Gurramatji (Magpie Goose) Sam Mehan
My name is Gurramatji, it means Magpie Goose, half Black half white the skin of a white man the spirit of a Black Man. 10 years ago I was going to work at the Australian Snowy Mountains with a Soto Cree Indian from Canada, as we got to the turnoff I had this heart feeling that I had to keep going. We drove 4000klms into the Northern Territory, the desert was calling me.
We got to the Uluru (Ayers Rock) turn off and it wasn’t my time there so our adventure continued up the Stewart Highway. We drove into Katherine where I picked up a Pine Creek festival program and noticed the guy who was running the Didjeridoo workshops name was Nigel ‘Bolda’ Hunter, this was my cousin who walked away from the family 15 years prior, he was kicked out of home and put a backpack on his shoulder and found himself in Roper River with the Arnhem People.
This would become my entry into Aboriginal Culture, but a careful and slow path would unfold, trust had to be built with the Jawoyn people before they would open there doors fully to me. Bolda had an inner knowing that it wasn’t my time; i would have to return to the East Coast and begin the process of finding my Spirit.
During my time in Katherine an old man Paddy Fordham would teach me the cycles of life through the animals in the back yard of Coco’s Backpackers; this man was a wealth of natural and spiritual knowledge. Lorna Fencer walked in one day and said “do you painting” in which she wanted nothing for, she painted a Dreaming that when I asked her what it was, she couldn’t reveal. Old Man Paddy told me it was my spirit, my Totem, “this one you, Kangaroo, him hop all over this country” I had hit a kangaroo the night before, and she was giving me back my spirit, you can’t kill your own Totem.
Bill Harney from the Wardaman People also came into my life, he took me out to his Country of the Lightening Brothers and showed me how to read the trees, he taught me his Dreaming, he passed his Knowledge onto me of the Didjeridoo and how to make them. Allowing me to cut Didjeridoos on his Country he told me “Use him hand tools only, don’t want to vibrate the spirit or the Ancestor spirit out of them didj’s” so from this point on, I have made every didjeridoo totally by hand, using only natural wax’s and oils to preserve and finish the didjeridoos . As we sat on endless occasions the lessons kept coming, “every tree, every rock, every animal, everything you see and feel is my Ancestors, my People, me. When you make him didjeridoo, the knowledge of the Ancestors will be carved into you, when someone plays your didj’s the knowledge will seep into them, vibrate them and change them awareness”
The spirit of the Kangaroo guided me throughout Australia for the next four years, landing me in Biripi Country of Taree, where I would begin my learning from the Biripi Elders and People. Uncle Warner Saunders would tell me the Dreaming for the area; take me hunting for Kangaroo with dogs, traditional way of the Biripi People. Then it happened I hit a kangaroo, I was devastated as this was my Totem, the next morning after a night of worry, I went to the site of the kangaroo it was gone. A Python lay across the road and wouldn’t let me drive through, I knew this meant my Totem was about to change like a snake sheds it skin, but to what I had no idea.
Auntie Pam Kellner at an art exhibition in Forster watched a Crow land next to me and begin to caw, she turned to me and said “this one you, the Crow, he hold the sacred Law from the old People in the mountains, you got old fella spirit in you”. I went on to be told by another Elder from Worimi People Auntie Bev Manton that the Crow was my Totem and from this point on I have been spoken to by the Crow, guided by its spirit.
I have since returned to the Northern territory several times, living with my cousin Bolda, Uncle Bill Harney and Banula Marika of the Yolngu People East Arnhem land. Banula is who gave me my name, ‘Gurramatji’ he seen my spirit and took me under his wing to teach me many things of his Yolngu People. My skin is Gammerrang from my Jawoyn family, from my cousin Wamud ‘Bolda’. Many lessons imparted, many Dreaming taught, many sacred paths walked as uncle Bill said “many ways but only one way”, the following of my heart is the only path I can walk now.
When I make a didjeridoo you can be assured the Spirit is with it, the energy and time has been put into it, the quality is clearly visible and it has been handed to me by the Elders, the Ancestors and the Spirit of this Country.