Communicating Culture: Exploring the Common Grounds Between North and South

Following last month’s release of the short documentary film Common Ground, Marnie Graham and Uncle Lex Dadd reflect on the trip of a lifetime, bringing together Indigenous communities from Sweden and Australia to stand in solidarity against resource extraction.

Image by Klas Martin Eriksson.

All the way from Sápmi in Sweden and Finland, a delegation of Indigenous Sámi representatives visited Australia in May 2019 to connect with Indigenous Australians and Country. Including reindeer herders, artists, and community activists, the delegates are all engaged in struggles to protect their lands and livelihoods from resource developments.

Together with researchers from Sweden, Finland and Australia, the Sámi representatives met with Indigenous peoples from Cape York and White Bear Nation, visited the Quandamooka people on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), and camped with Darug custodians at Yarramundi/Yellomundee Regional Park in Western Sydney. Common Ground shares this journey, and in particular the connections nurtured at Yarramundi. The documentary short highlights some ‘common grounds’ around Indigenous peoples’ powerful efforts across the world to maintain their cultures and care for their special places.

“Everyone also shared their respective experiences of colonisation and the continuing pressures and challenges of the post-colonial state.”

Darug custodian Uncle Lex Dadd leads regular Darug culture camps at Yarramundi through the Yanama budyari gumada collective, who have hosted over 700 people. Uncle Lex welcomed the Sámi delegates and researchers to Yarramundi, where they camped by the beautiful Deerubbin [Nepean River], and learnt about Darug Country, culture and histories. Participants and Darug custodians walked together on-Country, sharing meals and music around the campfire, and spraying their handprints on casuarina trees with ochre from deep in the earth.

Everyone also shared their respective experiences of colonisation and the continuing pressures and challenges of the post-colonial state, including the impacts of mining, development, conservation and resource exploitation, as well as stories of resistance, and cultural strength and revival. Uncle Lex reflects on the camp:

“Yarramundi is only an hour away from Sydney, yet here we can share culture in this natural environment, and we found so many similarities between our struggles. Very, very similar. And what amazed me is one young lady, she was a new mother, doing a PhD, plus herding reindeer at the same time. That just blew my mind. Like, how organised are you with your time, how diligent, not giving up – with all the constraints of the modern world and other people taking Country off you, and all those restrictions – nope, she’s just going to keep going. And that just shows true resilience of Indigenous people, right around the world.”

Uncle Lex Dadd, a Warmuli man of the Darug Nation. Image by Klas Martin Eriksson.

Professional film-maker Klas Eriksson directed and produced Common Grounds. He collaborates with the Yanama budyari gumada collective to communicate their work through his visually stunning films. He has also collaborated with the Sámi delegates and accompanying researchers to document their work on confronting climate change in Sápmi.

Inviting Klas to film the coming together of custodians from Sápmi and Darug Country was therefore a natural fit, of which Klas says “I couldn’t think of a more worthwhile project to be a part of”.

“I’m a Swedish person living in Australia, but also someone who has been fortunate enough to tell stories both from Sápmi and Darug country. As a filmmaker and storyteller, it is always an absolute joy and honour to be allowed to act as a megaphone for Indigenous perspectives. Both because I believe it is important for the world to hear as many of them as possible, but also on a more selfish level because it’s always a great learning experience. It was just awesome to see two groups of people that I’ve gotten to know from opposite ends of the planet interact and share these perspectives with each other, and seeing them find common ground and connecting almost instantly on the core issues and challenges they both face”.

Klas believes the survival of the planet “depends on more people opening their eyes to these practices. I hope that the wider population will start to realise that the preservation of Indigenous culture, tradition and rights are important not just for Indigenous communities, but for society as a whole”.

Yanama budyari gumada researchers Uncle Lex, Marnie Graham, and Sandie Suchet-Pearson note that the ‘common grounds’ explored in the film can strengthen solidarity between Indigenous groups who, although living on opposite sides of the world, experience many similar pressures and challenges.

Uncle Lex says “it would’ve been nice to spend more time with them, to share more culture as well. I just think it’s really important for our project to share that culture, and we can build on that. All these connections coming together”.

We certainly plan to continue strengthening these connections, and sincerely hope we can organise a reciprocal visit from Darug Country to Sápmi in the not too distant future. As Uncle Lex explains:

“We talked about me visiting Sápmi while they were here in Australia. They said ‘oh, we’ll have a motorbike for you, Uncle Lex, and you’ll be able to herd reindeer’. And what I’d love to see is how they can all pick out their own individual reindeer amongst hundreds of them, which I think shows that connection not only between Country but between their animals, their stewardship with these animals. I would love to go over there. It would be really, really special.”

Marnie Graham is a human geographer whose work focusses on Indigenous peoples’ rights and knowledges in the context of natural resource management. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and at the University of Johannesburg’s School of Tourism & Hospitality, where she examines the role of Indigenous tourism in processes of reconciliation in Australia and South Africa. Marnie is also an Honorary Associate at The Department of Geography & Planning at Macquarie University, where she is a proud member of the Yanama Budyari Gumada research collective.

Sandie Suchet-Pearson is Associate Professor at the Department of Geography & Planning at Macquarie University.

Uncle Lex Dadd is a Senior Darug man from the Warmuli clan of the Sydney area. He is Assistant Manager of the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture & Resource Centre, and Adjunct Fellow at the Department of Geography & Planning, Macquarie University. Uncle Lex leads the Darug Caring-as-Country project, supported by the NSW Government’s Environmental Trust.

Marnie, Sandie and Uncle Lex are all members of the Yanama budyari gumada research collective, winners of the 2019 Australasian Green Gown Award in the Benefitting Society Category.

For media enquiries, contact Vivienne Reiner, University of Sydney Media and Public Relations Adviser, +61 2 9351 2390 or vivienne.reiner@sydney.edu.au.