Richard Hunter, Frans Hoogland, Jaqueline Wright from ABC Open, and I have been working on a project which I’d love to share with you all, it’s about Feeling Country. Many thanks to Jacqui for all the hours of pulling it together and to Gabrielle Norden and Sara Retallick for contributing beautiful sounds from Country. Enjoy!
Category Archives: Walking
The following documentary forms part of a six-episode series that highlights Indigenous peoples’ struggle to protect their lands from industrial development. Although the Browse LNG Processing Plant will not be developed along the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail and Northern Traditions Song Cycle (songline), the traditional lands of the Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr people have still been compulsorily acquired by the Western Australian government. The WA government intends on industrialising the monsoonal vine thicket of the Dampier Peninsula, which is now a threatened ecological community and functions as a year-round food and medicinal resource.
The Native Planet documentary was respectfully made with the Goolarabooloo people and gives voice to their fight to protect country and shares the perspectives of others with supporting and divergent viewpoints.
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
At some point we had all walked the Trail,
over many years, decades.
Some only once, others many times.
A community of people grows out of this walk,
time and place.
If not on the Trail, somehow,
we find each other.
A convergence of trails,
a convergence of stories.
Connecting, meeting, resonating.
“In this lecture at Schumacher College (29/1/14), Rupert Sheldrake shows how the “scientific worldview” is moribund; the sciences are being constricted by assumptions that have hardened into dogmas. But science itself is now transcending the materialist philosophy, and pointing toward a new sense of a living world. The cosmos is no longer like a machine running down; it is more like a developing organism with an inherent memory, and so is our planet, Gaia. These new paradigm shifts in the sciences shed a new light on spiritual practices like pilgrimage, ritual, prayer and meditation.” Darlington TV
There were many moments whilst watching this talk by Sheldrake that I was jumping up and down in my chair at the parallels between his research and my own. I am not a scientist and feel very challenged by materialist views of ‘reality’, particularly when there is little or no space to acknowledge things that lack a materiality, like life force. Things that Sheldrake spoke about which resonated most deeply with me relate to intention, resonance and sacred places.
With regard to intention, he speaks about our minds reaching out and touching that which we are paying attention to. He uses his research with pet dogs and their owners and other experiments between friends calling each other randomly, to try and demonstrate telepathic and intentional connections that exist between beings (humans and inter-species). Each of these experiments was small, contained and replicated many times. I have my own questions around intentions and what influence they might have in shaping our own and collective realities. Though the stuff of my research is not so much isolated to pet dogs, their owners and telephones – the scope feels a lot bigger! So how do I write about the individual and collective intentions that are expressed on country by people who are sharing their stories? How are these intentions being manifested on a physical plane?
The existence and making of sacred places, whether they be trees or constructions (e.g. churches, obelisques, temples), was another topic which Sheldrake dwelt upon. He spoke about the potential for tall structures to create conduits between the cosmos and the earth, mainly through their ability to channel lightning. I was very interested in Sheldrake’s dialogue on this, but it was his next discussion topic, morphic resonance, which shed more light on the meaning of sacred places for me.
For the last few weeks I have been wondering about the collective walking of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail and whether this has ritualistic or ceremonial qualities. This country has been walked for a very long time (if we want to look at time as something linear) and is inscribed with meaning through Bugarregarra (dreaming, creation); and then countless other meanings since colonisation and in the new emerging ways that people are relating to that country. But when people collectively walk the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, particularly if there is an intention to connect with Indigenous custodians, are we re-enacting a creation story/Bugarregarra? Sheldrake introduces his theory of morphic resonance (memory in nature/place) to suggest that in the practice of rituals, ‘… the present participants will resonate with morphic resonance with those who’ve done the ritual before.’ A community of people who practice a ritual extends beyond the here and now and includes ancestors: ‘… a literal collapse of time of presence and the past, connecting those performing the ritual with those who’ve done it in the past.’
Perhaps the ‘memory’ in a place, which may have been created through repeated ritual practice in that place, acts like an intention of how beings should interact with place and each other in situ. Maybe morphic resonance is like an affordance of place [James J. Gibson described affordance as all “action possibilities” latent in the environment (Gibson, J.J. (1977), The Theory of Affordances. In Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing, [Ed] Shaw, R. and Bransford, J.)]. When I am camping at Murdudun north of Quandong Point, I always feel like I should rest there. It is a very nurturing place in country which resonates with a strong female presence/energy. Yet each place in country feels different; Goolarabooloo people might say that each place has its own liyan (feeling… but this translation of liyan is completely inadequate as there is so much which is sensed that cannot easily be articulated into language).
I see words like intention, dreaming/creation, liyan, morphic resonance, sacred and ritual swirling around above me in a figure of 8, their connections between one another and their meanings slowly becoming more solid, more visible.
I came across a book about walking by Rebecca Solnit. In it she writes:
‘Memory, like the mind, is unimaginable without physical dimensions; to imagine it as a physical place is to make it into a landscape in which its contents are located, and what has location can be approached. That is to say, if memory is imagined as a real space – a place, theatre, library – then the act of remembering is imagined as a real act, that is, as a physical act: as walking… To walk the same route again can mean to think the same thoughts again, as though thoughts and ideas were indeed fixed objects in a landscape one need only know how to travel through. In this way, walking is reading, even when both the walking and the reading are imaginary, and the landscape of the memory becomes a text as stable as that to be found in the garden, labyrinth, or the stations’ (2007, p. 77).
Her writing made me think about how different each walk of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail was for me. During some walks of the trail I would come to a place in country and be in disbelief that I had completely forgotten about that place until my return. In this way my memory had failed me, but I had a different kind of knowing about each place. It was far more somatic than cognitive. I had a felt memory of dunes, beaches, rocks, bays and camping places. My reading of the country was happening on a different level, maybe a more intuitive and felt one; it’s tricky to describe. It’s as though I had a ‘radar’ that picked up the subtle energy of each place. I guess Goolarabooloo would call this my le-an, my feeling.
Walking is such a sensual act. On the last trail I walked, I asked my friend to stop on these super smooth rocks so that I could take a photograph of his feet with the rocks. We were both obsessed with rubbing our feet on their surface, gazing at luminescent colours of green and red and pink staring up at us. A little further up the coast the sand turned into pebbles at the water’s edge. The water and the rocks created a kind of music as the waves tumbled the pebbles over bigger rocks. There is so much to take in.
So much of my being with country on the trail happens when I am in motion, walking. Sometimes it feels like a meditation, others an encounter with the life that is all around me. The fact that we are walking along a song cycle path adds a whole other dimension to the act of walking. What is it that we are engaging with on an energetic level?
Senge et. al (2004) write about sacred spaces in nature and how people contribute to these sacred spaces, in terms of the intentions that we bring to a place. This really resonated with me… it makes me wonder what is happening, emerging as we (Goolarabooloo and friends) are all walking the song cycle as one mob.
Solnit, R. (2007). Wanderlust: a history of walking. London: Verso Books
Senge, P., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2004). Presence: exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society. New York: Crown Business
The beauty of country in all of its minuteness and subtlety leaps out at me. I feel reeled in, pulled forward, there is no labour in this walking. These images are another portal into being with country when I am in another time and place. Just like every place has a feeling, each image carries with it an imprint of that feeling (le-an). There are significant stories associated with many of these images… they too fill unfurl and be visible over time.
connected silence, in
conversation with country.
Words as feelings,
passing through the soles of my feet.
Tone changes as we leave
pandanas forest and rise over dunes.
Serge of excited babble as we
onto a stretch of white sandy beach.
Blue, blue, blue
screaming at me…
Hurry up! Dive!
But when we get to the freshwater paperbark,
you tell me
Conversation finds its way into
Black and blue dancers
float under the canopy.
Never touching the ground.
There is a beach I used to walk on a lot when I was growing up.
Each year I would hear the beach calling to me, or maybe it was the mountain above which cast its shadows on the sand.
My feet knew when they walked on the sand that something was talking; my heart knew to listen.
The feeling inside me grew; it’s still growing.
Sometimes, there’s a song in my heart that’s so loud, I feel like I’m going to burst… when I’m on that beach.
One time I was floating in the sea, looking back at the beach. I felt weightless and free. Another time I stood and watched the clouds pouring through the gap in distant mountains. Another story was being told, one from the east.
If I lay down on that beach and never got up, I think I would become the sand. Maybe the waves would wash over me and reflect an image of the mountain, the one that whispers stories to my heart.