Edgar’s Last Spear Kowanyama

Edgar Bendigo knows today may well be his final birthday and certainly his last spear. He’s weak and his hands have lost their power and dexterity but his spirit is still strong.

Edgar lives in Kowanyama – the place of many waters located in the Gulf of Carpentaria – but this isn’t Edgar’s country. Edgar was born across the river in Pompuraaw and spent the first years of his life sleeping under bark huddled between his mum and dad in the bush.

‘I’m a Thaayir man. I was born on bark, not blanket. I have rain dreaming and my parents warmed me up when I was born.’ Edgar tells me with pride.

Warming up newborn babies over the fire is a ceremony still common in Kowanyama and many places around Australia. It’s the equivalent of a spiritual baptism into the oldest surviving culture on earth. It’s an ancient tradition and a special ritual many First Nations families still practice. Saying someone has ‘no fire’ is a vicious insult akin to saying you have no culture.

Edgar’s spent most of his life living in Kowanyama working cattle in the gulf. Like many of his peers he was drawn to a life in the saddle but found his true passion sitting around the fire after work making spears to go hunting on his days off.

Edgar learned his spear-making skills from his grandfather, father and uncles in the old days when it was more common for men to go out walking and hunting on foot.

Over the years many of Edgar’s spears have found the side of a wallaby, goanna or barramundi and some now hang in safe keeping at the temporary keeping place in Kowanyama.

The spears by themselves are works of art and important cultural objects but the fire lies within Edgar – not his spears. It’s Edgar’s cultural knowledge that will help the next generation keep the fire burning.

Traditional skills like Edgar’s have been diminishing since colonization. The brutality of the frontier wars and the continued denial of our nation’s true history and its assimilationist policies have all but evaporated the pool of complex traditional skill sets passed down over millennia.

The social and political will to invest nationally in Indigenous language and culture retrieval and maintenance has never happened to the extent required.

The ongoing lack of understanding and appreciation of what culture really is and how fragile language and ancient traditional knowledge systems are represent an ongoing problem for the contemporary Australian psyche.

Thankfully there are and always will be pockets of cultural resistance – but all fires go out and all elders pass on.

In places like Kowanyama culture doesn’t exist behind museum glass or in picture books, galleries or documentaries. Culture exists within the people.
Elders such as Edgar are Kowanyama’s and indeed Australia’s forgotten statesmen; national living treasures and cultural encyclopedias.

But how many times does a country need to hear how special it’s elders and culture are?

Kowanyama has one of the most significant cultural collections in Australia but time is fast running out. For longer than Edgar can remember his community has been asking for a Cultural Centre to house their collection and keep the fire burning for future generations.

Maybe just maybe Edgar’s last spear will land in a place that finally waters the ancient and forgotten cultural garden our country and politicians walk so casually past each and every day… and each and every election!

Happy 75th birthday Uncle Edgar!

14 Comments
  • Rob McCammon

    November 21, 2018 at 11:52 am Reply

    What a lovely man, I’m sorry that we as Australians have denied these beautiful people their true destiny. I still today cannot understand why successive governments over time have not embraced these true Australians. Their culture is one where we could learn valuable lessons

    • Tom Hearn

      November 30, 2018 at 12:55 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comment Rob, I’m certain with a possible change of Government and momentum building for a voice to parliament things will change accordingly. We have lots of work to do at BushTV sharing stories from the oldest surviving culture on earth and are so happy when people like you comment and share our stories – so thanks again! Tom

  • Rosslyn Hinton

    November 21, 2018 at 1:03 pm Reply

    Thanks for writing that story. I know very little about our Aboriginal People or First Nation People and I wont ever intrude on their life and privacy to go and see some of what their wonderful history is. So being able to read a report like this one is very interesting as well as educational for me.

    • Tom Hearn

      November 30, 2018 at 2:15 pm Reply

      Thanks Rosyln that makes me happy, I’m so glad you are enjoying our stories. Feel free to share them with your friends! Tom

  • Tom Sjolund

    November 21, 2018 at 2:11 pm Reply

    Beautiful story.

    • Tom Hearn

      November 30, 2018 at 1:01 pm Reply

      Thanks so much Tom!

  • Doug Allen

    November 22, 2018 at 7:11 am Reply

    I’ve sat round the fire while men like Edgar straightened sticks to be used as spears.
    I shot video at Kowanyama for the Council a while ago – very interesting place!
    While I was there I videod a tour of the existing Cultural Centre, by then Curator (Vic?).
    I’d like to record on video any historic or cultural memories by Edgar If he was willing. Copyright to remain with him and his clan. Any interest?

    • Tom Hearn

      November 30, 2018 at 12:59 pm Reply

      Hi Doug, what a great experience you have had in Kowanyama, thanks for sharing this! Edgar is frail now and that was his last spear. Best wishes, Tom

  • R Solomon

    November 24, 2018 at 2:22 pm Reply

    Hullo Edgar! Did anyone tell you that you are AMAZING! Never Ever Give Up!

    • Tom Hearn

      November 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm Reply

      Hello! Guess what I read Edgar your message and it brought a smile to his old face! Thanks, Tom

  • carol khan

    December 3, 2018 at 1:15 pm Reply

    That is a wonderful story with authentic outcomes. I hope it works out. wishing you the best. carol

  • Roger Miller

    December 3, 2018 at 1:31 pm Reply

    I really enjoy the stories. I endeavour to share them with others or at least plant the seed. It is a big learning for me and now I sit and chat with First Peoples monthly at the Channon Market in Northern New South Wales as the paint their stories. Also I have recently read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and have prompted others to read it. I deviate, thanks to Ernie Dingo for Going Places, especially the visit to his home town.
    Take care, keep up the good work.

  • Robyn Swanson

    December 4, 2018 at 7:12 am Reply

    It’s so great to read and watch these stories and it’s so important that we share them. Everyone needs to know about the amazing people and culture that have existed here in this land since the beginning. They can teach us so much.

  • Leonie Trevanion

    December 4, 2018 at 7:14 am Reply

    Love these stories Thanks you for bringing them to us

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