Their presence is noted in the sky and in the water, but their absence is felt on the ground. It's hoped a two-metre sculpture will give voice to past truths and questions of rights, Jacob McArthur learns.
WHERE have the emus gone?
They're in the sky, they're in the water and they're in stories; ancient stories which are continuing today.
But, around Tamworth, the flightless birds are harder to find on the ground.
They used to be here.
Now, standing more than two metres tall, there is a stainless steel reminder concreted into the ground stretching the threads of the past and their presence into future and ensuring its grasp on the land is strong.
In Bicentennial Park, by the Peel River, stands the defiant Dhinawan, where it had stood for many millennia.
Gomeroi weaver and artist Amy Hammond designed the sculpture, named Dhinawangu Walaaybaa, Emu's Country.
It began as a series of drawings and photos before becoming a lomandra grass weaving and took its final form with the help of JRC Stainless Steel.
The Dhinawan has stood quietly, yet prominently, among the gum trees on a rolling hill in the park since January.
But now it has a voice and a truth it wants told.
A truth about the country it stood on for millennia and to remind people they are on Gomeroi country.
Ms Hammond said weaving "holds and shares our stories" for Gomeroi people.
There is an immense story held in the Dhinawan, but its ending hasn't been told yet.
If anything, it's just the beginning attached to a skein of history which is weaved through the land, its people and its life.
"I chose to tell a Dhinawan story because they're not here anymore, but they used to be here," Ms Hammond said.
"The spirit of Dhinawan, it is in the river, it is in the Milky Way and it is in our stories and in our dances.
"We're ensuring that Dhinawan still lives on here."
But where did the emus go?
There are detailed reports of native animal culls in the Tamworth region as far back as the 1880s where hundreds of thousands kangaroo, wallaby, emu and other species were killed.
The Tamworth Pastures and Stock Protection Board, a precursor to the Local Land Services paid bounties for these native animal scalps.
In 1884, 260,780 kangaroo scalps were paid for in Tamworth.
The policy had a fairly instant impact on animal population, in 1892 only 12,337 kangaroos scalps were bought.
"The emu population never recovered and I hope Dhinawan, my emu sculpture, makes people think about the fate of this important animal and its connection to country including the river - people can be too quick to overlook their role and impact," Ms Hammond said.
The sculpture has stood in the park now for a number of months in the public art trail along the river.
It carries an ancient story but it's partly told in a very modern way.
Like the other sculptures, it comes with an "augmented reality" component which can be accessed when people download an app, hover their smartphones over the info board.
The board comes to life with footage with Brad Flanders sharing a traditional dance and Ms Hammond in the process of weaving.
It means the story and the significance of the Dhinawan will be able to be accessed by many people for many more years.
The emu sculpture has stood quietly for most of this year but its voice is being heard just ahead of NAIDOC week.
Because the Dhinawan's purpose is almost in lockstep with this year's theme.
"It feels really appropriate that now's the time to bring people together in honour of the Dhinawan, the sculpture and sharing that story," she said.
"With the theme Voice. Treaty. Truth, I can sit here and tell the last 200 years' story of the Dhinawan and what it has been through and it mirrors what we as a people have been through.
"Being able to allow that Dhinawan to have a voice.
"The treaty: its responsibility and its rights to country.
"To be allowed to be on its country and to live.
"And truth: sharing the truth, I think Tamworth is really far behind in acknowledging and talking openly about the truths and why there are no emus here anymore."
The threads of the NAIDOC theme coalesce and make a broader picture about the environment, its significance to the Gomeroi people and its current state.
Ms Hammond explained how the Dhinawan cared for country in a way others couldn't.
"We know there are certain plants, really important plants to us, the seeds won't germinate unless the seeds pass through the emu," she said.
"Without the emus, it is wiping out entire species of plants that are medicines, that are linked to culture that are linked to our well-being and way of life which has been completely ripped away from us."
Partner Marc Sutherland hoped the sculpture would help spark some conversations in a genuine, authentic and mature way.
"Hopefully, when people are just walking through the park, a little girl might ask 'why is an emu there?'," he said.
"People have the context there to say they used to live here they belong here."
"That conversation comes naturally but people are armed with the knowledge that emus are from and they have a right to be here."
He felt people would be open to the first component of the NAIDOC theme would be welcomed, but conversations around treaty, truth and sovereignty would be limited.
"People are more happy to hear about ... our voice, 'let's tell some stories', but the hard hitting part around it is 'what are our rights'," he said.
But he said the work of weaving group, Yinarr Maramali, were helping to start conversations about sharing culture, stories and connection to country.
"The conversations are happening on a smaller scale," he said.
"I think it's time we start to have that mature conversation as a community."
He explained the significance of the Dhinawan and how "earth, Gomeroi country, is mirrored in the sky".
He said the emu could be seen in the night sky, in the Milky Way, the river in the sky.
So the health of the river was vital to the life of the Dhinawan.
What happens if there's no emu?
"Knowing the Dhinawan lives in this water, what happens when the water's gone and where does that story end up," he said.
"It could be lost because Dhinawan can't be in the river anymore.
"The river has a right to flow and that right's to make sure other things can continue our story. If it is not running, then who are we, because we lose a story."