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Death and Dying

Judy Anne Edgar and Maya Shioji – Sorry Business

Karijarri and Yawuru woman Judy Anne Edgar and her daughter, Japanese Yawuru woman, Maya Shioji, discuss how much is to be gained by doing death and dying the traditional way.

Moving, raw and at times, astounding, Death and Dying is a collection of true stories from West Australians that explores death as both the most inevitable part of life, but also a topic that many shy away from discussing openly. Despite our rapidly ageing population and a COVID pandemic reminding us of the fragility of life, death continues to be something that is often swept under the rug – particularly in the Western world. Through this series, we hope to change that narrative.

This oral history collection was funded by the State Library of Western Australia.

Karijarri and Yawuru woman Judy Anne Edgar and her daughter, Japanese Yawuru woman, Maya Shioji, discuss their multicultural upbringings in Broome, Western Australia, and the rituals and customs that occur during their traditional Indigenous funerals, as well as Japanese funerals.

Judy and Maya believe that today, many of these Indigenous funeral traditions, sometimes known as ‘sorry business’, are being lost in the Kimberley. In this episode, they discuss how much is to be gained by doing death the traditional way.

Image: Judy and Maya in Broome. Photo by Goolarri Media.

Copyright © 2022 Judy Anne Edgar and Maya Shioji

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storytellers. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

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INTRO: Death. It’s the most inevitable part of life. Some might say it’s the only guarantee. But it’s also a topic that many people shy away from because it makes us feel uncomfortable, scared or upset. It’s often swept under the rug, not acknowledged or talked about, until of course, we come face-to-face with it ourselves. We hope to end this taboo through a series of interviews with many different people from all over Western Australia. We talk to ordinary people about their views on the grief, loss, love and celebration that is death and dying. This is a conversation on death. 

MAYA: My name’s Maya Shioji. I’m a Karrajarri Yawuru woman from Broome. I decided to be part of this so that we tell our story. 

JUDY: My name is Judy Edgar. I am Karrajarri woman. My grandfather’s Yawuru, so that makes me Yawuru as well.  

RITA: So, Maya, you grew up in a mix of cultures. You’ve got an Indigenous cultural side to you, but you’ve also got from your father a very different cultural mix. Tell me a little bit about that? 

MAYA: Yeah, so my father’s Japanese and my mother is a traditional Aboriginal lady. So, my mum and dad have totally different backgrounds. I really don’t understand how you guys got together… One man got to talk Japanese and you speak English, broken English. And my father didn’t know one aspect of English actually. How did you guys get together, Mum?  

JUDY: As a traditional woman coming from a very strong father who held that role, I was promised from the day I was born to a person who was the right skin group to me. I grew up as a child knowing who that person was, living up on the hill in Broome. Even though the families were small, I already knew he was my promised man. The day you were born your father will find the right person for you, but sometimes it’s not his choice, because it is the skin grouping which we have, and he is my right skin group to be married to. And that’s how it goes. All my sisters are the same.  

RITA: What changed for you then, if that was what was going to happen, that was the tradition? 

JUDY: I was in my teens [and] I noticed Maya’s father and I was very interested in him, even though the communications weren’t… it was more about the looks and feelings. I approached my dad and I said I’m interested in Shioji. He said no way, because he had a protocol to go through and that was to make sure everything was right. So, he had to contact my promised man, who lived in Derby at the time with his wife. I would’ve probably been the second wife, the young one. So, I had to wait for two weeks, waiting for him to come to Broome to see my dad. 

It was terrifying. My life decision was going to be a different journey and I didn’t want it. He came. He could not come to the house because my mum was his malinyanu, which is mother-in-law. He had to be parked on the other side of the road where my father would approach him. He had his wife sitting next to him and she had no choice in the matter as well. She would have to accept me into that relationship if I wanted it that way, if I said, yes, I’m going to live with you. So of course, being young and what my mother used to call me, stubborn…  

MAYA: And you still are! 

JUDY: I was. As soon as my dad had stopped talking to him and told him what I wanted done, I went over to speak to him [and] his wife sitting in the car. I have no choice. I have to do it. There’s no way around it. What my father says goes, but I went there, and I said, no, I’m not coming with you. I will run away from you. I will cause you a lot of grief. I was only young. Then I went back home, crossed the road to my parents [who were] waiting on the verandah. He came [over and] Dad went back to see him. I was standing not too far [away]. And he says, “No, I can’t take ‘em that girl. You know, I’m old, it’ll make too much trouble for me. You let ’em go, you know, that’s his [Shioji’s] wife. That’s what you wanna do, you know, let ‘em go.” My father took that in hand, because that was cleared in the Aboriginal way, that the man had said, no, he won’t receive me. Then my father came back and said, go and get that man to come back here to meet me. 

RITA: Shioji? 

JUDY: Shioji. Well, he said, get that man. I sent a message. I didn’t move. I just sent a message with someone at the time, I can’t remember. And he, obviously loving me, came walking down the streets to our house. My father gave him a few words of advice of how I should be treated and said, to me, this is your husband. So, in that sense, he was my husband from the day he walked in [and] my father said yes. 

RITA: So, you couldn’t communicate with each other and yet you made this promise? 

JUDY: Not very clearly because his English wasn’t good. I think I was brought up as a child to listen to men and [so I was] trying to work out what he was saying to me. Sometimes it was very difficult. But somehow, we got through that. Our arguments, or disagreement, not arguments, more of a disagreement on things, were quite funny if I think to myself when I think about it now. Because sometimes when he tried to get things across and it didn’t come out very well in English, he would just give it to me in Japanese and I, in return, would give it to him back in Aboriginal!  

MAYA: Dad still didn’t have good English when he was older. 

JUDY: Yeah, so his English only improved when my children came along, to be honest, no choice. But yes, love just breakdowns barriers.  

RITA: So, children came along. Maya, you’re the eldest of a brood of how many? 

MAYA: [There’s] three of us. 

RITA: And what was it like for you growing up with this intense cultural mix? 

MAYA: I think I was very lucky growing up though. Dad was, because he was a pearl diver, he was out [at sea] for months at a time. I grew up with my grandparents. They took me a lot out on Country. I actually learned a lot of the Country – fishing, camping and the land and going to places where a lot of other children don’t get a chance to [go]. From my father’s side, when Dad used to come in, he used to sing to us in Japanese. It’s a pity that I can’t remember the nursery songs that they used to sing to me, because I tried to the other day and I was like, nope, that doesn’t sound right. So, it was different. But actually, it was just normal too, because in Broome it’s a multicultural sort of community. You’re brought up with all these different Asian ethnic groups here in Broome. Then you also had the traditional or Aboriginal culture as well. 

JUDY: When everything else was happening in Australia at the time, I think we were one of the luckiest places to be in, in Broome, because it didn’t affect us as much as other places – the separation of different people.  

MAYA: Yeah. I don’t think I ever grew up with racism much too. Because everyone knew each other. So as a child as well, I do remember when they used to have law time and all the kids used to go and sit down near Crab Creek side and watch all the men come back from law time, and the dancing and the singing and the wailing and the crying. It was great. I just remember being under a blanket and listening to those men coming in and their feet stomping on the ground. God, I was a little girl. That’s a memory and a half.  

JUDY: That was my life.  

MAYA: Yeah. But I had a taste of it growing up. I was actually pretty lucky to be there when all that stuff happened too. Didn’t happen very often. It doesn’t happen as often now these days.  

JUDY: No, [but] we’re bringing it back. As a child, growing up with a very strong leader, my father, where everything was very traditional, we could go out into the Country, not too far to One Mile, which is called Bilingurr, and practice our singing, cultural stuff before law time. I think that’s something that the children missed [out on], the songs, the Songlines.  

What had changed about being in Broome, where as a child, we could go out to – it wasn’t like, [we] don’t have telephone, anything. It was just word of mouth that we would be meeting over at Bilingurr, which is where the One Mile is, and going through the bush where the clearings were made and all the Songlines and the dancing and painting happened. The community of the Broome people would come, mainly Aboriginal people, not the other tribes. So, I grew up with that, with the Songlines, the song, the dancing. There’s a recording somewhere which I love. I think I remember that song, which we don’t sing anymore. One of the things we are doing is trying to get that back… but that’s another story. 

RITA: Maya, let’s talk a little bit about Gran, because that was your first experience of actually organising a traditional, full-on cultural funeral for your grandma, who was an Elder? 

MAYA: So, I really didn’t want to do it, but I had no choice, because I was being told for many years that I would do it because I wasn’t the eldest. So, I actually took it on because I felt obligated and also in a certain sense, I did want to do it because of all my experiences in the past. But it was pretty nerve-wracking taking [on] that responsibility, because when you are having to take the responsibility to do a traditional cultural funeral, especially when I didn’t know all the different aspects of it, and all different steps of a traditional funeral, it kind of was a bit of a shock to me too. Even though I was exposed to it as a child, I didn’t know all the other stuff. There’s different sort of aspects in the background that you had to understand too, that had to be done.  

RITA: And why was it that you as her grandchild, when she had living children – your mum and your mum’s siblings – why was it that you were given that responsibility rather than them to say her final goodbye?  

MAYA: Yeah, because the children had to grieve, you guys weren’t allowed to do anything.  

JUDY: It’s traditional for a child to grieve and for the grandchildren to take over, that’s how it was. That’s how it always was. For other people it’s different [where] the child would take on the responsibility of the parents, but in my culture, it’s not part of us. We don’t have any claim to the possessions. Our job is to grieve and be seen grieving to honour our mother.  

MAYA: But I also think it also had to do with the fact [of] how Gran and Jumbardu (maternal grandfather) used to look after us as kids. And then in a certain way, we gave back and looked after them when they passed away. So, it’s the kind of tradition that followed the next generation. 

JUDY: But it’s also to do with the skin grouping. Only the certain skin groups from the person who passed away can do the funerals and everything else. The other families of the different skin groups have to be seen grieving.  

MAYA: You know, when some people pass away here, you see all the conflicts within the family and how things should be run. I think sometimes traditional way, it’s good, because there’s no conflict. You have a job. This is how it’s done. No one asks you to say, “That’s how it’s done. It’s run that way. The ceremony is done that way.” So, there is no conflict. 

JUDY: You’re grieving, but the conflict is worse [because they say], “How is he going to be buried? Where’s he going to be buried, that person?” And that’s what’s happening at the moment. Yeah, because we’ve lost that traditional way. And the young people, sorry, I’ve just been noticing that they feel that they have the right [to say], “It’s my father, it’s my mother. I have the right to have a say”. Some people want to be traditional, and they say, no, you don’t have [that right], and it becomes a conflict. It’s really sad to see that, to see when someone dies, the worst in people do come out. Yes, it does. In a traditional way, you don’t have time for that because you’re not part of that.  

MAYA: I get a feeling that when I get older, an old woman, God forbid, and my grandchildren – I’d actually just turn around to my daughter and say, yeah, let them do it. See how they go. And say, tell Isobel and Levi, you guys got no say, let them do it, because it does, it stops the conflict. 

JUDY: It does. 

RITA: So, Maya, it seems like there are really defined roles, but your job was a very different job. So, talk us through that and what it felt like. How old were you when you had to do this? 

MAYA: So, I was about, what, 35 years old when Gran passed away? When she passed away, being told that I was going to take the lead in doing this cultural funeral, I felt very nervous. I wanted to make sure that I did it right. I had to sit back and think about all the different things that made a traditional cultural funeral done properly. I’ve been exposed to it as a child. In a certain sense, when Gran was getting old, I actually had to sit down and talk with some of the uncles – not all of them, because you don’t really talk to uncles, Mum – and I had to talk to my aunties and say, what do I have to do? Do I have to talk to anyone? Do I have to get anything organised before Gran passes away? And they go, well, this is what you have to do, but make sure you don’t start doing anything until after Gran passes away. And I was like, okay. 

But when [she] passed away, I had to think about who I’d have to contact, who would give me advice. I had to go and [find] other family members, traditional family members who actually did a lot of cultural stuff and approach them and talk to them and ask them for their help. Then I’d have to go and see some Elders in the family too, to ask them, am I doing it the right way? It was a full on five days trying to get all that organized very quickly, even though the funeral was in two weeks’ time. 

Lucky for Gran, she had lots of grandchildren. So, I had to actually get all the grandchildren together too as well. Certain ones I can get to do certain things. Like they had to be the right skin group, as Mum said. So, all the daughter’s children could do it and grandchildren. There’s different aspects you have to do, apart from organizing, telling the other language groups or other towns that Gran had passed away, because she was a very traditional woman. You also had to organise how to get them to Broome, if they were in this remote community. There was [the] organising of the grandchildren coming together to the grave site. The women wouldn’t do that, the men would do that, so I never went to the grave site. 

JUDY: I think the families came from all over the Kimberley, even from Perth.  

MAYA: There were actually people there I didn’t even know who they were, they came, [and] I was like, who are they? Because Gran was well known.  

JUDY: Yeah. But because some of them already knew who their skin group is, Maya got to meet new family members.  

MAYA: So, it was a totally different sort of [experience] going to church for funerals normally, to the traditional [kind], because I remember that was done for Jumbardu, my grandfather, when he passed away. But it was never practiced again until Gran [died]. I noticed that, not really. 

On the day of the funeral, there’s a bit of routine to it. When Gran came in the coffin to the church, [we] took her out. We had a big tarp there. We had the law bosses there and they direct people, because that’s not my job. I just stood back and just let them take the lead when we were at the grave site and at the church outside. So, they got them [there] and people would come and they’d say, this skin group, your turn; mothers-in-law’s sons, you cry over the coffin [now]. And it was not quiet crying. It’s like full on wailing, letting your grief out, just full on. And then next person came and then we’d have the church service. Then we’d do it again after Gran was brought to the grave site. There was the white sand put down for all the people who came out from the communities to sit down there in the skin groups. Then we did it again. Gran’s coffin was put there, and everyone cried over it again, we did the same thing. Then Gran was lowered. Then we had to say Rosary. Once Gran was buried and all the grandchildren had to tidy up the grave site, more sand was put on top. And then we had to cry again. So, there’s quite a few grieving [moments] over the coffin and grave site that happened that day. We did that so that you let your grief and clear your liyan (spirit) so that you feel better. You know, grieving is good, crying and wailing, just let it all out so that you are grieving that person and letting them go. 

JUDY: As a child growing up, [showing] the grief of someone who’s passed away would be [done with] the bloodletting; the women hitting themselves with whatever they had in front of them to have the blood coming out of their heads and crying and wailing. 

RITA: Why is that? 

JUDY: Because that’s a tradition. It’s how it is. It still happens in some places, but we don’t do it now.  The men and women have to be separated. We don’t sit together. When the body is put down, covered with sand, then the grandchildren, the women, the girls, they have to come and place the sand on top of the sand, that’s already on top, sorry. And put their hands on top of the grave and smooth the sand down. Then they have to sit there and cry. The women go first, those ones. Then the men, the grandchildren, they do that next. They don’t go in together. Men are first. And then the women finish it off.  

RITA: It seems that actually those rules and traditions are there for a reason [so] that everyone knows their place, everyone actually knows what to do. So even when you have 500 people or more at a funeral, actually there’s a beautiful kind of symmetry that goes on, even though it may feel like chaos. And I’m sure at certain times, Maya, it did feel like that? 

MAYA: Especially for me! 

JUDY:  And you have to sit, because that’s respectful. You sit on the ground. I sometimes forget that, you know, you’re living in Broome where people just sit down on chairs and stand up and watch the funeral processions going through, all that. Sitting on the ground, for me, is much more traditional than sitting on chairs and standing around at the cemetery.   

MAYA: There was a lot of just sitting on the grounds, there were no chairs. Even the old ladies, they’d rather sit on the ground too… It was the longest day of my life. We did the right thing.  

JUDY: You did. I was very proud. 

MAYA: So, at the funeral too, once Gran was set to rest, we had to tell everyone that we had to go. Before the sunset, we had to have a smoking ceremony. The smoking ceremony had to be done somewhere else, we couldn’t do it at the grave site because it’s got too many souls and graves there. So, we had to go to another place to do a smoking ceremony and invited everyone back there to get smoked. 

RITA: The smoking ceremony signifies a cleansing for everybody? 

JUDY: Yes. Maya, the grandchildren and all that group would do the smoking ceremony. And we had to cry over the gifts. 

MAYA: So, it’s tradition in our traditional funerals to get gifts for those people who have traveled from far away. So, we had many blankets. We had to give out the blankets to all those [people]. We had to make sure that [those] who traveled from farthest [away] got those gifts first. And then we just handed out the rest to everyone that was there. We had to acknowledge first those who traveled [from] the furthest, which was from maybe inland Northern Territory, down from Perth. Everywhere. So, I had to give them the gifts first.  

Another thing is that Gran’s belongings also had to be given out to her children. So that was not really an easy thing to do, Mum, because all Gran’s possessions, she had things that… we were like, who are we going to give this blanket to? Who are we going to give this smoke to, who are we going to give this to? When we gave it out, you guys looked at us and I was like, well, you guys sort it out yourself, what you guys want? You guys can work it out yourselves afterwards what you guys want.  

JUDY: We have no choice of whatever the children thought that we could have from our mother’s belongings. And you cannot argue, you cannot argue. You’re not allowed to say, oh, that’s mine. I want that. No. If that thing [is what the] children give to us, that’s how it is. We do not argue about anything. That’s probably why it’s really good, I think it’s a really great reason why we don’t [argue]. 

RITA: It does seem completely the right thing to do, that the grieving child, you, for your mother, who gave you life, that actually you’re not in the best position to organize what is such a complicated funeral. It seems completely correct that actually you use that time to be able to come to terms with your loss. 

JUDY: Absolutely. I’m not just talking about my own immediate family, my own brothers and sisters. It doesn’t go like that. It’s the whole family, which is Mum’s family, which is my cousins. 

We had set up a camp at my sister’s place. This is called the Sorry Camp. All you do is sit and wait for two weeks while the children, Maya and her troop of lackies organized, her and Brendan and Shino – that’s my son – organised themselves on what needed to be done. In the meantime, it’s called Sorry Camp. We cannot do anything. We have to sit and wait from morning ’til night, until late at night, waiting to greet people from the community or family and to be seen that we are grieving and not to move. Can you imagine sitting for two weeks every day, waiting? Hoping that our children – we can sit there and discuss – hopefully they’re doing the right thing. We do that. We’re just people. I’m telling you now, I tried sneaky ways of trying to find out if they were doing [the right] stuff. 

RITA: Yet, in, in our modern, fast paced daily lives, a lot of people actually don’t have that time to be able to just sit and contemplate the awesomeness of death. So, in some ways, this cultural practice really acknowledges that death is as important as the beginning of life. Maya, you had a very different experience when your dad passed away and you were arranging his funeral. Can you talk us through that?  

MAYA: My father’s funeral was totally different compared to my grandmother’s big entourage with all these different aspects to it, because dad was Japanese. He was also Buddhist. So, it was really simple compared to having to go through a four-hour sort of routine with Gran’s schedule. Dad’s was really easy because he was Buddhist, he was Japanese. All I did was just get advice from Dad’s cousins who live in Broome here too. All it was, was getting in contact with the Buddhist monk, who lived in Melbourne at the time and talked to him, because he came to Broome quite a few times to do this Oban Festival. [This] was simple because it was making sure that Dad had a name, he had to change his name. Once he passed away, they gave him another name, another Japanese name.  

Then on Dad’s funeral day, all the kids wore black and white. Dad had a few other children too apart from me: my younger sister Roko and my younger brother, Shino. Dad also had other children. So, I had to get them involved and let them know what’s happening. Dad’s funeral day was just, take Dad’s coffin, walk behind him and just bury Dad. They got someone to say a eulogy at the grave site, the Buddhist monk, he was beautiful actually. He said these beautiful words of being a Buddhist, the cleansing [process], and how to reflect on the positiveness about death and life. He had this very calming voice to him too. Then he’d say these prayers, he had the bowl, and he’d be saying these prayers. At one stage, I felt like I was going to bust out crying and wail. But once he started doing that, I was just so calm inside. Everyone participated in lighting an incense and saying a quick prayer, so everyone was involved in it in a certain sense, at the funeral site. It was calming compared to doing a very traditional [funeral], wailing, everyone getting up, making sure that we get to a certain place before the sunset, giving out the gifts. It was calming.  

For the wake, everyone came together. Always here in Broome the community comes together and helps you with the catering side of it too. We just ask [and] people will make a dish. They come together and we celebrate the person’s life. So, there’s always laughter at the wakes, because you’re celebrating their life too. The way we do it traditionally, you’re respecting them by doing [it] the traditional way as well. And passing on the traditions to the next generation, which is sad, because I don’t really see that happening traditionally a lot [anymore]. Sometimes when I go to funerals now, and I know that they’re traditional, well, they’re Indigenous families and they should be traditional, I want to get up and go say to them, are they going to do that? Are they going to do the grieving? And they don’t. I just go, well, I’ll do it afterwards in my own way.  

JUDY: I think I brought my children [up] too much in a traditional sense. They expect just a little bit of traditional, which they think is much more, well, I think it’s much more respectful to the person who has gone. Also, once you let all your grief out, you go back and think about all the good things. That’s the celebration of life that we have. [We] remember the good things that they have left you, their wisdom. Well, from my mum’s side, she was a very wise lady. She wasn’t loud spoken. She had such a gentle way of talking, which was much more direct than a person who was yelling at me.  

RITA: Just as Mum talked to her grandchildren, talked to Maya about what she wanted, it was almost like there was a preparation that was going on [for] what she wanted [when she died], for whenever it happened? 

JUDY: Yeah, well, she was brought up as a child, poor old Maya, continually every now and then my mum would say [to her]: “You are going to bury me”. 

MAYA: And you know what, Mum, I’m not the oldest. There is an older grandchild that was sitting there that should have been prepared for it instead of me.  

JUDY: But old people see something in children, they pick them for a reason.  

MAYA: So you don’t have to be the eldest, they just know if that person is the one to do it? 

JUDY: The eldest doesn’t have to be the leader in things. The old people have this great way of choosing a child. They see something on them, as soon as they’re young. I don’t know how to do it, but hopefully I’ve got that [ability] to see something in a child, as children growing up, to say, that’s the person who I have chosen to do this or that.  

RITA: When it’s your time, Judy, do you feel that you’ve prepared enough and that you have passed on what you want?  

JUDY: I think my poor grandchildren already know that!  

MAYA: So, do you want a traditional funeral?  

JUDY: Let’s wait and see until I think about it a little bit more. I have to really think about… 

MAYA: How you want to go? 

JUDY: No, my siblings – how they feel I want to go to as well.  

MAYA: And that’s another thing, because they’re your siblings and I’m the child, I won’t have any say on how your funeral’s being run. 

JUDY: Poor thing. 

MAYA: It’s best you do a will, aye? 

JUDY: I think so. And I’m just thinking about my father [now], his funeral when he passed away. As a daughter, we just had to wait and sit and wait. Then the Elders from the communities, from Bidyadanga, came up and we had to go down to One Mile, which is a traditional place where laws used to come through, boys going through Arrernte law, they’d sit under the sun, waiting for the Elders to come. Because we had word that they were coming in. They didn’t speak English very well, they tried to, but my mum was there to negotiate, to interpret. But my mum said, no, you speak the language. My children know it. The people used to think, because you’ll live in town, English was your first language. No, it wasn’t for us. The men, the tribal Elders, came and told us how it was going to be and what was going to be done. I did not go and see where they were going to bury my dad and how it was set up. Like Maya said, there were things that I could not do. it was beautiful and awesome to see the different people [coming] from all around and where they were sitting.  

MAYA: And I just remembered something too as well. My partner is a white European man, so I’ve gone to funerals for [the] white man – sorry, got to say it that way. Their funerals are different compared to what I’ve done as well. So, they go to a funeral parlor, they sit, they do the eulogy, they put up some photos, they have a cup of tea. They don’t grieve the way we do.  

JUDY: It’s not only that. We don’t have photos. There are no photos of our parents in the front of the books. And we don’t say their name anymore as part of that.   

MAYA: So once that person passes away, you just don’t say their name. If someone’s got the same name, you just call them nyapuru. 

JUDY: Nyapuru is from a desert language. Or, we say something like Maya-for-daddy. Maya-for-daddy, like Maya’s daddy’s name is such and such – Steven. So, I wouldn’t be able to say the word Steven anymore, or my dad’s name. So I don’t say my father’s name. It’s a very hard thing to say. I don’t say my mum’s name. If I’m introducing her in a book or something, I always just call her Mrs. Edgar. So that’s part of the death cycle that we don’t say. So much has changed, people might put photos in there, [but] we don’t, because that’s being respectful of the person who has passed away. Photos and everything should be taken and put down. I [took] Dad’s photo off the walls. 

MAYA: Yeah, I forgot about that. I just remembered Gran and Jumbardu’s, all their photos, their names were never spoken again and taken down. 

JUDY: Because that’s being respectful. 

MAYA: And because Gran was in, all her photos, all her video recordings, everyone was told to not say her name or [for] her pictures to be publicised.  

JUDY: Until we clear it, after she’s passed away after so many years. 

MAYA: Was it three, four years?  

JUDY: Yeah.  

RITA: So, do you think that as time goes on, different generations will take different aspects, the aspects that they want from funerals, that they want to be able to remember, rather than things perhaps that are quite difficult and [which] may result in people going away feeling aggrieved? 

MAYA: If you haven’t been taught the traditional way, you won’t practice it. So, [in] modern day time, the traditions are actually getting lost. Really. I don’t see it being done now in town. Maybe in the communities, they do it differently. Certain aspects are not done, like probably the bloodletting, as you say. I never saw that. I saw once where they cut themselves at the funeral because I was prepared for that, but traditional funerals, the way we do it up here, it’s not done anymore. It’s not done the right way. It’s not in town, it’s not practiced. You don’t see it. Every now and then they do the crying over the coffin and the grave site. But they don’t do it from the beginning or [where] you guys do the grieving for two weeks, can’t say nothing. And they don’t do the [practice] where the grandchildren or the siblings organise it all.  

RITA: So, Maya, given that you’ve experienced organising two very different funerals and two very different grieving processes, what would you want [for yourself]?  

MAYA: Oh, I love some of those aspects. I don’t know if it’ll be really traditional for me because… It’d be nice, but I don’t think I’d want to put my grandchildren through that. I’d to like to make it easy for them. The Buddhist way was really nice.  

JUDY: So, she’s got a choice. 

MAYA: I do have a choice. I don’t have to be… I am traditional, but not traditional traditional because we live in a modern day. It’s a really hard question because I’m not old and frail and knowing what I want. See, I might want to just be cremated and my ashes thrown out on Country and at the sea because I live right next to the sea. I might just want to say, well, take my ashes, cry over my hearse, sing a song that I love and have a big party after. Easy. 


OUTRO: Thanks for listening. This oral history collection was commissioned by the State Library of Western Australia and produced by Luisa Mitchell from the Centre for Stories. Narration by Luisa Mitchell, editing by Mason Vellios and special thanks to executive producer and interviewer, Rita Alfred-Saggar. 



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