Monthly Archives: November 2013

Pre-verbal knowing

A million questions…

When we try to articulate an experience though the process of storytelling, how does this affect our view of the world and our relationships with ourselves and other entities? Does it create stronger bonds between ourselves and these other entities which are actors in the story? In essence, does storytelling help us to make our connections visible and thus render them as legitimate/real?

Aside from seeing our connections through story I have been thinking about how the process of storytelling might help us to make important translations, such as going from somatic knowing to cognitive knowing. I found this article on Pre-verbal Knowing which really resonate with me and seems to make some attempt at answering this question.

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Living Country

“… The response of this country to our call consisted of different but cross-referenced responses to different individuals, together with common responses for the collective. It felt like a coming alive of the world, a flow of configurations of circumstances along axes of meaning.”



Freya Mathews in The World Hidden Within the World: a Conversation on Ontopoetics [Published in The Trumpeter 23, 1, 2007].

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The opening of Country Over Time

An exhibition of the country through which the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail travels, by Jeanne Browne.

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November 26, 2013 · 1:18 am

Gut Brain

I was reading the article Brain in your belly which discusses the intelligence of our gut and it made me think about the concept of liyan which many Indigenous people in the West Kimberley speak about. When I hear people talking about liyan they often associate it with the word ‘feeling’, e.g. ‘I got a good liyan from that place’ (In my mind I visualise the storyteller putting their hands on their stomach when they are telling me this).

Photo on 19-11-13 at 4.25 PM #2

The above mentioned article had this to say about the intelligence of our gut:
“… gut feelings are highly regarded as a source of intuitive knowing and insight in many cultures around the globe. As it turns out, gut thoughts and feelings are not a fanciful notion but a physiological fact. Rather than the one brain found in our head, scientists have revealed that we have two brains – the other one is located in the digestive tract” (David, 2013: online).
I managed to find little written about liyan from a West Kimberley Indigenous perspective. An unpublished oral histories project with Broome elders introduced the concept of liyan as:
“Once [people] start listening to their liyan, things become different, as if new connections were suddenly showing between all aspects of their life. Liyan is like a barometer that guides your life. When you become receptive to your liyan everything seems to gain new meanings because you become aware of your connections with all your relatives and your environment” (Glowczewski, unpublished).
And in a report for the Nyamba Buru Yawuru Ltd. liyan was described as an,
“… individual and collective sense of spiritual and emotional wellbeing” (Nyamba Buru Yawuru Ltd., 2010).
These description of liyan, as well as descriptions that people have shared with me on country, deeply resonate with my felt experiences of being with country. Experiences through which my intuitive awareness and somatic knowing, help guide me in how to be with country.
In a conversation with psychologist Eleanor Rosch, Otto Scharmer and Eleanor explore this idea of “wisdom awareness” and “primary knowing” which I liken to intuitive awareness and gut feeling and liyan:
“Rosch distinguishes between two types of knowledge: analytical knowledge (cognitive science) and what she terms “wisdom awareness” or “primary knowing.” Says Rosch: “The analytic picture offered by the cognitive sciences is this: the world consists of separate objects and states of affairs. The human mind is a determinate machine which, in order to know: isolates and identifies those objects and events, finds the simplest possible predictive contingencies between them, stores the results through time in memory, relates the items in memory to each other such that they form a coherent but indirect representation of the world and oneself, and retrieves those representations in order to fulfill the only originating value, which is to survive and reproduce in an evolutionarily successful manner. In contrast, “Awareness is said to [be knowing] by means of interconnected wholes (rather than isolated contingent parts) and by means of timeless, direct, presentation (rather than through stored re-presentations). Such knowing is ‘open,’ rather than determinate; and a sense of unconditional value, rather than conditional usefulness, is an inherent part of the act of knowing itself. Action from awareness is claimed to be spontaneous, rather than the result of decision making; it is compassionate, since it is based on wholes larger than the self; and it can be shockingly effective.”
In trying to track down which other traditional cultures placed high value on the wisdom awareness present in the stomach or gut, I came across concept of hara from Zen-Buddhist culture:

“Contact with the hara is an inner listening contact, one that is available to us at any time… simply by cultivating our ability to bear with others in pregnant silence” (Wilberg, 2003).

This reference to hara reminded me of darirri, the philosophy of deep listening which Ngangiwumirr woman Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann articulates as:

“Dadirri means inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness… Dadirri recognises the inner spirit that calls us to reflection and contemplation of the wonders of creation. Within a deep silence we attempt to find the inner self and the perfect peace. We are not threatened by silence. We are completely at home in it. Our Aboriginal way has taught us to be still and wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course – like the seasons.”

Gut brain, liyan, wisdom awareness, hara and dadirri… are they all different articulations of the same type of knowing and connecting within ourselves and with everything else in the world?


Glowczewski, B. (Ed. unpublished) Liyan: The story of a living culture

MacroPlan Australia (2010). Yawuru Indigenous Lands Rezoning Proposal: Final Report, prepared for the Nyamba Buru Yawuru Ltd.

Rosch, E., & Scharmer, O. (1999). Conversation with Eleanor Rosch: Primary Knowing: When Perception Happens from the Whole Field, from

Ungenmerr-Baumann, M. R. (date unknown). Dadirri: Aboriginal Way – Listening to One Another

Wilberg, P. (2003). Head, Heart and Hara: The Soul Centres of West and East. New Gnosis Publications.

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The Kimberley’s songlines at risk

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November 23, 2013 · 2:01 am

It’s invisible

An email I received from the Goolarabooloo community yesterday:

Dear Trail walker – past and future, 

The Broome Shire and the West Australian Planning Commission have prepared the latest planning documents with the purpose to set out the long-term (10-15 years) planning directions for the Shire of Broome. It is to our great surprise that the Lurujarri Heritage Trail is not included is these Local Planning Strategy (LPS 6) documents. Instead, they provide for large-scale industrialisation and development along the coast north of Broome.

As most of you would know in 1987, Goolarabooloo elder Paddy Roe initiated the Lurujarri Heritage Trail as a trigger to encourage the members of his community to be walking the Country, as had always been done; to conserve, renew and stay connected with their heritage and traditional skills and to keep the same alive for generations to come. He also sought to awaken non-Aboriginal people to a relationship with the land, to foster trust, friendship and empathy between the indigenous community and the wider Australian and International communities.

Since that day, hundreds of people from all over Australia and the world have walked the Lurujarri Heritage Trail with us and more still are hoping to take part in the future. We believe the continuing success and growing popularity of the Lurujarri Heritage Trail only serves to confirm it’s outstanding heritage values.

Back in the early days the Broome Shire had been very supportive of Lurujarri Heritage Trail. You might have noticed the Shire of Broome logo on all our interpretative signs along the coast. So what is going on? According to the Local Planning Strategy (LPS 6) documentation, the Lurrujarri Heritage Trail does not meet the definition of a Heritage Area and has subsequently failed to be included. How can this happen? The Local Planning Strategy (LPS 6) document’s own definition of heritage area states:

Heritage Area means an area which is of cultural heritage significance and of such distinctive nature or character that special controls are considered necessary to retain and/or enhance that character, even though each individual place in the area may not itself be of significance.”

Are they serious?

Here is an accompanying map of the proposed planning land use for the Dampier Peninsula.


So when did the Shire of Broome decide that the Lurujarri Heritage/Dreaming Trail ceased to exist? Has the Northern Traditions Song Cycle also been eradicated from the minds of policy makers? The often cruel politics (a legacy of colonisation and land theft) underlying what makes it onto a map and what is left off is blatant in the Broome Shire’s Local Planning Strategy.

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Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

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November 17, 2013 · 5:00 am

Being with trees

Sitting under the casuarina trees this morning on the Nightcliff foreshore a flock of Red-tailed black cockatoos took flight, as Whistling kites circling overhead. It is these trees more than any other which make me feel like I am grounded in this place (and also transports me to other places). Listening to the wind blowing through the needles takes me back to places like Wilsons Promontory, where stands of Casuarinas line the south sides of mountains. I can picture one of these stands in my mind, along the old track that passed granite boulders on the way to South Point.

This week I came across the Trees Project. Instigated my ABC Radio National, the project elicited contributions from listeners in the forms of stories and poetry (also listen to the Trees I’ve Loved ABC Radio documentary).

I love the contribution to the project by Fiona Vaughan called Presence :

The jacaranda is gone.
But the space where it dwelt
remains. And the spaces the tree held within itself
still linger. They carry memories of currawongs
landing, their weight on the branches, calls
broadcasting to the neighbourhood. The smoky
lavender blossoms would be falling on the driveway
between the flats by now. Trunk, branches, leaves,
flowers all palpable in their absence. Their solidity
now sits within my body. Perhaps if I held out my
arms, the currawongs would come to roost on my
limbs in the night, balancing on one leg, bright
yellow eyes gleaming out of black.

This poem reminds me of two trees I knew as a child and teenager in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I would pass by these trees on my way to the train station, or as I walked to a friend’s house. They grew on the top of a rise, in the front yard of a property on the corner of two streets. Both were eucalyptus; the bigger tree had dark brown stringy bark and the other was a slender lemon scented gum, with smooth white luminescent bark. Each time I walked by these companion trees I would stop, close my eyes and drink in their heavy scent. I can’t remember what season it was, but I would delight in the litter of tiny flowers that they would drop onto the footpath. Walking past one day I noticed that each of the trees had fluorescent pink tape tied around its trunk. The sale of the property, upon which the trees and a dilapidated old house stood, triggered the subdivision of the land and signaled the looming development of two new super-sized dwellings. This kind of urban consolidation, where new dwellings on subdivided blocks took up almost the whole area of land, was common in my childhood neighborhood. I walked past that place one day, my head was lowered and I was being introspective. Something prompted me to look up and there on the street corner, I stared into space. It is hard to describe the tragic feeling of loss, that something has been thwarted, but this is what I felt when I looked down and saw the big stump of the stringy bark. I knew it was then only a matter of time before my other friend would be gone too.

What was built in place of these two beautiful trees barely merits a mention. An exotic species, low maintenance ‘instant garden’ and spa/pool.

There is something inside me that beckons these trees and their spirits each time I walk past where they once stood.

I try to see and feel their form, or even just evoke the feelings I felt when I would stand, with them.

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Land secured for Broome gas precinct

Bad news for country and community with the announcement that the WA Government has been successfully in compulsorily acquiring the land between James Prices Point and Quandong (Walmadany and Murdudun) for the development of a service and supply base for offshore gas projects in the Browse basin. Not sure at this stage how the recent court outcome over the EPA’s botched EIS process will affect any proposed development on these lands.

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November 12, 2013 · 2:54 am

Country Over Time

I met Jeanne the first time I walked the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, she was one of my many teachers on country. Over the past 21 years Jeanne has spent time living on/with country along the coastal dune country north of Broome, documenting the activities of the six seasons though drawings, paintings and stencils. I find Jeanne’s images evocative… When I see her images of country I feel like the essence of country is there, coming out of the image. Jeanne and spoke once about country speaking through us, like some kind of genius spirit coming to visit. I camped at Jeanne’s camp at Milibinyarri just the other day and sat in the shade watching the double-barred finch come and drink from the bowls I had filled with water. What a blessing! Click on the heading Country Over Time to see a catalogue of Jeanne’s most recent artworks which will be exhibited in Sorrento, Victoria over the next month.

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November 10, 2013 · 6:01 am