Jeff Hulcombe on A Symbol for Our Times

A Story of Our Future

Jeff Hulcombe

Symbols are how we communicate. Symbols are expressive of our inner most thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams. Symbols may come in all shapes, forms and media. We tattoo them on our bodies, we raise them on our flag poles, we paint them on city walls, or view them in art galleries. We listen to them on our phones, we read them in books and we interpret and articulate them in all the forms available to us.

Symbols are the substance of our lives, we adopt them to express ourselves or the community we belong to, they both tell us and speak our story. And currently this country, Australia, is struggling in its quest for a story, a narrative that is inclusive and encompassing of our past, present and future.

Earlier this year representatives of the Indigenous peoples of this country met at the heart of Australia, Uluru, to work out how they wished to be ‘recognised’ in their own land. It was truth to power when they expressed their main aim was to have a voice and to be heard. And in this request to be heard lies an onus on the nation to listen and if we listen we might understand. And if we understand then we have a responsibility to act accordingly.

During the years Jeff has worked in Central Australia he has been privileged and privy to an ongoing learning experience in regard to a set of symbols that Anangu of the region have formulated to articulate their story. This story, Jeff has learnt, is all inclusive of An­angu life and being. It is the story of who they are. The key to this story is that it is inclusive and so wish it to be shared and understood, for in fact their lives depend upon it.

Unfortunately, thus far, Anangu have had very little success in others understanding let alone accepting their story. Often it is met with ignorance, arrogance or plain hostility. And this for them is difficult to comprehend and injures deeply when its substance is who they are and is, they consider, a story for all.

Jeff will try to present what he understands of these symbols and the story being offered to this country.

Jeff Hulcombe has lived and worked in the Pintupi - Luritja lands of Central Australia since 1980. He has a background and experience in various levels of cross-cultural education, community development planning, community government, health administration, health research and land management. In the early 1990s, he helped establish the regional office of the Central Land Council at Papunya and managed the office for eight years. He has also worked as a consultant on various projects for Government, Central Land Council and Non-Government Organisations.  Over the last six years he was involved in establishing and managing an Indigenous ranger program at Papunya. More recently he has returned to teaching to help set up a secondary education program at Amunturrngu (Mt Liebig), 320 km. north-west of Alice Springs.

Audio: Listen to or download (right click and "save link as")  the audio of Jeff's paper.

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