Kamilaroi students in global fight for sacred trees

Collarenebri Central School and Walgett Community College communities’ work to reclaim stolen artefacts sacred to their people, goes global tonight.

25 November 2021
A young girl looks straight at the camera while standing in front of a number of sacred, but dead, carved tree trunks
Image: Inspiration: Year 5 student Yindi Jakitsch at the site of the remaining carved trees.

Collarenebri Central School and Walgett Community College students, staff and community members will share the story of their connection to Collarenebri’s sacred carved trees with an international audience tonight.

Gaaguuwiya dhawunga – ‘Bring back home is a heartfelt documentary made by students about the carved trees of the traditional Banarway Bora ground near Collarenebri.

Local AECG President and the Community College’s Senior Leader, Ros McGregor, has worked for 15 years with students, bringing their cultural knowledge of the sacred trees into a contemporary context.

After learning the recent history of the destruction, theft and removal of 52 sacred carved trees from Collarenebri in 1949, young Kamilaroi students have now become advocates for the return of the trees, which are held in museums and private collections around the world.

Thanks to the work of the school communities, led by Ms McGregor, a big step is being taken towards the trees’ repatriation with a presentation tonight to the international Decolonising Provenance Research conference at the Ethnography Museum of Geneva.

The Collarenebri community’s aim is to have the trees returned, starting with six in the Victorian museum in Melbourne, and with a tree known to be in a Swiss collection.

“The return of the trees is vital to the healing and teaching of local Kamilaroi culture. The carved trees have a spirit that is past, present and future,” said Ms McGregor said.

“There are still some trees on country,” she said. “But the return of the others will give us connection to our own knowledge system and an opportunity to continue learning lessons from the very first bora. We can never go back to the times and way of life we had when the trees were carved, but the images and patterns on the trees speak directly to us as Kamilaroi people.”

Collarenebri Central School’s principal Michael Davison said the return of the trees was essential to the balance of local students’ education.

“Having these artefacts restored to country will help ensure future generations can build on their culture and identity, in addition to their western education,” Mr Davison said.

“Students have used their knowledge of the trees and patterns as inspiration for programs and art exhibitions over many years, but their engagement increased after seeing footage of the carved trees’ removal for the first time in a consultation with artist Brook Andrew for the 2020 Sydney Biennale.”

The connection to the conference in Switzerland was made through Mr Andrew and other academics at Monash University whose research connects Aboriginal knowledge systems to sacred trees.

The communities’ participation tonight will include playing the video and will be watched by students, staff and community members at Collarenebri Central School.

The conference is focused on sharing experience of repatriating cultural artefacts and negotiating the future of colonial collections.

Register to watch the conference live http://www.ville-ge.ch/meg/en/collections_12.4.php



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