n the SHAC courtyard, Ken and I started building the fire in our fire pit at about 4.30pm on the day our smoking ceremony was at last to take place here. I had been collecting sticks and discarded branches for ages. Ancient wood cut in the local area and left on the verge, waste for some but a gift to me. Sometimes, I feel very sad for the trees that man chooses to cut down. So I honour this gift from the earth today, using each branch and cluster of twigs to build the foundations of a good fire for the smoking ceremony tonight.
I put the fire drum on a spot on the grass so we can use the wall as seating. The cane chairs and Fiona’s benches staggered in a circle to seat residents, members, friends and pets, who are all gathering for the opportunity to have a community clearing, to be engulfed in thick, plumes of smoke.
We had invited Traditional Custodian Uncle Joe Northover to conduct the smoking ceremony, with sister artist Marcel Riley and brother Howard Riley. We asked to clear the old and make way for the next stages of our SHAC community’s development. And most importantly, to honour the first peoples and this land.
It was very windy, most of us had hoodies and jumpers on. Uncle Joe spoke in Wadjuk Noongar language with spirit and in English. He talked of family, community and connection. He sensed there had been negativity and some people feeling bad in the circle.
With handfuls gathered of the long slender peppermint tree, Agonis Flexuosa, we rubbed it’s soft leaves under our arm pits, as instructed by Uncle Joe. Then we offered them to the fire, burning and smoking the leaves on the logs and coals.
Now is the time to let it go, he said, let the problems get carried away with the smoke.Allow the smoke to cleanse and revitalise you. And to clear the way ahead, working and living together as a community. The Aboriginal people believe this to be the way and it felt very important to allow ourselves to share this together.
When the sun was setting Uncle Joe sang in language, and a flock of Nularks the white tailed Black cockatoos flew across the sky. Witnessing their flight and cries, together with song, made a tear roll down my face as I shared this moment, connecting with the land and place, past, present and future.
Afterwards, Rachel thanked and acknowledged Uncle Joe and family on Shac’s behalf. Then we shared a big feed, with a SHAC community feast. Sitting round yarning, I look around at all the glowing faces open to our new beginning, respecting the Aboriginal people who lived on this land for thousands of years before now.
I am blessed and grateful for living in this co-operative. Thank you to all who shared in this part of our journey here in this space SHAC. Thank you too, Rachel Riggs for initiating and co-ordinating the smoking and gracing us with the beautiful flower wreaths from the Peppermint tree to welcome us.
SHACC acknowledges the Noongar people as the traditional custodians of the Whadjuk region, on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and honour all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the first people of this nation. SHACC is committed to a positive future for our Aboriginal community.
Always was. Always will be Aboriginal land.
SHAC is a group of Fremantle based artists living as an co-operative housing group