Tag Archives: Belonging

Dingo Love: towards multi-species peace

On reading Deborah Bird Rose’s latest post, Dingo Nation, I discovered a man by the name of John Cooper. In an ABC Open story on Cooper, Debrah Novak writes:

This is a story about a man’s love and passion for his Australian Dingos. He and his pack live in the the upper reaches of the Clarence River country in Northern NSW. With him I had the privilege of watching and recording a very special moment for this story: dingo pups being born in their lair. It is just one special moment in a story about a farmer who has come up with an unusual way of keeping wild dogs under control on his property.

The truth that rings clear for me, in both Rose’s post and the video on Cooper, is the opportunity to expand our (human) deep listening and compassion to more-than-human animals and other entities. Rose refers to research by Arian Wallach which highlights the capacity for dingoes to exist in…

complex family structure (known as a pack), collaborative care of the young, cooperative hunting, territorial defense, limits on family size and structure, individual personalities, and other features that indicate highly social animals with strong loyalties and a deep sense of duties and responsibilities.

To exist within, and maintain closely-knit kinship structures is surely evidence of a highly evolved and intelligent community of beings. To know what we belong to, and our role within kinship structures, gives us a place to dwell within.

This is obviously a huge questions, but, what is it that we as humans need to resolve, to be at peace amongst ourselves and other species? Is it a Deep Ecology/Transpersonal Ecology approach to life which shepherds all life forms (I would claim all entities) into a realm of identification, where we perceive ourselves connected infinitely through multiple networks of relationships?  To have a heightened sense of compassion and expand our concern with more-than-human life surely requires the realisation that we depend upon the well-being of living networks for our own physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.

The thing I love most about John Cooper’s approach to life is his openness and surrender to embracing the life that surrounds him – oh the love!

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Reluctance to write about belonging

When I was in Broome last dry season some of my Goolarabooloo friends asked me where I belonged. I had quite a funny reaction to this question. I feel deeply connected to that country, but do I belong there? If I said yes, what would I be saying yes to? Since starting my research I have been very reluctant to write about belonging. Is it because when we belong we are staking some sort of claim, or making a commitment to a place-people? Listening to one of the conversations I had with a walker of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, I realise that much of what we discussed centers on experiences of belonging to people-place. When non-Indigenous people have conversations about belonging to people-place it can often be underpinned by reluctance, particularly if these feelings of belonging have a spiritual dimension (… I am writing about myself and assuming that other people have had similar experiences. See Miller and Read references below). The deeper I get into this work I feel as though this caution (fueled by fear of appropriation of Indigenous other???) is a distraction to the deep work that is happening on country for people of different cultural backgrounds. Is it possible to talk about an essence of belonging or being with country without universalising human experiences?

Back to the conversation I was having with a walker of the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail, another thing that emerged from this conversation was a sense of coming home, but home to what? Feeling connected? An essence of what what it is to live? Certainly a dissatisfaction with contemporary Western values underpinned this conversation and was leading into the seeking of something ‘more’, something that has been ‘lost’ from the ways that we as Westerners live and are being in the world.


Miller, L. (2003). Belonging to country – a philosophical anthropology. Journal of Australian Studies, 27(76), 215-223.

Miller, L. (2003). Longing for belonging: a critical essay on Peter Read’s Belonging The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 14(3), 406-417.

Read, P. (2000). Belonging : Australians, place and Aboriginal ownership. Oakleigh: Cambridge University Press.

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Always in country

The Red-tailed black cockatoos are out in force at the moment. I saw them crushing Sheoak nuts between their beaks last weekend near the Nightcliff Jetty and again tonight at East Point. You can get quite close to these birds; they’re not flighty like the Double-barred finch. The footpaths are all littered with snipped off sheoak needles and the remnants of this tree-top feast.

Moving around the Darwin suburbs on my bicycle I’ve had a chance to connect with different places… creeks, foreshores, cliffs, monsoon forests and beaches. But I’ve hardly been on my bike since returning to Darwin. I miss it. The freedom, the smells, the birds and the feeling of connecting with where I live in a direct, sensory kind of way. There is a patch of regenerated bush not far from our home, I think a local Landcare group planted it. It is alive with vivid green leaves of different shapes and textures and splashes of colour from all the flowers that are blooming at the moment. Being in this bush evokes something in me. Maybe it’s the possibility of what our gardens could be like in this ‘tropical paradise’. Take away the millions of palms (there must be at least a million in this city) and bring back the grevillias, acacias, pandanas, woollybutts and paperbarks… and then the birds. Being in the city I forget that I am always living in country, until I see pockets of bush, and birds going about their busy-ness. In my conversations with people reference is often made to “getting out of the city” to re-balance and connect with country. I can understand how we can exist in this mindset when the ‘nature’ we see around us is palm trees and bizarre neighborhood parks with lawn and Mahogany trees. These are strange places for me, there is something disconcerting about them. They feel imported. There are places in this city though that make me feel like I can connect with something raw, something that hasn’t been ‘tamed’ too much, places that have the potential to be restorative. Place like East Point, Dripstone Cliffs, Lee Point and Casuarina Coast Reserve. What do these places represent? Let me clarify something though, I am not fantasizing about the notion of an untouched place, quite the opposite. It is place as home, but a home that is of this place.

These places I mentioned are homes; long grassers camp here and the communities of plants and animals dwell here. Do these places also represent some kind of ‘in between space’ as Somerville (2010; 2007) might suggest? But in between what? Urban and bush? Included and excluded? Visible and invisible?

In their book Singing the Coast, Perkins and Somerville (2010) translate the stories of coastal places along the Central Coast of NSW. Tony, a Garby Elder, tells stories about his people being pushed to the fringes of their country, by the occupation of their lands by colonisers. He calls one place in particular, the swampy wetlands around Corindi Lake, ‘No Mans Land’.

‘The idea of No Mans Land was a powerful and ingoing story for the people who settled at Corindi Lake. Neither water nor land, the swamp was the quintessential in-between space where new stories could be born’ (Perkins and Somerville, 2012, p. 7).

People grew up in this place, living off the food in and around the lake, unseen and safe from Welfare Protection Board. But there was an until; people lived in this place until a new material reality came into being and lifestyles changed, connections changed. Then coastal development and pollution transformed this place and degraded its viability as a ‘home’. The threads that may connect Tony’s narratives of place to the stories of this place are not that visible as yet. Writing about the places I feel around me here, I realise that I know very little about them and the many stories they hold. I remind myself, I’m just at the beginning and there are many more rides left in this city/country.

A flock of Rainbow-bee eaters circled above the tree tops at East Point as the sun was setting tonight. I always hear their “krim-krim” calls, but never manage to see them. It’s not until I’ve been away from country for too long, a separation that exists only in my mind-space, that I realise what sustenance it offers me. Being in country, with country and feeling a rhythm that is slow and remembering that I am small.

Image: Double-barred finch at Milibinyarri camp, Nia Emmanouil, Nov 2012.


Somerville, M & Perkins, T 2010, Singing the Coast, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Somerville, M 2007, ‘Postmodern emergence’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 225-43.

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