The Mirning People are Center Stage in the Fight for the Bight and are now Protecting for the Long-Term through Native Title Recognition.
In 2019, Bunna Lawrie was recognised by his peers with the Conservation South Australia Jill Hudson Award for a lifetime of work to protect and care for the country.
In March 1992, Elder Iris Burgoyne and Elder Bunna Lawrie of the Mirning People presented Julian Lennon with a white feather and asked him to use his voice to help preserve their culture and country. In response, he learned of their plight and produced the documentary ‘Whaledreamers’. Julian created The White Feather Foundation to ensure the Mirning People benefitted from any profit generated by the film.
Years later, The White Feather Foundation launched a campaign to help the Mirning People protect their traditional Sea Country of the Great Australian Bight. We are at risk of losing our planet’s oldest continuous culture and greatest whale sanctuary, though together we can protect this.
We caught up this week with Bunna Lawrie, Senior Mirning Elder from the Nullarbor in the coastal lands of south-west Australia, to see how things are going since our last report.
TWFF: You spoke with us in 2018 to motivate donors to take action and support the Mirning Elders to protect your traditional Sea Country and stop oil companies, such as Equinor (Statoil), from drilling in the Great Australian Bight. How has this progressed over the past two years?
EBL: My duty and responsibility is to protect and care for whales, the sea and all that lives there. I follow where my ancestors left. Many others from around the world have come forward to also follow this path in protecting and caring for our Mirning Sea Country.
In the last two years we have had an amazing response from the people of Australia and Norway to protect the Great Australian Bight and ask Equinor not to drill. As part of the Bight Alliance, I lead many ‘paddle-outs’ into the sea on surfboards and small boats. This happened all around the country and even in Norway. This was Australia’s and Norway’s largest-ever grassroots campaign. In March this year, Equinor withdrew from drilling in the Bight.
TWFF: That’s wonderful news! But I understand there is much more work to be done.
EBL: Yes, now we are working for the long-term. Equinor is the fourth oil company that has left plans to drill and we need to act before the next company arrives. The Great Australian Bight is a very unique and pristine place with a biodiversity greater than the Great Barrier Reef. A huge 84% of the Australian population support applying for World Heritage status to protect the Bight. The Mirning Elders wish to nominate our country for World Heritage status.
We have also been working hard to protect our traditional custodianship of Mirning Sea Country. While we are small in numbers, we are big in heart and among the Mirning People we have raised a portion of the funds to apply for Native Title recognition. We also have the support of excellent and generous lawyers who can see the wonderful potential. While these applications normally cost in the millions, due to all the generosity, we just need to raise $100,000 AUD for our claim to be made and processed.
Now, I am asking all of you who read this to please be part of this historic story and be Caretakers of the Bight!
TWFF: One of the ways you keep the Mirning culture alive is through music with your band, Coloured Stone. Tell us about your performances and how they help educate audiences about Aboriginal life.
EBL: Through my lyrics, the song tells a story and I talk to the audience to explain the songs as a message to educate people and to teach them how to connect to nature. Sometimes I sing the whale songs that have come from my grandfather and ancestors. I teach the audience how to care for our environment, protect the sea and whales and our resources, the fish and shellfish. We only take what we need and use resources sparingly, so that there is always more for future generations. We also care and share with other beings who live around us and we share our environment with respect. We are family to the sea and whales.
We teach our young people about celebrating and honouring the gifts of Mother Nature through our Mirning culture and ceremonies. Our songs, stories and messages are most essential and important for us Mirning, for our very survival and meeting our duties and responsibilities with Mother Nature, as Elders and People of the whale totem. Our culture, custom and tradition help us to protect and heal our country.
Listen. Learn. Understand. Observe. Mirning People follow these and then Knowledge and Wisdom arise.
There is so much suffering in the World and harmful actions towards the environment. Now we face so much uncertainty. We saw this with the bushfires around Australia and in Mirning country on the Nullarbor and now with the pandemic.
TWFF: Was any sacred land lost in the bushfires or were you far enough from it not to be impacted directly?
EBL: We were okay, we were pretty safe. In the past we’ve done lots of burning off [with controlled fire] to keep the land going, so we know how to work with fire. Our people speak to the fire and speak to the rain—that’s what I’m trying to teach people about: connecting to the land and connecting to the elements. The great Creator has given us all these beautiful gifts.
Actions to protect our traditional custodianship are actions of healing with Mother Nature. Now is the time to protect our customs, traditions and connection with this Country, which are so ancient that they are from time immemorial, from the Dreamtime.
We share our Country not only with our people who live there, but with the animals that live there; behind us, around us and in front of us. We make sure the whales have a safe place. We sing songs to them and they love us singing to them and we love them singing to us. We’re healing one another and we’re teaching people that if you look after the land, the land will look after you. Mother Nature is real.
Passing on customs, traditions and millennia of our ancestors’ wisdom to keep this land and Sea Country so pristine is vital for our children’s future in the generations to come.
TWFF: What’s the best way for our supporters to take action for your tribe today?
EBL: The best way to support is to make a contribution towards the campaign so this great work can continue and complete. Then we will be legally recognised as the traditional custodians of the Great Australian Bight, our Mirning Sea Country. Then we will be able to meet our duties to Mother Nature and offer healing in this world.
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