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Stories for country: seeing the land in new ways

A wonderful article came up in my news feed a few weeks ago and I haven’t made time to write about it. In lieu of a proper post, here is a link to the article Sacred sites: Alice Springs Aboriginal elder leads tours in bid for better understanding published on the ABC new website. The words of senior Arrernte woman Doris Stuart, who is featured in this article, resonate deeply with me. She, like many other Indigenous elders around the Australia continent, are sharing their stories for country with non-Indigenous people. My own experience of walking country with elders and hearing dreaming stories is that it has opened up for me new ways of seeing and relating with the land.

Doris says this about being with her country:

“You could feel that power coming out, you know, because that was your connection, you had your identity … Family had to close their eyes because these are family we’re talking about, they’re not just trees; we’re one and the same.”

Enjoy.

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What’s Sacred Now?

Ancient rock carvings on the Burrup Peninsula are among more than 1,000 sites the WA government removed or blocked from its Aboriginal heritage register in the last two-and-a-half years. In 2012 the government created a narrower definition of sacred sites. The Supreme Court has thrown out those changes, but the government now wants a single public servant to determine sacred sites. Sarah Dingle investigates.” (ABC Online)

Click here to listen to ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing program.

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Connection with country: is it still ‘invisible’?

What to write about PM Tony Abbott’s recent comments regarding remote Indigenous Australians and his view that being connected with country and living on ancestral estates is a ‘lifestyle choice’? I will let the rest of this blog (the archive of stories about Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’s deep connections with country) speak for itself on such matters. I would prefer to highlight some of the perspectives from Indigenous peoples on this issue; why they affirm that they must be allowed and supported to maintain their ancestral connections with the land and the entities that they are custodians of.

Yuin elder, Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, who is also the Director of Culture for Life, said this about Abbott’s recent comments:

By dismantling the Communities of remote Australia this Prime Minister is attempting to make the current generation of Elders the ‘Last Generation’. This is not about money and so called ‘lifestyle choices’, it’s about cultural genocide and destroying the linkages our communities need to maintain our connection to country and title over our ancestral lands. Abbott’s colonialist mentality and obsession with a foreign monarchy is widening the gap. Hold tight – it’s going to be an ugly ride until he is gone.

Indigenous educator Chris Sarra makes some very pertinent points in his recent article , Without connection to country, Australia is a shallow nation. That’s what Abbott doesn’t understand, (The Guardian), including:

If we cut or stifle this tremendously deep human connection to country we will be left with something so incredibly shallow.

The best way for all Australians to forge a deeper sense of belonging to our country is to enable such ancient human connections to be sustained. With that, all of us are better placed to respectfully embrace those descendants and the ancient rituals they offer us to be a part of something that has been occurring here for many thousands of years.

As Uncle Max suggests, there is a broader agenda underlying WA Premier Colin Barnett and PM Tony Abbott’s moves to centralise service provision for Indigenous peoples to larger town centers and cities.  Getting traditional owners off their ancestral estates and into larger towns and centers (see ‘Outstation message: Closing remote communities with ‘finish Broome”) will have huge ramifications on people-country connections: how and whether these can be maintained, people’s health and wellbeing post-dispossession, the health of the country without its people living with it, social fracturing in communities that would receive dispossessed peoples, housing shortages, the list goes on.

In my view, inherent in Abbott’s comments is a blindness towards the ancestral connections maintained by Indigenous peoples on this continent, how those connections shape people’s realities and why they are so necessary for cultural survival.

 

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Places to dwell in deep summer

Ancient rock and ibises make me ground and soar.

Ancient rock and ibises make me ground and soar.

Getting pulled through the Blackwood forest by lyrebirds that call.

Getting pulled through the Blackwood forest by lyrebirds that call.

Diving into rock pools laced with Neptune's Necklace and glimpsing the pink octopus that dwells within.

Diving into rock pools laced with Neptune’s Necklace and glimpsing the pink octopus that dwells within.

Colours of this place open the doors to my memories of being here.

Colours of this place open the doors to my memories of being here.

The land cradles us in her folds and pockets.

The land cradles us in her folds and pockets.

IMG_1575  IMG_1574 IMG_1579 IMG_1573

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Stories in the sky: Indigenous astronomy

‘The stars hold great significance for Australia’s indigenous people. The sky is a textbook of morals and stories, retold from generations to generations. Through their Dreamtime legends, these stories have been the stages to their existence for thousands of years.’ (SBS online)

Click here to link to this story.

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Being called (back) by place, cont.

The others left the track before me, choosing to scale up the low sand dune which grew off the side of the track. I kept going, drawn in by the corridor of tea trees that led me deeper into the heart of the big sand drift. The sandy track emerged into a windblown chute in the towering sand dunes. Beyond was an endless expanse of sand, sculpted by the winds that buffer this promontory. I’d expected there to be no other people here, it had always felt like our secret place. Somewhere in the near distance I could hear the sounds of people whooping and whistling as they slid down the steep face of sand dunes. I could see them in my mind’s eye, rolling and catapulting over themselves all the way to the bottom and then scrambling hand after foot back up to the top. Squinting into the sun, I could make out foot tracks, they crisscrossed the dune system below where I stood. More people; things must have changed. I hadn’t been back here for years, maybe ten or more.

Walking in giant steps down the slope, my eyes grew wide at the sight of a large soak (of water) in a depression in the sand dunes. Being early spring it made sense for there to be water around, but having never been here in this season, to see water amongst sand dunes seemed like a fantasy. Tracks from all directions lead to the edge of the soak. Bird tracks, roo tracks, but no human tracks. Confused, I looked out again at all the tracks crisscrossing the landscape around me. Three toes imprinted in the sand glared up at me from the wet sand to my left. Three toes… three toes… ahh! I followed those three-toed footprints away from the dunes. Countless other three-toed footprint tracks intersect the path that I followed.

Led away from the soak, I arrived at a group of acacias just as the emu tracks petered out. The thinnest sliver of a new moon hung low in the sky, making its final descent towards the dunes. The track that I followed brought me here, I felt a sense of having arrived somewhere. Scanning the area around me I wondered why it was that I had arrived here. But I carry on… Clambering up low sand hills, compelled to walk the edges of these sand sculptures, they are the embodiment of impermanence, providing (if any) only moments (or illusions) of stability. Wandering north to find my group, I felt called back. I was meant to be there. I looked back to see the acacias that acknowledged my presence where I had arrived. The only things in this landscape that had some kind of grip on me, I am pulled back, descending the dune, returning and to their circle. Countless tiny seedlings shoot up from the sand, encircling a group of older trees of the same species. Walking forward, I parted the dense foliage of the older trees. Mossy growths inhabit the thick limbs of these trees, I could just make out what appeared to be the ‘heart’ of the formation. Something about this situation felt familiar… the jigal mamara on the sand dune at Bindinyankun. What had appeared to be 10 or 15 trees growing out of the sand dune was actually one. I looked deeper into the thick growth and saw a dense tree trunk emanating from the dune. Tracing the branches, they all led back to this central trunk. One tree. Standing within the spherical canopy of this acacia, I felt as though I was in a world. All round me native bees hummed as they fed on the yellow flowers in bloom. This tree wanted to be seen, acknowledged, and there was a path that led me here.

I have always felt a strong pull by this place, since I was a young child. In my return there is a sense of having been called back. I am not sure why, but there is a strong resonance in my being with this place.

The faint sounds of ‘Coo-eee’ reached me before being swallowed up by the sand. In the distance I could just make out the silhouettes of three figures walking the ridge lines towards me. When we meet I ask them if they too feel a familiar sense of walking on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, across the pink dunes at Rujimon. When I think of this place as a home, a camping and hunting place (fresh water, animals to hunt, close to the coast), my feelings shift. Sensing the habitation of a place, the dwelling that is happening, or has happened, creates a profound shift in how I relate to that place. Place as home, it is an invocation, an opening for new things to emerge, new realities to be born.

We headed north, back towards the farmland and the old coast banksias that fringe the path to this big sand drift. My eyes searching the sand as we climbed the dunes, and there they were…

IMG_1003

IMG_1004… Small messages lying in the sand that this place is home.

Images by Hayley Bunting

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Being called (back) by place

It was in reading Deborah Bird Rose’s most recent blog post Site Fidelity, that I was reminded of a conversation with a friend earlier in the year.

S and I were sitting on the verandah of the ‘new’ cafe in the Botanic Gardens. The moving shade of the rain trees above us formed dancing shadows on our bodies. In this light and in the thickness of the ‘build down’, we began to talk about place. I had just written about my longing to go back to Wamoon (“I can see the sea, it is a lovely blue”); to be in the crystal blue waters and speak with the mountain again. S told me that she too had felt called to be in place, many places, all over the world. As our conversation dropped into that other space (the one that is thick and holds you in timelessness), I asked S, “What if we are called to be in place because country has something to reveal to us?” We spoke about the communicable presence of places that deeply resonate with us. Uncle Max talks about the communicable presence of country when he takes people up to Gulaga Mountain, he says, “Let’s watch the land talk to us.”

Even if we are not consciously aware of why we need to be in a place, it feels right, our bodies sing when we are there. Does the axiom ‘being in the right place, at the right time’ hold more currency than we think?

Rose (see link above) writes about the attachments of human and nonhuman animals to place and the tendency to return to place:

How one comes to be attached to specific places is a process that is both deeply known and yet also forever mysterious. Many attachments are formed early, some stick and some do not. Some people experience them more deeply and non-negotiably than others, but in all cases attachments to place also involve time. Memories form around places, and as they are acted upon they accumulate, and so they are enhanced.

Place-action becomes part of the process of meaning-making, so that place, like the living creatures who grow into it, exists in the lives and minds of creatures who themselves come and go, and are sustained by place. It may not be so well known that humans are by no means the only creatures to form attachments to place. Amongst nonhuman animals one process of attachment is known as site fidelity (the tendency or desire to return).

This coming back, being called back to place is something that memory alone can not be responsible for. We are connected to place through our collective stories (we are never alone in place for there to be personal stories, our stories are always shared with the more-than-human entities in place making them collective), but also perhaps, by the mutual recognition (Roe and Hoogland 1999; Abram 1997) people-place have for one another. Just as our dear friends and family members may long to be with us, so too might place. The idea that country calls people to come and be with it is not unfamiliar to First Peoples on this continent. As F said on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail “… country loves people, it’s always been part of it from the beginning. It wasn’t country and then people, people and country always from the beginning, one time, always connected.”

Reference:

Abram, D 1997, The Spell of the Sensuous Vintage Books New York

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, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, pp. 11-30.

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