‘Landscape is a mythopoetic field which acts on human beings from without, causing them to conform to ancient patterns and re-enact lives and movements of ancestral animals and other beings’ (p. 145).
This single sentence is so rich with meaning and immediately resonated with multiple threads of my research… country speaking to us and through us… each place has its own feeling (liyan) which makes it right for doing certain things (including avoidance)… Bugarregarra as a dreaming/process of co-creation imbues places with this liyan (perhaps it could even be described as a kind of affordance for doing certain things).
How do interpret or understand Tacey’s statement about landscape, or Country, as a mythopoetic field?
Beyond the materiality of Country or place, there is a larger field (not seen but sensed), from which stories emerge. These stories might just be there, lingering, waiting to be spoken; perhaps spontaneously, or maybe through a felt sense of a word whispered to us in a time of deep listening. The emergence of stories from a field that is inextricably interwoven with place, that is place, tells a bigger story about how storytelling binds people and place… we emerge together through stories. This is a vastly different conception of stories and storytelling as compared to egoic authorship.
‘Perhaps the ‘memory’ in a place, which may have been created through repeated ritual practice in that place, acts like an intention of how beings should interact with place and each other in situ. Maybe morphic resonance is like an affordance of place…’
A collection of nine stories narrated by Paddy Roe – an Aboriginal Elder of Gularabulu (now written as Goolarabooloo) – and transcribed by Professor Stephen Muecke, the book is a remarkable negotiation of Aboriginal and Settler cultures in the complex, enormous region known as the West Kimberley.
Paddy Roe categorises the stories into three different kinds. The first, “trustori”, are indeed true stories, but the heroes of these stories often do extraordinary things. We might call such tales “legends”.
The next group he calls “devil stori”, in which strange, even unnerving events can only be explained by the presence of a spirit being.
Then there’s “bugaregara” stories, or what we might call “myths”, which tell of the magnificent supernatural beings that created Country and Law.
The book’s title refers to a vast, liminal region of land and sea. Goolarabooloo (“the coast where the sun goes down”) is a large area of coastal country that stretches from La Grange in the south, right through Broome, and north to Dampier Land.
Consequently, Goolarabooloo encompasses multiple tribal groupings, and urban and non-urban lands. Roe stresses that the stories of Gularabulu belong not just to him and his family, but to all the people in this diverse region, including whitefellas.
To tell stories for black and white alike involves a difficult negotiation of cultures and contexts but, rather than shy from it, Roe embraces the challenge. Many of the stories’ characters exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds. He talks to whitefellas so “they might be able to see us better than before”.
Like his characters, Paddy Roe crosses languages, genres and cultures as adeptly as he crosses country. Until the time of his death in 2001, Roe was the head of a large family, and maintained a position of power as a negotiator between government departments in Broome and the surrounding Aboriginal communities.
Prior to assuming such responsibilities, Roe had long negotiated the myriad differences between indigenous and non-indigenous societies. A fully-initiated Nyigina law man, he also spent many years travelling across the Kimberley as a drover, before being contracted to work as a repairer of windmills. He met Stephen Muecke in the 1970s, when Muecke was visiting Broome for the first time as a young PhD student.
The ever-present possibilities of transformation and expansion in Gularabulu give Roe’s narratives a distinctly contemporary feel. The absence of any controlling, authorial point of view contributes to a plenitude of explanations for why or how things happen. Roe’s landscapes are richly poetic, full of various rhythms that allow them to become more than static literary representations.
After all, no place is still in Goolarabooloo country.
The ground is alive with meat ants, the horizon is thrashing with acacias or ragged swells. Roe’s stories, like the places in which they are told, are alive with an energy that thoroughly captivates Muecke, who takes them from local yarns into the global realm of literature, from oral narrative into written poetry. Gularabulu is an example of being “always here, and always on the move”.
Roe and Muecke use a number of strategies in order to allow Gularabulu to “travel” across the locales included in the narrative. Roe’s Aboriginal English, as Muecke notes in a useful introduction, is a crucial mode of communication between Aboriginal people of various language groups. Furthermore, it is also a way in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians can communicate.
For Muecke, then, Roe’s could be “the language of ‘bridging’ between the vastly different European and Aboriginal cultures”.
Consequently, one could say that Roe’s language articulates a distinct mode of poetics and politics: the mode of the in-between. Here, it matters as much that Roe’s stories describe his country as it does that non-indigenous readers enjoy them.
To travel into the realms of written literature, the narratives depend on Muecke’s response (and subsequent transcription); it is therefore important for Roe that Muecke understands him and that he performs his own role as a listener.
One touching moment comes to mind from the story Worawora Woman – a trustori about a married man who goes hunting with a greedy woman – in which Roe pauses the narration to find out if Muecke is uncomfortable about their friend, Butcher Joe, lighting up a cigarette. Roe continues only once Muecke has said, “Oh that’s all right”.
That’s not to say that Gularabulu is all about talking to a white audience. As I’ve written elsewhere, often Roe threads his stories with words and phrases that are left unexplained and mysterious to those unfamiliar with Nyigina language or culture.
During his telling of Djaringgalong – a tale from bugaregara about a monster bird who ate people’s babies – Roe laughs and says to one of his countrymen, “binabinaba”, the meaning of which is never explained.
And a large chunk of one of one of Roe’s nurlu, or songpoems, is included in the book’s opening story, Mirdinan, with only a very basic gloss. By repeating these fragments of stories or songs, older patterns of tradition are imprinted on contemporary texts.
Roe’s voice is, therefore, an example of what scholars Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra have called an “Aboriginal Polyphony”. Rather than a text which represents a “pure” Aboriginality, Gularabulu is a “composite and federalist” literature that crosses a number of genres and can operate in many different cultural contexts.
Indeed, Hodge and Mishra remind us that a link to oral modes is a sign of exceptionally high status within Western literary culture. Roe’s stories exploit this link: like his stories, the most famous members of the Western canon show the marks of their oral origins (retarded narratives, prolepsis, bricolage, dialogue).
Muecke’s innovative typography does not eliminate or disregard the features of Roe’s speech, either, but translates them into minimalist arrangements familiar to readers of Western avant-garde poetry. Muecke’s system produces written marks not only for Roe’s narration, but also for his growls, hesitations and other pauses.
If we read the language as poetic, Muecke says in his introduction, we pay attention not only to its “underlying content”, but also to its very form. After all, Roe’s stories are much more than spoken language: he growls, sings, rasps a boomerang, draws pictures in the dirt, or members of his audience will interject and contribute to the story.
To understand this book’s real importance, suggest Hodge and Mishra, we might consider that Gularabulu consists “of a set of genres which will not all correspond exactly to any equivalent in English”. Reading Gularabulu is to verge on an experience of watching or listening; it is to be following Paddy Roe through his country while also aware that there’s plenty you can’t see or comprehend.
To read this book is to be always moving somewhere else, away from the confines of Western literature, of settlement, and of the edifice of colonial thought.
Satish Kumar discusses how western science and philosophies have always considered humans to be at the top of the ecological pyramid, the masters of the earth.
Many ecologists consider the need to preserve our environment simply for the benefit of human beings. This is shallow ecology.
Deep ecology goes much further, and considers the value of the 8.4million species, and how they have as much right to be on the planet as humans. It recognises nature’s intrinsic value, not in their value to humans.
“Sometimes, on Sundays, I heard the bells…when the wind was favourable, a faint, sweet, and, as it were, natural melody, worth importing into the wilderness. At a sufficient distance over the woods this sound acquires a certain vibratory hum, as if the pine needles in the horizon were the strings of a harp which it swept. All sound heard at the greatest possible distance produces one and the same effect, a vibration of the universal lyre, just as the intervening atmosphere makes a distant ridge of earth interesting to our eyes by the azure tint it imports to it. There came to me in this case a melody which the air had strained, and which had conversed with every leaf and needle of the wood, that portion of the sound which the elements had taken up and modulated and echoed from vale to vale. The echo is, to some extent, an original sound, and therein is the magic and charm of it. It is not merely a repetition of what was worth repeating in the bell, but partly the voice of the wood” – Thoreau, Walden