Ossie and BJ Cruse talk about their involvement in land rights and some of the achievements they are most proud of.
My name is BJ Cruse. My real name is Benjamin John Cruse. I’ve been involved in land rights since inception and I think I’ve been chairperson for around 28 years in the land council system.
When we first started laying claim to our lands, I think we laid claim to a lot of land around the townships. I remember a big meeting was called once around the Merimbula area. It was a meeting of 360 people and it was very hostile. I remember my dad (Ossie Cruse) telling me ‘Don’t charge in like a bull at a gate. Sit back and observe what’s happening.’
At the meeting, non Aboriginal people were wondering why we weren’t speaking up but after a while, one by one, people started standing up for us. By the end of the meeting a non Aboriginal lady put a motion to support our claims and almost all 360 people voted for it.
I think in the 80’s and 90’s we (Eden LALC) started to achieve something and a major achievement is our building, this Keeping Place. The other achievement is the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Shire Council. It was the first one in Australia and allowed us to rezone our lands for a purpose.
Eden LALC had the first regional forest agreement in Australia. I helped establish a federation of Aboriginal elders between Eden, Bega and Merrimans. John Dixon and I were coordinating the Secretariat. We negotiated a regional forest agreement with all state and federal governments and all stakeholders. From that, we got 1700 acres of crown title land.
The Eden LALC has the same vision as NSWALC- to gain social and economic independence. We realise the tap’s going to dry up one day and the government might cut the funding. Quite a few of our young people have gone away, to Darwin and Alice Springs to get work but we’re here trying to encourage our people to stay within our local community.
Most people know me as Ossie Cruse. The community calls me ‘Pop.’
The name Cruse came from America because my grandfather is American Indian. My mother is Ganai, one of my grandmother’s was a Monaro and the other grandmother was a Yuin woman.
My involvement with the LALC or land rights started back in the early 70’s. The fight back in the 50’s and 60’s was about civil rights and that was a terrible period where racism was everywhere. To us, Land Rights was going to solve all our problems and bring us our land, our mother. That’s how we view it- that the land is our mother. Everybody, whether they are white or black, are custodians of the land.
When we came together (as a LALC) we knew that we had to become self sufficient and to use our energy and make something for the future of our children’s children. We came upon a couple of ideas and one was to build a Keeping Place and cultural centre. We decided to use TAFE courses to do it. We held an eight week course that was part theory, part practical. In the following course we started making seats and with the next one we were able to build the foundations of this place.
Inside the Keeping Place, we have many archives. People have been researching for over 25-30 years. In that building, we have the remains of the language that was used from this place to La Perouse. Now, we are making that into a major tourist project.
BJ, my son, has been so successful in not only claiming land, but getting a pathway up. It will be a pathway where we will train our rangers and it will be the gateway to the Bundian way. We have young men who are working here and who have set up the 400m pathway to capture the tribal lifestyle of the people of this region, including bush medicine, technology and the way that things were made. I’m sure that everyone will be proud of it.
The heritage of our people has become a very marketable product and we knew that we could do things that could revitalise our culture.