Monthly Archives: May 2013

Encountering as being with

A flash and a flicker outside my office window caught my eye yesterday. There, on the leaf litter before me, in its sleek form, was a Monitor. It spotted me, froze and slinked off under a grevillia bush. Not long after, a Grey Goshawk landed on the same grevillia. It too had spotted the Monitor and was sizing it up. In the seconds before it flew away, our eyes met and I was filled with a sense of being with this life form. Whilst our meeting was fleeting, I was left with a sense that we had bridged a perceived space; we had encountered one another. It was synchronous then that I was in the middle of reading Freya Mathews’ (2003) descriptions of encountering; people encountering people, non-human life forms and ‘inanimate‘ aspects of country. She writes about encounter as a way of relating to the world, which is potent with the possibility of being with if we invite those ‘things’ that we see as objects to become subjects. 

A question that Mathews (2003) raises which caused me to pause and wonder was

‘But how are we, in our present cultures of disenchantment, to understand encounter with the non-human world? What forms of response might we expect from nonhuman subjects? Is it perhaps not too difficult to imagine the responsiveness of fully sentient beings to our overtures. But the barely sentient, or altogether nonsentient? How might encounter with plants, for instance, be imagined?’ (p. 81).

Is this calling of non-human sentient and nonsentient beings and entities into the subjectival realm really a question of agency? If we assume that everything that is present in and on the land (e.g. trees, animals, rocks, water, spirits, people) has agency, does that make all of these entities subjects?

I am reminded too of the words of Paddy Roe and Frans Hoogland (1999) who write about country as a living entity…

‘… where the land is whole and complete; where the interaction between people and land is alive through law and culture; where the spirit of the land is ‘standing up’, and ‘vibrant” (p. 30).

I feel as though I am being invited to see the whole of country as something to encounter, to be with. 

The final thread that I want to weave into this conversation is the Yolngu pronoun ŋayi (ngayi) which is used to refer to he/she/it. Is the between gender and sentient/non-sentient/inanimate a deliberate attempt to shape perception of everything as subject? To all my Yolngu teachers out there please comment! 


Mathews, F. (2003). For love of matter: a contemporary panpsychism. Albany: State University of New York Press. 

Roe, P., & Hoogland, F. (1999). Black and white, a trail to understanding. In J. Sinatra & P. Murphy (Eds.), Listen to the People, Listen to the Land (pp. 11-30). Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

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Post sound-trip to Litchfield with Al, I kept on envisioning sound and how it travels through people and place and where it originates from. I saw loops rising up from the earth, moving up and through people and looping back into the earth. Was this image influenced by what I had read from Maratja (as cited in Christie 2010a) about land, sound and people? He says, ‘It’s the land which holds the sound, and then after that, we Yolŋu people. What we are talking about, is how that sound emerges’ (p. 67).

I though, if there is a cycling, or looping of sound from the land, through people and back again, maybe it would look like this…
Last time I was living on country north of Broome, people were reluctant to talk about the Song Cycle which runs along the coast from One Arm Point to Bidyadanga. I could understand why, increased attention on the Song Cycle from the proposed LNG development at Walmadany had stimulated much conversation and inquiry about it. Countrymen and women were worried that all this talk might somehow dilute the power of this entity… I stopped asking questions.

During my journalling one day I felt compelled to draw this image of an entity weaving through the land, up above the surface and diving down into the earth…

Sound, looping, vibration, snaking, rising, diving, resonating…
Al asked if I would record myself singing. The song that emerged was… ‘Weaving, timelessly snaking through place’. I wanted to use his electronic instrument to improvise with this sample to create a piece of music that would loop in the same way that the images above do. We managed to find a way to do this and the improvised piece that emerged was this…

Christie, M 2010a, ‘The task of the translator’, International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts Australia, no. 2, pp. 67-74.

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Filed under Metaphors, Sound

Reluctance to write about belonging

When I was in Broome last dry season some of my Goolarabooloo friends asked me where I belonged. I had quite a funny reaction to this question. I feel deeply connected to that country, but do I belong there? If I said yes, what would I be saying yes to? Since starting my research I have been very reluctant to write about belonging. Is it because when we belong we are staking some sort of claim, or making a commitment to a place-people? Listening to one of the conversations I had with a walker of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, I realise that much of what we discussed centers on experiences of belonging to people-place. When non-Indigenous people have conversations about belonging to people-place it can often be underpinned by reluctance, particularly if these feelings of belonging have a spiritual dimension (… I am writing about myself and assuming that other people have had similar experiences. See Miller and Read references below). The deeper I get into this work I feel as though this caution (fueled by fear of appropriation of Indigenous other???) is a distraction to the deep work that is happening on country for people of different cultural backgrounds. Is it possible to talk about an essence of belonging or being with country without universalising human experiences?

Back to the conversation I was having with a walker of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, another thing that emerged from this conversation was a sense of coming home, but home to what? Feeling connected? An essence of what what it is to live? Certainly a dissatisfaction with contemporary Western values underpinned this conversation and was leading into the seeking of something ‘more’, something that has been ‘lost’ from the ways that we as Westerners live and are being in the world.


Miller, L. (2003). Belonging to country – a philosophical anthropology. Journal of Australian Studies, 27(76), 215-223.

Miller, L. (2003). Longing for belonging: a critical essay on Peter Read’s Belonging The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 14(3), 406-417.

Read, P. (2000). Belonging : Australians, place and Aboriginal ownership. Oakleigh: Cambridge University Press.

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