Yumurr Charlotte Burns

St John’s Lutheran Church, Hope Vale

2015 December, 22

Yumurr Charlotte Burns

Y ala wulbumun, Raymondamu, V almayamu, Lloydieamu, Lorettaamu, Ursulaamu, Cliffordamu, S tewartamu N gamu. N yulu ngananga N gamu. This old lady was Raymond and Valmay and Lloydie and Loretta and Ursula and Clifford and Stewart’s mother. And she was our mother too.


Nyulu gamba, ngananga Yumurr. This old lady was our daughter.


Everyone in St John’s congregation can sense today we bear witness to the ending of an era. We farewell the last bush-born, bush-living daughter, mother and grandmother.


We come today with a great reservoir of fondness and love for YumurrCharlotte. If there be a vessel of love in our midst, it is today filled to the brim and spilling over. She has been part of our lives since we were born. She has known us before we knew her. Gamba Charlotte, YumurrCharlotte, are the names we have long known and called her. Her jiilbi, her profile in the distance, is one we instantly recognised, stooping over a stick with her fishing accoutrements, walking while the rest of us drove down the beach road, leaving her in the dust, with a caravan of yelping dogs and yapping children.


Irascible, humorous, weary, grieving, haranguing, laughing, crying, giggling, beseeching God for rest and peace, loving and contented, in pain and bereft – who in this village has not witnessed and felt her every emotion, and received and given her an equal sympathy in the ups and downs of our family life here?


She gave us comfort in our grief. Who in their darkest hour did not have her arms and tears comforting us? She possessed nothing, but she gave us everything.


She is long-lived and this has been a great blessing to her family and to us all. There is no secret to her long life. She abjured buurraay gaga. She didn’t drink. Nyulu ngalgal gaaari budaayga. She didn’t smoke. And for as long as her legs would carry her, she walked every day, fishing down at the creek, first with her children and then her grandchildren in tow. 

For every year she did not own and have the ease of a motor car, another five years was added to her life from walking.


A simple bush life for a long life.


Wulbu guudyungay, biiringay gurra bigudhirrngay, yiniildhirr wunaaniga bada Evelina. Y iyi gurraygu gadaara gamba baduurdhirr. W ala-walaa nganhdhanun nhanmaya, dhun- galawi milguul bawaaygamu. The fish, the small freshwater perch and the jewfish, lived in fear down at Evelina. Here comes that old lady again with her fishing lines. Watch out, she might catch us, and cook us for soup in her billy can to feed her family.


Let me say three things about nganhdhanun Yumurr.


First, this old lady possessed a sharp native intelligence combined with an indelible humanity. This gave her great wisdom. When you looked past the day-to-day dramas around her and in her life, you could hear a voice of insight and profundity.


Secondly, she possessed a great faith in the Gospel. That is why we today have no doubt where she has gone. She is gone to join her family in a home where she will never want, a place where God will take from her stooped shoulders that Job-like and disproportionate share of the world’s pain, for Jesus promised the meek will inherit the earth.


Thirdly, she was a beautiful old lady. The world makes its own calculations about the worth of human beings, and these measures cast our Aboriginal people as lower in worth than white people, and cast further discriminations among our own people. Sometimes we make the mistake of going along with these cruelties. None of it is with foundation. All of it is worthless. We know the beauty that lies in all of us. It has nothing to do with the colour of our skin but with the content of our character, the nature of our humanity and our souls that ever strive for goodness. If these be the proper measures of beauty, we all have our shortcomings and great blemishes. But this old lady brimmed with the beauty of character and humanity. This is what is meant when we say she was a beautiful soul.