Ngambri custodian Paul House at the launch of the exhibition On Country at the National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jay Cronan
Looking after a country is a serious business, and land management is hard. But, as a new exhibition at the National Museum shows, it is also life-affirming and gives hope for the future when it comes to adjusting to climate change and dealing with the challenges of an evolving planet.
With about 90 photographs taken around Australia, On Country celebrates how indigenous people use generations of knowledge to manage Australia's land, rivers and oceans.
On Country exhibition curator Barbara Paulson and Ngambri custodian Paul House at the launch of the exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jay Cronan
The photographs show how these communities are using traditional and modern land management techniques to manage cultural sites and heritage values, as well as fire regimes, feral animals, pollution and the impacts of climate change.
Curator Barbara Paulson said she hoped people would come away from the exhibition understanding more about how hard indigenous people worked to maintain their connection to the land.
''I think what people are going to take away from this exhibition is how amazing that connection is and how it gets expressed in a daily way, not in a formal way, just every day,'' she said. ''Not just through the work that they do but through the community and the relationships that they build.'' This was the result not just of traditional customs or techniques built over thousands of years but to practical modern-day considerations.
For example, the Kimberley Land Council had an entire line in its budget to cater for the punctured or broken tyres and wheels that were a constant occurrence when travelling into remote areas and maintaining the connection to the land.
Two of the photographs in the exhibition were taken by Ngambri custodian from Canberra Paul House, and showed the site of the Tuggeranong grinding stones.
''It's where our ancestors maintained a strong connection to country by practising culture and heritage through the grinding and sharpening of stone axes, and also kitchen sites for ancestors to prepare food and grind seeds, so an important place for women to look after family,'' he said. ''I think the message is that Aboriginal people still have a powerful connection to country, and wish to be given the opportunity to maintain that, through living and working and celebrating their existence.''
Ms Paulson said while the museum had never shied away from telling difficult stories, this one had a positive message - that indigenous people never took their connection to country for granted.
''There is a real understanding that you borrow the country for the future,'' she said. ''You don't inherit it from your ancestors, you borrow it for future generations, for your grandchildren, and you look after it to make sure that it stays intact so that they can continue to live.''
■ On Country: Connect, Work, Celebrate is now showing at the National Museum of Australia.