Indigenous Wisdom: Lessons for Our Future

Lessons from the past is a theme I’ve been exploring for quite a while now. How these lessons inform our future is a really exciting concept. In this Healthy Bite, let’s talk about Tyson Yunkaporta’s book, Sand Talk. Through the eyes of an Indigenous person, he attempts to convey a picture of the modern world to his readers.

I also recommend two other books that you could read about Indigenous culture. Listen to the full episode to find out!

Lessons From the Past – So Much to Learn

This week I had the pleasure of talking with Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Knowledge Can Save the World. What an appealing title that was.

About Indigenous Perspective

For me, who have been very keen on exploring lessons from the past and how those lessons inform our future is a really exciting concept. When I read the book and certainly even before I read the book, I just read the byline, I thought, “Well, I’ve got to get into this.”, and the book has such an interesting style, such interesting content. It’s really all about looking at the world from an indigenous perspective and offering that up to us to give some thought to. 

One of the things about indigenous knowledge is that it follows a very strict protocol, and that protocol is one of firstly, Respect. Then one, Connects with, what it is you respect, and then you Reflect, and eventually you Direct. I think it’s fair to say that the non-Indigenous approach is almost the exact opposite of that and particularly when we’re talking about invading a land, it’s generally not one of first respecting the indigenous population and the fact that they have lived here for 65 000 at least years. 

It’s one of, firstly directing what should happen, when that doesn’t work too well, then there is some reflection that goes on eventually, and I think we might just be approaching this. I hope we are. I think we should. We have a lot to learn to connect with the indigenous population. Exercise respect and not just say sorry, but thank you and then eventually even perhaps say, please.

Look, there are just so many aspects to this book that I just loved. He writes, grammatically, I think it’s called the “first-person plural.” He uses the words the two of us… “us-two.” It really is like, you know, he’s yarning to you as you are reading this and there were so many aspects to it that I thought was interesting.


Dreaming is such an important part of some of the processes within the indigenous culture, and it’s such an important part in grounding them. I mean, everything. Talk about holistic. We think we are holistic when we think one part of the body connects to another part of the body.

If you want to get really holistic, you might think about how your body connects to nature. But this is just all-encompassing. I mean, it redefined the word holistic. For me, who has been a holistic health advocate for almost all of my professional life, certainly for the last 40 years. So it was a wonderful thing.

Dreaming. Back to dreaming. Because when I read that section, I thought, “Wow.” Now you know, I do know that the focus that we have in the podcast and we will be having in our wellness programmes is the importance of sleep and the stages of sleep, to be able to go into the deeper levels of sleep. And then also with those deeper levels are the deeper levels of non-REM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. 

But when you get into the rapid eye movement, you start to dream. If you’re unable to dream, then you do eventually affects you mentally and you can become delusional. It occurred to me that the fact that we are not engaging in the dreaming that indigenous knowledge could give us has somehow caused the cultural delusion that’s gone on. 

I just thought that juxtaposition of the importance of dreaming and how stories are told and connections to land, and people, and the Universe, the stars, is told through dreaming. Stories and the storylines and the songlines. But for us, the fact that we don’t have that has resulted in a cultural delusion where we are not connected.

Yes, the word “country” is just something which is all-encompassing. It includes everything and everyone and anything that influences that lives or is on the land. It’s just this incredible respect for nature and for life and for the energy that flows through life. I just love talking to him. 

I just thought it was absolutely brilliant and I loved the book and I love the talk that we had. I love the yarn that “us two” had in that episode. It was certainly different from a lot of other podcasts that I’ve done. It was a really lovely conversation and it took many different directions and many different perspectives.

About Indigenous Culture

I’m really keen on this whole idea of learning more about indigenous culture. I’ve sort of rather embarrassingly now only now started to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I record this podcast, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging, and was really interested. 

I was at a function a few about a year ago where the acknowledgement of country was explained much more than just that to say that the Eora Nation extended in the north to the Hawkesbury, in the west of the Nepean and in the south of the Georges, and it involved 29 clans.

What’s so remarkable about Indigenous Australia is that there are 250 or so nations, many having clans within those nations and many languages that are distinctive and Tyson made the point that when you look at the borders of the land, they’re not drawn up in straight lines. They are not neat and nicely regimented. They really do follow the contours of the land. 

The fact that there are so many distinct languages within this continent is a testament to the fact that for so long. And I think it’s accepted now that at least for 65 000 years, there are some archaeological finds that have suggested it could be even longer than that – 80 or 100, even 120000 years, which would totally rewrite the history of the human journey out of Africa. 

I mean, that would just take on a whole new story, and I’ve just been reading a whole area of archaeology that I didn’t even know existed. And that is using genetics, archaeology geneticists to explore the movement of peoples and migration of peoples over time.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Now, another book that I have felt very passionate about is Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, and when I read it, I felt it just should be required reading for anybody living in Australia. It lays out a story of not just the simple, opportunistic hunter-gatherer society, which is the way it was portrayed by the early invaders. It’s interesting actually using that term, invasion. 

I know that term has been used and I thought, “Well, I should just look up the definition of invasion.” It’s an act of invading, obviously, especially incurring incursion of an army for conquest or plunder. The incoming or spread of something is usually hurtful. I think it ticks many of those boxes that the arrival in 1788 of the first settlers would be and should be described correctly as an invasion and then the occupation.

 I thought, “Well, let’s look up what occupation means.” The occupation is the action state or period of occupying or being occupied by a military force, for example, the Roman occupation of Britain. Now, I’m sure when the war in Rome invaded Britain, the people didn’t just say, “Oh, okay, well, they here. Great, welcome. Fantastic.” Well, they probably had no choice, which was probably similar to what went on when the first settlers and the British arrived in 1788.

Dark Emu, and it was referred to as Terra Nullius because it wasn’t considered to be inhabited by a culture that was… There were some natives, but they were just natives. They weren’t really of any cultural significance. The fact that they have been here for at least 65000 years is, I believe, something we need to not just acknowledge, not just say sorry, but really draw on the knowledge of that because we’ve been here now for 240 of whatever years, and I just cannot see this being sustainable over. 

We get excited in Western society in Western history, when we went, “Wow, the Roman Empire lasted a thousand years and they’ve been lots of other empires that have lasted a lot less than that, but a thousand years is so impressive.”. 

Well, you know, 65000 years is pretty impressive, too. And yes, it didn’t develop to the apparent sophistication. But however, we define that in our modern world, but it certainly survived. If an end to end was in harmony with nature through all of its challenges. It depends on what your criteria are for success. 

If the criteria for success of the species is survival and living in harmony with nature, with the environment in which you live, then I think the indigenous community and cultures have certainly got runs on the board that we need to be respectful of and draw on and think about differently.

Starting first with the respect, then moving to connect, then reflecting on what lessons we can learn and then finally directing action would be, I would think, a very good way to go. Dark Emu. I’ve been really keen to invite Bruce Pascoe on to talk. I think he’s terrific. I think his messages are terrific. I know that some of the issues around his book were challenged by some archaeologists. I can’t help but think there’s largely semantics involved there. But anyway, there were so many important things that were outlined in that wonderful, wonderful book. 

The Biggest Estate On Earth by Bill Gammage

The other book that I would recommend to you is Bill Gammage is The Biggest Estate On Earth, which describes what the first settlers observed when they came to Australia and what they looked at with park lands. It’s kind of sobering to… I’m reading another book now at the moment called Country, which is written by both Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage. 

In one of the chapters, this was in The Biggest Estate On Earth, Bill Gammage points out that there are more trees now in Australia than they were when the first settlers arrived, and there would have been on average 10 to 12 trees per acre and that there was very little scrub and undergrowth and that there were natural grasses, which Bruce Pascoe points out were harvested and the grains from those were stored and sometimes probably traded. 

That would constitute agriculture and all yams, natural yams. These were acre after acre of this kind of vegetation around trees that were well managed and that was the way Australia looked on The Biggest Estate On Earth, as outlined in Bill Gammage’s book, which is based on first sources, you know, the sources were first hand. These were the description of explorers and first settlers when they first arrived.

I think we have a huge amount to learn from indigenous culture. I’m hoping to get both Bruce and Bill on. It was terrific to talk to Tyson. I think we have so many lessons to learn culturally, environmentally, spiritually, on so many different levels. And so it was a great foray into that area and it’s going to be a focus in the coming year. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.



This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.