The Moogerah story, my name is Jason Sandy and I’m a Mununjali man from Beaudesert with links to Waanyi Garawa (NW Qld & NT) Badtjala (Hervey Bay/Fraser Is), Yugurapul (Boonah) and Sth Sea Islander (Vanuatu/ Tanna Is). I was raised in a family with strong cultural values and beliefs which I follow to this day.
I was scheduled to do the Program Development & Facilitation training at the Outlook at Boonah from Monday 10th May through to Friday 14th May. I was joined in training by fellow worker Deanne Viellaris who also has strong cultural beliefs. The first day we had a Welcome to Country performed by my Aunties Ruth and Tina Long. While doing the welcome they told the class a bit about our culture, most importantly the part about how we read signs and what they may mean.
Aunty Tina spoke about how if you go to a new place and everything is fine, no clouds or storm or wind to speak of. Then all of a sudden the weather will change, either a strong wind or a storm will come from nowhere. This is a sign that you should not be in that particular area so you must leave immediately. Apart from Dee and me there we’re no other Aboriginal people in our group but there we’re other Indigenous people from Samoa, a few white people and a whitefella who was adopted into an Indigenous family up in Doomadgee in North West Qld.
The first few days the team bonded very strongly which made the tasks we we’re given very easy to achieve. Then on the Wednesday 12th May we went out to Moogerah Dam to do a canoeing trip. Moogerah in the local language means ‘storm’ and funnily enough on arrival there was a storm off in the distance which was on top of the range about 10 klms from the lake, which was like glass it was so flat. We had to team up with a person of similar weight, so I teamed up with Jarrah who was the fella adopted into the Aboriginal family, so he was very culturally sensitive as well. From the start we both had reservations about doing this trip but we soldiered on to keep the group together.
As we made our way across with our canoe leading the way the storm made a detour in our direction and lightning was flashing around. It was as though it was a hint of a warning. We became more worried the closer we got to the other side and at some stage Jarrah jumped in the lake to cool himself down. It was when he jumped back in the canoe that he brought some water with him, so we decided to pick out a spot to empty the water out of the canoe. We chose a spot at the mouth of the gorge which also had a small inlet next to it and also had a rock on which we could rest. As we got to the spot we chose, the storm really picked up and Jarrah voiced his concerns saying that we shouldn’t be there. I agreed with him and we decided to let the group know that we intended to return to the other side.
It was at this point that we had a really good look at the rock we we’re on and happened to find two grinding stones, one for food and the other to sharpen their axes. The more closely we studied our find then we noticed paw prints embedded in the rock around the grinding stones. We then realized the significance of the place we had stopped at and the fact that this site was hundreds if not thousands of years old and it was a campsite of the local people, which would have been back a bit from the original waterline. It was then the storm really started to get bad, with lightning flashing menacingly over our heads.
We decided that the spirits there showed us what they wanted us to see, now they we’re telling us it was time to leave, in no uncertain terms. We hopped into our canoe and made our way to where the rest of the group we’re all huddled together bracing themselves against the storm that was brewing. They we’re deciding whether to ride the storm out in the gorge or paddle back and hope for the best. We’d already made up our minds and we let the group know how we felt and that they should also make their way back. Dee agreed with us that we should all head back as we felt this storm was the spirits way of giving us our marching orders, so we all agreed to head back to the vehicles.
Jarrah and I made pretty good time as we wanted off that lake as quickly as we could paddle and when we we’re almost at the end a few waves started hitting the canoe rocking it so much that it nearly tipped over a few times. Upon reaching the other side the sky started clearing up but was still raining and stormy where the others we’re slowly coming back across the dam. When everyone finally made it back the sky cleared up and it was if as though there was never any storm at all, it was so peaceful and quiet. The facilitator’s decided to have our debrief right there, so before we did that I walked off by myself & spoke to the spirits of the place just to let them know I didn’t mean any harm.
After the debrief we headed back to the Outlook but I wasn’t feeling the best and I knew it was a direct result of what had happened that afternoon. I called my Uncle who is a traditional healer and he told me what I had to do to make things right. I headed back to Beaudesert for a men’s group meeting and when I was home I couldn’t sleep and felt as though there was someone or something following me. On returning to the Outlook Jarrah told me he had received a call from his Mother up north and she said that she knew what was going on with him and that he had to do a culturally appropriate ceremony to fix the situation. We spoke at length about what we we’re told and what we had to do to address this situation.
We both agreed that these things had to be done soon for our own peace of mind and to make the spirits happy as well. Dee also spoke to her husband who knows about this area and he said this dam was situated either on or near an Aboriginal burial site which then made sense to us three, as one of our cultural laws is to stay clear of burial sites especially those of other tribes. Once we had the full facts of what we we’re dealing with we then all knew what we had to do to fix this.
We all spoke to the facilitators at different times and they all agreed that we weren’t telling ghost stories but that what happened was culturally significant to the three of us and steps should be taken to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. We all spoke to Corey Walker who is an Aboriginal facilitator at the Outlook and he is now organizing with us to come up with new policies and procedures to ensure that culturally appropriate measures are put in place when dealing with situations like this.