Putuparri Tom Lawford
Putuparri Tom Lawford - songlines, technology [ORAL HISTORY]
Synopsis: Putuparri Tom Lawford describes songlines and boundaries, and talks about how much learning there is in becoming a law man. He also talks about technology, and how sometimes it is needed, but that it can also distract from learning about Country.
Art centre(s): CSR Project, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre
Language spoken: English
Catalogue number: CSROH_279_Putuparri_Tom_Lawford
Transcribed By: Mollie Hewitt
Location Recorded: Newman Creek
Cultural Protocols: Public Access
Notes: This was filmed on the repatriation trip to Newman in 2012. It was transcribed for subtitles, and it is therefore incomplete (and missing interviewer questions) and includes time codes from the film footage.
Full transcript: [Time Code: 22.49]
[Tom Lawford drawing in the sand]
Tom Lawford: Big Country, Australia. Canning Stock Route is just one bit, one little bit there. We will only focus on this bit.
These are the lines right, songlines that travel up and down the Countryside. And across, they go across. And every little circle, this is different tribes, this is their Country. And this mob can’t intrude into their Country, they can’t trespass. They got their own stories. Every little square. This is their own area and you can’t trespass.
[Pointing to his map drawn in the sand] You got up north here, Halls Creek, Billiluna, Halls Creek. And Wiluna down south. And you got the Stock Road. The Canning Stock Road cuts through all these different places. And there is Wells, some say waterholes, in people’s Country.
There are wells on the Canning Stock Route but they are people’s water. Where the Canning Stock Route cut through it took over our water and they made wells. And in a way Alfred Canning, he trespassed onto people’s land, Country.
He took over their waters for animals, to feed cattle. So these lines here, they are all songlines. That is how people are connected, they follow these songline – down, up and across.
[Tom is asked to explain songlines.]
Songlines are ... there’s Dreaming songs for the public and for women and children to hear and there are secret, sacred songlines only for men only. And these songlines they follow a being – like a person. Say this being travelled across this Country and they followed a songline through and the songline even travel across the border – to the territory [Northern Territory]. And then people follow it and then these guys from across the border [of the Northern Territory] they take it on.
Yeah and these songlines have different languages. One songline, one language sing it and then it change for another mob, another language sing it. But it is the same [story].
Well the Canning Stock Route, it broke the Country up. Most of these songlines up north, across here and some down here.
People were living in harmony, in peace. They had their own areas. One mob got their little square there. And the Canning Stock Route it cuts through different people’s land.
[Time code: 27.25]
[Tom is asked about how you know where the boundaries are for different people’s Country.]
Landmarks. Like that hill over there. So if you go over that hill over there it could be another tribe’s Country. You can only go as far as this creek but don’t go beyond that creek.
Well it’s in us because we are Wangkajunga tribe and our area is here [pointing at the sand map] and it’s Martu tribe here and you got another tribe here. And your tribe, you know how far your boundaries are.
It is right across Australia. There is too many tribes, right down to Tasmania.
Well some other tribes, some storyline or songline they cut through that tribe and through other tribes too. You know this songline comes from that area, through this area, cuts through and finishes in this mob area here.
That song itself will tell you. When they are singing a song, it’s a story, it will tell you how far it comes from this tribe to another tribe. And that is the good thing about all Western Desert people, it that we got the one songline that follows on. Even though we come from different parts of the Great Sandy Desert.
We still do that, practice that during our law time. Like the ladies got their own, you can’t interfere with women, men can’t.
That is why you gotta keep it [all that knowledge] in your head. You gotta know, because without that, what would you be? You would just be like a leaf blowing in the wind. You’d be nothing. That is why it is really important to learn from the old people, keep learning. Because, in our culture you don’t count yourself as a man, as a law man, until you know everything. Not half.
[Tom is asked how you become a law man.]
You can’t claim it for yourself, saying, ‘I’m a law man.’ You gotta go through everything to say it. Then the old people gotta go, ‘you’re right, you’ve finished your thing’. Not on your own, they gotta say it. You gotta finish your culture to be how they are. You can be fifty or forty to be a law man, could be eighty. Not twenty or thirty. Not until they say you are one.
[Time code: 32.20]
Some sacred stuff when you keep coming you get taught the real stuff. It gets harder and harder.
Even coming here, to a place like this you are learning. THE COUNTRY IS TEACHING YOU. EVEN THE TREES CAN TEACH YOU.
You gotta cut away technology from your head. Leave the mobile phone and computer aside. And then you have gotta think about your home, for your culture. If you keep that in your mind, and think about what you want to be and how you want to be, without these other interruptions, you can make it in life.
Mobile phone won’t get you anywhere, technology won’t get you anywhere. But we have to use technology, everything is changing, the Country is changing. If you go back to Country, back out to the bush we need a GPS now to find our way back. Most of the old people are all gone now to show us the way through the Country. We need the technology now and then, but not all the time.
To live in this world now you need have both, you have to learn white man way and your own way to live in this world. Otherwise you will never survive.
Yeah I feel it [responsibility]. But looking at things now, how things are changing, you can feel it. And what’s happening to our mob you know, with alcohol and drugs, with rubbish things that are killing them slowly. And it is a big responsibility. Especially when you got kids like these mob here, you gotta be there for them, not for you. You gotta be there for the next mob coming up.
Video recording: 03_DAY_THREE
Rights: Cultural Owner & Storyteller: Putuparri Tom Lawford; © FORM, transcript only
Provenance: This material is sourced from Ngurra Kuju Walyja — the Canning Stock Route Project, which was initiated in 2006 by FORM and developed in partnership with Birriliburu, Kayili, KALACC, Mangkaja, Martumili, Ngurra, Papunya Tula, Paruku IPA, Warlayirti and Yulparija artists and art centres.