It’s the water that draws him back. The memories and stories of his early life on Roma’s Bungil Creek are the glue that bind Rodney Landers to his country, his connection to the waterways of Queensland’s south west strong.
With his six older siblings and many cousins, the young Rodney relished life in the camp beside the creek and remains a keen fisherman.
“We learned a lot about ourselves, how to fish and hunt wildlife,” says this proud Mandandanji man. “The uncles taught us how to fish and catch bait with our hands.”
More than 50 years on from those times, Rodney is looking forward to being part of the new Bamba Gii festival, to be held in Roma on September 25, with many of the places that shaped his childhood included on the new South West Queensland Indigenous Culture Trail which forms the foundation of the festival.
Bamba Gii – the name means ‘strong heart’ – is a one-day biennial festival showcasing Indigenous culture, sites and tourism experiences along the 1000km South West Queensland Indigenous Cultural Trail, which loops from Dirranbandi to St George and Surat, to Roma, Mitchell and Charleville, through Cunnamulla and back to St George.
The festival will feature hands-on workshops, demonstrations, dance and music performances, bush tucker, and guided tours of Roma’s riverside Adungadoo Pathway.
Working together to develop the tourism potential of the south-west region, the seven towns on the trail hold significance for the local Indigenous people. Around Roma, significant sites and places to visit include Judd’s Lagoon, Walkabout Park, Bungeworgorai Creek, Bunge Creek and the Native Wells at Yuleba.
The wells are a reminder of that bygone time when Rodney lived with his family and others in the camp beside the creek.
“When we lived on the creek, we had no electricity or running water, we had a kerosene fridge, and cooked on the fire. The well we got water from is still there, about 50 metres from the creek,” he recalls.
“My cousin called it our ‘14km playground’, where we mucked about, fishing and swimming. I was born in 1961, and in about 1964 or ’65 we moved to a Housing Commission house in Roma. My cousins all lived in the camp on Bungil Creek until the 1970s and were the last family to move out.
“Down at that creek area, there was also Chinatown. They had a close alignment with the Aboriginal people in that area.”
That history, of the Chinese market gardeners who lived alongside the Aboriginal camps, is documented along Roma’s Adungadoo Pathway.
Rodney’s deep connection to the waterways and love of fishing is not surprising. The Mandandanji people are the ‘fishing net tribe’, the traditional owners of a vast tract of country east and west of the Carnarvon Highway, on which lie hundreds of sites – most of them along rivers and creeks – with stone tools and other significant remains, including one site dated to 8000 years old. Some of these relics can be seen at the Walkabout Park and Mandandanji Interpretation Centre in Roma.
His other love – rugby league – is also a prominent part of the trail. Roma was “a breeding ground for good players” and produced some of the game’s legends, including Indigenous player Artie Beetson, who captained Queensland, and former Brisbane Bronco, Willie Carne.
Roma’s sporting players who have represented Australia are acknowledged on a wall of fame at the PCYC, which stands on the site of a former oval bearing Artie Beetson’s name. While the oval has now gone, the site of Beetson’s former home is adjacent to the Roma History Lodge, marked by a magnificent stand of bottle trees.
As for Rodney, a Life Member of the Roma Cities Rugby League Club, he played his last game of rugby league at the age of 45.
“I played from the under 8s and in junior school, and I really gave it up when I was 36 but had a few mates and my eldest son who talked me in to playing again sometimes. I am older and a little bit smarter now,” he laughs.
While those times may seem distant now, Rodney believes the cultural trail and Bamba Gii will help keep them alive.
“The trail opens the sites to tourists and other people,” he says, citing a strong interest among grey nomads in learning about indigenous Australia, how people lived and their personal stories.
“That has really been captured by the trail, which talks about how people lived and survived,” he says.
Working for Queensland Health in Roma, Rodney says he encourages visiting government health workers to the region to “get out and see the sights” and meet the traditional owners, handing them brochures about the culture trail.
He’s certain that some of them will be among the 2000 people expected to attend the first Bama Gii Festival.