16 April, 2021

Caring for country, in the eyes of a Jinibara elder

HAVING been born into two cultures, Woodford-based traditional custodian artist BJ Murphy describes himself as “navigating these two worlds”. “It’s all about caring for country and keeping an eye on it,” he said.

Woodford-based BJ Murphy was recently recognised as a Jinibara elder.
Woodford-based BJ Murphy was recently recognised as a Jinibara elder.

“The skills set is forever evolving, learning about country.”

Murphy, who has only resided in Woodford for about a year but has continuously been there “on country”, spent most of his youth in and around north Brisbane, and was only recently recognised as a Jinibara elder.

“You go from being taught, to being a leader,” he said.

“There are difficulties when learning within indigenous culture and Western culture as it’s two societies you’ve got to navigate through, with lores and politics.

“It’s a tricky thing to find balance.

“Though we’ve moved forward we still have so far to go.”

With his family who were a part of the Stolen Generation, Murphy said he was also healing and was determined to create a safe environment for his children and their children's children when they begin to grow and step up as leaders in the community.

Murphy noted that society, acknowledgement and reconciliation were forever changing and slowly moving forward.

Murphy referred to what he previously considered “hippie talk” when it came to connecting with country as a youth. But the older he gets and the more country he walks, the more connected he feels and understands just how connected with nature and mother earth one can be.

The Jinibara people are the registered native title holders from Eumundi to Esk and surrounding area after being granted determination in 2012, and are comprised of the descendants of Fanny Mason (known as Jowalmel, who was born in the 1840s at Woodford) and Willie McKenzie (known as Gaiarbau, born in 1826 on a river bed in Kilcoy).

Also on his website, Murphy is described as “a Jinibara artist representing the Dungidau clan...his true passion lies in art and expressing his stories through it. His contemporary style combines experimentation in color with traditional linework and dotwork” which has since expanded to expressing his and his people’s stories through sculpting and even media through his YouTube channel ‘Walking Jinibara’.

Murphy’s work reflects his meticulous mind and his love for the land from which he came.

Murphy’s love of art has taken a new turn as he is undertaking a bachelor’s degree in Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art (CAIA) at the Queensland College of Arts.

This has enabled him to study his indigenous culture deeper, build new art pieces and come up with stronger conceptual ideas. He also now has more tools such as access to archival information in museums that add and help piece together what’s missing in the oral stories from his elders.

Murphy was excited to rediscover and reconnect with his cultural heritage in the Woodford region.

“Woodford used to be called Durundur,” he said, before noting that Woodford and surrounds has a rich black history that he feels many residents and tourists are unfortunately unaware of.

For example, he said: “There’s a huge scar tree next to the jail.

“We’ve lost a lot due to logging, but you’ve got Mt Archer (Buruja) and Mt Stanley down the road. They are sacred sites.”

Murphy emphasised strongly that “the bunya tree is highly significant to us”, and that this type of tree used to be abundant along the Stanley River.

“Every family member had their own bunya tree. They’d put their own mark on it with a stone axe, and the kids would be upset for up to a week over the tree being hurt, as they saw the Bunya as a spirit,” he said.

“All the families would camp at their bunya tree every bunya gathering.”

Having walked Mt Archer (Buruja), Mt Delaney and Bellthorpe State Forest, Murphy said: “From here (Woodford) to Maleny and out to Kilcoy, I feel most at home, belonging and a strong inner sense of responsibility to the country and its water ways.”

Murphy has recently read many newspaper articles on Trove and has cringed at a lot of it, but was also philosophical as he realised it was written in a vastly different era compared with today.

Murphy encountered labels such as “savage”, “cannibalism” and “darkie”, while one article in 1889 referred to the Jinibara people as the “Durundur blacks”.

Having encountered racism and become involved in fights as a youngster, Murphy said he had transitioned to the point that he could “combat it better with connection and education”.

“There’s two sides to the history. We can learn a lot from each other,” he said.

Murphy emphasised “getting a connection to country”, and that if an aboriginal and a police officer walked country together, it was a case of “two men walking together” rather than referring to their race or occupation in a Western hierarchy system.

“I’ve seen walking country together take away that power structure,” he said.

Murphy also emphasised that “caring for country” was a case of “walking it, and not just admiring it”.

“Get out the car, take your shoes off, get the dirt or sand between your toes, walk and swim the water ways and you will truly begin to appreciate what’s the core of how or why we’re even here.”

A father of seven, Murphy hoped his children would also learn the significance of caring for country.

“When you can guide a younger person, when you can teach them culture, you can help them understand,” he said.

“That’s when you move into that role as a leader, and what comes with that is responsibility.”

Murphy said that one of his proudest achievements was when he and his uncle Jason Murphy, along with someone from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), were able to save a gum tree in Kilcoy.

The gum tree, located next to the bridge when entering Kilcoy from Woodford, was going to be cut down for a drain to run through to the creek until the Murphy duo and QPWS person succeeded in their quest to preserve the tree.

Murphy was asked: “What’s the one message you would like to give to the community in a whole if you could?”

Murphy replied: “There is still a lot of history here in the surrounding community, whether it’s unshared information, unseen artifacts maybe even in the paddock of your backyards.

“Never be afraid to share, or if you see BJ and his family say hi and stop for a quick chat.

“The Jinibara people have nothing but love and respect for the community in its entirety and encourage more locals to change their lens and acknowledge and share.”


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