I have several connections to indigenous Australians.


After visiting the Mara (Aboriginal) tribe(1) in 2015, I was adopted by a senior Aboriginal woman – Aunty Violet Hammer – as her ‘uncle’ and given the skin name(2) of ‘Burrana’. This title accords me relevance, status, and respect within the tribe.

I want to record a little of Violet’s story. Violet is now deceased and was a founding artist of Waralungku Arts; she grew up at Managoora and Borroloola. She attended school in Borroloola in 1954, relocating to Bauhinia Downs Station as a young woman after marrying her late husband Mr Roy Hammer. Violet attended adult education classes in the 1980s, where she was first introduced to screen-printing and painting in acrylic on canvas.

Roy was also a full blood aborigine and was adopted by Ken Hammer (white). Her grandfather was Gugulu.

As part of my ‘induction’ I was given the ‘songline’(3) of ‘Frog Dreaming’. I was taken to nearby land where the shape of the landform resembled that of a frog crouching (as if it was dreaming). It was a most significant spiritual moment in my life. 


Violet and other ‘Aunties’ invited me to an art class where she guided me through my first attempt using aboriginal art. I had heard many stories of a large saltwater crocodile which the local aborigines called ‘Bombastic’.

This is how I imagined him to be.


The History of Message Sticks

The Australian Aborigines are the most ancient people on Earth. They are the oldest continuous living culture on Earth with estimates of their cultural existence varying between 60,000 and 75,000 years. Aboriginal Message Sticks are therefore a custom that dates back over 60,000 years.

They were a means of communicating between different Aboriginal tribes, and a “messenger” transported the sticks by hand (travelling on foot). The messenger - the one who carried the message stick was traditionally granted safe and protected entry to other nation’s territory - a sort of visa or passport. The messenger would then convey the message to the elders of the tribe meant to receive the message. Sometimes tribes would add to the message as the messenger passed though.

The messages inscribed on the stick (by painting, carving, burning, etc.) were primarily "prompts" for the messenger so that the message would be conveyed consistently to each different nation’s elders. Typical messages would be announcements of ceremonies, disputes, invitations, warnings, meetings, events and happenings.  

The Background to my Mediation Message Stick.

I had the idea for a ‘Mediation Message Stick’ after researching the conflict resolution stories from various indigenous cultures, including the Australian Aborigines, with whom I have spent considerable time. Over dinner with Michael West, an aboriginal artist and activist, we hatched the idea of a ‘Mediation Message Stick’ and discussed dispute resolution theories and the mediation process.

Following that conversation and many more, Michael and his artistic colleague Graham Toomey designed and made the ‘stick’ and presented it to me. The Iconography (symbols, images, and words) was the chosen by Michael and Graham, from our conversations. These two artists have designed Message Sticks for many notable people and institutions - among them the Queen Elizabet II, and the High Court of Australia.

My ‘Mediation Message Stick’ is the only one of its kind in the world!! 


Referring to the photos in turn.

The words are Catalysts for entering and continuing a conversation in Mediation or Peace-making processes.

The actual words are:
Respect, Reconciliation, Mob, Yarn, Peace, Together, Conversation, Share, Culture, Diversity, Inclusion, Trust, Harmony, Dignity, Honour and Listen.

(Note that in Australian Aboriginal language, "Yarn" means a friendly talk). The designers selected the words after a "yarn" with me as to what I do in the process of Mediation.


The two wavy (undulating) lines indicate Journeys and Paths:

"Life is a journey, we share our stories, our tears, our laughter, our experiences and some of our life. We are all on the journey of life, and we must all find our own path to follow, sometimes those journeys and paths are shared other times you are alone." (Quoting the Artists)

The dots on either side of the journeys and path represents Time:

"Time is not a constant in the universe. It takes time for achievement. We are the oldest Astronomers." (Quoting the Artists)

The footprints on journeys and path represents Humanity:

"This represents both the individual as a whole and all the subsequent subsets and cohorts, groups we belong to, up to all humanity." (Quoting the Artists)

The concentric circles are Places:

"These represent places we stop, visit, rest, talk, where ever you spend some of our time on your journey. These places can be many things, but are not limited to countries, continents, states, provinces, cities, streets, houses, homes, rooms and grounds. You interpret and define these places for yourself, from your experience, from your journey." (Quoting the Artists)

The reason that the stick is lacquered is so that when people handle it “dirty or sweaty” hands do not adversely mark the stick as it is (well) used. e editor with a drag and drop interface. Mobirise Website Builder creates responsive, retina and mobile friendly websites in a few clicks. Mobirise is one of the easiest website development tools available today.


When I use my Stick, I pass it around the group of people in a peace-making situation, or the parties in mediation (usually a multi-party process). I ask them to read the words and I explain the symbols and the iconography to them. Once everyone has had a chance to look at, and feel the stick, I then ask if someone would like to speak about the issue (the subject of the disagreement, conflict, or dispute) – the "troubles" – the based on a prompt of a word or symbol on the stick.

The only rule is that you must be holding the stick to speak. In this latter use, it acts a "Talking Stick" well as "Message Stick". 


With no exception in my experience of using the Stick, it induces an almost ‘spiritual’ tone to the conversation. I believe that the ancient spirit of the Aborigines is somehow embodied in the Stick through its clever, interpretive design and the incorporation of the iconography and meanings. I have been amazed at the success of resolving issues using the Stick. When it’s not being used in conversation, it often sits on a table and has the effect of ‘watching over’ the process.

People enter the conversation almost always with reference to the Stick; and they honour the process rule with it as a ‘Talking Stick’.  


My third connection is to John Moriarty AM. I first met John through our respective wives, and the two of us had many conversations about indigenous peoples and the work which John and his Foundation had been doing. He is an extraordinarily humble man who has made a significant contribution to the welfare of his peoples.

As part of those conversations the use of Message Sticks by Australian aborigines was discussed. In 2016 I was scheduled to visit Admont, Austria (as part of my conflict resolution studies) and John carved a Message Stick for me to take to Austria and explain its meaning and use to those with whom I would be working. John carved the Message Stick from a piece of Huon pine which he had personally collected in Tasmania many years before and had kept for a special occasion. For all these reasons this Message Stick has enormous significance for me, and I am honoured and humbled by his achievements. 


John is an Aboriginal Australian artist, government advisor and former soccer player. He is also known as founder of the Balarinji Design Studio, for painting two Qantas jets with Aboriginal motifs.

As a soccer player, John Moriarty made his first-grade debut in 1956 as a teenager and played football for South Australian First Division teams Port Thistle, Port Adelaide and Adelaide Juventus, as well as playing for Adelaide Croatia alongside St Francis House schoolmates the late Charles Perkins and Gordon Briscoe.

In 1960, John was the first recognised Indigenous Australian to be selected for a national soccer team.

He was selected to play in an Australian national team tour to Hong Kong, but the tour was cancelled after Australia’s expulsion from FIFA. John’s career ended most unfortunately after a collision with a goalkeeper.

John represented the state of South Australia 17 times. After retiring in 1965 due to injury, he served on the board of Adelaide Juventus (later Adelaide City).

John co-founded John Moriarty Football (JMF), an initiative for primary school aged Indigenous boys and girls. JMF’s goals are twofold: to provide the support, training, development and pathways for Indigenous players to succeed in football and to use the sport as a powerful tool to change educational and life outcomes for Indigenous footballers and their families. 

(1) The Mara (also spelt Marra) tribe is located at Borroloola – a town in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located on the McArthur River, about 50 km upstream from the Gulf of Carpentaria.

(2) A ‘Skin Name’ is kinship term that identifies one’s relationship to another.

(3) Songlines trace the journeys of ancestral spirits as they created the land, animals and lore. Integral to Aboriginal spirituality, songlines are deeply tied to the Australian landscape and provide important knowledge, cultural values and wisdom to Indigenous people. 

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