Monthly Archives: August 2011

Stretching mind and being

Written on Tuesday 7th June

C and I shared a hearty conversation on Saturday night at D’s party. She was asking me what I was hoping to focus my research on. For the first time in a long time I was able to dive right to the heart of it; the original place I stood in when I felt compelled to dedicate my time to expand my view. Although a few days have passed, I hope that I can capture some of that conversation here. Something about expanding my paradigm and challenging my current world view… stretching my mind and heart to encompass new ways of thinking and being. Why come to this place? My journey as a sustainability educator has been pushing me deeper into myself. A questioning of why are we treating ourselves and the earth in this way? This sounds fragmented but I’ll keep going… What can I learn from other cultures about ‘being with’ people and country? The course that really attracted me at Antioch was Language, Metaphor and Worldview – the essence of what motivated me to continue with my Yolngu studies seemed embodied in that course. So grateful to have had that car ride back from Cape Paterson with H who held a mirror up to me and showed me how much I love learning about Yolngu people, language and culture.     

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Madi dreams, metaphors and keeping it messy

Written on Tuesday 30th May

I had the most unusual dream this morning. I was swimming in the San Remo channel with a girl and there were madi throughout the water. I told the girl to catch one but she didn’t. Then I saw one swimming past and grabbed a hold of it. I remember feeling anxious and excited about the potential of catching a madi, but unsure of how safe it would be for my hands. Once I got to the shore with the madi it was trying to get out of my hands and was doing as much harm as it could in the process. I didn’t want to let go, but I was in pain. Eventually the madi escaped back into the water. I tried going after it but it was gone. What is the lesson for me in this? What am I trying to grab a hold of that doesn’t want to be held? What is causing me pain?  


I feel as though some ideas have started to send down roots into the metaphoric medium which is my research. All good things take time, nutrients… learning from the work that was carried out by Marika and Christie in Yirrkala on Yolngu metaphors for learning is one such idea. I keep coming back to these metaphors and feel that there are much nutrients there for me to grow my ideas. 

The question of process and negotiation my research topic is very much at the surface for me. I feel as though I am not part of this process and that it is not transparent. I know that I am likely to have expectations that cannot be met, but I am all about method. I need to write to J about this today. 

How can I connect with, understand, intersect, watch???
What voice will Yolngu epistemology have in my research?
What role can metaphor play in my research if it is not a central actor? Can I even pre-empt what will emerge?   

An apt quote to remind me that research is not a neat and well defined process and nor should it be!:
‘Verran and Christie et al. take seriously his [Law’s] call for methods which engage with the messiness of both life and research and eschew the processes which first tidy it up and then cover the act of tidying’ (Nichols 2011: 36).

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On theoretical frameworks

Written on 29th May 2011

The very thought of having to research, select and speak through a theoretical framework daunts me! Whilst I did some inquiry into TFs a decade ago in my undergrad. degree, the practice of identifying, critiquing and ‘trying on’ a TF is something that has largely eluded my professional life – how could this be?
Perhaps not. If you don’t give something a name, does it render it invisible and mean that you cannot acknowledge its existence? Maybe I need to re-frame that; I have ideas and beliefs, but unless I reference these against those of others, how am I to know what ‘framework’ my ideas synergise with or challenge? I definitely feel excluded from the world of academia right now. I feel as though I ‘lack’ the terminology to operate successfully in this context. I find myself shutting down and retreating during conversations and discussions in fear of being inarticulate or not having enough ‘lingo’ to make people think I am worthy of being a research student – talk about insecurity!
I need to come back to why I wanted to walk this path in the first place… to challenge and expand my own worldview by learning from Yolngu and to develop a new vocabulary and concepts that enable me to ‘see’ the world from this expanded viewpoint and transform my ways of relating to… everything.
I decided to intervene in what was quickly becoming a resistance and aversion to beginning this exploration by asking a friend about the TF she used in her research. She pointed me in the direction of actor-network theory. A brief prologue to ANT though before I delve into that; although I am still developing my research topic, there are key threads that I think will form the warp and weft of my research. Storytelling is one of these. Whilst reading about Yolngu storytelling practices I was struck by the pivotal importance that context (e.g. place, people present, authority, relationship to the story/ancestry) plays in the way a story is generated and performed in the moment. Similarly, Yolngu practices in group decision making seem to be underpinned by a generative and context based approach (e.g. galtha-rom). So, when A began to tell me about ANT and likened it to actors performing in a network, my ears pricked up and I felt that this might be a TF that could have some synergy with Yolngu epistemology… and the capacity to make visible Yolngu epistemology/ontologies from a western perspective.

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Enter the vortex: Mäpuru to Melbourne

Written 25th May – Darwin to Melbourne flight

Reading the prologue to A’s thesis. She writes about the layout of her community and what is a common feature of the community… a mob of dogs being cheeky around food. This reminds me of the nemesis we (napurru) formed in the last few days at Mäpuru, Pissing Dog. Our new acquaintance managed to relieve himself on a number of objects during our short stay: my tent and pack, camera equipment, S’ bag and the leaves we were to use in steaming the much loved Ganguri. A slap on the rump, strategically thrown thong or a litany of curses barely deterred Pissing Dog, who barely flinched. All of these episodes were met with laughter as we (napurru Yolŋu miyalk ga Balanda miyalk) shared moments of humor, humility and understanding. But, I juxtapose these moments with one of complete and utter misunderstanding… my first poignant lesson in cross-cultural misunderstanding. 

Lesson 1: think carefully before you speak, it is hard to retract comments. 
Lesson 2: listen more that you speak (at a ratio of at least 3:1)
Lesson 3: be forgiving, especially to one’s self
Lesson 4: relinquish any notion that you are ‘in control’ of a situation – let go 

My three very full days in Mäpuru made me feel as though I was in an emotional vehicle with my foot jammed on the accelerator… what a ride. Did I have high expectations of myself and how I would/could communicate and connect with my Yolŋu gurrutu? Why yes! Bless S and E for their listening and compassion. What I have become acutely aware of is that I am still seeking the approval of others on quite a deep level, especially those in positions of perceived authority. Last night as I sat quietly, so many things came up that wanted to be let go of. Judgments that are deeply rooted, ones that I have nursed since my childhood. It’s time to say, ‘so long!’ 

On a different train of thought, something that I feel compelled to do is describe the nature and dynamics of my relationships with the women in Mäpuru. Could I do this through metaphor? I think it may take some processing to work through my feeling around the misunderstanding that occurred. It is interesting that whilst it might appear that you share a common language with someone, there may not be a connection that allows each person to feel heard. Sitting and listening to my two mari’mus this morning felt so nurturing and heartfelt. It doesn’t matter what language comes out of my mouth, I always feel heard by those women. Is it because we don’t share great English and Djumbarrpuyŋu that we invest more in a language of 

feeling? And what of my märi mala? Relationships that are just starting to germinate. ŊAarra märi tells such distinct stories through her gunga djäma. Whenever I think of her a Yolŋu learning metaphor comes to heart and mind. Galtha-ga: nangumirri ‘possessing a different and distinctive galtha’ (Christie and Marika-Mununggiritj, 1995). I wonder what meaning her weaving holds for her? 

On being a ‘researcher’… I have been feeling very inadequate in terms of what I feel I can offer the people who I collaborate with. I think I need to bring it right back to respect, listening, valuing people’s expression of their culture, kindness, love, honesty, integrity… 

Burning questions for now (divergent and very scattered)… 

How does actor-network theory relate to the creation of metaphors?
How far back to I tell my story?
How important is it for Balanda to feel as though they have a clearly defined ‘role’ in an Indigenous community?
How am I projecting my worldview onto the Yolngu world? How can I actually ‘see’ what is Yolngu if I am saturating my view with my own lens?

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