Tag Archives: Deborah Bird Rose

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.”


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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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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Facing oneness

In Deborah Bird Rose’s most recent post, So Many Faces, on her website Life at the Edge of Extinction, Rose writes about the run-away levels of species loss due to land clearing practices that are still prevalent today. The hook that really drew me into Rose’s writing was her reference to Levinas’ idea that the ‘face’ awakens within us an ethical responsibility:

The great continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote of the ‘face’ as that which interrupts my self-absorption and calls me into ethical responsibility. There has been a lot of discussion in recent years as to whether the face means ‘a human face’. What about other animals? What about trees? What about understory? The definition of face that I find most inspiring treats it as a form of action. Here face is something one does rather than something one has:  ‘facing is being confronted with, turned toward, facing up to, being judged and being called’.

The living world is filled with facings – to be alive is to live among faces, many of which are noisy and interruptive. This is good. This is life in the mode of ethics. At this time, this is also tough. There are so many facings, and often one feels so helpless.

I have written before about ‘seeing’ through feeling (liyan) and the process through which I have come to sense a communicable engagement with more-than-human entities. As well as a call to action (facing), the idea that the ‘face’ awakens a recognition with us humans that we have a responsibility to ‘others’ eludes to something very powerful; ‘face’ becomes a metaphor for deep recognition. But recognition of what? Ourselves? Oneness?

Rose introduces the most recent literary work of Australian science writer Tim Low, Where Songs Began: Australia’s Birds and How they Changed the World:

… DNA evidence is now showing beyond any doubt that Australia was the original home of songbirds. In Tim’s words, birdsong brought ‘a new dawn for planetary acoustics’.

This quote stirred within me remembrance of a conversation I had had with an Indigenous elder about lyrebirds. When I ask Uncle Max about the significance of these lyrical birds, his very first and most punctuated word was ONENESS. Through my dialogue with Uncle Max an understanding is unfolding about my attraction to lyrebirds and the role that they play in the perpetual process of co-creation. I have not yet had the opportunity to read Tim Low’s book, but I wonder if the lyrebird plays a role (from his ecological/historical perspective) in the ‘singing up’ of the world and is in fact a creator, not just a mimic. Perhaps the lyrebird, through its songs (if we choose to listen), can remind us of who we are and what we are connected to.

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