Wildu’s lesson of respect embedded in the land

News article |

The Northern and Yorke Landscape Board works alongside First Nations communities to care for Country.

Understanding how First Nations’ connection to Country is linked to their culture is a crucial part of this partnership and a significant step towards reconciliation. In our bid to improve the survival rates of wedge-tailed eagles, it was important to understand and share a First Nations story of the eagle. In this case it was the Adnyamathanha story of Wildu, as told by Elder Uncle Roger Johnson.

The story of Wildu

Looking out from Uncle Roger Johnson’s home at Nepabunna on Adnyamathanha Country, you need two hands to count the number of wedge-tailed eagles wheeling around in the sky.

They’re a familiar sight for the residents of the small First Nations community, who reside an hour’s scenic drive east of Copley in the northern Flinders Ranges.

Yet wedge-tailed eagles are more than just a common spectacle up high, they’re intrinsically linked to the lives, culture and spirit of the Adnyamathanha people.

The town’s entrance sign provides the first hint of their significance, with a larger than life-sized painting by local school children of an eagle in full flight.

Wildu’s lesson of respect embedded in the land

It’s here that Uncle Roger begins the story of the wildu, the Adnyamathanha word for eagle. It’s a story that has instilled the value of respecting your elders for generations, as well as explaining the colours and markings on the birds we know today.

Further down the road, he takes up the story again, sitting within a cave formed by dark boulders that rise from the landscape. As the main stage of the wildu story, the cave is a significant cultural site.

Wildu’s lesson of respect embedded in the land

It was here that Wildu gathered all of the birds in the community for a meeting. He was known as the uncle or elder, the one responsible for teaching life lessons through story, song and dance. Wildu had enjoyed this task until one day Wakarla (crow) and Urrakuli (magpie) grew tired of the lessons and started to tease Wildu.

After days of mockery, Wildu decided to end the disrespect. He called the meeting and after all the birds arrived in the cave, started a fire.

Flying through the flames to escape, the fire left permanent marks on the previously all-white birds. Warkarla turned completely black, while Urrakuli was left with the black and white markings that make magpies instantly recognisable today. The rocks forming the cave were also blackened by the fire.

Unfortunately Wildu was badly burnt and after fleeing to the Gammon Ranges he returned to his final resting place, now known as the eagle-shaped hill. It is within view of the cave, or from the road you can see an eagle’s head and outstretched wings in the landscape. It is an enduring reminder of old Wildu and the respect deserved by elders.

Wildu’s lesson of respect embedded in the land

Like Wildu, Uncle Roger is in his element sharing the storylines that have helped his people make sense of the world and live in harmony with the land for thousands of years.

The 68-year-old Adnyamathanha elder hopes telling these stories will help build a greater appreciation for the land and all its plants and creatures.

“A lot of people when they come here, they just think it’s lovely country, but they don’t know the value of it,” he said. “We don’t want it to be forgotten.”

Thanks to Uncle Roger for sharing this story with the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board. Landscape boards across the state value the input of the First Nations communities.

Find your local landscape board.

Wildu’s lesson of respect embedded in the land

The eagle-shaped hill on Adnyamathanha Country in the northern Flinders Ranges. The knob near the summit is the eagle’s head, while its wings extend out to the side, as if the eagle is lying outstretched and face down.

Wildu’s lesson of respect embedded in the land

Uncle Roger Johnson within the cave where Wildu called a meeting to teach two mischievous birds a lesson. The story of fire causing the markings and colours of birds is shared by many First Nations groups.

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