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News > 21/4/2012

Sir Strzelecki's relationship with Indigenous Australians

This speech was delivered by Ursula Lang at the Jindabyne Aero Club on April 15, 2012, during the Polish-Aboriginal Fraternity Flights.

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Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki's close and genuine relationship with Aboriginals is quite well-documented. For example, the chapter on Aborigines in his famous book A Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, published in 1845, describes in detail their physical characteristics, their behaviours and culture, and the structure of their society. Strzelecki wrote about the Aborigines as a professional explorer, geologist/surveyor, with a tone of respect and admiration that, sadly, was not prevalent or popular in the colonies at the time. In fact Aboriginals were often treated with disdain.

We also know that Strzelecki's explorations both in NSW and Victoria were largely successful because of his wisdom and humility in listening to the advice of his Aboriginal Guides, including Charlie Tarra and Jacky. He followed their lead as to how to behave and approach Aboriginal tribes, and how to avoid confrontation.

A few years ago, following the development of the Kosciuszko Park Management Plan in 2006, and during workshops arranged by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Ernestyna and I, as part of Kosciuszko Heritage Inc. (formerly known as the Puls Polonii Cultural Foundation) were given the opportunity to put these facts about Strzelecki to the Ngarigo Elders. They were met with great interest. We also talked about Kosciuszko, the Polish General who fought for human rights and very specifically for the liberation and rights of negro blacks in America. We talked about why, Strzelecki, as a mark of respect for Kosciuszko, named Australia's highest mountain after him.

The dialogues which were undertaken during the workshops formed the basis of a new relationship between members/representatives of the Polish Community and members/representatives of the Aboriginal Community which grew over the following years.

The friendship was evidenced by Festival themes, such as "Strzelecki and his Team, Achieving Together" which acknowledged publicly the contributions made by Aboriginal Guides to Strzelecki's exploration successes. Aboriginal Elders attended our K'Ozzie Festivals, and representatives of the Polish Community were pleased to reciprocate and share in NAIDOC week celebrations in 2009, 2010, and 2011 as invited guests. Our youth, both Polish and Aboriginal danced together and alongside each other in Festival concerts, and songs were composed and sung to highlight our new friendship.

Today, we continue that special friendship by flying over Mt Kosciuszko together.

I would like to leave you with the words of a song that I wrote, to which my dear friend John Hospodaryk, composed the music. John, as you have already heard, died less than two weeks ago aged 59. John was a great musical artist, composer, historian, teacher, father, husband and friend. He made an enormous contribution to this Festival since the first concert in 2007 "Kosciuszko Music on Mt Kosciuszko".

My mountain Kosciuszko
Is your mountain too,
It's a mountain for all Aussies, and visitors too.
So, whatever you do, and whatever you believe,
It's a mountain that reminds us that we're lucky to be free!
It's a mountain that unites us, and excites from within,
It's a place where no-one cares about the colour of your skin ...

Thank you.

Text by Urszula Lang, photos by Puls Polonii; article courtesy of Puls Polonii

Kosciuszko Heritage  
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