I’m going to confess something at the risk of public ridicule. When I was a kid, I used to enjoy watching WWE wrestling on TV. When I was 8 years old, my favourite used to be The Ultimate Warrior. Then when I was 13, my favourite became Bret “The Hitman” Hart (who I was very lucky to meet in person in North London when he was signing copies of his VHS). It was also about this time that I discovered that the whole thing was staged and that wrestlers were nothing more than actors. (Don’t tell kids this until they are teenagers – let them enjoy the moment!). Anyway, there used to be an annual event called Survivor Series where 2 teams of 4 wrestlers faced off against each other. There would only be one wrestler in the ring at any time and if he got pinned to the mat to the 3 count, he was eliminated. The next wrestler would enter the ring and face off against the victor. Once all 4 were eliminated, the team was defeated.
Wrong Side –the historic fiction sequel to The Last Gundir — has a chapter called Survivor Series where Bunji and Monti hear about a wrestling tournament from a Dalla man called Bambam (stop sniggering Matt W and Ben S). This tournament is not fictional but actually took place at a place called Dingulami on Manumbah station (present day Manumbar locality). It would occur at the same time as the Bunya Nut Festival on Dalla country which was usually attended (every 3 years) by a vast number of tribes from as far north as Badtjala (Fraser Island area) to as far south as the Ngandowal (Northern NSW). Thus, the tournament had entries from a large number of tribes. Wrong Side explains the rules of the wrestling tournament which bore a resemblance to Survivor Series in its rules.
I shall briefly explain the rules using another passion of mine – Lego.
Teams of 6 had to decide who would be No.1 and the order of wrestlers from 2 to 6. The holders (i.e. champions from the last tournament) brought the trophy Spear – whose shaft was painted with different coloured earths and whose top was decorated by feathers from different birds. It was stuck in the ground behind the holders.
No.1 played an important role. He was the “guardian” of the Spear and stood in front of it. The others (No.2 to No.6) stood in a straight line to face the challengers who were similarly arranged in a line 10 feet away.
The game started with the No.2’s meeting in the centre and wrestling in a line.
If one was pushed over his own line, he was defeated.
If it was the challenger who won that bout, he had the right to challenge No.1 for the trophy spear.
If the No.2 actually managed to beat the No.1…
…then he got to bring the Trophy Spear to his side and plant it behind his No.1.
Then, the two No.3’s would go at it.
Let’s say No.5 (from the original holders) manages to beat the other No.5. He would still need to wrestle No.1 before he could get at the Spear.
…and if he succeeded then he would take the Spear back to his No.1. If the challenger No.6 didn’t win his bout, the game would be over. Thus, the Spear might be carried to and fro several times during a match.
You might be tempted to think that the best strategy would be to have the best man as No.6. However, there was another rule that if 4 members of the original line up were eliminated, the game was over (“gurumda = 4”).
The winning team would then have to meet any other challenging team. Only one team per nation was allowed in the tournament. All other members from that nation could only be onlookers.
At the end of the tournament, the trophy spear was taken home by the winning team and kept safe until the next tournament. The tribes would often practice at home throughout the year to give them a better chance at the following year’s tournament. The Jinibara “Federation” would usually submit a team comprising at least one member from each of their 4 countries (Dungidau, Dalla, Garumngar and Nalbo). It sounds like an unfair advantage as employed by United Kingdom in the Olympics (even Northern Ireland has contributed towards the Gold Medals won). If the Jinibara won it, they would keep the spear in a cave on Buruja (present day Mount Archer).
Wanting a feel for the place where this tournament used to take place, I drove to Manumbar (about 3 hours drive north of Brisbane). Alas, I could only access public roads and there is very little information as to the exact location of the arena. (There is also no mobile coverage in the Manumbar area…as I discovered when I got there).
Wrong Side is not just a historic fictional novel. It is a pathway that takes the reader onto a journey into the world that existed here before British invasion. Like its prequel The Last Gundir, Wrong Side blends imagination with education to reveal more of the highly evolved spiritual civilisation that existed here. The commentary puts forth the question – why not return land to its original use? Why not recreate spiritual sites like bora rings, wrestling arenas, corroboree grounds, fighting grounds at the same locations as they once existed? And not just in a virtual reality context but actually demolish existing infrastructure to rebuild what was once there. Why not use the powers of the government to compulsorily purchase that designated plot of land, recreate the original landscape and hand over to the traditional custodians of that land for appropriate care and use?
Imagine an annual wrestling tournament with entries from Aboriginal people all over Australia. Wurundjeri “Storm” versus Turrbal “Broncos” would be truly an Australian sport unlike rugby and cricket which are British. Australians love their sport so such a tournament could easily take off and raise the profile of various Aboriginal countries around the continent. Where would the trophy spear be kept if the Yawuru people won it? What a classic wrestling match it would be between Kalkadoon “Axes” (Mount Isa tribe famous for their stone implements) and the Guugu Yalinji “Cassowaries” (Daintree Rainforest area). The Turrbal versus Jagera would be the “Battle of Brisbane” derby. And all these matches would take place to coincide with a reimagining of the bunya nut festival (January on Dalla country, March on Jarowair country). Non-aboriginal people who knew little about the country they’re on may even be proud of their association with the local tribe following a good effort against the favourites. And ultimately, this would raise the profile of Aboriginal people and help to close the divide.
Or perhaps I’m just letting my childish imagination get away with me…?
Wrong Side is available in Brisbane bookshops (Riverbend, SLQ Bookshop, Avidreader), Sunshine Coast bookshops (Berkelouw Eumundi, Annie’s on Peregian), Amazon.com.au as well as through me directly (for personalised copies – email@example.com). Occasionally, you may find me at local markets (West End, Milton, City Botanical).