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September 12, 2022

‘Aboriginal tribute to the Queen’: Elders farewell royal

“We need to show respect and ask her ancestors to take her spirit home,” Uncle Major Moogy Sumner told a small group of people gathered on the lawns of Government House last week.

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  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Pictures: Johnny von Einem
  • Main image: Yuandamarra Kiely

First Nations man Yuandamarra Kiely sets a small handful of wild rosemary on fire on the manicured lawns of Government House, on North Terrace. The flames slowly spread within the wooden smoking vessel.

Plumes bellow across the Government House’s façade, travelling through the building’s 182-year-old hallways and rooms, and over the heads of elders and dignitaries, including Kaurna elder Uncle Jeffrey Newchurch, Ngarrindjeri, Kaurna elder Uncle Major Moogy Sumner and Her Excellency the Honourable Frances Adamson AC.

Yuandamarra – wearing a black suit and a matching black hat, punctuated with a long brown feather and red sash – stands next to a life-sized bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II. The sculpture was made by artist Robert Hannaford and installed in 2020 within the gated compound for fears of vandalism if erected in a public place.

Instead of graffiti, the statue is surrounded by lily, yellow wattle and bottlebrush bouquets.

Next to the statue, in front of a growing crowd of roughly 20 people, Uncle Moogy slaps a pair of clapsticks. He points to the four corners of the sky and speaks in language. He then uses a long feather to fan the smoke emanating from his own smouldering collection of eucalyptus leaves and wild rosemary, contained in a hollowed-out wooden bowl. He then breaks into English.

This smoke will help her go home.
—Uncle Major Moogy Sumner

Uncle Major Moogy Sumner (centre)


“This smoke will help her go home,” he says.

“She’s done a lot for people in our country. Lots of people around the world. We need to show respect and ask her ancestors to take her spirit home.”

On Thursday, 8 September, 6:41pm London time, news officially broke of Queen Elizabeth II’s death. On Friday morning local time, South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas visited Government House to hang hatchment and lay a wreath at the feet of the Queen’s South Australian statue – one of only three in Australia. The Premier said he wished to convey his “sincere condolences” to the Royal Family on behalf of the people of South Australia,

A group of local Aboriginal elders also organised their own send-off. An “Aboriginal tribute to the Queen”, Uncle Jeffrey said in a text to this journalist that morning. The event started at 12:30pm with a smoking ceremony at Government House, which then turned into a procession to Parliament House.

It’s like what the old people said, if we keep looking back we’re not going to see what we’ve got looking out for [in the future].
—Yuandamarra Kiely

The steps of Parliament House


On the grey steps of Parliament, after most of the crowd and politicians peel off, CityMag speaks with Uncle Moogy. He says the smoking ceremony was to help the Queen get onto her next journey. “We all have to go there one day,” he says.

The elder, who was instrumental in bringing 130 Old People home for reburial at Wangayarta in December last year, says although British colonisation had significantly impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it was “a long time ago” and the community needed to “move past” it.

“There’s still a number of countries around the world under the Commonwealth,” he says.

“I think we should change the date,” he says, referring to Australia Day, “but we can’t change the past.”

Uncle Moogy says he is unsure whether Australia should become a republic – saying he “didn’t know enough” about the issue to comment.

But he was supportive of local changes to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as the State Government’s push to establish a Voice to Parliament.

“We’ve got a lot of people that don’t like it but we need a Voice,” he says.

“We need to have our voice because when they grow up in their communities, they were told what’s good for them.

“We need to start telling people, ‘This is what we want; we’re not children’. You’re looking at the oldest living culture in the world.”

Uncle Jeffrey Newchurch tells CityMag people could speak a lot about the “negatives” and “positives” of Australia’s European settlement.

But he was buoyed by the State Government’s commitment to establishing a state-based Uluru Statement from the Heart, which includes the First Nations Voice to Parliament.

We’re taking our steps and that’s all we ask. Little steps, because we’ve waited 187 years.
—Uncle Jeffrey Newchurch

Uncle Jeffrey Newchurch


“The State Government here, the Labor Government, has an agenda, which is totally inclusive of us,” Uncle Jeffrey says.

“How we go about that? That’s yet [to be] determined, but being led with the voice of Dale Agius (Commissioner for First Nations Voice) gives us an opportunity that we never had. We’re not in that state of denial, no more.

“We’re taking our steps and that’s all we ask. Little steps, because we’ve waited 187 years.”

Yuandamarra Kiely previously told us – on the eve of the postcode 5000’s first (public) cultural burn since colonisation – he was a “blackfella that goes the way the wind blows”.

He also believes respect is a two-way street. “When you do things like this, it’s showing understanding and respect,” he says. “It’s not about the politics and everything else that’s associated with it. It’s the old law we have.”

Asked whether this respect is reciprocated by the monarchy towards First Nations people in Australia, Yuandamarra says occasions like these give opportunities for understanding.

“It’s like what the old people said, if we keep looking back we’re not going to see what we’ve got looking out for [in the future],” he says.

“We know there’s a politic that surrounds it. Today is not about that.

“It’s about showing that respect for what our elders taught us.”

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