Tuesday, February 5, 2008
who will feel the earth suffering?
she's hurting i am hurting her sickness is my sickness
i love this earth
i am aware of her suffering
oh god, i am not fantasising i can feel it
we must wake up to the earth suffering
we must stop putting holes into her
she is our blood and flesh she is me
and we must start feeling her pain.
my pain is her pain and its everyone's pain
and if we can not start feeling her pain
we will die.
and that's why we are hurting,
because we try to be numb.
numbness is death.
the earth is one.
We are the earth.
The earth is us.
We must feel. feeling keeps us alive.
healing keeps us connected.
And she is crying
I feel her pain.
We must all feel it,
so we can stop hurting her.
Feeling brings me back to life
Feeling brings me back to the earth.
The earth is my mother,
the earth is my father
My sister, my brother.
The earth is me,
the earth is precious.
We are all precious.
So long as we are numb, the hurts will still keep coming
The hurts mean being alive.
No feeling equals death.
Once we stop hurting the earth and each other
We will be happy again,
and we can come home to precious earth again.
The earth loves us as we need to love each other, ourselves. I
can feel the earth. She wants us to feel again.
To come back to life.
Its then that the suffering stops.
It is up to us.
Its up to all of us.
If the earth hurts, I hurt.
We all hurt.
We are one being, we are one living being, Earth.
Await, I am listening to my body.
And earth is my body.
What I do to my body, I do to earth.
Only love will heal it all.
Earth can show us how.
And then we will all be happy.
Thank you for being there.
This cancer is the earth speaking.
All of our cancers speak for the earth.
Oh my god, put your hands on me.
Today I am going to lie on the earth.
To let the earth heal me.
The tumour is telling me,
If I don't hear it, it will not go away.
It came as a messenger.
It will come in all of us, until our bodies are covered with tumours.
They are our messengers.
To come home to the earth.
To come home to our bodies.
And all of the poisons we are putting in her body, in my body
in your body...
You cannot pour ink into a glass of water and think that it will not spread.
Yet that is what is happening.
And to be healthy, we must start hearing the song of the Earth.
Only then will we come and heal our tormented self.
Listen to the earths heartbeat.
Listen to your own heartbeat.
Listen to each others heartbeat.
The myriad beings who share this precious earth
It's the same heartbeat.
Oh god, its nearly done.
I am not some kind of Messiah.
I am a simple woman.
Everyone can feel it.
Anyone can heal it.
Put your ear to the earth.
If you can't hear it, if you stop long enough, you can.
Put your ear to the earth until you do.
If you can't feel it,
put your hands into the earth Until you do.
If you can't see it, look closer.
See her creatures. They will tell you.
There is just a tiny bit more, and then I sleep.
This energy running through me is nearly done.
Let me look into your eyes,
so that I can see your suffering.
Once more, a tiny bit...
So I can see your suffering, as well as your joy.
Let us grow in our feelings.
I am losing the last bit.
Let it go...let it go...
Through this cancer,
the earth is borrowing me to speak.
the cancer said if you try to shut me up i will shut you up
i will speak aloud
if you don't want to hear me i'll speak louder.
I am no guru. I am just a simple woman.
I am awake.
The cancer has spoken.
We need to hear it.
We all need to hear it.
If anything comes, I'll let you know.
The trembling has stopped.
I feel quiet.
it is done it has spoken.
All I know is I have to keep listening.
It may keep speaking.
It doesn't matter,
I will know when, and what I have to know.
Vivienne Elanta, co-founder of the Gaia Foundation, July 2004, shortly before her death
Friday, August 31, 2007
SUSTAINING STORIES FROM A TOXIC AGE
By Vivienne Elanta
INTRODUCTION: FACING THE DEMONS
Mind over matter. Never mind about matter, because what really only matters is mind. I grew up with such thinking. Most of us grew up with such thinking. We learn from an early age that mind is superior over body and we learn that self is separate from the environment. The cost to such an erroneous view is a sense of disconnectedness from the world.
So if only the mind matters, and dad was never happy with my mind, then I must be not good enough and don’t really matter.
What legacy have you left for your great- grandchildren? What sustaining stories from your life can you tell?
THE TREE OF HOPE STILL STANDS:
REMEMBERING HEPBURN HEIGHTS
It is spring once more in Wadjuk Nyungar country. This is the season the Nyungar call Djilba, which is the “flowering”. I am thinking of Hepburn Heights, and my heart is longing to be there now. This week is the 11th anniversary of the ruthless desecration, the massacre of a large part of this high conservation value ecosystem, and the most beautiful tuart/banksia woodland, known as Hepburn Heights.
Since moving south of the river seven years ago and being car free, I have only been back once. As I turn into the road that separates the left half of Hepburn Heights, which is still pristine and intact and the right half, which is now buried under a heavy blanket of concrete and asphalt, I cannot hold back my tears any longer. I have been away too long. Coming here always brings me great sadness and pain, as well as much joy. As I entered through the gate I called out, “Kaya!” (Greetings! in Nyungar). This is indeed my turf.
As I write my story I am sitting in a circle of elders, a circle of very, very old Balga trees. They stand in an almost perfectly round circle as if in a meeting. I have not noticed them before, but maybe now that I have become a grandmother, I qualify to sit with them and maybe that is why they have made themselves visible to me. I found a large enough gap between a couple of them in which I quietly sat myself, so as not to disturb this many hundred -year -old gathering. Balga trees are sacred to the Nyungar. I am glad to have followed the calling and feel grateful to be here on this beautiful warm spring morning in this sacred circle.
I sense the patience, eternity and age of this part of Nyungar country. I can sense the presence of the ancestors of this place. I also feel the pain this land holds. I was a part of the struggle to protect this land from the invasion of housing development. Here I am today, paying homage to this place, which I was privileged to know so intimately during that fateful spring in 1992. As I sit here on this holy ground, all my senses engulfed by the sensual beauty surrounding me, the memories come flooding back.
I had never heard of this place Hepburn Heights before, until a friend informed me that bulldozers were clear- felling this particular bushland and that all hands were needed on deck, to which I responded swiftly. I was overcome with dismay and horror on arrival. What I saw looked like the scalp being scraped off the head of a living being, leaving bare, raw, aching flesh exposed to the scorching heat of the sun. In that moment I jumped in front of the bulldozer, believing that the driver would stop. Instead he scooped up the pile of sand on which I was standing and emptied the sand and me a few meters further into prickly shrubs. I was hurting and bruised, but continued my protest against this ritual of desecrating sacred ground.
Other activists were present and without wasting any time some of us climbed onto the machine. The bulldozer driver tried to throw us off by rocking and shaking the machine with the help of leavers he was operating, and then proceeded to speed up. Malcolm was hanging off the front-loader and I feared that he would fall off and get run over, but he kept hanging on. The journalists and camera crew were running alongside and filming. The wild ride seemed to continue forever. Malcolm was still dangling from the front-loader, a couple of people clinging onto the sides and I was sitting on the roof with Wade, hanging on for dear life. We were heading for a tree. At the speed at which we were travelling, I did not dare to jump off, so decided to hang on even tighter until my knuckles felt numb with the pain. As we were getting closer to the tree I realised that the branches were low and unless we lay flat on the roof we would have been severely hurt or even decapitated. Eventually the machine came to a halt, bringing the nightmare to an end. The media gathered around us, shouting angry words of disgust at the driver for putting our lives at risk. We felt shaken, but glad to have escaped alive and unhurt. This was my first encounter with a bulldozer and the beginning of my love affair with this place.
It feels good to sit here now, the soft, cool breeze caressing my face, the white-tailed black cockatoos screeching from above and a pair of ring-necked parrots darting in and out of their nesting hollow. I feel welcomed by country, welcomed by the Nyungar ancestors. I feel deep gratitude to know this place, and deep sadness for the pain and suffering my culture has inflicted on country and its indigenous people. The Nyungar are the traditional custodians of Nyungar country and we have failed to learn from them how to look after country.
This place tells stories. The Nyungars always knew how to read country, understanding the stories the land told them. They knew where and when to find bush-tucker. They knew the stories of the six seasons of the year. Country sustained them and they in turn looked after country. This deeply spiritual relationship with place sustained itself for tens of thousands of years. I cannot lay claim to understanding the stories this place tells, for I have not lived and breathed this land long enough to know, to have knowledge of country. But I know that I love this place, that I am kin to this family of beings; the four-legged, the six-legged, the eight-legged, the legless and crawling ones and the winged. I would do everything in my power to protect their integrity and wellbeing.
Since that first meeting here, our activist group returned regularly in a still uncleared part of the bushland. We formed a strong bond with each other and would at times gather in the shade of a circle of trees, to sing to a wonderfully wild and strong drum beat, which always reminded me of my growing up in Africa. That spot to me felt like the heart of Hepburn Heights. They were wonderful times, carefree, celebratory and deeply connecting with each other and to this part of the earth. I can still feel the heart beat of this place, now partly buried under roads and houses. It feels like my heart and her heart beating together, just like that drum beat.
I feel pulled back into the present by the wind cooling and the clouds gathering. I think the story is that it will rain sometime this afternoon or tonight. The pretty yellow flowers are nodding their heads, as if agreeing with me. That gorgeous pardalote in the tree above me has not left my sight all morning, flitting about in search for insects. This is the hight of Djilba. The flowering here is exquisite, the shrubs as well as patches of ground are covered in blue, yellow, orange, red, purple, white and everything in between. I feel entranced by the magic here and I have actually lost track of time. I feel no urgency to rush back to the fast pace suburb I now call home, but home to inner city suburbia I must return to for now.
Three days on and I am back, walking and walking for hours, marking my territory with every step and every deep breath inhaled, soaking up the intensity of colours, smells and sounds all around, below and above me. It did rain that night, making everything fresh and clean. As I quietly made my way through the bush, following the narrow path, I was startled - and so was the kangaroo. Our eyes met. Our gaze locked and became literally glued to each other for what seemed an eternity. But then a noise from behind made her turn her head. A second kangaroo appeared, sat there for a few moments, then the whole spell was broken and they bounced away together, disappearing out of sight. I have experienced this before with Kangaroos and also other non-human beings. When our gaze engaged, it was as if drawn into another time zone, another dimension, entering a different state of being for that moment. But somehow this encounter has effected me profoundly, deepening and affirming my connection to the more than human world. It’s beyond words. Tuart trees, and kangaroos occupy a special place in my life and in my psyche.
I am sitting here again with the Balga elders, the ground still a little damp. Today I need to seat myself in the very centre, right in the middle of the circle. I am asking this circle for support, for I am feeling vulnerable and my heart heavy with remembering the tragic and futile loss of life here.
After that first encounter with the bulldozer any further development came to a halt. My life settled back into the familiar “house-wife routine”, until one morning while still lying in bed, my beloved decided to turn on the radio to listen to the news. I was stunned with what I heard. What? A kangaroo killed at Hepburn Hights and the bulldozers completely clearing that hill this very morning? I flung myself out of bed, pacing the floor madly, feeling the anger and the outrage collecting in my belly. That morning I abandoned the vacuum cleaner and made my way to a costume hire store. When I told the shopkeeper as to what happened at Hepburn Heights and that I needed a kangaroo costume, he let me have it on loan for free.
A friend dropped me off near a cleared spot, from where I made my way to the top of the hill. Looking down the other side I saw hundreds of people gathered near the main road. Panic set in. Sweat poured from every pore in my body and my heart pounded so fast and loud, that I could hear it in my throat. There was no way back. I have learned over the years that the only way out is in, right into the lion’s den. To go where the fear resides lies great power. So I took a deep breath….. and another one, and proceeded to climb into the suit and zipped myself up. Being totally covered with kangaroo, only my eyes exposed, it felt like I was stepping aside and the spirit of kangaroo having a loan of me to speak on behalf of her species. She started bouncing down the hill towards the protestors. My fear totally subsided and I felt swept away by the spirit of the moment. I vaguely remember the kangaroo speaking about loosing her home, sharing her stress and bewilderment of this terrible destruction and the killing of her mate, which was just dumped into a hole in the ground and covered with some soil and forgotten. The protestors, who were made up of mums, dads and their children took the kangaroo into their midst and led her across the main road. The media loved it. I was told that the kangaroo jumped across the TV screen over and over on every channel that evening.
The following day I returned as myself (without the kangaroo suit). On that barren hill top, where only a couple of days earlier tall, wide-girthed ancient tuart trees stood, politicians and other government officials gathered to look and talk. As I looked down the hill I witnessed several bulldozers pushing over trees and turning this pristine bushland into a wasteland. I was struck with paralysis, shocked by what unfolded before my eyes. I was thinking at the time, how could anyone contemplate such mass murder, unless they are totally insane? As I kept staring in disbelief, I heard a voice in my head saying: “Would you be standing here and watching if these trees were your children?” Of course not! In that moment my legs began moving, and I found myself running faster and faster, heading for a bull- dozer. As I approached the monster machine, I remembered my first experience. The lesson I had learned there was not to fight machines, for they are much stronger. So I turned and ran ahead of it towards the tree the driver was heading for. I put my arms around her trunk and closed my eyes. After my first encounter with the bulldozer, there was no assurance that he would stop. Actually he did not stop. He simply swerved and headed for the next tree. I let go of the tree and raced to protect the next, and the next, always only just getting there in time. The bulldozer driver must have been enjoying himself, like a cat playing with a mouse.
It did not take long for me to feel totally breathless and exhausted. I retreated and made my way up to a still uncleared part of the hill. Tired and distressed, I sat under a tuart tree, with my back leaning against the trunk. I wept and wept, overcome with grief. As I sat there feeling the rough bark pressing into my back, through the thin fabric of my blouse, I heard a voice saying; “Protect me!” I was startled. “Who is that?” Again I heard; “Protect me!” I then realised that this was the tree speaking to me. There was no time to think this through, to rationalise with my then logical western mind, the possible absurdity of a tree actually speaking to me. So I climbed into the first fork, wedged in there and not able to climb any higher. In the distance echoed the noise of the seven monsters. I was all- alone. No one knew that I was here, sitting in the fork of this insistent tuart tree, with an aching, sore crutch and a dry throat. I felt the power of this tree, the power of this place speaking through this tree. I knew then that I would be staying for a while.
After maybe half an hour or so, I was surprised by the sound of an engine, and through the shrubs I could see a police car approaching. One of the police officers asked me, “What are you doing up there?” To which I replied, “The tree asked me to protect her and that is what I am doing.” Both officers had a big grin on their face. Then one of them said, “Why don’t you go further in and protect one of the bigger ones?” to which I replied, “It’s this one that asked me.”
They drove on leaving me sitting in the tree. They must have thought I was loopy, up a tree so to speak! About ten minutes later, I could hear another engine noise coming closer and closer. All of a sudden from behind the thicket appeared a bulldozer. It was heading straight for the tree. The driver saw me. There was no mistake about that, for our eyes met. He did not swerve this time. Instead he came straight for us, stopped short and started digging a deep hole, right at the base of the tree, exposing the roots. Terror was rising from my gut, filling my whole body. I wanted to get out, to jump out, but could not do it. My arms were tightly wrapped around the tree trunk. It felt like we were clinging to each other. I found myself screaming with the kind of terror of someone who is going to be chopped up inside a shredder. The whole tree started shaking. The ground too shook with the tremors. Still he did not stop. He worked his way right around the base of the tree, creating a deep moat. It seemed he was out to completely uproot this tuart tree. I remember thinking, “For Earth’s sake! He’s going to kill us! And then, like the kangaroo, just drop me in a ditch and bury me there and then. And nobody, at least no human, will have been witness to this terrible act.”
Incessantly he kept digging and digging into the ground, driving the front scoop deeper and deeper. I remember shouting in vain, “Stop! Stop!” He probably could not hear me anyway from inside his cabin, not that he seemed to care. Suddenly he withdrew and vanishing as quickly as he had arrived. A few minutes later the police came by again. When I told them what had happened, they offered no help and just left again.
A deep silence fell over the whole place. The stench of death hung in the air from the smoke of burning tree bodies. Eventually some hours later I saw a black suit and a brief case coming my way, which I thought belonged to a land shark, until he introduced himself as Miguel. He was taking photos for the “Friends of Hepburn Heights” he explained. After I told him everything that had happened to me, he left to phone my beloved John, who had no idea that I had been sitting in a tree all day. He also phoned the media, as well as my friend and fellow activist Wade.
Wade arrived within an hour or so. His first question to me was, “How long do intend to stay in there?” to which I replied, “For years if need be!” “I’d better go home to bring back material to build you a platform.” With that he was gone and back in a very short time. Wade set to work, with great skill creating me a home up among the branches, while I sat on the ground, eating a bowl of homemade soup he brought for me. I realised that I had nothing to eat and to drink all day. I still remember how tasty the soup was, which I savoured very slowly.
Within about an hour he had a platform constructed. Now it was my turn to learn with the aid of a harness to climb into the tree. I was scared for I had never climbed high up into a tree in my life before. But with practice and Wade there to support me, I finally did it. I told him that I would not sleep in the tree during that night because it was very windy and I was afraid that the tree could be blown over. I decided to sleep on the ground instead. Wade was not able to stay any longer, so I started making a tent for the night from a couple of tarps he left for me. It was getting dark and I crawled into my little make shift tent. I was proud of myself for such a fine achievement. I was lying there for a long, long time looking at the full moon through a split in the tarp. I was feeling cold and wondered how I would survive the cold night. I started praying hard, not to a god, but to the earth, asking her to keep me warm. I finally fell asleep. Some hours later I awoke to humans calling. I did not know if these voices were from friendly humans or from bulldozer drivers, so I quietly crawled out of my tent and made my way through the low bushes to find out who might be calling this time of the night? Well, what a surprise! There was Miguel, his wife Teresa and others coming to visit to make sure I was all right. Most of all they came to bring me a sleeping bag. I wept with joy, and climbed into it after they left, and slept tight all night.
I woke up at dawn and was greeted by two laughing kookaburras, which were sitting already on a branch in the tree. I proceeded to climb into the tree straightaway, using the harness. The kookaburras made no attempts to take flight, and were still sitting on that branch after I moved in with them. We eyed each other with interest across the mere meter that separated us. I made myself comfortable on the wooden platform, which was only as large as a massage table. Wrapped in my sleeping bag and still attached to the harness, I sat still, watching my surroundings. Ears, eyes and nose highly tuned, waiting for something to happen.
And happen it did. I braced myself with the engine noise I could hear coming up the hill. “Please not again!” I held my breath, waiting in trepidation and fear of more danger. Instead I saw a caravan of cars and vans in the distance, winding their way up the dirt track. Suddenly I could make out that it was - the ABC, Channel 10, followed by Channel 7 and 9, and SBS, the West Australian etc., etc. I panicked. Never had I been interviewed before. I wanted to vanish into thin air, but there was nowhere to go. So I took a deep breath, composed myself and waited quietly, pretending to be an old hand at this. They say, “fake it, till you make it.”
One by one the journalists and camera crew stepped out of their vehicles. “We would like to interview you.” one of them called up to me. “With pleasure”, I replied, then taking another deep breath to calm my nerves. They stood at the base waiting for me to descend from my height, which I declined, explaining that I will not come down. I lowered a bucket attached to a rope, into which they each carefully placed their microphones. It felt strange sitting high up in a tree, readying myself for a media conference. Once I sorted the microphones the way I would sort flowers into a bunch, I called down to the eagerly waiting men and women in high heels and suits. “Fire on!”
First question; “How long do you intend to stay up there?” “Indefinitely if need be”, I replied. “You will have to come down eventually”, someone shouted up. “Why?” I said. “Well, everyone needs to go to the toilet sometime?” “That’s easy”, I replied gallantly, clasping the big bunch of microphones between my fingers. “Just send up a bucket and I will fill it for you”, to which they all heartily laughed. They wanted to know why I would sit in this tree? Just like to the police I explained to them that the tree asked me. I voiced my concern, that we treat nature with contempt, turning eco-systems and non-human beings into mere resources to be used as we please. Our wetlands and bushland are unique in the world, and most of them have been lost to development already and need to be protected from any further plundering. It is hard for me to understand, I told them that sixteen thousand signatures, pleading for the protection of this place where completely ignored by the government, which is a total disregard of the wishes of the local community. That is why I was here, to speak for this tree, in fact for all of Hepburn Heights and for the rights of future generations, human and non-human alike.
The media moved on for the day to hunt for the next newsworthy stories elsewhere. I enjoyed the constant stream of people from all walks of life, gathering here in solidarity with each other for the wellbeing of this place. I was brought everything from food to warm blankets. For a toilet I had a bucket. Wade brought a few tarps, which he attached to make walls on three sides and one for a roof. Having walls meant having a little more privacy when going to toilet or washing myself. I felt very challenged and a little uncomfortable when someone offered to empty my poo bucket and yet such very acts helped build a sense of family and community in the coming together for a shared purpose. I felt humbled by people’s generosity and caring for one another and this place. I especially appreciated their caring for my wellbeing.
By the afternoon my human friends had left to attend to their own lives, and I was left to attend to mine in my new household. I actually welcomed the silence and solitude, for I felt exhausted from the lengthy interviews, posing for the cameras and talking with so many people. After a hearty meal, which was lovingly made for me I lay down for a late afternoon snooze. It was just after sunset when I was woken up by the two laughing kookaburras, which were sitting right next to me again on the branch within an arms reach. I think they knew why I was sitting in their tree. I sat up, still tucked up in my sleeping bag, watching the moon make its way across the sky, while reflecting on the day’s events. It all felt like a dream from which I would eventually wake up for its not the kind of activity of an ordinary day.
The following day more media arrived and many more people came to visit before taking their children to school or going to work. Teresa was with me that morning when another bulldozer charged towards us. The tremor that went through the tree trunk had an intensity I can still remember with every bone in me to this very day. The tree trembled and shook again, and this time it was more intense than the first attack. I remember fumbling with my shoes, trying to put them on so that I could jump out of the tree, but the tree would not let me. The trembling became so intense that I clung to the edge of the platform. I felt terrified. I looked down and saw Teresa looking up at me, who was wedged in the forking of the tree lower down. The front loader was being driven deeper and deeper in the ground around the tree. After several attacks the metal monster disappeared down the hill, leaving us exhausted and trembling for a long time.
Towards lunchtime I found myself without human company once more, which allowed me to be more present to the non-human world. I was so shocked by the desecration of the land. The beautiful native orchids were all gone. The ground charred and barren. Penetrated. Raped. Dead baby- birds, squashed rare duck eggs and dead lizards lay strewn around. It looked like a battlefield. This was a battlefield. I was witness to the raping of the land all around the tree, leaving bare overturned soil. Sitting in the last tree, I wept and raged for a long time that afternoon.
Then the most amazing thing happened. Only a few meters away from my branch landed a pair of male and female scarlet robins. Western culture presumes that the male is active and the female is passive. What poppycock! To my delight and fascination the female wriggled herself eagerly underneath the male. She took a strong lead. It was a great honour to witness such an exquisitely beautiful mating ritual. I felt somewhat bewildered though, that these two lovers would plan for new life in this wasteland. What is the point, when there are no more trees to nest in? Looking at these very beautiful and lively beings so eager to produce new offspring, when only yesterday their trees were pushed over, made me marvel at life’s fecundity. It is in this place that I began to develop a sense of billions of years of tenacity.
Towards sunset many people arrived to set up tent to share their love for this bushland and commitment to save it from development. A fire was lit, which drew people together to share cups of tea and coffee from a billy-can. The sound of many voices and laughter filled the cold night air. I felt a little isolated sitting on my own in the tree, while everyone was mingling and talking with each other. I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of community, which grew so quickly around the campfire and revelled in the people power present here.
My most memorable experience of that evening was of a woman in her senior years, and despite walking difficulties managed to make her way up the hill. Standing at the base of the tree she called out to me and said, “I saw you on television tonight. Thank you for your courage. I could not visit until now, but I was with you in spirit all this time. I brought you some muffins, which I made especially for you.” She held them in her cupped hands and reached them up towards me. I was so touched by her sweetness and love, and the power of such an act of caring and connecting through a handful of muffins. I hoisted them up in the bucket and carefully lifted the little bundle of muffins held in a serviette in the palm of one hand. I slowly opened it, took one out and with closed eyes took a bite of what tasted like heavenly blueberries. The tears spilled down my face. I found myself choking on the muffins with emotions. I nodded down to her and thanked her for this precious gift. I came to learn through these simple acts of kindness that deep down people do care. Sometimes it looks like we humans don’t care, but what we are really doing is shutting down due to overload and fear of feeling our pain for the world and feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of it all. I arrived at this understanding in the years to follow through the teachings of Joanna Macy, an eco-philosopher, writer and activist.
The next morning people packed up their tents to head home, to work or to school. Teresa and Cate stayed with me. The media paid a short visit and left. Then the police arrived, followed by the terrifying droning of a bulldozer. One of the police officers walked towards us and called out, “Come down Vivienne.” To which I replied, “NO! This tree asked me to protect her and that is what I am doing.” He replied, “Look Vivienne, you have had good media coverage and you made your point. Please don’t make it hard for me, because I will have to come up and arrest you if you don’t come down voluntarily.”
After my final refusal, the police officer signalled the bulldozer driver, then jumped into the front loader and was lifted into the tree. I clung to my beloved tree as tight as I could, but he grabbed me by the arm, which he pressed hard, pulling me into the front loader, which immediately lowered us both to the ground. I was taken to the police van and held captive there, only to witness an intense struggle at the base of the tree. Teresa and Cate flung themselves into the tree. Teresa was taken out, but Cate straddling in the lower fork could not be pulled out that easily. Being a strong and heavy person the police had their hands full. Eventually she was pulled out, her legs still stuck in the fork of the tree, while the bulldozer started pushing the tree over. I was horrified that they would undertake such a dangerous operation. To push the tree over while Cate was still stuck in it was unbelievable. Have bulldozer drivers become unfeeling machines? I was so angry. I felt this assault on my human sister and my tree sister in my own body. It was unbearable. Cate was finally pulled out just seconds before the tree hit the ground. My murdered tree sister was then pushed across the ground and dumped onto a pile of other dead tree bodies. Both Teresa and Cate were charged and pushed into the van and I was released, because they said that they did not want to make a martyr out of me. As the police van disappeared in the distance I sat on the ground weeping, feeling grief struck beyond words. My kookaburra friends flew over and sat on a branch on their tree. They did not make a sound, they just sat there in silence for a long time. I was sure that they were mourning with all of us.
People gathered again and made a signboard saying, “The Tree of Hope still stands”, which children placed next to the crater, where once this strong tree anchored its roots deep into the ground. Many of my friends arrived to support me. For me this was a time of double grief, for I was brought news of my father’s death. I felt that I needed a memoriam for this place and all the beings who suffered and died here because of human greed. My friends gathered with me in a spot over the hill and further in. The rape and pillage was even worse than I could see from the tree during the past 3 days. Huge murdered 500+ year old tuart trees where lying on their side. Their bodies hollowed out from burning for days, the intensity of the heat drying the skin on my face. My close friend Skye brought me an old African cloth doll as a gift. I pressed the doll against my belly, and then without thinking I threw her into the gaping red glowing insides of this tree body. It felt like an offering to the earth, and to the beings, which were about to return to her womb. The air carried the sound of our wailing across this wailing land. It was also a time of saying good-bye to my dad.
The day after a large number of people gathered for a vigil. Many trees were planted that day. My grief was just too great to remember too much of that event. At times I regretted not staying and fighting on, but I had no energy left.
Only months after the struggle was over and I was able to reflect on the string of events during those fateful days, that I understood that the attempts to shake me out of the tree was to prevent any media attention on this issue. Hepburn Heights I learned was a political issue in a marginal seat, just before an election. Hepburn Heights was promised to become Homes West housing for the elderly. We were conned once more by the fat cats and their friends, because Hepburn Heights became an expensive walled estate instead.
Although the politicians and developers murdered a large part of this place and covered it with concrete, they were not able to murder the spirit of the people, for “The Tree of Hope still Stands” in our hearts. And the Spirit of this place can never die, for one day, when the buildings crumble with age our great-grandchildren will read our stories and will offer this place to the seeds, which slumbered for so many years under this concrete blanket.
Sitting here in this circle of Balga elders, I rejoice having been a part of the struggle to preserve Hepburn Heights alongside so many passionate and caring people, who love this place as fiercely as I do. This tree-sister will always have a place in my heart, her spirit giving me strength and hope for a tomorrow. I have learned that trees can and will teach us about things like patience, persistence, courage, and compassion for the healing of this ailing and confused world.
May this place be protected from harm and continue to be cared for with love, for all the children – the four-legged, the six legged, the eight-legged, the legless, those that crawl, and the winged and the two-legged also. May we all understand that we are one family and that country is our mother. Without country we have no existence. May the very ground we walk on, help us to Re-member!
A PARTY BRANCH
About six months after my tree sit at Hepburn Heights, I received a phone call from the West Australian Greens, asking me if I would like to stand as a candidate in the Lower House for the seat of Marmion. I felt overwhelmed and shocked with such a request, a bit like being asked to become the next Prime Minister. Although I knew that I would never win this seat, the thought of standing was outside my comfort zone. I responded by asking the Greens to phone me the next day to ask me again, hoping that they would forget or change their minds. No way would they forget, for I received a phone call the next morning at 7am. I still had not made up my mind, so I simply said, “Yes”. Being a member of the Greens and strongly believing in their stand for a just and sustainable world I wanted to help in this election. And with that a new adventure began.
The following day I was walking down Fosten Drive in Duncraig, to visit Alan Lloyd, who was the president of Friends of Hepburn Heights. Alan who was a local resident informed me that a 200 –year- old Tuart tree was to be replaced with housing for the elderly. He thought that since I was standing as a Greens candidate for Marmion I should do something to stop the development and save the tree. I told him that I could do nothing until after the election, which was only five days away. He insisted that if I did not do something by Thursday, which was closing day for submissions, all would be lost. As I was listening to his pleas I proceeded to walk down the street towards the tree.
As I got closer and closer the tree grew bigger and bigger and by the time I stood next to the trunk I realised how big and majestic this tree actually was. I looked up marvelling at the generous outreaching of branches. Then it hit me like lightening. Yes! That’s it! I could have my very own party branch up here. A political platform with my own little office, which would be open every day, just like that of a candidate. I called out to Alan, who had followed me, “Yes Alan, I will take it on.”
I called my trusted friend Wade to my aid. He arrived with a bow and arrow, a fishing line, climbing equipment and lots of building material. I stood there mesmerised watching Wade shoot arrows up the tree. Finally after about twenty minutes of failed attempts the arrow made its way across the air and over a strong branch, pulling the fishing line with it. Wade then tide thick rope onto the fishing line, which was pulled over the branch. With a very strong rope tightly fastened to the branch, he could now climb into the tree, and begin the process of hoisting up the timber for the platform.
Then came the time to move into my new office. The journey up was a challenging one, because I had to literally walk through the air with the climbing gear, like climbing a ladder. This tree was much bigger and taller than the one at Hepburn Heights, and the platform was placed a lot higher up amongst the branches. I had to promise Wade to stay attached on my harness day and night, just in case I rolled off the platform in my sleep, which was again only the seize of a massage table. What surprised me most was how cold the air was 15 meters above the ground, while on the ground the temperature measured about 40 degrees. I had to use my minus 8- degree sleeping bag for the night and put on my tracksuit, a woollen beanie and gloves to keep me warm.
The first day I spend my time writing press releases. I was especially concerned that Wanneroo Shire Council was determined to cut down this tree, when only six months earlier they praised my action at Hepburn Heights. In a letter to them I suggested that they could build the houses in a semi-circle around the tree.
On the second day the media found its way to the foot of my tree. A journalist was calling up to me, almost yelling to be heard, while a helicopter hovered around the tree with someone inside trying to film us. I could not hear him very well and had to repeat myself many times. Sitting in this tree did not have the intensity of the Hepburn Heights experience. It had a different more subtle quality. I spend my days watching the neighbourhood and all its doing. In the mornings the roads were busy with parents taking their children off to the local school and in the afternoon the reverse would play itself out.
While all the humans were busy the birds were going about their business also. I realised how important this tree was to the birds and the insects. The loss of this tree would mean more habitat loss. Most of the local residence seemed to have little or no awareness of the wider, ecological community and its needs. I think that politicians should practice tree sitting for a week or two at least once a year to get in touch with their local community and spend time listening to the ecology. This would empower them to make decisions on behalf of that community, rather than for their own political interest.
Three days later it was time to descend from my lookout, leaving behind the most interesting birds eye view. Most of my friends heard about my tree-sit and wanted to help hand out how to vote cards. That Saturday was a very wet day. I spend my time darting from one venue to the next. My enthusiastic team covered all twelve polling booths scattered throughout the Marmion electorate.
Some people felt that I was nuts to sit in a tree for they believed that no one would take me seriously and I may loose votes. History showed that it was the right thing to do, because I actually won more votes for the Greens than any previous Green candidate standing in Marmion. I was told of a woman who wanted to vote for “that woman who sat in the tree”, and to do so she had to find out my name and what party I stood for.
During the following week I spend my time door knocking, asking people to sign a petition and write letters to the Wanneroo Shire Council asking them to not cut down this tree. It proved to be a massive task encouraging people to produce the amount of signed letters needed to make a difference. The Council did come to the party and built the houses in a semi-circle, just like I suggested. The tree looks so majestic in its place in the centre of the courtyard.
Trees are sacred in most parts of the world. Some indigenous cultures believe that spirits live in mature trees. There certainly lives a powerful spirit in this tree at the corner of Doveridge and Fosten Drive, who made sure that its tree was left to live. To have such mature trees in our midst is a great blessing in our daily lives.
SITTING UNDER THE BODHI TREE
One day the news of a month long blockade deep in Western Australians old-growth forest was announced far and wide. I heard about it a couple of weeks before my birthday. During the past two decades many people had worked hard on a series of campaigns to stop the clear felling in our forests, but to no avail. Every elected government was deaf and the wider community had no idea at the time of the rape and pillage in these unique and rapidly dwindling eco-systems. We were going to change that and I was going to be a part of it.
So I decided to have a big birthday party, which was also going to be a send off for me, a kind of “going to the forest party”, to which I invited all my friends. And what a party it was. Everyone brought me a special gift to keep me warm, such as a raincoat, woollen underwear, thick socks, boots, a scarf, a beanie, and a pair of mittens. To the sound of drums and didgeridoos I was blessed for my journey ahead.
A week later I arrived at the blockade campsite with my beloved, who stayed for the first week. Many of my friends were there also. Hundreds of people were moving about, setting up tents, cooking, washing, playing with children or just sitting around and talking. There was a real sense of community and camaraderie in the air. Yes, this was certainly the place to be.
When our children were in their teens, we decided to rent a house with a swimming pool, so we could cool off during the hot summer days. We all agreed to share the cleaning of the pool. When autumn arrived and the weather became windy and cold the pool was neglected. So a slightly green swimming pool would gradually turn darker and darker in colour and richer in nutrient by the day from lots of leaf litter. And still no one bothered.
Then one fine, sunny spring afternoon, when the air was filled with the sweet scent of orange blossoms I looked out of the window, when suddenly my attention was drawn to something in the pool. There in this green brew I noticed a long trail of little wrigglers moving alongside its edge. On closer investigation they proved to be tadpoles frolicking in this primordial soup. Not hundreds, but thousands of them. At first I was shocked, which soon turned into excitement and delight, until 3 days later when we received the three monthly inspection notice from the real estate agent. My goodness! What were we to do?
Out came the net and the bucket. Hour after hour, day after day I scooped out the little critters. Six hundred and forty seven… I was giving them away to whoever wanted them. Buckets full we carried to the local lake and a lot were warmly received by friends, such as Carol, who created a beautiful home for them in bathtubs filled with waterlilies. This fishing expedition seemed never-ending. One thousand and seventy one…. My back was aching. I felt that I could not go on any longer. Two thousand and twenty eight…. I felt like crying from exhaustion bending over the pool day after day, meticulously fishing for each individual passing by. I began to feel a sense of panic, as there were only two weeks left before the house inspection. Two thousand and ninety one… three thousand. On the day of inspection the pool sparkled, and over three thousand taddies found new homes, a process that would repeat itself every spring for several years.
Every winter, especially during the night, we would hear coming from the garden a call which sounded like,..whoop,….whoop,….whoop, which we thought was an owl. Many times we went outside in into the dark, cold and rainy night with our torches to find this owl somewhere up in a tree, but every time to no avail. Years later this mystery owl eventually revealed itself. We discovered that the hooting did not come from a tree, but from holes in the ground, which were occupied by moaning frogs. We were pleased to know that not only did we have a summer breading frog, but also a winter one as well.
When we moved to Gaia House in East Victoria Park, I was keen to build a community in my street. I went from house to house and introduced myself in the neighbourhood. What we all had in common were untidy verges, so I proposed that we beautify them together. People liked the idea, but were too busy to join in with me. So I spend my weekends weeding and revegetation the neighbours verges on my own with native plants, gradually transforming the streetscape. I felt somewhat disillusioned with community building, as it seemed too hard. Consumerism and individualism dominates our western culture so much. We don’t know how to be in community any more. Although most people love a particular place somewhere out there in the wilderness, many do not have a sense of place where they live. Certainly the street verges, which are shared by all of us, are not seen as “the commons” any longer. Privatisation seems to be the current trend. Walling in what is yours and the rest “belongs” to the Shire Council or some other government department. This made me feel sad.
So instead of trying very hard to build a sense of community with my fellow humans, I proceeded in creating habitat for wild life and building frog ponds in my own garden, a most nourishing activity. It all began with a visitor, actually a total stranger, named Peter, who happened to discover a drawing of a frog pond pinned to my message board in the kitchen. When I explained what it was, and that maybe one -day I would get around to building it, he asked me for a spade. He started digging straightaway, with me as his assistant. We used a tractor tyre, which was lined with strong plastic. After it was built, we dropped a few coins into the one- meter deep water for a blessing and named it “Peter’s Well”. It just so happened that Carol had to move house, and decided to give us all her tadpoles, which were the great-grandchildren of the frogs from our swimming pool days. I used to sit next to the pond every morning watching them dart around looking for food. I enjoyed sprinkling spirulina powder (an edible alga) on the surface of the pond. It did not take long before hundreds of little mouth, like vacuum cleaners surfacing from below to greedily suck up their breakfast. They seemed to grow by the hour. Within a few weeks they grew into beautiful, little froglets, with green and golden stripes, known as Golden Bell Frogs or Motorbike Frogs.
Once our little friends reached maturity, the males started calling for the first time, which was such a thrill for John and myself. They actually sound like motorbikes changing gears. Then on the night of the spring equinox, which was also a full moon, it began to rain. Slowly one by one the males started calling and soon a whole chorus exploded in that small, round pond, the sound being carried through the cold and wet night air. Eagerly frogs were piling on top of each other in two’s and three’s. The mating croaks were accelerating, becoming faster and faster. John and me were dancing in the rain and celebrating such fecundity, by joining in with their chorus. Now and then we would hear low rhythmic grunts coming from this amphibian orgy. Such raw lust was very infectious, so we eventually retreated into the dry, warm house, an environment more suited for our own species for expressing fertility rituals.
As the frog population increased, more and more ponds were needed until finally we had ten of various seizes scattered throughout the garden. In one of my dreams the frogs let me know that they needed more wet places, so I phoned some of my friends and passed on the frog’s message. Within a couple of hours I had enough money raised to buy the material to construct a larger pond surrounded by three sides with a wetland. Today it is the most popular spot for the majority of the frogs to hang out on a hot summer’s day.
As the colony grew, they spread throughout the neighbourhood, totally disregarding fences and making themselves at home in places like on top of the neighbour’s hot water system. Reports of frogs in people’s gardens came in from all direction. Neighbours talked to each other. I quickly came to understand that it was not me who was building community, but the frogs, indeed a very humbling realisation.
During the weeks and months to come I fell more and more in love with these beautiful beings. All I wanted to do was to be in service to them. And that is what I did. In the front of the house we created a native garden with lots of leaf litter and ground cover, to give them protection as well as a source of food.
Then the frogs began to appear in my dreams more frequently. Frogs are a symbol of transformation in several cultures, probably due the fact that they metamorphose from tadpole into frog. The messages of some of the dreams were quite clear to me. I was called to embark on my own transformation towards an integrated sense of self, menopause was central to this journey.
During the months to come many people in our street also fell in love with those froggy friends, and soon built ponds in their gardens. But not everyone loved our frogs. One day as I was tending to our front verge, planting more native shrubs, a local resident I will call Bill came across the road to have a chat with me. I learned that his son built a beautiful native garden with a large pond. I offered him tadpoles, but instead he said, “I hate frogs!” I was taken back by such a severe reaction and wondered if this was connected to a childhood trauma, such as someone putting a frog in his bed when he was four. I did not dare mention the word frog again…
…Until about a year later, when he hurried across the road to tell me about a documentary he saw on TV about the disappearance of many frog species all over the world. He concluded by saying, “ I am very concerned about our frogs”. Did I hear right? Did he say, “our frogs”? I got so excited. After we spoke for quite a long time about the plight of the frogs and the state of our environment, I cautiously repeated my offer from the year before, to which he replied. “Well…. They will find their way into my garden eventually”.
I happened to see him leave his driveway that afternoon, taking his dog for a walk. Being the dedicated ambassador for the frogs that I had become, I wasted no time. I fetched the biggest jar from the shed, dipped it into one of the ponds and hauled out hundreds of little wrigglers. I dashed across the road, stole my way into his garden and carefully lowered the jar into the thickets of reeds of his pond. Yes! It is amazing what can be achieved with a little helping hand. He did say, that they would eventually find their way into the garden. And that they did.
A couple of months later I went across to borrow a hammer. His wife opened the door and instead of responding to my request she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me across to the pond, pointing at the little fat tadpoles, and exclaimed excitedly, “Isn’t it a miracle?” To which I replied, “Yes, what a miracle!” Indeed it was a miracle that the frog hater became the frog lover. He proudly introduced his frogs to every visitor. Once Bill and myself even posed for a photo together in front of his frog filled pond for a newspaper article on frogs.
Some time later a friend told me about a privately owned wetland not far from Albany Highway, which was destined to become another housing development. So I packed my net, buckets and Wellington’s into the car, in anticipation of an adventure usually only four- year olds and crazy scientists get to enjoy. The wetland was small but filled with several species of frogs. The chorus was deafening. I was glad to know of its existence, even though my acquaintance with it would be short lived. The bulldozers doing preliminary work had left deep tyre marks in the clay soil, which had filled with rain during the past weeks. The frogs were quick to deposit tens of thousands of eggs in these temporary breading places. At that time I could not tell which tadpole belonged to which frog species, so I just took home whatever found its way into my net, which included dragonfly larvae and many other, then unknown to me wetland creatures. I spend many hours wading through the shallow waters, totally immersed in this amazing place, which was teaming with such an abundance of life. Bucket loads of this rich, thick chocolate coloured soup were poured into our ponds, vastly increasing the number of different species within their ecosystems.
By studying books on frogs, I learned that each species has different requirements. The sand plain froglet for instance lays its eggs on the bottom of shallow waters, as it is not strong enough to dive into the depths. Banjo frogs on the other hand need a lot of overhanging reeds for successful breeding. Having created these new habitats, there was not much more I could than wait patiently and observe what would unfold in this jungle garden of ours.
One morning I happen to sit at the large pond when suddenly one of the frogs snapped up a smaller frog. It gulped several times, the struggling legs still sticking out from its mouth. I heard the victim’s desperate screech, but was helpless to rush to its aid, because it happened all in such a flash. This is life! Eating, and being eaten. Every living creature enters its life through the process of birth and eventually meets its death, which in turn makes space for new life. Just as this young frog met its end, the dragonfly larvae I brought back from that swamp started to metamorphose into beautiful adults. Several hovered over the pond every day and to my excitement one of them deposited its eggs into the water. The interconnectedness of all life is so profound. The dragonfly larva lives off tadpoles and the frogs live off dragonflies.
A couple of seasons passed, when one January day the sky gathered clouds, which built into a massive thunderstorm. The heavens split open, thunder crashed and a torrent of rain came gushing down. Then during the night I woke up by this noise. Bonk, bonk, bonk… I heard myself muttering, “What’s that?” To which my already awake beloved, replied, “Banjo frogs”. “Wow! Our family is growing”, I shouted with excitement. A few days later I discovered a large mount of froth on the water surface under a clump of overhanging reeds, which looked like whipped egg white. It proved to be banjo spawn, gifting our ponds with again thousands of tadpoles. Our place was becoming a wetland and sounding like one too. Our frog population numbered in the hundreds, which was spread over the whole neighbourhood, with an estimate of up to 20,000 tadpoles laid in our ponds every year alone.
Our neighbour Pat could not stand it any longer. One morning she charged across her front yard and confronted me at my gate. “ I have not slept in days” she snorted at me like a steam engine. I did not know what to say. Eventually I said, “I am so sorry that you are having sleepless nights”. I listened to her anger and frustration. And then she said, “Well, what are you going to do about this?” After a long pause I said, “ A hundred years ago we would have slept peacefully with frog calls and would have been distressed with engine noises. Today we sleep soundly with cars screeching past our bedroom windows and get distressed with nature sounds. What have we come to!” I left her with these words.
The next day her sons told me that their dad was fixing the cracked concrete pond and wondered if I could give them a few water plants, which I gladly did. To my surprise they came running back two days later, calling out, “We have tadpoles, we have tadpoles!” I was a bit suspicious of such a miraculous birth. This pond was dry and empty only the day before. The only possible explanation was that tadpoles were trapped amongst the roots of the plants I gave them. So I checked my own pond and found that it was filled with tadpoles. We had no more complaints from our neighbour since that confrontation about noisy frogs. Then one sunny morning while gardening, John heard Pat, like a proud parent call across the road to Bill, “Have your tadpoles got legs yet?”
As I sit here in the shade next to one of the ponds, I acknowledge with immense gratitude the healing these frogs have brought into my life. They have taught me so much about the interconnectedness of all things. They truly are medicine for a culture that has become alienated from the natural world. The frogs are bringing us back to our senses if we only let them show us how. I believe that frogs have the power to help us in our transformation from a consumerist society driven by greed, towards a life sustaining society, which acknowledges our interdependence with each other. It is in our own backyards as well as in our own psyches that we must tend to pond building for our collective healing. Sitting on one’s verandah and engaging with frogs in a conversation in their language helps us enter into frog dreaming, something that cannot be learned from books.
For many indigenous peoples frogs occupy a special place in the order of things. The indigenous Nyugar people of the area of Pinjarra and Australind were known as the Pinjareb – the people of the wetlands (Pinjar = wetland). These people lived sustainably within this region, which was rich in food sources. The first European massacre of indigenous people in Western Australia was against the Pinjareb custodians of these wetlands. This massacre did not stop with the people, it has continued with the killing of the land down to the present day.
At the time of contact the coastal region from Yanchep to Busselton was dotted by coastal lakes within wetlands, and separated from each other by lines of sand dunes. Distinctive vegetation covered this region. Paperbark trees covered the wetlands, banksia heathlands covered the shallow soils of the foredunes and mixed tuart/jarrah forests covered the thicker soils of the hind dunes. This environment has become the most damaged ecosystem in Western Australia and is amongst the most damaged on the Australian continent. More than eighty percent of this natural vegetation has been lost to development. Around Perth wetlands and swamps have been filled in for housing and industrial development. An Indian Proverb says that, “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives”. That is precisely what we have done through excessive use of groundwater, the water tables have dropped, which is killing the tuart trees and eliminates the wetland habitat of many seasonally breeding species of frogs. Fifty years ago suburban wetlands were filled with the dawn and evening chorus of many species of frogs. Today these places are largely silent.
A frog’s diet consists of a variety of different kinds of insects and in turn larger predators eat them. Scientist refer to them as keystone species, which means that if they disappear in our gardens and wetlands, many ecosystems will suffer and may even collapse. Frogs, just like the canaries, which used to be kept in the mineshaft to warn the miners of toxic gasses, the frogs too are indicators of the state of health in our ecosystems. If they are ill or are dying due to pollution, so will we.
Nyungar Cultural Studies A1671
Lecturer: Marie Taylor
Nyungar Yorger from Pinjarra,
Who lives on in all of us.
Marie welcomed us in Nyungar to the course. It sounded very welcoming and generous, even though I did not understand a word.
I come to this course quite ignorant of the Nyungar culture and language. That is why I am here and am keen to learn. I always felt shy talking to aboriginal people because I did not know what to say. There was also the enormous guilt and shame I carried in regard to the way aboriginal people here in Australia have been and still are being mistreated by Wadjalas. I feel so sorry for the suffering of the aboriginal peoples. It is so disgusting to think that we have a Prime Minister who cannot say SORRY on behalf of the nation and admit to the wrongdoings of past and present. I appreciated Marie asking us not to do the guilt trip.
This course gives me the opportunity to learn about this ancient culture and its language. I also hope to come home to this country in a deeper and more meaningful way. Being born on another continent and living in many parts of the world as I was growing up, has made me feel at home everywhere in a strange kind of way. Having lived in WA for the last 20 years has allowed me to get to know the south-west of WA a fair bit. This course I hope will help me to get to know this land from the perspective of the Nyungar people, if that is possible. Although I experience a deep belonging to earth, I still have not quite come home to this land and I think that the Nyungar Cultural Studies will help me to do so.
Yesterday I bought the book “Walwalinj – The Hill that Cries” and read it straightaway. I was absolutely stunned, because when I first went up that hill many years ago I remember standing there and looking down onto the plain and found myself crying, but I did not know why. I had no idea back then that it was called the hill that cries. Now I know that deep in my bones I knew something - I responded to the hill and the land around it. I believe that everything is alive and has spirit (or soul). Walwalinj is alive. I would like to go back someday.
Today on the bus home I became aware of a duality of landscapes. The western thoughtform of technology and progress superimposed on this ancient land. As the bus was moving through the streets I could sense another landscape underneath the roads and houses. It made the current landscape look superficial and intrusive. The shape of the houses, the green lawns, fences and the straight roads just do not flow with the land. These structures seem rigid, imposing and totally unsustainable - a typical reflection of the modern technological, scientific, economic western mind. Even many hundred years ago western buildings had a spiritual quality to them, largely lacking today. If ever this civilisation collapsed (and it will) would the many millions of seeds of the tuart, banksia, jarrah and marri lying under all this city concrete still germinate?
I am struggling with the pronunciations of Nyungar words and find it hard to even read them. Michael assured me that it is very hard to learn a new language, having studied several himself.
I am so amazed at the complexity of the Nyungar family structures. It would take me forever to learn the minute detail such as the 2nd eldest child being called a “mardidjit” or the youngest baby son referred to as “martwit”. I can see now how interesting it would be for linguists and anthropologist to study languages and cultures.
Although I have been aware that many of our country towns and places are Nyungar place names, I only knew the meaning of a few of these names.
I just loved doing the assignment on place names, totally getting lost in the different wordlists, looking for words which sound similar to place names and making connections. It seems that the Nyungar language strongly expresses the interconnectedness of things. I found it interesting that the word pinjar = swamp, pinjah = tadpole, and pinjaring = bullfrog. The Pinjareb are “the people of the swamp”. This is an example of the interconnectedness and family of words within the language, which to me clearly expresses the interconnectedness of the daily life of the Nyoongar people, which was not separate from the environment. I strongly belief that language says something about the people who speak it.
It is interesting that in the English language the word “you” is written in lower case whereas “I” is written in capital. For me that says something about the importance of individualism and that I come first, then everyone else. It seems that in Nyoongar the “we – ness” is so much more important than the “I”.
I found today’s lecture and tutorial very heavy going. My heart just sinks whenever I hear about the terrible treatment of aboriginal people. The 1905 Act was supposed to protect aboriginal people, but somehow I still don’t understand how. All that I can see is a systematic way of destroying a culture, assimilation and integration as a way to achieve that.
Seeing the film “Rabbitproof Fence” was such a heart-wrenching account of the stolen children who where sent to Moore River. I am kind of feeling stuck with all these heavy emotions. I think I need to vent my anger and express my deep sadness which are sitting right here in my gut. It is unthinkable that the custodians of this land were and are still treated like second class citizens. Australia might be a different place today, if the Wadjalas had treated the Aboriginal peoples with respect and even learned from them how to live with the land, rather than rape and plunder it. We would have no salinity and erosion problems of the magnitude we experience today. We would all speak Nyungar and English. The Nyungar would be proud and healthy peoples. The Wadjala spirituality would possibly lean more towards an earth -centred spirituality rather than a Christian religion. Who knows?
There is so much talk about needing to be tolerant towards aboriginal people. I cannot make friends with the word tolerance, because it means to “endure”, and I also understand it to mean to put up with someone or something. Rather than just tolerate each other, we could all benefit from ACCEPTING each other for our differences and CELEBRATING diversity. That is what enriches us.
Len Collard’s session was great and I found his teaching style alive and interesting, though a bit confronting. One just could not hide behind the desk. He wanted everyone participating in speaking Nyungar and expected students to make themselves vulnerable and at least try. I was quite pleased that by now I knew a few words, one of them being Nyungar, which I thought meant “man”. When Len asked us what the word Nyungar meant I enthusiastically put my hand up and called out “man”. Wrong! I was told, it meant person, people. I was furious because several worldlists say it’s “man”. “Man” he said means maan or maarm. Over the last 6 weeks I did not know what was what really. One reference says one thing and another says something else. Len suggested to be more relaxed, see it as a challenge, and to have more of a curious approach. That was a great suggestion, for it helped me to be less serious and more light-hearted about learning the language.
I think the tricky thing is that the Nyungar language is an oral language, not a written one, and because there are very few fluent speakers around, its harder to get to learn it. Even the spelling of a word would be different from one writer to the next. Phoning many different places to see if I can buy tapes was totally fruitless. We live in Nyungar country, but one cannot buy tapes, but there is a limitless supply of language tapes in French, Italian or Spanish. I hope this will change.
One of the activities that Len gave us to do was making sentences, which I enjoyed a lot, such as “I am a grandmother soon” – nyung moyiran boortja. Because it’s the daughter of my koort, who was expecting a baby I was looking for the word step-daughter in the wordlists and found none. Len told us that there was no such word because all the children whether biological or not are your children. I like that!! So I made the sentence, “nyung nap boodjari” meaning, my daughter is pregnant.
I found the topic of “winje noonook nyin” very difficult. I simply answered ngany boodjar Victoria Park. This topic is difficult for me because being born in a city in a hospital and not growing up in that place makes me feel a stranger to it. I have more sense of place in other parts of the world. My mother did not even live in that city when she carried me. I feel sad that I grew up without an extended family, without my dem and moyiran. I can never know the pain the Stolen Generation experienced. I do know though what it feels like not to have extended family for I lost them all during the war before I was born.
Wow!! The bushcraft session was absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed and appreciated Fred Collard’s knowledge of the ways and customs of his people. Also so enjoyed sitting in a circle on the ground with women and making my wanna. At first it was hard getting the bark off the stick, but quickly I found a way of stripping it off. The whole activity felt so earthing, so grounding. I jokingly said to the women that having a wanna now, has made me complete as a woman. There seems some truth in that somehow. I enjoyed prancing around with it after Marie tied the feathers to it.
I found the story of the crow and magpie, which Fred told us very interesting. It explains why the crows and magpies around my place are not getting along at all. I loved it so much to wake up to the mob of kulbardi singing for me. Now they do not sing anymore in my garden because the crows chased them away. I miss the magpies and wished they would return.
Woke up this morning from a dream in which Len Collard spoke in Nyungar to me. He told me a poem in Nyungar. They were actual Nyungar words he used. The deal was that if I could remember what he said when I woke up I could have the poem for my story for assignment 2. But guess what, I can’t remember a word he said.
This dream had such a very strong and powerful feel to it, so much so, that I had the overwhelming need to hop on the bus to get back to Kulbardi to pick up every bit of wood shaving from my wanna. I wondered wether it was still lying on the lawn where I sat yesterday. It seemed a bit crazy in one sense, rushing off to university at 7 o’clock in the morning, when I could potter in my garden talking to my kweyaar. It felt very appropriate to be crawling around on the lawn covered in dew, collecting every strand of bark. I just had to have them and bring them home for a special purpose to be used in the making of my journal.
This journal is not the journal I set out to write. Yesterday’s lessons with Fred, as well as my dream have set me on a new course of making this journal creative and artistic, enriching the written word.
I realised this morning that I had never really settled into this course until yesterday. Sitting on the ground and making my wanna was a good thing. It grounded the course for me. This was also the first time that we did work at Kulbardi, which is much more conducive to studying Nyungar culture than in a stuffy classroom. It also presented a great opportunity for us students to get to know each other better. I feel very grateful to Marie for having had the vision and the energy to create such a wonderful course in Nyungar Cultural Studies.
Fred Collard has such an easy teaching style. I enjoyed him showing us how to build a mia mia, weaving together the materials to keep the rain out. It’s so simple and practical. What struck me was that the conical shape is so similar to the Native American tradition of building a tipi, except that a tipi has a central fire inside the structure and is covered with buffalo hide.
Next time there is a major storm, I want to bring home some blown down tree branches and make a strong mia mia in the garden here. I could use it as a place to rest and contemplate during hot summer days.
My Nyungar vocabulary is slightly increasing. I find myself saying to people: “Kaya, Yaarn noonook?” When I first started the course I was so keen to learn it quickly, but now I know that learning Nyungar language is a long-term project.
One of the many things which I love about this course is the practical hands -–on component. The bushwalk was superb, trailing after Fred and Marie to eagerly take in all the interesting and useful knowledge about plants and animals for their use for food, shelter and medicine.
I have seen Bayn (pig face) along the coastal dunes. It reminds me of aloe vera in its fleshiness and use in soothing and healing sunburn. Gosh ! I have learned so much today. I learned that one could make rope for horses and boomerang from silver wattle to boiling flooded gum leaves to inhale for clearing up colds. I was aware that paperbark grows near water, but had no idea that by putting a hole into the trunk water will drip out. I would have never guessed that the black manna gum or black wattle is good for curing constipation or indigestion. I would like to have used the resin to paste together this journal, but its not the right time of the year Fred informs us.
Walking through the bush was so special. That’s what my granny would have done if she had been alive. Just like Fred and Marie she would have taken me through the forests and meadows in Germany, showing me the different plants, fungi, mushrooms, berries and herbs for human use. She knew them all. She would have taught me when to pick them, what part to pick and how to prepare them for food and medicine. It makes me sad to know that this knowledge is lost to me. It must have been devastating for Nyungar kids, who would have wanted to learn from their elders, but were forbidden and punished if they did. So much knowledge lost, so many elders not here anymore to teach song, story and dance. It is a terrible loss to the Nyungar people and a terrible loss the whole world. It is predicted that within the next 50 years 90% of all languages in the world will be lost. We are living in a very tattered world full of remnants. Remnants of cultures, remnants of languages, remnants of biodiversity, remnants……remnants…….remnants!!!!!!! When we loose a language we loose history and ancient knowledge of land. We loose culture , and we loose forever a part of human diversity.
I used to walk through the bush years ago in total ignorance, thinking how lovely the flowers were, until I did the “Bush Regeneration Course” with APACE in Freo. I learned to see and evaluate what percentages are still in good condition and what percentage is degraded and infested with introduced weeds. The flowers, which I used to think were lovely, I learned were the horrible watsonia and other plant pests. There are still a lot of healthy trees and plants in the Murdoch bushland, such as the beautiful paperbark, the black manna gum, egg and bacon, red gum, balga, string bush, silver wattle, pig face and flooded gum. It would be great to do a project to seed more of the native bush and weed out the pests. I would love to learn more about bush tucker and the uses of material for string and things like that and just hanging out with elders like Fred. He makes a great elder - lots of wisdom, knowledge and a quite manner.
The message for my message stick has become very clear to me over the last few weeks. In my mind’s eye I can see Wadjalas and Nyungars coming together in a circle around the fire -place for reconciliation, living in peace together in this land. I want to express that in the form of white and black footprints walking towards the centre - the fireplace. I want to also add the symbol for peace and the heart for love and the stars for the ancestors of this land watching over all of us.
During study break.
Its been an amazing week since the bushwalk. I just had to go back to that bushland and collect paperbark lying on the ground and gumnuts and leaves and flowers for pressing, which I will use in the making and decorating of the journal. It was great taking Bill along with me to take photos of this beautiful place. I tried to remember which way Fred took us and which plants he pointed to, so Bill could take a photo of each. I think we got most of them. He is such a great photographer and I appreciate his kindness.
I was somewhat concerned to see that someone is taking huge zamia palms out of the bushland. Shouldn’t they stay in the ground, so that Nyungar as well as science students can benefit? These palms must be several hundred years old and would cost $500- 800 each, if one was to buy them in a nursery.
Then on Wednesday went to the hills to spend a few hours with Mary, teaching me how to make hand made paper for the journal. What fun that was, selecting the flowers and petals to sprinkle into the pulp, stirring the brew and then dipping the frame into it, to haul a thick layer of the sloppy pulp onto the frame.
It was special to use the shavings from my wanna for rolling onto a couple of sheets of paper. It was great taking the wanna with me to Murdoch bushland, while searching for plants Fred taught us about. The photos will look great on this special paper.
Since a couple of weeks I observed one single black wardong (crow) in and around our garden. I immediately remembered what Sandy told us about a crow on its own bringing bad news, especially when it looks at you with intensity. I felt a little disturbed at first and then decided to push the fears away. I told myself that nothing bad would happen to me. I am not Nyungar I told myself, so therefore it does not apply. Doesn’t it? Well here is food for thought. It’s been a week now, when a rottweiler dog savagely attacked Spotty. That’s when I realise that the crow messenger had indeed something to convey. It was such a terrible experience to witness our little dog being almost shredded to death. Next time I see a crow by itself hanging around for days, what should I do? Be careful? Talk to the crow?
At the moment all the frogs are out sunning and mating in every pond. My life seems to be infused by the presence of frogs. So when Marie spoke about her grandfathers totem being the frog I had such a lovely feeling. I just love frogs so much. I have known for a while that kweyaar, the frog is my totem. I found it quite powerful to dream about frogs and then find one little green one in the shower the following morning. I know that they bring me messages. Much of these messages in my dreams seem to do with transformation and change. I think the most single message they convey to all of us today, is to care for the environment. We need frogs. They are the most important link in the food chain and are vital to the health of ecosystems. Nyungar people knew all that.
When I talk about frogs I always seem to make a connection to snakes. It seems logical, because snakes feed off frogs. I love snakes, though I keep my respectful distance. One thing struck me quite strongly sometime ago, that to Christianity the snake is something evil, the tempter. In Nyungar spirituality the snake (Wagyl) is a life-giving force. It must have been very confusing for the Nyungar when the white man arrived with his bible. I love the story of how in the Dreamtime two rainbow serpents, called Wagyl created the rivers and the lakes here in WA, the female laying eggs along the way. One place where she laid eggs was at the foot of Kennedy Fountain. That place is special to me, because that is were Nyungar elders blessed us and send us off on the pilgrimage around Australia to stop Uranium mining. It is interesting that here we have a male and female Wagyl creating different parts of the waterways and coming together now and then. Other cultures in different parts of the world also have female and male aspects to the landscape.
We did not get to talk about men’s/women’s business really. At least I can’t remember us doing so. I think, that men’s and women’s business is a great thing. I still remember the time a group of us decided to split for a few days. The men staying behind and doing what ever men do, and us women (with the permission and blessing of an aboriginal woman elder in NSW), to sleep out at a women’s sacred site. I still recall to this day, that when we did rejoin the men a few days later, who cooked us a yummy meal, the energy between the two sexes was charged with more respect and caring and enjoyment of each other. And I recall that both parties knew that the secret business was never known by the opposite sex. I can imagine that both Nyungar men and women have different obligations in performing their ancient customs at the sacred sites.
Reading “Echoes of the Past” is very heavy emotionally. I am feeling such deep sadness for the stolen generation and their families who suffered so much. I also feel rage at the injustices committed. Every story is so deeply touching. One gets to know these people very intimately. Their courage is enormous. Their capacities to endure so much pain are incomprehensible. It is hard to imagine having ones children taken away, never to see them again. If I were in Don and Sylvia Collard’s situation of having eight out of 14 children taken away I would go insane. Leafing through the book and looking at the photos makes me cry. It feels like there is a heavy hole inside me a mile deep. How must it be for the families?
The photo in the book of the room with several rows of cots gives me the shivers, because it reminds me of the time I spend in a children’s home when I was four years old. I don’t know to this day why the sisters there tied every kid’s hands and feet to the cot bars all night. Still today I don’t like sleeping on my back and hate being tied down in any way. The older I get the more the human race baffles me. Why can’t we live in peace with each other and be kind to one another?
I am grateful to all these brave people for sharing about their life in Sister Kate’s Home. It is important to hear the stories of how it was.
I loved the Boorno Wongkie sharing circle. The art –works on some of the message sticks are just so beautiful. I was delighted that there was such a strong reconciliation theme present. For me the high point of the tutorial was when Sandra held up a poster with the words WAARNGKINY BODJA. I felt like a child in first grade, which just recognised and read its first two words. Gosh, was I thrilled. I could actually read the words and knew what they meant.
I enjoyed listening to Terry (Kudda ?). I agree with him that the land is the most important and that without such there would be no life for any of us. The Nyungar have known this for tens of thousands of years. David Suzuki echoes the same message. He said that indigenous peoples honour the four elements of air, water, fire and earth. He said in his talk that we are EARTH, we are AIR, we are WATER, and we are FIRE. I loved the way he backed it all up scientifically explaining that the human body is made largely of water etc. It’s strange how the western world needs scientific proof in order for something to have value or truth. There is always the element of the unexplainable, the spiritual and the sacred, which cannot always be scientifically explained.
Find myself roaming in second hand book- stores lately, in the hope of finding old books on Nyungar. Could not believe my luck when I found, “The Passing of the Aborigines”, by Daisy Bates. Now, how lucky can one get? The photos are amazing.
What a privilege it was to meet Gerard Shaw. I just could not hold back the tears listening to his story. It’s so hard to find the words here. Beyond any words I can feel an enormous warmth and love welling up in me for the Nyungar people. I am so glad that they have survived such terrible atrocities to tell the stories. Thumbs up for his idea of rendering the WA government responsible for the kidnapping. I am sure there is a lawyer or barrister out there who would love to take up the challenge.
“Never deny your roots or you will never be a full person”. I know that these words are not just words coming out of Gerard’s mouth. These words come from a deep knowing, a personal experience of what it is like not to know ones roots. He emphasised the importance of “being welcomed, being owned”.
I don’t care how well meaning the Wadjalas were at the time , setting out to “rescue” so called half and quarter cast children into white society, it’s still a crime. I agree it’s kidnapping, soul rape , and genocide of a culture. And it is a most terrible cruelty and torture to the mothers who carried these children in their bellies for nine months.
The Nyungar spirit is alive and strong. I love the explanation of the word aboriginal – meaning belonging—to arise—becoming visible.
May the spirit of the Nyungar People of the South-West of WA grow from strength to strength and become visible.
Visit to the Museum
Finally I made it to the museum this morning to look at the display on Nyungar culture and history. As I stepped out of the elevator my eye caught two words on a poster, KATTA DJINOONG – to see and understand us. It reminds me of Gerard’s words of “becoming visible”. The truth of past treatment of aboriginal people is very visible at the museum. I felt very teary and overwhelmed from reading and looking at photos of the near genocide of a unique, precious and ancient people. The removal of aboriginal children was not legal, but little was done to stop it. I do not like the word removal. It sounds like furniture being removed. I tend to go for the word Marie used, namely KIDNAPPING, because I think that it was, no less than that. Kidnapping is a serious criminal offence. Apparently 100 thousand children were kidnapped. I agree that if we are to have true reconciliation we must understand how it was for aboriginal people and we need to name it for what is was. The 1905 Act was meant to systematically extinguish an entire culture and connection with land, which is a strong part of their being.
Being torn away from their families would have a devastating affect of a magnitude too hard to comprehend. First of all the children would have grown up without developing positive parenting skills, which would have led to a second generation being kidnapped. Known as “associated family dysfunction” can lead to vicious cycles of substance abuse, involvement in crime, domestic violence, possibly leading to further institutionalisation and imprisonment. It is precisely this kind of substance abuse like alcohol and glue sniffing and violence that is so prevalent among many indigenous communities in many parts of the world today. What they all have in common is dispossession of their land, disruption and loss of culture and language and “second-class” citizenship, many living in the poorest conditions.
I belief that physical, emotional and mental health is maintained through being part of a close loving family and community and a strong spiritual connection to land. When these bonds are broken, dysfunction and illness befall the human species, irrespective of race.
I was horrified to learn that between 1830-1895 Nyungar suffered 40 epidemics, leading to 75% drop in population. According to the museum’s information 89% of WA’s population lives in what was once Nyungar country. The extent of this dispossession from traditional lands is unparalleled elsewhere in the state.
To the Nyungar living with the land means managing and nurturing the land and its resources. Successful hunting and gathering requires intimate knowledge of the habitats of any given area. Without this knowledge people would die.
I was delighted to find some wisdom on a poster on the museum walls by Fred.
“What land means to Aboriginal people is,
it’s their mother. They get everything they want of it,
so they look after everything on the land, because it
supplies you with all your needs and that’s why they’re
in touch with the land – and spiritual-wise as well.”
Fred Collard, Nyungar Elder, 1996.
For the Nyungar the law comes from the dreaming, or creation stories as Sandra would prefer to say. “The law is a set of rules for behavior. Elders maintain the law and ensure that it is passed on. Lore also comes from the dreaming. These are the stories that contain the law.”(museum poster)
Wadjala law certainly does not come from any dreaming. Wadjala law does not look after the land or after the people. I may be cynical but I think that it primarily serves vested interests.
After 2 hours of reading about and looking at pictures on the walls depicting the terrible crimes committed over the last 200 years towards the traditonal owners of this land I felt quite ill in my stomach pit. I just had to get out and take in some fresh air.
But before leaving I found myself in a conversation with the security guard, who’s job it was to guard the displays. He told me that he really was not interested in any of this stuff, pointing to the pictures on the wall. I was dismayed but decided to keep my composure. Instead I ask him wether he knew anything about the stolen generations? He proceeded to tell me that he lived just around the corner from Sister Kate’s Home in the 1950’s as he was growing up. He remembered it all well, that is, looking through the fence and seeing the children playing happily. He insisted that they were happy and that being taken away from their parents did not harm them. They were happy!!
Somewhere in the middle of all this conversation he began to talk about his own abusive childhood. The family violence was so bad that he hated coming home. He said that he had to develop ways of coping as a child, pretend it did not happen, cover it up. I ask him wether it could be possible that the stolen children had to find ways of coping as well , just like he did? Wow!! I could see an “Aha” look on his face, and he had no choice but to agree with me. Maybe today he is studying the display. The world is so full ignorance and assumptions. May I be cured of my own……… and may there be healing in the world.
Weekend at Bogin Boya
So enjoyed the bus trip out to Bogin Boya. We travelled through Gosnells, Roleystone direction Brookton / Beverley.
Fred started to tell us about country as we travelled. He showed us how to look at the land, how to read the land (nginniny boodja), pointing out Malak Boodja (thick country), filled with Red Gum trees, paper bark tree (milli milli boorn) and banksias. Somewhere nestled in there also was Yonga valley were one would find lots of kangaroos.
We entered Mudjar Boodja, Christmas Tree Country. Mudjar is a parasitic tree, living on the roots of other trees. Slightly off the road to the left was Christmas Tree Well. The place has only been called that 40 years ago. Fred said it should be called Dongal Kep. I
found it very interesting to learn about Charlie Dongal who slept in a huge tree hollow lying on the ground. He lived there for 40 years and mainly lived on bushtucker.
I soaked up every bit of Fred’s knowledge about the land, which he so generously shared with us, ranging from possums, widgedee grubs in silverwattles to Sheok country, Wando and Spotted Gum. It was truly a lesson in Malak Boodja.
The bus was so well air-conditioned, so when I stepped out of the bus, I felt like shrivelling with the heat. And the flies………… I had this romantic idea of making a mia mia, but on second thoughts I was glad to have brought the tent with me, which proved to be a wise choice given the mosquitoes descending on us by sunset.
Had a great afternoon learning from Anton and Jack how to crush ochre and mixing it with red gum resin for tonight’s korroborri. Anton also showed me how to peel back a section of one side of a young gum leave, which gets placed on the tongue to make bird sounds.
The Kulbardi Boorndoon dance group was fantastic - first class entertainment and fine quality dancing and didge playing. I enjoyed watching the dancers giving the kids an opportunity to practice dancing. Somehow I did not get to hang out with the kids or help with the food preparations. I was flat out learning about the place. What an amazing place it is. It has a very strong presence of the ancestors of that place.
I distinctly noticed how the adults were with the children. Very loving and firm, using stories to keep them in line and to keep them out of danger, a bit like a fence around them. One of the stories told was about the little hairy people, “the Wardarchi” (Mumara). These hairy men catch those kids who don’t go home before dark. Fred compared them to the Irish leprechaun. One description likens them to banksia cones, and looking frightening and only come out at night. Maybe that’s were May Gibbs gets her idea of the ‘bad banksia men” from. I have never seen one, but don’t doubt their existence, because Lana saw one when she was only 2 years old. I did not know about such things way back then. She was very frightened, when she pointed to one, describing it as a little man. I believed her.
Sunday morning was another highlight for me, when Fred and Neville took us to a cave on Bogin Boya. The painting of the “Old Man”, the keeper of the rock, was so awesome. That was such a special moment for me - Nyungar and Wadjala sitting together in that cave in the presence of good spirits. Anton playing the didge pointed into a crack was so haunting, so breath taking. I could have stayed there for a long time, and I think that’s what would probably be needed in order to enter a state of timelessness. I very much understand that Boyagin Rock is sacred ancestral ground. “A place to contemplate, go back in time, dreamtime mythology”, Fred explained.
Then Neville led us up the smaller rock, and again like Fred he was reading country. He showed us where the echidna scratched for ants and where the kangaroo slept last night. I would not have known about lizard traps if he had not pointed them out. The Nyungar made them a long, long time ago for trapping lizards and snakes. We saw barking lizards (kaalaari) running across the rocks with great speed. Neville explained that quartz does not naturally occur in this place. It was brought in for making axes, knives etc. He pointed to what is known as scatter-sites, which are left-over quartz pieces strewn all over a small area. He even found a kodj. The scratches the echidna made on the ground and the quartz scatter sites reminds me of the story of how echidna got his quills. Further up the hill were lots of tea trees covered in beautiful little white flowers. Tea tree oil, being good for killing germs.
Walking close behind him I took in everything he said. I found myself the lucky recipient of all kinds of wonderful gifts from the trail up the rock. Neville picked a few nuts off a bush and strung them onto a grass reed, explaining that Nyungar men would make them for the women they were courting. I feel very honoured that Marie took us here, so I could witness the deep love the Nyungar, custodians of Bogin Boya have for this place. I am grateful for the knowledge and stories so generously shared with us.
Being invited to sharing time and space with Marie’s family gave me an opportunity to see for myself what Gerrard Shaw was talking about when he emphasised the importance of “being welcomed, being owned and knowing ones roots”. All that was so present amonst the Nyungar people on the weekend.
With this last entry the course has sadly come to an end, like all things must. I have made a few great friends and connections with Nyungar and Wadjala people. I am very grateful to Ross for introducing me to this course in the first place. I am grateful to so many wonderul people for sharing their knowledge of the Nyungar way -- Marie, Sandra, Fred, Neville, Gerrard, Len, Anton and the dance troupe. Then there is my koort John for loving me and showing me how to scan photos, and Tim for extra special tutoring, Mary showing me how to make my own paper and Bill for taking the photos at Murdoch bushland. And last but not least the land that teaches me all the time and sustains me with every breath.
Yes! I learned a lot about Nyungar culture and language. This course has been very growth promoting for me. I no longer have a need for a “coming home”, because I have come home. I know that THIS IS HOME.
At the beginning of the course I found the story of “THE HAND OF HUMANS”, a Dreaming story, which I enjoyed learning about. This story is so important to me, because we Wadjalas have largely forgotten our creation/dreaming stories, which has brought us almost to the brink of destruction. We don’t look after the land and the waters and the plants and animals. With our hands we can protect as well as destroy life. The story of “The Hand of Humans” help us to remember and guide us to look after things.
Now that I have been shown by Anton how to blow ochre on a surface, I want to close this journal with my handprint and the story. For me it’s a way to recommit my life to doing good and protecting and looking after the plants, animals, the land and the waters.
THE HAND OF HUMANS
In the Dreaming, plants, animals and people spoke with each other, formed partnerships, had fights. But there was no law, no teacher, no leaders. Chaos prevailed over the world.
From the heaven came the call for somebody to come out of the Dreaming to create law and order on earth.
At the gathering that followed, five Dreaming spirits attended:
Wagyl the snake, Karrda the racehorse goanna, Yonga the kangaroo, Weitch the eme, and Nyoongar the human.
After some discussion, Wagyl the snake said, “I’ve had enough of talk. I’m leaving. No-one will listen to me.” As he left, his movements pushed up the sand to form hills and valleys. Rain fell along the paths to become rivers, and tunnels and holes filled with water.
Karrda the racehorse goanna thought about the call to create law and order on earth, and said, “ I do not want such a duty.” He promptly left to wander the land.
Yonga the kangaroo also did not want the burden, and left immediately for the place we now call the Stirling Ranges. From the Stirling Ranges, all the kangaroo family spread out. An argument between an emu and a kangaroo resulted in the emu being killed. The burial place can be seen as Yongermeer Peak in the Stirling Ranges.
Next to speak was Weitch the emu. He said, “I will come out of the Dreaming, take on flesh form and give law and order. Look at my powerful legs. They can carry me everywhere and emu tracks can be seen all over the ground.”
Finally, Nyoongar the human stood up and said, “I can speak for everyone. Look at my hand! My wriggling thumb is the wagyl. With the next finger I can make the kangaroo tracks. With the next three fingers I can make goanna fore-prints. And my middle fingers represent the emu tracks.”
All the Dreaming spirits looked at each other. They all agreed that the human should become flesh, give law and order and responsible for everything.
The humans put their handprints onto the mountain caves and ledges for all to see. This symbolises how we have to care for all the plants and animals, and the land and waters.