What’s in a Name?

When I first saw the name I was horrified! Surely that was not the ‘official’ name as designated by the signage. I arrived in town and asked around. Oh yes, people in Sydney are shocked by the name, but we’re not. It’s been called that for donkey’s ages, so why should we change it? Maybe I had it wrong? Maybe it had something to do with cotton? After all we were in cotton growing country and they had cotton gins! And maybe there was one there? But no, my initial response was correct.

‘Gin’s Leap’ was the name given to an extraordinary rockface where, according to a European myth, a young woman from the Gomeroi people was promised to an older man, however she ran off with her lover from a neighbouring tribe. They were pursued by Gomeroi warriors and subsequently leaped to their deaths. 

Upon my return journey I stopped at the foot of this rock formation and read the tale on the official sign. No word about the Gomeroi people’s traditional name for the site, or what ‘tribe’ the lover came from. I’m a storyteller: I deal in folklore. This story wasn’t holding up. When I first heard it relayed to me, my comment was a question, ‘maybe she was pushed?’ But there was no further response from my original town source of the story. 

I wasn’t comfortable with the notion of a young lovers suicide pact or the acceptance of the word ‘gin’ for an Aboriginal woman. The term ‘gin’ is equivalent in offence to using the words ‘abo’ or ‘nigger.’ What council in Australia is happy in the twenty first century to be perpetuating racism in their official naming of sites? And why would any residents of the Shire want to keep it?

After doing some research I discovered an interview by Patrick Sevil of the Gomeroi Narrabri Aboriginal Corporation who is leading a challenge to the local council to change the name of the site back to its traditional name, Cooloobindi. In the interview with CAAMA, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, Patrick refers to the existence of another story at Cooloobindi. 

In the 1870’s forty three women and children were rounded up by armed men and marched up to the top of the rock and ordered to jump or be shot. Given that massacres of Aboriginal people occurred all over Australia, and were covered up or denied, this story is far more plausible than the one that spurned the name ‘Gin’s Leap.’Forcing people to jump off cliffs and waterfalls, not only ‘saved bullets’ but if discovered, could easily be referred to as an accident or suicide! The book, Baal Belbora: The massacre of a Peaceful People by Geoffrey Blomfield (1981), documents massacres in the nineteenth century around the headwaters of the Manning, Macleay and Hastings rivers in NSW. 

For Patrick Sevil’s interview:

http://caama.com.au/gomeroi-people-call-for-name-change

Photo of Cooloobindi by Roman W. Schatz

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Strength: the truth teller or the opinionator

Early morning conversation between storyteller and husband

 

I’m just working out what I want to write in my blog.

And what country are you going to upset today?

I’m not selective, but I do want to write about yesterday’s incident. Some people would say that I stepped into a minefield for challenging the sanctity of the americans’ belief in their right to bear arms, but I reject that metaphor. When there are kids in the world today having their legs blown off by land mines, how can we in all conscience, make light of that by using that terminology to describe a conversation.  It’s like when people say they are starving, or that some one was their slave, or someone is a fascist.  These flippant exaggerations trivialise the reality of the lives of millions of people, past and present. 
No I am not being politically correct. That accusation is levelled at truth tellers as a denigration, because people don’t like being reminded of their insensitivity or privilege.
Truth teller?  Is that how you see yourself? I’ve always thought of you as a professional liar. 
But I know when I’m telling lies, and if other people are telling lies then I want to set them straight; especially those that think they are telling the truth. 
So whose truth are you telling? 
My own of course; everyone has there own version.
What about opinionator? Isn’t that closer to the mark? 
Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.

 

Here Lies Truth

 

Yesterday I encountered people who believed passionately in lies. Let me begin with the last one. This is instantly recognizable because its an ‘internet story.’ It is sincere, purports to be the truth, and includes factual information to assist in its credibility. I believed it when I heard my colleague tell it to the library crowd. We discussed it afterwards and I went home and retold it to my husband, who was immediately skeptical. I, being entranced by the tale had suspended disbelief, but then went in search of a source. I wanted it to be true. Numerous sites posting the story came up, but all with no source. My further research showed no evidence of the story’s validity. It was folklore, a lovely story, but not a true story. And so I will tell her what I have discovered, which doesn’t mean she shouldn’t tell it, but does mean that she needs to tell it in a truthful context. I’m a professional storyteller and I feel beholden to know the sources of my stories and credit them when possible. I also like to differentiate between the possible and the actual. 

 

This takes me to my first encounter, with a number of people who believed they had the right to own and use guns chiefly to protect themselves against their government. No these weren’t citizens living under a dictatorship; they were americans, living in a democracy. Every person over the age of 18 can vote in that country, although many don’t exercise that right. While the US government is currently proposing legislation that threatens the civil liberties of all people living there, the response by these people was not to mobilise citizens to vote or to protest, but to arm themselves with weapons.

 

They seriously believe that in a democracy all people have the right to carry and use guns, and that this will protect them; from their own elected government.
I understand that there is a valid reason for some people to carry a gun, such as putting down a sick farm animal, or if you are under attack from a bear, or an alligator, but that’ s probably not such a big threat in most American cities. 

 

As to the other reasons like defending your person and property. Property is just stuff; inanimate things. Nothing worth killing for. As to defending yourself and family? From what? Bears? Oh no its gangs. And they have easy access to weapons that they will always get illegally so gun control won’t affect them, or so I’ve been told. But how do you know if you’ve never done it?

 

What if the US government decided that everyone had to hand in their guns, unless they had a bear or alligator problem or were farmers (all of whom have no need for automatic weapons). What if?
Undoubtedly there would be outrage by some sectors of the US community; a sad indictment on the morality of that country. But I hold to the vision of a world where strength is not measured in armaments or weaponry but in humanity.

 

Strength (A Limba Tale from West Africa)

 

All the animals gathered together and elephant announced his idea to have a contest to discover who has strength.
On the appointed day each animal was to display their strength. Everyone arrived and last of all came Man, who had brought a gun with him and left it in the bushes.
Chimpanzee went first. He held his arms up in the air and shook them, then ran up the trunk of a small tree, bent it down and tied it into a knot.
He climbed back down and asked, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’
And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’
Then Deer leaped up into the air and ran five kilometres into the forest and back again without being out of breath.
She looked around and called out, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’
And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’

Leopard then jumped up and drew out his long claws and began to scrape the earth. The dirt flew left and right and the animals had to moved out of the way.He turned to the assembly and growled, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered.
‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’Bushbuck strode forward, lowered her horns and he ploughed a road through the canefields.

She turned to the crowd and shouted, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered.
‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’Elephant then leaned his shoulder against a clump of trees and each one of them broke and crashed to the ground.He turned to the other animals and trumpeted, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’

 And last it was Man’s turn.  He whirled and he twirled about, then he did somersaults and cartwheels and handsprings. When he was finished he turned to the animals and asked, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals all looked at each other and slowly they answered.

‘It was exciting but we’re not sure if that’s strength.’

So  Man climbed a tree and he threw down the palm nuts. he climbed back down and asked,’Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’ 

Once again the animals looked at each other and said, ‘You climbed a tree, which is great, but that’s really not strength. Can you do anything else?’

Man was angry.

He ran into the bush and retrieved his gun. He ran back with it, pointed it at the elephant and then pulled the trigger.

BANG

The elephant fell down dead.

Man jumped up and bragged. ‘Strength! Strength! Wasn’t THAT strength?!’

But there were no animals to answer him. They had all fled into the forest, where they huddled together and talked.

‘Did you what he did? Was that strength?’ 

There was silence while they all pondered the question.  

‘No that was not Strength.  That was DEATH.’

Since that day the animals will not walk with Man.

When Man enters the forest he walks by himself. And they still talk of him. Man; the creature who cannot tell the difference between strength and death.

 

Sources: Limba stories and story-telling [compiled and translated by] Ruth Finnegan Published 1967 by ClarendonP. in Oxford, UK   MacDonald, M. R. (1992). Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About. Linnet Books, USA

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