I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land this event is being held upon, the Cadigal people of the Eora nation. I acknowledge the Nhunggabarra people who gather at this event to celebrate a profound cultural and literary accomplishment. I acknowledge my Wiradjuri kin and colleagues here this evening and those who are not. I would like to acknowledge the many nations and communities represented here, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, intra-national and international. I acknowledge those Elders who are present and those who are not.
We come together to celebrate a significant literary milestone. I would like to take this moment to congratulate Tex and Karl Erik for taking risks, for charting new versions of ancient knowledge/s, for retelling the stories to sustain Nhunggabarra culture and, in doing so, potentially enrich all other cultures.
Like the cultural sites that Tex acknowledges as ‘signposts’, this book is a ‘signpost’. For many of us who write and read about Aboriginal histories and cultures, who are exposed to the various media portrayals of Aboriginal cultures across our many nations within Australia and who advocate (in our respective ways) for social justice for Aboriginal peoples, the book ‘Treading Lightly’ teaches us. For those who care about our communities and our Mother, the Earth, ‘Treading Lightly’ teaches us.
In chapter 3 ‘The Knowledge is in the story’, Karl-Erik documents Tex’s account of the four levels of knowledge associated with Nhunggabarra cultural stories. Herein lies a signpost for our own multiple readings of this book. Those of us privileged enough to have experienced Tex’s teaching about culture will have heard him speak about ‘pulling out’ the meaning of the story. This is referred to in the book.
At the meta-level, this book of stories is a story in its’ own right from which meanings can be ‘pulled out’. It is a contemporary story with two storytellers whose diverse cultural ancestry and technologies come together to retell stories about all of our local and global responsibilities...respect toward ourselves, our communities and our management of the environment.
It is also a ‘signpost’ for writers and teachers. As an educator at UTS (Sydney University of Technology), I spend much time supporting future teachers audit their past knowledge of Australian histories and define anew a space (and informed rationale) for the inclusion of Aboriginal studies in their professional practice (and I acknowledge some of those UTS students and colleagues present tonight). It can be a challenge to represent an appropriate balance between positive and negative aspects of Indigenous lived experience within this country. I can ‘pull out’ many things from the ‘story of stories’ that Tex and Karl-Erik has created. One meaning is to ensure that our children are sufficiently immersed in that which is positive about culture so that they can be strong. To give our children that which is culturally affirming. It inspires us to work hard (and with respect) to re-search for and re-present our cultural heritages to inspire our children as future custodians.
For those of us who might endeavour to ‘pull out’ the multiple levels of meaning from this contemporary ‘story’, we can recognize how some of its teachings might benefit our own practices and lives and thereby our own communities.
We might recognize that ‘Treading Lightly’ is infused with the humility of the custodial knowledge keeper, Tex, who was chosen by his old people to take on the responsibilities of learning and teaching about Nhunggabarra culture. He took up that responsibility and for that we can all be grateful. The work of Karl-Erik Sveiby, Dr. Kati Laine-Sveiby and most significantly, Anne Morrill, Tex’s partner in all aspects of life, have been instrumental in supporting the writing and resolution of ‘Treading Lightly’. For that we can all be grateful.
I know personally that this book has resonated with its’ readership constituency already. As I tried to snatch time on the home front to read through ‘Treading Lightly’, I was perplexed that the book kept going missing from the central location where I had placed it in my lounge room. As I routinely went about my evening duties as carer of my three young children…shutting what was opened, feeding who was hungry, cleaning what was dirty, picking up what was dropped, restoring what had been destroyed…I ventured toward the bed of my 6 year old son, Dylan Yawarra, and found him quietly, with his prized, groovy book light, exploring my copy of ‘Treading Lightly’…looking at Tex’s paintings. He said ‘Mum…look, Aboriginal paintings…I’m Aboriginal’.
This Wiradjuri mum was very proud.
The book ‘Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People’ is a generous and brave intellectual, spiritual and cultural contribution to Nhunggabarra culture and to all cultures. It is an archive for generations yet to be born.
What might this book invite us to contemplate…‘Tread lightly; learn deeply’