The Sydney Opera house was built on top of a shell monument.
The Gadigal people of the Eora Nation called the site Tubowgule, which means “where the knowledge waters meet.” As they fished and collected shellfish in the area they would leave piles of shells behind. It wasn’t a garbage dump. They built up the shells like this to make sure they were eating sustainably. The shells were a visible database of their eating habits. With a quick look, the locals and visitors could see if a species were being over-eaten and adjust their hunting accordingly. Tubowgule has a long history as a place where the Gadigal came together, celebrated, sung, danced, feasted and told stories.
I want to share this Australian history with my children. I want them to know about the oldest culture in the world, their convict ancestors, and the role of their late grandfather in helping to build perhaps the world’s most tolerant and successful multi-cultural society.
They can see, hear and touch our multicultural story in their family, school, and neighbourhood. Their beloved avozinha speaks French, Portuguese, English and Spanish. I can show them gleaming monuments to the invaders. But the world’s oldest culture is not venerated here.
What can I show them?
I can take them to some sites I know around Brisbane Water. I lived in the area with their mum before they were born. I can show them large warrior figures carved into rocks thousands of years ago facing west, to the sunset. There will no plagues and no track to the site for fear Australians will destroy it, surrounded with shards of glass from smashed bottles of beer, and cover it with graffiti.
I can take them to another site facing north west, where gigantic whales, shelfish and fish are carved into rocks. Aside from the art, here they’ll find the absence of memory. There will be no context. No celebration. No stories.
I can walk them into the bush nearby and show them an ancient midden. The site has been renamed after a famous local comedian whose parents lived nearby, and the midden is covered with cheap, ugly, rusted, cyclone fencing – the kind used to surround my primary school playground. Again, there won’t be a single plague or guide to the site because of neglect, or fear the site will be desecrated by Australians.
We walked once to a cave in the blue mountains that featured hand prints from families who lived on this continent thousands of years before we did. The cave was sealed off with the same cyclone fencing. It looked like a jail. It looked abandoned. The kids understood that no one really cared about this place and wondered why we’d brought them there.
What the fuck is wrong with my country?