Category Archives: Birds, Dogs & Trees

You’ve got to drown in it

Click here to read an essay I wrote about the performance of liyan (feeling and intuition) on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. The essay is published in Issue 11 of the PAN: Philosophy Activism, Nature Journal.


Filed under Articles, Birds, Birds, Dogs & Trees, Dogs & Trees, Theory, Walking

Facing oneness

In Deborah Bird Rose’s most recent post, So Many Faces, on her website Life at the Edge of Extinction, Rose writes about the run-away levels of species loss due to land clearing practices that are still prevalent today. The hook that really drew me into Rose’s writing was her reference to Levinas’ idea that the ‘face’ awakens within us an ethical responsibility:

The great continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote of the ‘face’ as that which interrupts my self-absorption and calls me into ethical responsibility. There has been a lot of discussion in recent years as to whether the face means ‘a human face’. What about other animals? What about trees? What about understory? The definition of face that I find most inspiring treats it as a form of action. Here face is something one does rather than something one has:  ‘facing is being confronted with, turned toward, facing up to, being judged and being called’.

The living world is filled with facings – to be alive is to live among faces, many of which are noisy and interruptive. This is good. This is life in the mode of ethics. At this time, this is also tough. There are so many facings, and often one feels so helpless.

I have written before about ‘seeing’ through feeling (liyan) and the process through which I have come to sense a communicable engagement with more-than-human entities. As well as a call to action (facing), the idea that the ‘face’ awakens a recognition with us humans that we have a responsibility to ‘others’ eludes to something very powerful; ‘face’ becomes a metaphor for deep recognition. But recognition of what? Ourselves? Oneness?

Rose introduces the most recent literary work of Australian science writer Tim Low, Where Songs Began: Australia’s Birds and How they Changed the World:

… DNA evidence is now showing beyond any doubt that Australia was the original home of songbirds. In Tim’s words, birdsong brought ‘a new dawn for planetary acoustics’.

This quote stirred within me remembrance of a conversation I had had with an Indigenous elder about lyrebirds. When I ask Uncle Max about the significance of these lyrical birds, his very first and most punctuated word was ONENESS. Through my dialogue with Uncle Max an understanding is unfolding about my attraction to lyrebirds and the role that they play in the perpetual process of co-creation. I have not yet had the opportunity to read Tim Low’s book, but I wonder if the lyrebird plays a role (from his ecological/historical perspective) in the ‘singing up’ of the world and is in fact a creator, not just a mimic. Perhaps the lyrebird, through its songs (if we choose to listen), can remind us of who we are and what we are connected to.

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Superb Lyrebird

Lyrebird by Edwards, Sydenham, 1769?-1819. 1802. 1 drawing : pen, watercolour ; 41 x 32.2 cm. (s.m.). Source:

Lyrebird by Edwards, Sydenham, 1769?-1819.
1802. 1 drawing : pen, watercolour ; 41 x 32.2 cm. (s.m.). Source:

Stooping over, I walk under tree-ferns with bison-like beards which arch over pathways. Their beards are rough and filamentary, but tight and trimmed. Fronds umbrella up and out, framing the grey sky like lacy curtains. Way above me, the canopies of  Mountain Ash engage in deep conversation with the wind. Scars on these trees show where limbs have been lost. I feel meek and vulnerable walking under these giants on such a windy day. It is not just the trees that I have come to be with on this day; another has called me (back) into the cool temperate rainforest.

The singers are hidden amongst the long, fallen ribbons of bark, they are somewhere down in the gullies beckoning me forth. I cross over deep muddy puddles, past flowing creeks and decomposing fallen trees. Everything in the forest is saturated with water and deep iridescent green. Pulled deeper in as the sun hangs low in the winter sky, I know there is not long before I must retreat to places of light and warmth. Up a rise and the earth dries out. The track twists to somewhere unknown and I sense to halt. A dark grey rock nearby summons me. I sit atop this cool, smooth form and close my eyes. A singer repeats his calls across the track from me and another somewhere behind. Like a creator of all other beings, from its song emerges the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Eastern Whipbird, Laughing Kookaburra, Eastern Rosella and its own songs. From oneness comes many. This bird holds songs and dances, it is an invoker and a weaver of creation.

When I stand from the rock, something has deepened. It is time to descend from this hill and retrace my steps below the swaying canopy. But an invitation to encounter holds me a few moments longer… a male lyrebird jumps onto a tree branch, his brilliant tail festooned below him. Hypnotized by sound, he repeats again and again the songs of the other forest beings and I wish for a feather. Why do I want for this material form? Is the song not enough to make me feel this reality? Turning to walk back I am stopped by something small, fluffy and grey on the track. So unimaginably wispy, it is almost not there. I delicately pick up this grey flank feather and hold it between two fingers. The wind quickly finds it and I watch it dance and swirl before me. Each feathery filament animated and stating its aliveness.

Source: Pizzey and Knight, The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, 9th Ed, Harper Collins Australia, 2012







Filed under Birds, Dogs & Trees, Moving Images, Sound, Walking

Animated dreamings

From the Monash Country Lines Archive:

The Monash Country Lines Archive (MCLA) is a collaborative Monash University project between the Monash Indigenous Centre (MIC), Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Information Technology with a team of Monash researchers, digital animators and post-graduate students from the Monash Indigenous Centre, Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Information Technology. The Monash Country Line Archive demands intellectual engagement in regards to issues associated with how best to construct a living archive that is a decolonised space in which communities are happy to see their material stored. It also provides an exciting place for scholars to work and share knowledge.

The Brolga Dreaming belongs to the Mambaliya-Wawukarriya clan. This story tells of the Brolga coming into Yanyuwa country and creating lagoons, freshwater wells and putting ceremony and song into the country.

© The Yanyuwa People Borroloola, Northern Territory, Australia, 2009.

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May 28, 2014 · 1:25 am


She creaks, she creaks

above me

she creaks.

I lay hidden

from the world

on my belly.

Softened by handfuls of her tiny leaves

a bed, a bed to lay on.

Time and fallen leaves making a bed

for me to lay on.

Filtering through tiny leaves

light reaches my upturned face.

it finds me,




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Filed under Birds, Dogs & Trees, Poetry

Tea Tree in Wamoon

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March 30, 2014 · 4:44 am

Hug a tree – the evidence shows it really will make you feel better

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March 19, 2014 · 5:34 am

Cycads as lyrebirds

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October 23, 2013 · 6:14 am

The Women and the Mamara


It was during my stay in the jigal tree camp at Milibinyarri last year that the trees really came alive for me. I sensed their presence with new sensitivity. I took the time to be with each of these old, old beauties. This year when I returned to that camp I visited each, tried to get a sense of who each was. One had another tree growing in amongst it. They felt like lovers in each others’ embrace. There was an unusual sexual energy near that tree. I didn’t dwell long. The next tree was much older. It had offered me much firewood over the months of staying there. There was a distinct old man energy about this tree. He seemed content to just be there and for me to be there. There was no push or pull. The next two trees which grew quite close to each other felt to be women, but of different generations. This is right near where I pitched my tent. I felt nurtured in this nook and I know of many other women who have camped here and felt the same. Maybe all of these trees are part of the same family. I felt like I was camped amongst a family. Over near my makeshift shower (a hose dangling over a branch) was a big old cutclore (law, initiated men’s business) tree. I tried to give that tree space and always maximum respect. So it was from these humble beginnings amongst the jigal tree family that I started to see, but more through feeling, the other trees on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail.


S had spoken to me after trail last year about an old twisted tree at Murdudun which had pulled at her. She went weak in the legs as she passed it and had to sit with it a while. An old female tree she thought. She said it felt like it wanted her to stay for a while and just be together. I met this tree about a month ago, but not before K told me about her experiences with this tree in the mayi (monsoonal vine thicket). She too had come across this tree and felt compelled to be with her… sit against her trunk, climb into and rest amongst her branches, play in her presence. She is a big old twisted gulung tree with smooth bark and a sprawling canopy.

A small group of us walked through the mayi, learning about the plants that fruit in this extraordinary thicket, when we came upon her. I knew it must have been her from the way K’s face lit up. Another young woman who was walking trail for the first time looked mesmerized too. She walked right up to the gulung tree and placed her hand on her trunk and smiled. That tree made her so happy. I asked her about it days later. She too felt drawn to be with this tree, she felt her strong presence.

Marool and Pittosporum
Last year T took me to her camp under two trees at Walmadany. I had always assumed that they were one, but no, they are a Marool and a Pittosporum living side by side, their canopies intertwined. It feels like an old, old camp sitting under those trees. From there you can see the sun set into the ocean, way out east over the mayi and over the dunes to the south and north. Camping under trees where you know people have camped for many years (thousands and thousands) is grounding. That ground, the trees must remember our form, drink in our heat and feel our presence.
Red Gunbinge
I could feel her reeling me in as we walked along the dune system from our lunch spot at Dugal to Minarriny. Not to say that the walk was effortless, it wasn’t. I was tired, worn out, but something kept me moving forward. Some kind of magnetism. She was way off in the distance, perched high up on a dune. Although she was far way, she appeared large, expansive. Walking up the final stretch of steep dune I looked up at her rustling leaves and felt a warm recognition, like a friend smiling at another in reunion.

We collapsed in her shade. I sat with a happy feeling, a memory of being with this tree and our mob last trail. We were sitting on the side of the dune and under the canopy of the tree listening to Richard tell us a story about his mothers and this place, Minarriny, the place where their rai (spirits) come from. The density of that moment shifted as Richard’s story unfurled. We were taken into something, or in by something, consumed by something that was seeking to emerge. A story… a dreaming… I’m not sure. This tree remembered me from last year, I could feel it. I couldn’t leave her when the group pushed off to Bindiyangun, I needed more time under her canopy, more time to stay in that happy feeling. Resonance in country, a sense that my own vibrations were in harmony with those around me. That’s what I felt at this tree.

It wasn’t until our final night at Bindiyangun, sitting around the billy tea fire that I thought to ask F about this tree. He said that it is a special one. A mamara (spirit) tree. People think that the Red Gubinge is a hybrid of the Marool and Gubinge trees. F has a different theory… that one tree was the original tree and it made the two different trees. A oneness and from that came more.


I am a creature of habit. My camp at Bindiyangun is always on the first high dune. From here I can see down to the kitchen, that’s out east where the sun rises, and out west to the setting sun. From here I can see the yellow ochre cliffs glow when the sun is dropping low. All of country looks and feels alive from my camp. On a journey to collect firewood one night I met this jigal tree. In the dark it looked like many. I crawled under the canopy and searched in the leaf litter for pieces of wood, the stuff that burns with a bright blue flame and leaves white ash in its place in the morning. From under here it looked like there were ten or even fifteen trees, trunks rising up from the leaf covered sand dune. In the morning I went back to this tree, I could feel something strong there. Again I ducked under branches and crouched under the low canopy. Suddenly it dawned on me that the trunks sprouting up out of the sand dune were actually branches; diving down, being covered in sand and rising back up to a reach up to the sky. An old jigal tree will do this, send its branches sprawling along the ground, then back up again. It can make one tree look like many. I was incredulous at this realisation… one tree taking up a whole sand dune. How old must this tree be?
I asked P about the tree when we were night fishing for salmon. How old is that jigal on the dune? “As old as that sand dune,” he told me. This tree must have seen a lot of sun and moon sets. J came and sat with this tree for the day. Another friend tried to sleep next to it and had bad dreams and the sensation of being choked. Maybe it’s just a daytime tree.
These mamara called to us women in different ways. They are part of this living country which speaks to us, shows us through feeling how to be with this country.

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Night songs

Murdudun is a place with strong women’s energy. Each time I walk into this camp I feel a flood of nurturing energy. Walking into this camp with my sister and women friends in July, my sense of this as a women’s place deepened. Many of us began our monthly cycles within hours of being there. There is a story about three women at a place just down the beach called Murdjal. Their miligan (digging sticks) live there now, on a small sandy knoll, in the form of three prostrate murga (saltwater paperbark trees). I had heard the story about these women (they live very close by in the form of three rocks at Lija) many times before, but had never known where their miligan had ended up. But this is a whole other story for another time…

Each year Humback whales swim north through the waters off the coast of Murdudun and Walmadany (right up the Dampier Peninsula), giving birth to their calves, playing and teaching them how to be proper whales. Friends of mine who are undertaking the Kimberley Community Whale Research Project at Murdudun told me a story about a night of strange sounds and songs, right before they started the project for the year.

They had been sleeping in their camps, dotted along the cliff tops and sheltered under mamagen, marool and gubinj trees, when strange sounds began filtering through the bush. Each person who told me this story struggled to mimic the sounds; some were high pitched, others were deep and guttural, but all were followed by a loud slapping of the water’s surface. It was a still night and the strange singing drew people out of their tents and swags, over to the cliff edge. The tide was high, lapping at the red pindan cliffs and there, not far from shore were whales in song, filling the night air with these mysterious sounds.

I carried this story with me to Walmadany, the next traditional buru (camping place) along the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. It was a full moon the night we camped there. I dragged my swag up onto the high dunes where I could see all around – the monsoonal vine thicket to the east, north and south and the ocean to the west. I felt a balance when the moon rose from the mayi (bush) and the sun set into the ocean.

A perfect stillness, the water was like a sheet of glass. The breathless sunset turned into a still night.

Only the sounds of a fire burning, night insects and me writing in my journal, settled in around me in my dune top camp.

Then faint whispers reached my ears. The promise of a night song or a trick of the mind still racing with stories from Murdudun? But they were there, singing. The high pitched song, then the deep guttural sound and the slaps. The high tide and breathless night allowed this whale music to drift up the dunes. In my own stillness I was able to hear it, feel it resonating in my gut. How do we feel connected to something we don’t always see it? Maybe we can hear something, even if it is quiet to our ears, our body can feel the resonance deep within. Was this night at Walmadany a kind of encounter? Do the whales even realise we are here? I was grateful that the deep groans I could feel and hear were coming from these beautiful mammals, creating new life, unlike last year when it was a giant drilling rig groaning in their place. And the full moon, how wonderful to be kept away by the beaming light of the full moon and not the flood lights at the Woodside compound. All around us I felt a creation energy. Life perpetuating and us somehow part of that cycle as we walk this country as one mob.

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