Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but also what we do not want to be true; it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically, irrespective of our hoped for needs. It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us what we are, where we are, what season we are in and what, no mater what we wish in the abstract, is about to happen in our body, in the world or in the conversation between the two.
David Whyte, from ‘Consolations‘
Tag Archives: Being with Country
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.
The ABC Radio National Earshot Documentary ‘In their branches‘ tells us about people’s love of trees. These are true expressions of intimacy and joy. Here are some images of the trees I love, climb and dream of.
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.”
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.
Saturday 31 May 2014 3:05PM
Topophilia: from the Greek topos “place” and -philia, “love of”
When we meet someone new we commonly ask “Where are you from?” It’s a recognition of the affective bond between people and place, which has been a subject of contemplation as far back as Aristotle, but has gained more attention in recent decades with the emergence of the discipline of psycho-geography. It’s also long been a subject of poetry, and there are many poets whom we identify closely with a particular place – either that where they were born and raised, such as Dorothy Hewett in the West Australian wheatbelt, or the place to which they came later in life, like Margaret Scott, who left her native Bristol for Tasmania at the age of twenty-five. In this program a range of Australian poets describe their relationship with the place that has shaped them.
on your pages
are my connections.
a calling forth,
you re-appear in my
Actors from my being with,
come to me,
and make me remember.
Back on Phillip Island and I finally get to spend precious time with S talking about our research. She has a gift of making the everyday things, which I gloss over as being unimportant, seem relevant. We were comparing blogs, the perceived deficiencies of our own and the things we liked about each other’s. I was judging my own for not being theoretical enough, for being too much about the everyday.
So why have I been taking refuge in the everyday? Maybe it is about documenting my own experiences of being with country in a way that is present, right here. Staying with the experience for as long as I can before I lift out and become detached, reflexive, analytical. On my return from Broome last month M reminded me of Verran’s writing about ethnographers in the flesh and ethnographers in the text. My recent reluctance to be reflexive and analytical has been a ploy to stay in this embodied, fleshy state.
I ask myself, what is it that I want to give voice to through this blog? What needs to be written and acknowledged which may struggle to find its way into my thesis? Myself? My own connections?
My everyday reality has shifted dramatically since leaving Milibinyarri. The birds and ancient Jigal trees that were my companions are gone, except the Double-barred finch which followed me to Darwin. I heard it in an unlikely place, a work-site at the Darwin waterfront, as I arrived after my long drive back from the west coast. So not all gone… Up here in this tree-top house from which I write, in a gully above Tathra beach, a chorus of Bell Miner and Whip birds remind me to keep opening up to what is outside/inside.
I am in a post-fieldwork cloud, waiting for ideas and insights to precipitate and fall to the ground. Listening to the conversations I had with people on country is grounding. Through people’s words and silences I hear their truths resonate through story; this process challenges me though. I need to maintain a trust that narratives will emerge. What I am revealing to myself are the buried expectations of what I might ‘find’ through my research, or what I’d hoped I would ‘find’. The danger of gathering ‘evidence’ to justify a pre-existing idea lingers. Researching with integrity and objectivity when I myself am in it is a tricky business. My body/landscape journals seem so messy. Writings about being with country entangled with other personal experiences. But amid the messiness is a wholeness. I have not dissected and extracted, compartmentalised.