Tag Archives: Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison

Connection with country: is it still ‘invisible’?

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.


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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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Thin places

I was listening to ABC Radio National’s Encounter program today and right at the end of the episode Selling God’s House, Bishop Ian Palmer made this statement about thin places:   

The Celtic church used to talk about thin places and it would have geographical places that it would consider as ‘thin’ where heaven and earth seemed to meet. But also they would cultivate them as well. And through prayer they would create a thin place. Often when they were thinking about putting a monastery in a place, they would go to a bend in a river and they’d camp out there for weeks, often for forty days and they would just pray there, before they even decided to build.

The idea of people camping by a bend in the river, taking the time to sense the spirit of the place (genius loci) or praying to create a ‘thin place’ reminded me of a story shared with me by Yuin Elder Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison. In a conversation about songlines/songcycles, Uncle Max said that rivers form many of the songlines that travel through country. It is in the bends of the rivers, he said, where much of the energy pools, that is why these are good places to go fishing.

After hearing Palmer speak about thin places I did some hunting about came across Corrine Cunningham’s thesis ‘Remembered Earth: Mythopoetics from the American Southwest of the Spirit of Place and the Re-Enchantment of Humanity.’ In her writing about genius loci, Cunningham (2007) beautifully weaves together threads such as thin places, enchantment and the liminal to elucidate the feelings that are so often indescribable about our engagement with sacred places:

Places associated with enchantment are part of the ancient belief that within this earth, there are sites where the veil between the inner and the outer worlds is permeable, and where an individual experiences what the Japanese poet Basho (1644-94) describes as “a glimpse of the under-glimmer” (qtd. in Cousineau: xix). The Irish call these landscapes “thin places”—as in Roadside Well in Leix, home to the spirits of the land. Anthropologist Victor Turner describes these places as “liminal” ” [ . . . ] a threshold, a place and moment, in and out of time” (Dramas, Fields and Metaphors 197). The liminal landscape of the American Southwest was often the subject for photographer Ansel Adams, who described artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s desert home “Ghost Ranch” in New Mexico as “isolated in a glowing world [.. . ] where everything is sidewise under you, and over you, and the clocks stopped long ago” (qtd. in E. Turner: 19). (p. 5)

In particular, Cunningham’s statement, that ‘… the veil between the inner and the outer worlds is permeable’ in these ‘thin places’ reminds me of a metaphor used by Mathews (2007) that is akin to the veil:

… if one somehow managed to slip under the psychic skin of the world, and “enter” its subjectivity, would one experience the “outside” as “inside”? If one stepped inside the world, in this sense, might the trees and grass and rivers no longer appear as external to oneself? Might they – along with oneself – now be experienced as internal to the psyche of the world? (p. 4)

Rather than lean towards the references of heaven and earth, my own reading of ‘thin places’ is one of places in which I feel a sense of resonance, a being with, outside of temporal constraints. These ‘thin places’ beckon me to allow them in. A pause, a deep breath and a lifting of the veil to see through feeling, that which is waiting to be acknowledged.



Cunningham, Corrine Lara. “Remembered Earth: Mythopoetics from the American Southwest of the Spirit of Place and the Re-Enchantment of Humanity.” Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2007. Print.

Mathews, Freya. “The World Hidden within the World: A Conversation on Ontopoetics.” The Trumpeter 1 (2007). Print.


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