• The Star of Taroom has been returned to Country, after a 500 kilometre journey. (NITV)Source: NITV
The Star of Taroom spent nearly half a century sitting in a Brisbane backyard and now it has been walked 500 kilometres back to Country.
By
Keira Jenkins

Source:
The Point
30 Jul 2021 - 9:11 AM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2021 - 4:50 PM

Forty-five years ago, a 160 kilogram groove stone was taken from Iman Country, near Taroom, Queensland.

The stone was pulled from the ground and loaded onto the back of a ute, and eventually placed in a Brisbane backyard.

The backyard belonged to the same man who took the stone, a non-Indigenous veterinarian named Jim Danalis, who travelled all over Queensland, often taking souvenirs from the properties where he worked, including the Iman groove stone.

Because the markings on the stone resembled a star, Jim's son Johnny Danalis imagined it was a stone star that had fallen from the sky, naming it 'the Star of Taroom' when he was a child.

But by the time Johnny reached adulthood, he and his father realised the star was not theirs to keep. When Jim was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, he and Johnny spoke about taking one last road trip to return the artefact to Iman Country.

"We feel in our hearts that we need to show people that you can return things back to Country that belong to Traditional Owners."

Jim didn't see those plans come to fruition: he died just five months later. 

And Johnny felt the responsibility to take the stone home.

"I thought we could load the stone into a ute and bring it back to Country. It would take five or six hours, and it would be a nice thing to do, but I thought how could we put this artefact to work," he said.

"I know for a fact that there's thousands of Australian, non-Indigenous families, all over the country with Indigenous cultural heritage items, some of them absolute treasures, in their sheds, in their cupboards, in their garages, maybe even under their beds.

"They're things that their great-great-grandparents souvenired and collected... and a lot of people don't know what to do with these things.

"So I thought, what if we did something to raise awareness of the importance of returning cultural heritage?

"And that's how the idea of walking the stone back to Country came about."

Johnny got in touch with Elders at the Iman Wardingarri Aboriginal Corporation.

Uncle Stuart White was one of those Elders. He told The Point he couldn't believe what he was hearing when Johnny called.

"We thought he'd just bring it back in a car or a truck," he said.

"When he said he wanted to walk it back I said 'you've got to be joking'.

"I said 'are you crazy?' and they said to me, 'no, we feel in our hearts that we need to show people that you can return things back to Country that belong to Traditional Owners."

'Talking with footsteps'

Johnny and a team of friends and neighbours set about preparing to walk the Star of Taroom home.

They encouraged others to join for a leg of the walk and were overwhelmed by the response.

"It's an incredible honour to be part of something like this," Johnny said.

"But we never dreamed it would get this big.

"We just thought we could walk, and talk with our footsteps and as we've gone further into Country, there's been more footsteps have joined us on that journey."

The footsteps that have joined along the way include Elders like Wulli Wulli man Uncle Robert Clancy, who started walking with the group when they passed through his Country.

He began to walk with the team through Wulli Wulli Country, and decided to stay on with them until they reached the Star's final resting place in Taroom.

"I don't know how I'm going to walk away from it now," Uncle Robert said.

"The tie and the bond between the group that's set out until today is very strong, there's a strong connection there and I've been privileged to be part of it.

"Johnny has a genuine heart, and he's trying heal something that's been sitting there for years and years, with the Iman people.

"Yes his dad took the stone, but now he feels he has to return it, which I think is a really good thing."

'Healing'

The group has also been joined by Iman mob who wanted to be part of the Star of Taroom's journey home.

Tamie-Lee Lawson heard about the star's return through social media and got in contact with Johnny. She travelled from Naarm (Melbourne) to be part of the walk.

For her, it's been an emotional journey.

"The stone coming home is very healing," Tamie-Lee said.

"I know it's very healing for me, and I also hope that it encourages other people all over the country that if they've got stuff that doesn't belong to them, they should give it back as well.

"If they're fearful of what might happen, just reach out to mob, reach out to people and you're most likely going to be met with open arms.

"You don't realise how much healing it could bring to our people."

Many Iman people were driven from their Country, following frontier violence, massacres, and being moved onto missions, where they were forced to stop speaking their language and forbidden from performing cultural ceremonies and traditions.

Generations of Iman people have now grown up away from Country. 

Tamie-Lee said she hopes other young Iman people make the journey to Country, to see the stone, learn what they can about their culture, and connect back their roots.

"I'd like as many Iman people as possible to come see it," she said.

"I hope it helps them link up with mob they haven't talked to in years or find family they haven't heard from in years.

"Through all the sadness I hope they can get joy out of something being returned to Country, knowing that their ancestors sat around that stone, they created that stone."

'It's brought us together'

Tamie-Lee isn't the only one who has been 'guided home' by the star.

Aunty Heather Tobane lives in Rockhampton. Her father was born at Taroom, and he always encouraged her to return.

While she'd been back to Country on several occasions before the star's return, she said she was heartened by the number of Iman people who had made the journey for the very first time, because they'd heard about the artefact.

"I looked up to the sky and said to my father the artefact has come home and I think it's brought us all together," she said.

"I think the Star of Taroom has opened doors for a lot of people, and not just for us, but for the property owners, who our people haven't had much to do with.

"It's our connection to Country and it's very important for our younger generation to learn about that."

Now the Star of Taroom, will be held in a brand new keeping place at the Taroom Historical Museum. 

Aunty Heather said it will be housed alongside a number of other significant Iman cultural artefacts.

"The keeping place is a really important place, we had it painted with our totems on there, ready for the Star of Taroom, and our pictures, our stories," she said.

"We’ve got 3-4000 artefacts to go in there - little ones - that have been tagged over the years and that’ll be our keeping place."

Johnny's mission to raise awareness about returning cultural objects is already working, with some particularly significant items being brought back to Country, alongside the Star of Taroom.

Uncle Stuart White said this is the beginning of a process of healing for Iman people, and the people who may have artefacts that need to be returned.

"I just want healing between the Iman people, the landowners and the community because I think that’s the way forward for us," he said.

"We know our past, but we don't want to live in the past forever. We want to move forward with our community and heal."

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