Celebrating our Ancient Culture

Aunty McRose Elu © Salty Dingo 2020

Torres Strait Islander Elder Dr Aunty McRose Elu
Credit: National Australia Day Council/Salty Dingo

Aunty Rose Elu is a Torres Strait Islander Elder, whose decades-long work as an advocate for Torres Strait communities and climate change saw her receive the 2021 Queensland Senior Australian of the Year Award.

As part of NAIDOC Week 2020, Aunty Rose shared stories of her ancient culture and her spiritual and cultural connection to country, as part of a live digital event hosted by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) in partnership with IPAA Queensland.

Aunty Rose was born on the low-lying island of Saibai in the Torres Strait. In 1949 her people moved to the tip of Australia, to an island now known as Seisia that was given to them by the Aboriginal people of the Cape.

She was brought up on the Cape by her family whose vision was to bring their people into the wider Australian community. And so, once she had finished High School — which only went as far as Year 7 — Aunty Rose was sent by her family to Melbourne to continue her education.

Surrounded by ocean, our sustainability comes from the ocean

Aunty Rose started by explaining the deep connection the Torres Strait communities have with country:

“Our nation, our country, our islands are surrounded by ocean.

And our sustainability is from the ocean: the fish, the sea life that’s our food, daily food, every day. And then of course the land, where we cultivate for many, many, many, many decades. And also the spirituality:  the lives and the depth of the ocean for us.

‘Cos it’s very in-depth and has significant meaning, for our journey, for our people: how we embrace it, how we nurture it, how we look after it.

When we get the fish from the ocean — any seafood — we are not being selfish, we can only get what we can, you know, sufficient for us, for family.

And if we get a little bit more, we share it amongst the community, and with the other relatives on the island or even the neighbouring islands.

‘Cos’ people of the Torres Strait think that it’s a God-given land to us and that’s surrounded us: sea, the sky, the tides, the waves, the land where we belong — it’s our identity, our heritage, our culture, and our spirituality lies…

So it is very, very spiritual for us.”

Stop and listen, come closer to know our people

There are — as Aunty Rose — explained, “two Indigenous races of people in this country, which are the Aboriginal Australia and Melanesia-Torres Strait”.

She went on to say:

“I would like very much, all of us to try and walk together holding hands.

If you’re so far away from holding hands, then come closer, and hold hands. And get to know … get to know about our people, our ways, and why are we being in this planet together with the other people of the universe. I have always been passionate about reconciliation, about reconciling with one another.”

Aunty Rose recalled a conversation she had with her father:

“I was telling him that I was doing cross-cultural awareness training within the Department of Aboriginal Islander Affairs.

And he was very, very honoured, and he was very proud of that, and he said to me, he said, ‘That’s very good, I’m ever so thankful for you, continue to do that.’

And then he said something about this: there’s a long bridge, and that bridge has got many holes where you can put the bolts in. And some of the bolts will never fit in.’

He said, ‘It might not happen in your generation — your children or your grandchildren — but it is a very, very long way, a long bridge, in a way of putting all those bolts in together’.

And as I was doing this, you know, through my journey — even now, even today, where I am — I always go back to that, what he meant.

Because there’s always those bolts that are missing — they’re not fittable, that we are not fitting them in well enough to be able to understand the shape of the bridge — which is the shape of the lives of our people in this country.”

During her conversation with Melanie Meredith  — a proud Kamilaroi Papuan woman working in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Futures Team at DNRME — Aunty Rose also reflected on the importance of The Coming of the Light, her delight in the recent recognition of the traditional Torres Strait Islander adoption practice in Queensland law, and her support for a Treaty process.

A link to a video of the interview with Aunty Rose is available below.

Celebrating our Ancient Culture, Aunty Rose Elu