There were endless cups of billy tea, guitar, card games and laughs under the corrugated iron roofed outdoor kitchen outside JR and Margie’s place at Milibinyarri. Perched at the top of the hill, you could sit in the shade with a hot cup of tea in hand and look out at the crystal blue ocean from that outdoor kitchen.
I first came to sit atop that hill with JR on my first visit to Broome in 2000. I was walking the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail as part of an RMIT University group and met him and his young family on my arrival at Milibinyari, the Goolarabooloo community’s block out at Coconut Wells.
After walking the Lurujarri Trail with JR and his family that year I stayed on at Milibinyarri and worked on a report about cultural perspectives of burning country with the Goolarabooloo community. I recall my keenness to speak with JR about his perspectives; not a day went by when I wouldn’t ask him if we could sit down and ‘have a chat’ about burning country. His response, ‘Later better maybe,’ became familiar to me and fueled my anxiety about getting the report ‘done’. Little did I realise that every conversation, every story needs to be told in the right place, at the right time.
I was sitting in the shade of the outdoor kitchen on my last day at Milibinyarriwhen JR came up and said that now was a good time to talk. Silly me, I pulled out my notebook and pen, poised and ready to learn (I was young and green and had no idea about just sitting, listening and being with). JR just looked at the contents of my hands and said, ‘You don’t need that stuff.’ Sitting on the edge of his verandah, he bent over and drew in the red pindan, teaching me about fire, about burning country. JR’s storytelling that day was brief and laden with distilled wisdom. Not a word was wasted.
Since then I’ve returned to Broome to spend time visiting JR and his family and their country; sometimes walking and volunteering on the Trail, other times just to visit and spend time fishing, camping and laughing under the corrugated iron roof. As the years have passed the door has always been open and the friendship unconditional. I never felt like a tourist or visitor to Milibinyarri, I was welcomed as a friend. The outdoor kitchen with its corrugated roof no longer stands in that place and much has changed on that country, as have the relationships that bound us together.
JR had a big job, to look after his country and people, but he always had time for a cup of tea and a chat and to teach me a little bit more about being with country and myself.
Gratitude and love.
An exhibition of the country through which the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail travels, by Jeanne Browne.
ABC Radio National, Saturday 2nd March, 6PM
Four years in the making, the animated Lurujarri Dreaming documents the Western Australian song-cycle from Broome up through the Dampier Peninsula.
This particular song-cycle is part of the annual nine day Lurujarri Heritage Trail which was established in 1987 by Goolarabooloo elder Paddy Roe.
Though since 2008 plans for a land based liquefied natural gas development have loomed over the Kimberley coast, in particular James Price Point (Walmadan), located approximately fifty kilometres north of Broome – this area making up part of the Lurujarri Heritage Trail.
Lurujarri Dreaming – AWAYE!
I first came to this place on foot by following a trail, one that I couldn’t really see, but others could. This trail is part of something much older than a cartographer’s impression of a pathway or landscape features (here I go making all of these temporal references too. I am sure that this trail exists in a cosmology where my Western sense of temporality has little bearing). I was held by red and blue landscape, but the colours felt as though they were part of me. I have this visual in my mind of pindan red and aquamarine blue pouring out from my heart to paint the rocks, cliffs, water and sky; deep, rich, vibrant voices translated into something visual. Visual sense can be tricky sometimes, especially when what is around you is so stimulating. Another kind of listening was going on too, not one that I was very conscious of at the time, but a sense of some other kind of conversation. Was it a tuning out of the reasoning mind and a tuning into something visceral and somatic? Before we started Trail F would tell us to close our eyes and try walking through feeling, to find the threads of hard sand amongst the soft on the beach by listening to this feeling. Listening in this sense is metaphoric. So was the reference to reading the country as we were all walking trail. I didn’t get this until later on. Seduced by the visual stimulus I thought reading was all about what I could see with my eyes and knowing about inter-species indicators for food hunting and gathering. The people from this place call this listening through feeling le-an. R, the storyteller for this place, says that is how we read the country, through our le-an. I can look back now at what happened and know, not just in a cognitive sense, that walking the trail became a process of deep somatic learning, and that the challenge and beauty from that experience has been translating and articulating the stories and knowing that my body holds into a form that I and others can understand. There was a particular point on trail when I felt like I became present to where I was. Yet it was more than that, it was a ‘dropping into’ another way of being. The texture of my reality in this place changed. We were playing in the waves at this beach. The tide was outgoing and the sand bank leading into the water was getting steeper and steeper. There is so much relief in splashing around in the waves after a long, exposed beach walk. Shallow dives into the crests of the waves exhilarated me, until I dove too deep. Hitting my head hard on the shallow sandy bottom, I emerged shocked and gasping for air. Looking around I saw F, a friend and nurse, just as the muscles of my neck and shoulders seized to support my spine. One look at my face and she knew I was in trouble. It was a long, slow journey back up the expansive dune system and down into our camp. Walking into the Birrin Birri and Mamagen forest was such a relief, it felt like a healing space. F went to get snake vine from the forest to wrap around my neck and R placed his hand on my neck and shoulders for some time, I don’t know for how long. I fell asleep in a small clearing in the shady forest. Waking into a rawness, it was as though something had been striped back from my perception of being in, or with this place. But I woke up, something in me woke up. So as I write this and re-perform meeting this place for the first time, I realise, this is my waking up place.
I sat and had a yarn with K yesterday about our experiences of being with country on the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. The thing that stuck me most about our time together was the sense that we were invoking the energy/feeling/space of Trail by talking about it. This reconnection with what is maybe the essence of the experience (for each of us) made me realise that although I may not always be walking country, there is a connection that I can be present to and call forth into being.
K talked a lot about being present on Trail, not just as a destination or something to aim for, but a process and way of being… a pathway to connection perhaps? A few days ago I was going through Otto Scharmer’s book ‘Theory U’ at my bush camp and came back to reading about presencing (as distinct from being present). Scharmer (2009: 163) describes presencing as shifting our place of perception ‘to a future possibility that is seeking to emerge.’ It seems apt to come back to this concept/practice now that I am clearer on the focus of my research – questioning, what kind of place-making is emerging out of the collective action of people walking and protecting the Lurujarri Songline together? Can people sense a future possibility that is seeking to emerge here on the Songline? Is this what we feel on Trail?
On Trail this year R spoke a lot about reading the country. I had fallen into the trap of interpreting this to mean literally seeing what was around me – seeing the signs in the bush and sea to understand the story that was being told/performed by place. Then I asked R how reading the country and le-an related… he said that le-an is reading the country, it is reading the country through feeling. Goolarabooloo and other Indigenous people up here talk a lot about le-an, as did Paddy Roe. Making sense of le-an for myself is another story. Listening to feelings that come when I’m being with country… subtle feelings that can easily be dismissed… sometimes not so subtle. F often speaks about ‘waking up’ to feeling/le-an, that walking the songline can be a big part of that ‘waking up’ and (re-)connecting.
Going back to the other day’s reading though, I read Scharmer’s ideas with a new awareness and started to see a whole lot of connections and associations that I hadn’t previously. Presencing and reading the country through our le-an, could they be the same thing, just expressed differently?
Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.: San Francisco