07 Oct Jandamarra Cadd
‘We need a perspective of We, not Me’: a chat with Jandamarra Cadd
Jandamarra Cadd is an acclaimed portrait artist and Aboriginal elder of Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung descent. We had a chat about what we can learn from first nations cultures about the environment, healing, and moving forward from trauma.
Listen to the whole podcast here, or read on for some highlights.
Jandamarra Cadd is one of the nation’s most eminent portrait artists, acclaimed in every major Australian portraiture award, including the Archibald Prize. He’s also an Aboriginal elder, descending from both Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung peoples – among the oldest living cultures in the world – a perspective which deeply informs his work and life.
Our founder Ant Moorhouse sat down with Jandamarra in Noosa to talk about the land, country and what all of us should know about first nations culture, healing, and the earth.
Listen to the whole podcast here, or read on for some highlights.
Q: For many Australians, especially those over a certain age, there’s always been this blank in our knowledge about Indigenous culture. Is this changing?
A: I think it’s slowly changing.
For such a long time, 200 years, there’s been this mentality of Aboriginal people as a backwards race of savages. This mentality didn’t see the sophisticated understanding that could have actually benefited all people in this country, that knows, ‘when that flower comes out the mud crab is ready, when that flower is out, don’t go fishing, wrong time, you’ll disrupt these million year cycles and disrupt your children’s children’s children’s future…’.
But what you share about that blank space is that people are wanting, now, to understand and fill it in. Mainstream Australia has a fragmented identity, and we yearn to understand about what has been here for so long.
Q: The world is changing, or at least it feels like it’s changing for the better, at least from my position of privilege… but is ‘reconciliation’ the right idea?
A: I think it’s hard, because reconciliation means ‘coming back to.’ But we’ve never actually had a conciliation. For the longest time, Australia has been trying to turn Aboriginal people into white people, and that’s caused so much damage. We have the highest rates of suicide and incarceration in the entire world, the lowest life expectancy of all people, in the entire world. It’s a struggle to know how to move forward.
How I share it, is that for Aboriginal people and the land, it’s like a fish in water. For Aboriginal people, and for all of us perhaps on a deeper level, that connection may look separate like a fish in water, but as soon as you try to take them apart, look what will happen. It starts to get separation anxiety and freak out, its organs and brains start to shut down, eventually it passes away. Aboriginal people are in that transition. You go ‘I don’t know who I am without my connection to country, the plants and animals.’ It’s genetic memory, memories of millions of years of what’s natural for me. When people say, get over it, they’re just saying ‘put a suit on and become like us.’ And this isn’t destroying a people, this is destroying the oldest continuous living culture in the world.
Q: How can we get us as humanity from exploiting the environment, to being stewards of the environment? The way that European, modern culture has exploited the land over the last few hundred years – there’s so much suffering. But the smartest tech and scientific people I know are going back to nature to learn, and the irony is that they’re going back to the old ways to learn. What is the foundation of the old ways – that connection to the land, and the knowledge base within that?
A: Well, Aboriginal people had no dentists, hospitals, no known tooth decay, no known diseases as we know today. All of these things that in Western culture run rampant. My great grandmother once said to me, ‘once you move away from this one,’ pointing to the ground, ‘you get this one – Rama Rama’ – it means sickness of the spirit, body, everything. The further you move from the land, the further you move from who you are.
What I see it as, the Aboriginal people understood they were a part of something, not separate to it. Everything is based around an inherent understanding that we are one with everything. For Aboriginal people, their connection to that flower, that dirt, that tree, and their responsibility to look after it – it wasn’t an effort or that they have to do, it was natural. It was self.
Q: In modern life, by contrast, it’s so different. We’re not connected to our food supply; our feet aren’t connected to the earth… how do we move forwards? What does that look like?
A: Moving forwards is about bringing what is behind, or back – but not in a linear sense, bringing it back rather in the way of a circle or the spiral.
You can’t deny what is here. But the technology we have has to align with that natural law, that’s about the sustainability of all life.
Technology used in a way that facilitates the role of nature, that facilitates education, that infiltrates all these systems that treat all these things as separate and with such disrespect and disregard… that’s positive. For example, a lot of people are infused with this deep feeling of loneliness and isolation and suffering, which is due to no connection to your community, with people, with your environment – but technology can bring people back together.
Ultimately if you dig all those holes bigger, and cut down that tree to get that one fruit, you’re taking from your children’s future, you’re taking from your your children’s children’s future, and in that I feel it’s the greatest form of child abuse that could ever exist, in that ‘I want what I want now, but you’re not going to have it tomorrow because of that.’
I feel like this modern day way is not wrong or bad, but it needs to be in balance, and we need to be aware that ‘we are that’ not ‘we own that.’
Q: So how do we collectively go about healing indigenous communities that are hurting so much because of the past?
A: I feel the greatest step is acknowledgement. Aboriginal people aren’t looking to assign blame. It’s not about blame, it’s about healing.
But you can’t heal if the majority of a society is ignorant – about the massacres, the rapes, the brainwashing of kids to think their culture is wrong. My family is lathered in intergenerational trauma. Trauma gets passed down, and hence the high rates of suicide and incarceration. But acknowledgement leads to coexistence. It can enrich the lives of all people.
Q: With the welcome to country, should there be a reply? It’s a one-sided, sometimes token gesture. Are we meant to respond?
A: I don’t think so. It’s more of an acknowledgement. If people want to come up and say thank you, that’s deeply respectful, but it’s a thing that people should sit, and absorb and take in, with sacred reverence.
We need to see that an indigenous culture, or ‘back there,’ isn’t behind. ‘Back there’ is where you’re headed to. It’s a circle. A connection to land and ourselves through all of these things, everything else starts to make sense in our lives.
The fragmentation that happens [with our mainstream way of life], this ignorance, this separation from everything, it keeps us imprisoned in a way of being that can’t last. The earth will get rid of us – we’re damaging the earth which simply means it’s us becoming the endangered species.
We need to come from a perspective of ‘we’, not ‘me.’