Ngurang-dhi – from place
Raelee Lancaster (Wiradjuri) & Nathan Sentance (Wiradjuri)

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New Australia

Raelee Lancaster

A cut-up poem created from an excerpt from the Prime Minister’s press conference, Parliament House, Canberra, on Tuesday, 19 December 1972 in which PM Gough Whitlam spoke about ‘normalising’ relations between Australia and East Germany.

there is a matter which concerns: following recent moves between West and us, for political and commercial reasons, to normalise our relations, facilitating trade in both directions; recognition, agreement... it's time to make people more aware that there is a new government in australia which is not concentrating on our highly important relations with Europe.


Muguma (inside the house)

Nathan mudyi Sentance

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”

—Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Ngurang (place – Wiradjuri language) informs you. Through all your senses ngurang teaches you. It provides knowledge through experience. Often our collective or individual history is tied to ngurang. Ngurang allows us to transverse time, giving us immediate connection to our ancestors. The giilang-galang (stories) we tell, which I think are one of the most powerful methods to preserve and transfer knowledge, are affected by ngurang as it can change how we yarra (speak) and how we winhangarra (listen). Ngurang creates identity.

This is why colonisers try and change ngurang to change people and change history. Because they know physical changes to ngurung affect us metaphysically. We maintain the knowledge that much of the colonisers’ key institutions were carefully emplaced over our own, in order to rewrite and break in- heritance and memory of ngurang.

For instance, the Sydney Opera House, now considered one of the cultural emblems mediating contemporary Australian identity to the outside world , was built upon land that held one of the largest shell middens in Sydney Harbour (Warrane). Shell middens, which are made up of different food scraps, mostly shells and fish bones, contained so much information and history. By examining the fresh scraps on middens, mob from foreign nations could tell what food was edible in the area. Local mobs also examined the fresh scraps on middens to understand what had just been eaten and by how much so they know not to overcatch those species. This is how they kept their land sustainable for future generations just like their ancestors did for them. The older shells and bones would decay over time and mob would crush them up and mix them with water because the high calcium in the shells and bones would help with osteoporosis. Along with the information shell middens provide, they were also a meeting place where you get together with your mob and eat. They are a cultural emblem.

You could say the Sydney Opera House being built where a shell midden used to be is a continuation of that site or ngurang being a location of cultural activity and a place for people to gather. However, I argue that it is a concerted tactic to erase the history of the ngurang and impose a new culture. Change the ngurang, change the history. People walk around the Opera House and are amazed by it, but have no idea of the history they are walking on top of.

Even calling it the Sydney Opera House insidiously validates the name “Sydney” and this speaks to another method used to erase cultural memory and that is the renaming of ngurang. Our place names have our relationships and connections embedded in them. Additionally, the stories of how places got their names communicates important cultural, social and ecological information. Changing their names detaches us from ngurang and detaches ngurang from its context.

This includes culture derived from ngurang. For example, classifying a yiilaman as a shield imposes a loaded meaning onto the yiilaman, implying it was for defense and fighting. This plays right into the idea of First Nations people being savage and at constant war, when a yiilaman is more than that and was hardly used for fighting, it was about identity, storytelling, connection and ceremony.

Also, naming imposes English onto ngurang which removes it from the First Nations worldviews and philosophies encoded in our languages. For example, I was speaking with Gadigal man Joel Davison and he informed me the local Sydney word for bark was bugi and the local Sydney word for skin was bagi. These words reflects the deep connection our culture draws between the biology of plants and humans; when English is imposed on these beings the connection is lost.

The way First Nations people think about ngurang differs greatly from how colonisers think of ngurang. For instance, if you are going through another mob’s ngurambang (country) and kill an animal or plant that you are not supposed to, that could be punishable by death. This is not because of ownership reasons or even because you have disrupted the balance of their ngurambang, it’s because you have killed a member of their family. In many cases, it could be their Elders you have killed. It’s ngurambang first, mayiny (people) second.

There are two kinds of relationships that are most important, firstly between people and land, and secondly amongst people themselves. The second is contingent upon the first. The land and how we treat it is what determines our humanness.

Now consider the role of public institutions such as libraries, museums, and schools. Not only do their buildings physically attempt to erase the culture of ngurang they sit on, making it harder for people to imagine the fullness of history prior to (and beyond) their existence, they proliferate the colonisers worldview and story of ngurang. They also discuss the language and the cultural objects that are derived for ngurang without their context. Without their relationships, these institutions can only simplify First Nations language and culture. A boomerang in a museum is not a boomerang without its story, without its context.

Historically and even contemporarily, this is intentional. Presenting our history and culture in a certain way has assisted creating a story that weakens our ties and claims to this land. This colonial narrative presented can present changes to ngurang as “progress” by representing First Nations people as regressive. By presenting ngurang as such a passive agent, institutions justify the taking of land and create a power dynamic that sees ngurang as subservient to humans.

Consequently, the mythology attached to and conveyed by these institutions continues and is one that vindicates the lives of colonisers, which helps those who prosper now on the back of their land theft and violence feel less guilty or even proud. The existence of this creation of a colonial nation mythology heavily depends on the avoidance or denial of First Nations history. Particularly when that history intersects with the history of invaders.

Stripping First Nations people from their land to make space for settler architectures like museums, strips us of our data sources and from our family. This has been instrumental in weakening our cultures. However, I don’t believe our ties to ngurang are ever fully lost. As a Wiradjuri man, I have river in my blood, I have wind in my bones, and the sound of birds in my voice.


Come, build your House

Raelee Lancaster

come, build your house
from fish bones and shells
and Aunties’ blood. come,
cradle your children in the skeletons of ours.
catch, no release. eat
until your descendants are satisfied.
crush what is left. mix it. lay it
on our peeling flesh—careful
the corners don’t fray.
come, build your house
from fish bones and shells
and let yourself be settled
on black-skinned rugs


Wiray ngurang (no place)

Raelee Lancaster

no more fresh fish, wet Warrane dried out
ghostly bone, empty shell, history covered
up, new memories emerging, knowledge
removed from context. you erase us with
architecture, with houses on graves,
no more meeting grounds or ceremony, only
gilded ships, and statues, and false memory.

Raelee Lancaster is a Brisbane-based poet, and a research assistant with Macquarie University. She has performed at literary events and festivals around Australia and her work has featured in Rabbit, Scum Mag, Voiceworks, and other print and online media. In 2018, Raelee’s poetry was awarded first place for the Nakata Brophy Short Fiction and Poetry Prize for Young Indigenous Writers. Raised on Awabakal land, Raelee has connections to the Wiradjuri nation.

Nathan “mudyi” Sentance is a Wiradjuri creative producer who works to ensure that the cultural and historical narratives conveyed by cultural and memory institutions, such galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) have First Nations perspectives and that First Nations stories being told are being told and controlled by First Nations people. This is to balance the biases and misinterpretations of Aboriginal culture and people that has been previously set by GLAM institutions. Nathan was also a participant in the 2017 Wesfarmers/NGA Indigenous Arts Leadership program and is currently the convener of the Australian Society of Archivists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Special Interest Group. He produced Ngalu Warrawi Marri (we stand strong), the Invasion Day protest event at Australian Museum, and assisted in curating the upcoming Gadi exhibition at the Australian Museum and is a invited speaker the Museums Galleries Australia Conference for 2018.

Special thanks to Joel Scott for translation assistance.

The governing political party of the GDR (German Democratic Republic).
Led by architect Horst Bauer, who also designed Berlin’s iconic Café Moskau.
Tobias Doll, Elisabeth Eulitz, Karla Schäffner. Berlin- Pankow: Sozialistische Botschaftsbauten Städtebauliche Dokumentation – Freiraumplanung – Typenbauten. Masterarbeit im Masterstudium Denkmalpflege der TU Berlin, Wintersemester 2012-13.
One key architect involved in the urban planning of Marzahn, Wolf-Rüdiger Eisentraut, was in 1996 to renovate the embassy itself when it was transformed, briefly, into a medical laboratory.
A 1970 ‘Neues Deutschland’ article compared Australia to ‘neo-colonialist’ South Africa, citing its ambitions towards regional dominance, its racist ‘White Australia’ policy and ‘arch-reactionary’ denigration of Aboriginal people. See: Walter Kocher, ‘Der folgsame Vetter des Uncle Sam’, Neues Deutschland, 12.7.1970, 6.
The site was rented from the GDR by Australia, however operations were prematurely closed down in 1986. Held by the public hand for a time, the site subsequently hosted a kindergarten, the Deutsche Industrie- und Handelsbank AG, and the medical laboratory bioscientia Institut f. Laboruntersuchungen Ingelheim GmbH, before being privatised by the BImA) (Institute for Federal Real Estate) to investor Lars Dittrich, hosting the media start-up, being resold to real estate developer Prexxot GmbH and now: hosting the artist studio complex Atelierhaus Australische Botschaft Ost, who are currently attempting to extract the building from the speculative real estate bubble, looking towards collective ownership formats.
Doreen Massey, For Space, (SAGE Publications, 2005) 70-71.
Monteath, Peter (2008) ‘The German Democratic Republic and Australia’ in Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 16:2, 213-235, siehe auch: Schedvin, Boris (2008) Emissaries of Trade: A history of the Australian trade commissioner service, Canberra: WHH Publishing, 279-280.
Daley, Paul (2018), ‘Revealed: how Australian spies filmed Indigenous activists during the cold war’ in The Guardian, 13/02/2018. Artikel online aufrufbar hier.
Monteath Peter & Munt, Valerie (2015), Red Professor: The Cold War Life of Fred Rose, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 275.
Hurley, Andrew Wright (2015), ‘No Fixed Address, but currently in East Berlin: The Australian bicentennial, Indigenous protest and the Festival of Political Song 1988’ in Perfect Beat, 15:2, 129-148.
Krätzer, Tobias (1998), Botschaften und Konsulaten in Berlin: Eine stadtpolitische Analyse, Berlin Verlag, 132.
Frederic Jameson, ‘The Aesthetics of Singularity,’ New Left Review, no. 92 (2015): 130.
This definition of neoliberalism draws on William Davies, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (London: Sage, 2014). I have written about this at more length and with full references elsewhere: Ben Gook, ‘Backdating German Neoliberalism: Ordoliberalism, the German Model and Economic Experiments in Eastern Germany after 1989,’ Journal of Sociology 54, no. 1 (2018).
Arbeitsgruppe Alternative Wirtschaftspolitik, Deutsche Zweiheit—Oder: Wie viel Unterschied verträgt die Einheit? Bilanz der Vereinigungspolitik (St Katharinen: PapyRossa, 2010).
Gil Eyal, Iván Szelényi, and Eleanor R. Townsley, Making Capitalism without Capitalists: Class Formation and Elite Struggles in Post-Communist Central Europe (London: Verso, 1998).
Gareth Dale, The East German Revolution of 1989 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006); First the Transition, Then the Crash: Eastern Europe in the 2000s (London: Pluto Press, 2011).
Der Paritätische Gesamtverband, Menschenwürde ist Menschenrecht: Bericht Zum Armutsentwicklung in Deutschland 2017 (Berlin: Der Paritätische Gesamtverband, 2017).
Brigitte Young, Triumph of the Fatherland: German Unification and the Marginalization of Women (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999).
Jonathan Olsen, ‘The Left Party and the AfD: Populist Competitors in Eastern Germany,’ German Politics and Society 36, no. 1 (2018).
On disenchantment, see Davies. On German’s ongoing division, see Ben Gook, Divided Subjects, Invisible Borders: Re-Unified Germany after 1989 (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015). On divided Germany’s reckoning with Nazism and the GDR’s founding fantasies, see Julia Hell, Post-Fascist Fantasies: Psychoanalysis, History, and the Literature of East Germany (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997).
Morris Cohen and C.B. Macpherson, ‘Property and Sovereignty’, Property: Mainstream and Critical Perspectives (University of Toronto Press, 1978).
Kevin Gray, ‘Property in Thin Air’, Cambridge Law Journal, 50 (1991), 252–307.
Kevin Gray, The Legal Order of the Queue, 2007.
James E. Penner, The Idea of Property in Law (Clarendon Press, 1997); Cohen and C.B. Macpherson.
Nicholas Blomley, ‘Law, Property, and the Geography of Violence: The Frontier, the Survey and the Grid’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93 (2003), 121–141.
Cohen and C.B. Macpherson.
Cheryl Harris, ‘Whiteness as Property’, Harvard Law Review, 106(8) (1993), 1721.
Aileen Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
Ibid, Harris.
Davina Cooper, Governing Out of Order: Space, Law and the Politics of Belonging (Rivers Oram Press, 1998).
Emily Grabham, ‘”Flagging” the Skin: Corporeal Nationalism and the Properties of Belonging’, Body & Society, 15 (2009), 63–82.
Ibid, Cooper 629.
Ibid, Cooper 636.
Aileen Moreton-Robinson, ‘Imagining the Good Indige-nous Citizen’, Cultural Studies Review, 15(2), (2009), 61-80.
Here, there is a need to need to point towards – while refusing to appropriate – narratives of Aboriginal resistance to the settler state. A few key dates: In 1972, Aboriginal activists established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Parliament House, the seat of government in Canberra, which carved out a physical, social and political space of belonging in the Australian capital until today, subverting the version of Australia that parliamentarians wish to portray to diplomatic visitors, and in constant struggle with the colonial state. In 1973 the White Australia policy, which had effectively barred non-European immigrants from moving to Australia, was disbanded with a series of legal amendments prohibiting racial discrimination from being formally included in immigration law. In 1976, following a ten-year strike by the Gurindji people, led by Vincent Lingiari, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) became the first ever Australian law to ‘grant’ land rights to Aboriginal people. The lie of terra nullius remained part of Australian common law until it was overturned in Mabo v The State of Queensland in 1992; a later Labor government reneged on the promise of federal land rights, creating a post-Mabo legislative framework for ‘native title,’ as a weaker and more limited set of rights. See Andrew Schaap, Gary Foley and Edwina Howell, The Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Sovereignty, Black Power, Land Rights and the State (Routledge 2013).
Doreen Massey, ‘Power-geometry and a Progressive Sense of Place’, in Tim Putnam, Lisa Tickner, Jon Bird Barry Curtis (Eds.), Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change (Routledge, 1993).
Sarah Keenan, Subversive Property: Law and the Production of Spaces of Belonging (Routledge, 2015).
Glen Coulthard, Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (University of Minessota Press, 2014).
Ibid, Coulthard.
Matthis Berndt, Britta Grell, Andreas Holm et al, The Berlin Reader, (transcript, 2013), 14-15.
Dallas Rogers, The geopolitics of real estate : reconfiguring property, capital and rights (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016).
Sabrina Apicella et al, “In the eye of the storm. Urban Transformations in Berlin: Realities of Crisis and Perspectives for Social Struggles”, in Teaching the Crisis (Group research project, Summer school program, 2013). See also
‘German Democratic Republic’, NAA: A1838/272 30/1/3 Part 3, German Democratic Republic – Relations with Australia, 318.
‘German Democratic Republic’, NAA: A1838/272 30/1/3 Part 3, German Democratic Republic – Relations with Australia, 316.
Monteath and Munt, Red Professor, 275.