prickly vegetation, maintain a pattern of vegetation to encourage new growth and attract game for hunting and encourage the development of useful food plants, for cooking, warmth, signalling and spiritual reasons.”

“We were unique peoples with a unique system; knowledge holders and visionaries. But we fell from the richest people to the poorest in the shortest time, brought about by invasion, domination, hatred and greed,” says Uncle Cecil.  “We’ve lost our provider and the keepers of our provider don’t have that role anymore. But we still have carers for our families- that will never be lost.”

In 2020 Reconciliation Australia marks twenty years of shaping Australia’s journey towards a more just, equitable and reconciled nation, with celebrations commencing tomorrow to mark National Reconciliation Week. We chat with Uncle Cecil Briggs about traditional indigenous traditions and how these might bring hope for a reconciled future.

Uncle Cecil with Dorrigo Museum volunteers Ruth Holmes and Liam O’Connor.

Despite what Uncle Cecil knows and has witnessed personally, he still holds hope. “While ever there’s life there’s hope.”  He sees his role as educator and storyteller and desperately wants to keep the traditional stories alive.  If family is wealth, he is a wealthy man, held by his 7 children, 33 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren.  In his eyes the world is in a mess, but he knows the traditions of the oldest race on earth could still hold the key to our collective futures.

So his message for all of us for National Reconciliation Week?  “When I was only a boy my wise mum told me that there would be a food shortage on a huge scale.  She told us to live near water, grow our own crops and keep our own chooks.  She also said treat people like you would like to be treated. This is a good message for everyone. I believe if we work together for the renewal of this earth, we stand a chance.  We are in this together.”

Photos kindly supplied by Ruth Holmes.

13 Comments

  • Leisel says:

    Thank you. I was born here in Bellingen and it hurts everytime a tree is felled. We must acknowledge and listen and learnn from the oldest culture on the planet. Australia was the Garden of Eden. Let’s work together to restore it’s beauty and balance as much as possible.

  • Cath says:

    What a wonderful and wise man and a great article, thank you for sharing.

  • Dorin Hart says:

    Thank you for this, Uncle Cecil.

    I love what your mum said:
    ‘treat people as you would like to be treated’
    My mum also said the same thing to me when I was little. (I was born and grew up in England, came here when I was 21, 1963)

  • Sam says:

    What a truly powerful and beautiful time we are living in. I am so grateful for the unceasing strength and love of the traditional people of this land. My most humble respect and gratitude. Thank you for this message. It has never been so clear and significant as it is now. Unity consciousness is the way forward and the one thing we do have in abundance right now is conscious people. We must reconnect with spirit and we must unite as one people.

  • Wendy says:

    Thank you Uncle Cecil,
    I truely hope that the messages and wisdom from yourself and other indigenous elders will be heard and taken to heart. It’s time to embrace the old ways and honour Mother Earth if we want heal our country and our people .

  • Barbara says:

    Thank you Cecil Briggs for this message on your birthday and during this week and always.
    The connection to nature and knowing it as the
    Intelligent operating system of the planet, great spirit which is celebrated by the indigenous people of this land and sadly still ignored by the people who have the power to change everything. Thank you.

  • Guy says:

    Thank you, Uncle…wise words…I hope that more and more people will start listening…we can learn so much from you and your people.

    With love and respect, thank you again 🙂

  • Kathryn says:

    So good to see this message getting out there. We all need to be reconciled to our provider and care for her together, learning from the practices the ancestors learnt by observing her for millennia. So grateful for your message and generosity of spirit in these times, thankyou

  • Josephine Robinson says:

    Thank Uncle Cec.
    It is an honour to know and hear you. Through you and Uncle Tom Kelly and Elders I have met, I have come to understand more deeply, our true connection and relationship to Mother
    Earth.

  • jean jenkins says:

    Thank you so much for passing your knowledge on , needed now more than ever. It gives me hope, we must act on it

    Jean

  • Ruth Holmes says:

    We can learn so much from Elders like Uncle Cecil. I hope our leaders will also take notice of what Uncle Cecil and other Elders pass on to us about saving and restoring our wonderful country. Also a time for reconciliation within our families, our communities and within Australian and World communities. Thanks Uncle Cecil for your wise words and friendship.

  • Thankyou Uncle Cecil, such words of wisdom. I believe intuitively as children we have this appreciation & as we grow up, many people choose to not listen to this inner wisdom & let other desires take priority.
    Would love to learn about Uncle Cecils life & people

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