Category Archives: Theory

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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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 An unpublished oral histories project with Broome elders introduced the concept of liyan as: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new meanings because you become aware of your connections with all your relatives and your environment” (Glowczewski, unpublished).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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Discursive tools and objects

I’ve just finished reading the article Walking as Spiritual Practice: The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, written by Sean Slavin. His discussion on the discursive tools (e.g. maps, guidebooks, pamphlets and signage), which pilgrims use along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, prompted me to think about the discursive tools/objects that are employed along the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. What were the ‘tools’ or ‘objects’ that told stories along the Trail? Had I asked this question a year ago I would have uncovered something very different; up until this year, the key discursive ‘tool’ predominantly used along the Trail was oral storytelling, with the focus being on stories from Bugarregarra – creation/the dreaming.  All my past experiences of walking trail were punctuated by the storytelling of Richard Hunter, Goolarabooloo law boss and Storyteller for the Northern Traditions Song Cycle.

This is Richard on Trail last year with a big barney (goanna).

Richard retired from the role of storyteller last year, creating space for the younger Goolarabooloo men to step into this role. There were a number of Goolarabooloo men who shared stories with the walkers on Trail this year, but not without a visible reluctance (I think this was more about being shy and lacking confidence, underpinned by a deep respect for Richard’s authority as storyteller and teacher). I guess it is hard to step into someone else’s shoes after they have been doing something for a long time.

The next generation of Goolarabooloo men sharing stories on Trail this year (Rurrjaman)

As the first walking of the Trail progressed and ended and the next one began shortly after, the storytelling became more scant and the walkers of Trail more hungry… This hunger was visible in the way that people swarmed around interpretive signs at key locations along the Trail and hung off every word when a story about country was being shared in the process of walking. These interpretive signs share local Indigenous knowledge about country, including plants, animals, places and stories from Bugarregarra.

Expectations of stories being shared by Goolarabooloo bubbled to the surface of conversations that Trail walkers were having amongst themselves. It became increasingly evident through the conversations that I had with other walkers that people wanted the country they were walking through to be storied; they wanted to see this country through the lens of Bugarregarra.

At one point, a volunteer on the Trail unearthed a dilapidated box of old Lurujarri Heritage Trail brochures; they were received with great excitement by the walkers who were in the vicinity. Stories told through the brochures were poured over, words recited and then the brochures were filed away safely into journals and notebooks. It is important to note that these pamphlets were barely being held together; they were stained yellow with mildew and were torn along the folds. Miraculously, they had endured two decades worth of wet seasons in the Kimberely.

The other discursive object that we came upon during Trail was a large information board about past Goolarabooloo custodian Paddy Roe. Whilst Paddy’s descendants often make mention of him and the legacy which he created by initiating Trail, this information board (it contains images, a transcript from his obituary and an article in which he speaks about the Trail) gives Paddy a different agency on Trail. Standing at the board in front of his images, I feel a sense that I am having a moment with Paddy himself. It is hard to articulate why this is so.

At the heart of this story about discursive objects and tools are the questions, how do we generate meaning about place and our relationship with place? What role do stories play in the interweaving of people and place?


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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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Transcribing as a performance and somatic understanding

I was speaking with MC the other day and he asked me if I had been writing about the process of transcribing. At that point I had intended on writing reflections and analyses of the stories I was transcribing, but not about the act of transcribing itself.

I have been looking at how my thesis is a meta performance, one that will contain the performance of other stories (more on this later). And then there is the performance of transcribing: being transported from my physical place to the place that is being reflected back to me through audio. It isn’t just the words that other people and I say that I am looking to represent on paper, I want to capture the feeling of the situation, the sounds and silences that tell stories about people-place: our relationship to one another, the landscape, birds, wind, sunset, heat, affectionate dogs, insects, tides and other people coming and going. They are all part of how our conversations and stories were performed.

The idea that I can even translate what exists in these audio recordings onto paper as some kind of accurate reflection seems stranger and stranger to me the more I contemplate it. What I hear and what holds meaning for me might be completely different to someone else. There is no way that I can hand this time-consuming process (transcribing) over to someone else. I reground in my somatic (embodied) awareness of people-place when I listened to these stories being performed. There is a texture, feeling, an ability to anticipate what happened next when I listen to these stories. I feel the sand, the wind, sun and see the movement when I listen to these stories. The somatic memory of these stories is fanned when I listen to these recordings.Where I am when I listen, how I am feeling and all the other factors of my context are too part of the performance of transcribing.

When I listen to these story performances I realise that they are in me, embodied. So, a process of translation now unfolds as I try to make sense of the knowledge that is already there. In expressing his views on somatic understanding, Egan (2005) writes that it is the embodied knowledge of the world and underlies linguistic understanding. Something that is prevalent in the stories that I listen to, is my own and the inability of others to articulate some of our somatic understanding/knowledge/learning. This inarticulation is a fertile site is an interstice, a gap, an in-between place where the body’s knowledge is struggling to be translated into a linguistic, cognitive concept. Is this why we look to the worldviews and languages outside our own ‘normal world’, to make these translations possible?


Egan, K. (2005). An imaginative approach to teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Autoethnography, theory and analysis

I am reading a methodological novel at the moment, The Ethnographic I, by autoethnographer Carolyn Ellis. Up until now I had not anticipated that working through a particular theoretical framework (perhaps Collectivist Moral Theory or Actor Network Theory) might pose challenges in how I analyse experiences in a partial autoethnographic thesis. As I delve into Ellis’ novel questions are arising… will applying a theoretical framework to autoethnographic storytelling eventuate in a dissected narrative and undermine the analysis already embedded in the stories?

Ellis (2004: 194) puts forward that, ‘There is nothing more theoretical or analytical than a good story,’  suggesting that stories themselves are analytic, because storytellers use analytic techniques to interpret their reality (2004). In particular reference to narrative analysis, Ellis suggests that the analysis is twofold; carried out through the storytelling process and by the readers, who, ‘… provide theoretical validation by comparing their lives to ours, by thinking about how our lives are similar and different and the reasons why,’ (Ellis, 2004: 195).

She also describes a ‘stepping back from the text’ to further theorize a narrative from a specific disciplinary viewpoint, either through the thematic analysis of the story’s content or structural analysis of the story’s form (Ellis, 2004). When I first began designing my research I had felt a tension between ‘doing analysis’ through reflexive writing (taking a step back from my own stories and those shared by others) and needing to apply a secondary form of analysis that would be viewed more credibly by the academy. In these initial stages the theories I was mulling over (CMT and ANT) looked like they might offer an epistemology from which to discuss these stories. Now I feel like there might be a tension between the theories and the practice…

My thoughts are suspended on this topic. I feel as though I need to read more about autoethnography, CMT and ANT, start writing the stories that are emerging out of being with country and see how the mix feels. Maintaining the integrity of mine and others’ stories is critical though and it is this which forms a central preoccupation for me at the this stage in my research.

Underlying this discussion on analysis is the deeper question of how we/I use theory. There is definitely reluctance on my part to use theory to ‘represent, generalize, control, and predict’ (Ellis, 2004: 196).

Ellis, C. (2004). The Ethnographic I, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

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Collectively dreaming

Over the past week the act of collectively dreaming has woven its way into several of my yarns with F. Each time our conversation turns to this idea I feel a rush of energy and want to dwell here… Disconcertment also dwells here though. I feel a tension between putting my energy into a fight (defending and responding to threat) to protect country and focusing my energy and intention on loving this country and imagining it staying strong into the future (a generative and creative act/process). The question I have smouldering away in my mind is, can we (Indigenous and non-Indigenous people) collectively dream a future for this country? Every fiber of my being cries out, ‘We must!’ Is this one of the things that is happening when we are collectively walking the Lurujarri Song-cycle? Is this act of collectively dreaming at the core of Paddy Roe’s vision for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people being with/caring for country together? Then I think back to Scharmer’s (2009) references to presencing and allowing the highest possible future to emerge; when we are being with country and feel a sense of connection/in-separateness, does this allow our collective dream to emerge? Seeing each other and identifying as being part of a collective must be critical in all of this. Surely there needs to be a collective consciousness about something (say a future possibility) if it is going to emerge.
Already, in the conversations I have had with people who are becoming of this project, I have felt networks/connections strengthening. The process of yarning and sharing stories of being with country and love for country seems to be opening up a space where something collective can be expressed. Is it a recognition of each other through connections that we share? Is it a process of creating a collective entity through seeing and identifying with each other?
Each time I speak with someone about Paddy Roe’s vision for this country I get a sense that it still holds a lot of agency. When I spoke with B a few months ago he said, “Paddy’s vision is always alive, it is never dying and never dead; this one man’s vision is everyone’s vision, we’ll keep it going.” 
During this year’s Lurujarri Dreaming Trail Richard, Storyteller for the Northern Song-cycle, referred to the third people when we were sitting across from Ngunungkurrukun. He was sharing a story from Bugarregarre (dreaming) and then asked us all, ‘Who are the third people? That could be us.’ At the time I found it interesting that he brought Bugarregarre into the present and opened up a space for us to contemplate how we are part of this country. Then he said, ‘Country change and people change, together.’ How could it be any other way, unless we assume that we are separate and disconnected? I have been thinking about that for months now, the dynamic nature of relationships, place… they are all being performed with actors weaving in and out, some more powerful at times and then others. Someone else made a reference to the third people the other day when we were having a yarn about being with country. He posed a similar question, who are the third people that will be caring for country? I make no assumptions, I have only questions and much wondering about this.

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What do stories ‘do’?

This question keeps popping up in different places, so it seems like I need to dwell here for a while, look at what is going on and contemplate. On Saturday L referred to Carolyn Ellis (autoethnographer) and her writing on stories; mainly, the ability of stories to stir action. I visited a few of Ellis’ articles on autoethnography in writing my research proposal. I don’t think I made some important connections though, not until M did a final reading of this proposal.
Ellis, Adams and Bochner (2011) refer to the potential for autoethnographies to be political, socially-just and a socially-conscious act. This implies that stories have agency, that they can ‘do’ things. M is always talking about stories and what they ‘do’; Yolŋu and Actor Network Theory perspectives on this also suggest that stories have agency and can perform as powerful actors.
Verran and Winthereik (2012, p. 4) add that ‘Adequate stories are agential in the sense that they “find audiences” and in the sense of surprising, challenging, and offereing something to somebody.’
How might stories of collective acts of being withcountry inform the everyday lives of the reader? Will they hold agency and the potential to intervene in people’s lives?
I could keep writing on this tangent, but I feel like that there is a ‘fish’ that is trying to pop its head up to the surface. For me this blog is a process… at first it was about just starting to write, then developing confidence in my writing… a progression to having a tool that enables me to be reflexive in my research practice.
Even now I feel the need to bring more awareness to my writing process and peel back the layers of reflexivity… I find it interesting that I haven’t yet written about blogging as a process and research practice. I am just ‘doing it’ and keeping silent in these pages the inner critic that so often tells me I am being self-indulgent, boring, uninteresting, irrelevant… blah, blah, blah. Am I still wanting things to look glossy on the surface? Looking good, sounding good, proving myself, being ‘good enough’ and all the other limiting thoughts that I try to keep to myself and pretend that they are not actors in my research – I know the force they exert and how big this gets when I pretend they’re not there.
Ellis, C, Adams, T & Bochner, A 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Historical Social Research, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 273-90.

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Exploring other and self-other

In the TED Talk below Elizabeth Lesser talks about her lunch invitation of someone she had “othered” – someone with a fundamentally different politic to her. She talks about two people dropping their pretense of ‘know it all’ and shares Rumi’s pertinent poem… Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. 

But what if we did this with people we “other” for reasons that are not just political? I am not making any assumptions that social harmony is just one conversation away, but I do think that there is a profound power in listening, being heard and understanding. Neutrality comes to mind here – a place that allows us to listen to people who have different views/ideas/politics/religion/etc. For me neutrality in listening is about striping away my lenses, being aware of the voices in my head that want to challenge everything that the “other” person is saying, allowing me to connect with or acknowledge someone else’s view despite my internal reactions. Assumptions also come to mind… when I put these aside in my listening, there is space for emergence, creativity and shared possibilities to be born.
When I think of the process of othering it is not only with regard to people but place. For me othering functions as a cleaver to disconnect us from who/what we are connected to, even if we don’t realise it. So is the discourse and process of self-othering an appropriate response or the one that fits best for my exploration? Or, have I just headed in that direction because I wasn’t sure how else not to “other”?
Gruenwald raises the premise that people are connected to ‘earthly phenomena’ and there is an opening to explore the ‘embodied sense of connection gives rise to a different ontology, an ontology of self becoming-other in the space between self and the natural world, composed of humans and non-human others, animate and inanimate; animals and plants, weather, rocks, trees’ (Somerville, Power & Carteret 2009, p. 9).
So what does it mean and feel like to be a self becoming-other??? More on this later…


Somerville, M, Power, K & Carteret, Pd 2009, ‘Introduction: Place Studies for a Global World ‘, in M Somerville, K Power & Pd Carteret (eds), Landscapes and Learning: Place Studies for a Global World, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, pp. 3-20.

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We arrived at the beach just south of Narooma in the morning, well, the estuary that leads to the beach (not the one in the picture, I didn’t take my camera). As soon as I stepped out onto the sand I said, ‘This is like gaṉma!’ Our group was there with Uncle Max and his family to perform whale ceremony, on the small patch of sand that was left by the confluence, as the tide came rushing in. The creek was running out, mixing with the salt water from the sea, flotsam on top and lots of bubbling action under the water’s surface. A deep mixing… How apt then that all of us lot from all corners of the world should come to these banks to make and celebrate ways of being and connection. Only days before I had gone back to readings about gaṉma theory and metaphor.

This piece on gaṉama is from Marika (1999, p. 7) in her Wentworth Lecture :
“The water circulates silently underneath, and there are lines of foam circulating across the surface. The swelling and retreating of the tides and the wet season floods can be seen in the two bodies of the water. Water is often taken to represent knowledge in Yolngu philosophy. What we see happening in the school is a process of knowledge production where we have two different cultures, Balanda and Yolngu, working together. Both cultures need to be preserved in a way where each one is preserved and respected.”
Watson-Verran and Chambers (1989) articulate the gaṉma metaphor as ‘… the forces of the streams combine and lead to deeper understanding and truth’ (p. 5). 
I was so happy then to discover that Carol, who I met at the end of this ceremony by this confluence, used gaṉma to help frame her research with Uncle Max (see Meeting country : deep engagement with place and indigenous culture,  
So what possibilities does this metaphor hold for me and my research?

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