Bunya Dreaming

by Natalie Brown

Bev Hand and  Indigenous author and activist, Jackie Huggins (Den Lalor Photo)

Bev Hand and Indigenous author and activist, Jackie Huggins (Den Lalor Photo)

After 120 years, the bunya nut gathering returned to the hinterland in 2007. This year there is a lot to celebrate, as it is the first year that the gathering was held on the Mimburi property, in the Obi Obi Valley, on 300 acres of land alongside the Mary River.

The history of the Indigenous peoples is a painful one, but despite the reality of the situation, they are optimistic about their ability to rebuild their culture. One person who is trailblazing this path for the Kabi Kabi peoples is local Indigenous woman, Beverly Hand.

Auntie Bev has worked tirelessly over the years, to revitalise culture in the area, with extensive landcare, community engagement, and rebirthing the bunya gathering in 2007.

Children race for the bunya gathering

Children race for the bunya gathering

Following the Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the Sale of Opium Act of Queensland Parliament in 1897, the government forcibly removed Indigenous people off the land. As a result they stopped their annual bunya gathering at Baroon, the last was recorded in 1887. It was here that they would meet to celebrate the harvest of the bunya, feast, share games, stories, culture and community, as the different mobs came together.

Over the years that followed, a lot of the bunya trees were cut down for farming, so Beverly and Barung Landcare have spent years eradicating weeds and planting thousands of trees in the area. “The trees live for 500-700 years and you’d get trees 60 metres tall back then,” said Bev. “By law we weren’t allowed to harm them, and it was the only tree that we had a law about, and such a reverence for. So when they started cutting down the trees it was such a mournful time, and that mourning lasted a long time.”

The name ‘Mimburi’ literally means ‘continual flow’, and refers to “the continual flow of every living thing, and how we all have a relationship with one another”. The land, currently under lease by Beverly, has an abundance of bunya trees on it, which makes it the perfect place for holding the gathering. She chose to call it ‘Bunya Dreaming’ because she wanted it to be a meeting for people to come together for community, and to dream together a vision for the future.

Robin Clayfield shucking bunya nuts

Robin Clayfield shucking bunya nuts

“It’s about people gathering to celebrate the harvesting of the bunya. That’s what the idea is, but what actually happens is that people connect.”

The day was supported by the Sunshine Coast Heritage Levy, and brought together people of all walks of life in the spirit of reconciliation, to share in the rich culture of the Indigenous peoples, with over 600 visitors and Elders coming from near and far.

This hefty Bunya Nut weighed 9.6kg!

This hefty Bunya Nut weighed 9.6kg!

For the more energetic competitors there was the ‘bunya gathering’ game where heats of men, women and children ran back and forth, collecting as many bunya cones as they could in a minute. ‘Bunya shucking’ involved people sitting in a circle with a bucket and a bunya cone, shucking as many nuts as they could in a minute. Others picked up a large bunya cone and attempted to guess the weight of it (9.6kg).

There was something for everyone, with the ‘flora and fauna challenge’ providing an opportunity to name plants, bunya yarners took to the stage for the ‘bunya storytelling’; a ‘bunya art challenge’, where they created art out of wood, seeds, nuts and other pieces of flora. Young musicians competed by playing a song to the crowd, with one lucky winner taking the bunya guitar home for a year. There was also an opportunity to watch and participate in a didge making workshop, and learn how to make a hunting boomerang.

Some of the delicious spread in the bunya food competition

Some of the delicious spread in the bunya food competition

One of the highlights of the gathering was the bunya food competition, with a huge number of entries of an array of dishes made from bunya nuts. They included a bunya cheesecake, bunya biscuits, bunya and ham soup, bunya iced chai tea and a bunya scone loaf. The judges included Indigenous elder Aunt Helanor, Graham White from Witchety Grub Bush Food Nursery and local chef Peter Wolfe from Cedar Creek Farm.

Bev says, “the Mimburi community was established to help support the local Indigenous community and to create a greater awareness of Indigenous culture in the broader community.” Their membership is inclusive, with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people invited to become members, and participate in the activities.

The community has four business functions which include growing their own food; health and wellbeing, including a monthly gathering for women, and a men’s group that camps on the property; and a place of respite for Elders and Murri Sisters carers.

Another project on the cards is a slow release rehabilitation program for when people are discharged from jail. Rather than getting dumped at the nearest Centrelink or pub, they can come to the Mimburi land, and be in a safe place until they get on their feet. They are also offering the space for school groups to learn weaving, spear making, dance and other aspects of Indigenous culture.

Since leasing Mimburi, Beverly and her partner Michael have completed extensive work including organic toilets, a camp kitchen and other infrastructure. Currently she does not know what the future holds for the property. Beverly hopes they will be in a position to use their option to buy when the lease ends in May 2015, but she needs help to make it happen. Contact Beverley at info@mimburi.com.au for more information about Mimburi, or to assist with fundraising.