Idea of ‘Country’ from a First Nations perspective

It is knowing and feeling the presence of my ancestors within this land, but also seeing the effects of the past play out onto the modern-day land.

The idea of Country, to me, extends beyond the typical definition of a Nation occupying a territory. In fact, when I hear the word country, I immediately think of the beaches of where I grew up – the South Coast of NSW or better known as the Yuin Nation. Country to me is the smooth sands on the myriad of beaches within Jervis Bay, it’s also the tiny scattered rock pools, and the sprawling cliffs that extend across the coast. 

So when I hear the word “country”, I can’t help but to think of my connection back to the Yuin Nation. 

I interpret my sense of belonging as my connection to the natural elements such as the land. It is knowing and feeling the presence of my ancestors within this land, but also seeing the effects of the past play out onto the modern-day land. To me, it is important to acknowledge (but not to dwell on) the past experiences of my family and ancestors. 

This stems from a conversation I had with my Nan, who experienced the effects of the stolen generation and intergenerational trauma while living down the South Coast on Yuin land. She told me she hates Nowra and the South Coast with a passion, for having to deal with the trauma inflicted by the colonisers, and growing up separated from family due to the stolen generation. After she explained to me why she hates the place, she stated that, “No matter where I end up, I’ll always have a connection to this place from our ancestors and, Jordan, you should always acknowledge where you come from. it’s special…”. I think I was only twelve at the time, but her words have always stuck with me since and I continue to carry on the message and the idea of Country as being something special and inherent to the First Nations experience.

When I think about Country, I also think about the people who reside or have resided on those lands, and the communities. This leads me to bring up this important point; when a First Nations person thinks about Country and their own idea or interpretation, it’s not always a clear-cut positive train of thought. Our experiences are nuanced and carry lots of weight. To me: I think about the community, the family and how for my family, down the coast, they have been so affected and scarred from the intergenerational trauma that continues to accumulate into the present day. This takes the form of little fights here and there within and between family members. It’s growing up and seeing family members, whether that be uncles, aunties or cousins, fight and not talk for months or even years. 

This would be upsetting to any Indigenous person; seeing family fight and not know how to make up. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that thinking about Country can be chaotic and that it can be hard sometimes.

Acknowledging and respecting traditional values that were upheld on the lands as well as being mindful of the events that have taken place there, are all key to understanding what Country means to a First Nations person.