The Stain In My Heart On Australia Day

Image from www.youtube.com

Image from www.youtube.com

“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!”

~ Dorothea Mackellar

 

This has been a hard post to write. Harder than I might ever have expected.

It’s Australia Day today, a national celebration of the 1788  arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney Cove.

I love my country. I am grateful for my home, and my community, for the standard of living we are afforded, for our social and political freedom, for our many opportunities. I am immensely proud of the multi-cultural nation that we have become.

And yet…

Is Australia fair?

My friends who are homosexual Australians cannot marry, or live as equals and enjoy the same rights as me. They are not shown fairness.

The many asylum-seekers who languish in custody while seeking refuge and a fresh start in Australia are not shown fairness.

 

I think of my Aboriginal Aunties. (Aunties through love and respect and their gracious inclusion of me in their family – not through blood.) I reflect on how they opened their arms to me, and shared wisdom and acceptance and grace when I was going through psychic awakening. In their culture I was normal, and these gifts were normal. Their kindness continues to shape and enrich me.

I think of the fact that their entire history was negated through the British policy of Terra Nullius at the time of white settlement, which obliterated Aboriginal sovereignty and rendered them invisible and without rights in their own land.

They are still, so often, invisible or made to feel that way.

I think about going shopping a few years ago on Racecourse Road, here at Ascot in Brisbane, with my friend Vynette and her mother Leanna. About how while I was in the change rooms trying on a dress they disappeared. I found them sitting in a bus stop down the road. Why? They’d been asked to leave the shop. They’d been told that they couldn’t afford anything, that they shouldn’t be touching anything – because they were making it dirty, and that they should just leave. Why? They are Aborigines.

I felt sickened that my dear friends had been subject to such racist treatment. Yet they were the ones who apologised to me! They were sorry, I shouldn’t worry, it happened all the time.

In a country where nobody bats an eyelid if I sit with a group of friends who are of various ethnic origins because ‘Australia is multi-cultural’, my Aboriginal friends get treated like this almost daily.

I think of all the history we aren’t taught. Of the massacres and incarcerations and rights violations of Aboriginal people. I’d never known about them. We were never taught them at school. It was never discussed within our homes. For me this history hadn’t even existed. Until one day when I had a visceral introduction to that suffering.

I remember being at a waterhole in country Queensland many years ago. As I sat beside that tranquil water, I was gripped with stomach cramps so bad that I lay down on the earth, wretched with pain. To my mind came a brutal vision and a knowing. I saw Aboriginal families writhing and dying after ingesting dampers (breads) laced with poison, and drinking from this waterhole, also poisoned. Could it be true? Surely, no! I researched local history later, and my vision was confirmed. It was well documented. And this type of poisoning was common. I began to dig around, and the more I looked the more I found. Atrocities. Injustices. Not just in our early days of settlement either. This racist treatment of Australia’s First Peoples still goes on today.

How can I celebrate Australia Day with pride if I cannot also acknowledge these ongoing catastrophic wrongs? If I cannot acknowledge the pain and suffering of my friends and their families and ancestors.

How can we grow as a nation if we are unwilling to acknowledge and accept that there is a darker past upon which our nation has been built? How can we hold our heads high if this inequality is still entrenched?

I love my country. But today I’m filled with mixed emotion, not a need for celebration. I’m happy for all those who choose to celebrate. We live in a beautiful country. A lucky country. Lucky for some. Lucky for me. But while my friends can’t know that same fortune, it’s a hollow day for me.

Advance Australia, Fair.

 

 

Girl, stop askin’ dem questions. Listen!

Wandjina by Lucy Ward

Wandjina by Lucy Ward

“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.” ~ Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

 

The next installment in my Kimberley Story

Many years ago, when I lived in the remote Outback on a million acre cattle station at the top end of Western Australia I learned a number of important lessons. One of them was about questions and answers.

It took me a while to understand the etiquette involved in directing a question to an Aboriginal Elder. At first I just did what I’d always done. I looked the person in the eye and said exactly what was on my mind. Politely, of course. Respectfully. I would then wait for my answer. If they seemed to misunderstand I would reform the question in my mind and ask again in a slightly different way.

Somehow that didn’t work for me once I moved to the bush.

One of the first things I did was ask the Aboriginal Stockman what was so important about me seeing owls. At night I watched the owls as they came to the trees around our campfire. If I went on a moonlit walk they followed me. Owls had suddenly become a big part of my life.

He ‘hmmphed’ at me and turned on his heel, slouching off in the opposite direction. My question? Ignored. After that I was too shy for a long time to ask again.

As I became comfortable with Aunty and Grandmother, two Aboriginal Elders who came visiting, I decided I needed to ask about the owls once more. I was seeing so many of them now. There were usually seven at the camp fire each evening, sometimes nine. Two always followed me as I made my way back to my room or out for a walk with my dog. It seemed a bit weird.

“Aunty?” I started one afternoon as we drank tea in the shade of a big tree near the camp kitchen. “Can you tell me about the owls?”

Aboriginal Art - Image from Wikimedia Commons

Aboriginal Art – Image from Wikimedia Commons

Aunty ignored me. She sipped her strong sweet tea and scuffed dirt with her toe. After a while she took a hard gingernut biscuit and dunked it in her tea before slurping at it noisily.

I tried again. “Aunty, I did ask the stockman about it. I asked him several times in fact, but he won’t tell me.” I looked across at her but I couldn’t catch her eye.

Grandmother, who was much younger than Aunty, nudged my arm. “Not his place.” Her voice was gruff with disapproval. “Dat question for you to ask women. Dat question women’s business. You rude girl to ask him. Make him feel very uncomfortable.”

My cheeks burned with embarrassment. I’d made a huge cultural gaff. “I didn’t know! Oh goodness, I’m so sorry. I should go and say sorry at once.”

I stood up, and Aunty put her hand on my arm. “Sit, girl.” She laughed softly. “You aren’t to know our ways.” She went back to dunking biscuits in her tea. After a long silence she said, “Hurry-hurry answers no good for a big question.”

“Is it a big question?” I asked stupidly.

Aunty reached for another biscuit. She dunked it in her very sweet milky tea, turned it and dunked it again. Then slowly she nibbled around the edges in a neat circle. The remaining biscuit she placed on her spoon, lowering it into her mug of tea and watching it carefully. After a few more minutes she brought it to her mouth and slurped the soggy mess with great satisfaction.

I sighed. We weren’t getting anywhere.

“Aunty, I keep seeing owls. The Stockman asks me how many I see but he won’t tell me anything about it. No-one will tell me anything about it. Why is it important? Why is how many I see important?”

She put up her hand to stop me talking. “Girl, stop askin’ dem questions. Listen!” The old lady then resumed her biscuit dunking.

Image from yum2three

Image from yum2three

Listen? To what? No-one was talking. In the background I could hear the hum of the station’s big diesel generator. In the kitchen Cookie was clanking pots and pans and whistling badly to some tune on the radio. Down in the yards one of the men was breaking in a horse and I could hear the occasional crack of a whip. The afternoon breeze rustled the leaves above us.

I was really getting frustrated with this cultural divide. Why wouldn’t they talk to me?

“Need more tea,” Aunty finally said.

I took the empty pot into the kitchen, and was surprised when Grandmother followed me. “Girl, let me teach you how to do proper asking. Okay?” Her eyes were kind.

I nodded.

“Aunty a very old lady now. Elder for our mob. She holds many many things inside her. Big job to do that. You want to ask something? Go up to her, not looking in her face. That shows respect. If she sits, sit beside her, facing same way, looking out. If she stands, stand beside her. Not too close. Look out like she is looking out. Then ask your question.”

I’d been doing it all wrong. I felt sick with shame.

“One more thing,” Grandmother stopped me in the doorway. “If your question little question, not very important, Aunty tell you straight up. But if question big-time question, big important one for you, she make you wait so you will respect the answer. If it’s not your question she say nothing at all. She just look away. If not your time she look down. That tell you one day it can be your answer but not now.”

I wrestled the information in my head. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It wasn’t how I’d been brought up. I grew up with teachers and libraries, encyclopedias and dictionaries. I’d been encouraged to learn, and to seek answers everywhere. I was used to information on demand, or as a result of how hard I worked. How could I succeed in a system where I couldn’t make things happen as and when I wanted them to happen?

Banging through the screen door I brought the teapot back out to the table. Aunty was still sitting in her chair, so I dragged mine around to her side of the table. I looked out to where some lorikeets were playing noisily in a blossom-laden tree.

I poured more tea and we watched the birds. I waited, agonizingly patiently, before starting again. When I spoke I looked out at the birds, and kept my voice calm and moderate. “Aunty, why are the owls important?”

She blinked and nodded her head slightly, indicating that she’d heard me.

“Well?” I wanted to yell. “Why can’t you just tell me?!!!” But of course I didn’t. I sat there patiently all afternoon.

Aunty never gave me an answer that day. When they said goodbye she put her warm hand on my front, over my heart. “You got to listen. Dat big heart of yours can listen. Dat heart know tings. Too much head, too much hurry-hurry no good. No good for you.”

As I lay in bed that night all I could think was that somehow my question was a ‘big-time’ question. But she hadn’t looked away, and she hadn’t looked down. She WAS going to give me an answer. Not in my time though. In her time.

Sigh.

How long would it take?

Image from White Wolf Pack

Image from White Wolf Pack

To be continued…

What Australia Day means to me

Candy Holding the Australian Flag - image from Sydney Zoo

Candy Holding the Australian Flag – image from WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

“I am compelled into this country.” 
~ Patrick White, Voss

“If you would know this country, you must know its stories.” 
~ Billy Marshall Stoneking

Australia Day for me has always been a celebration of what makes me feel Australian. It’s a combination of landscape, energy, history and connection with those souls who have walked this land before me. And a gratitude for having been born under these wide open skies, with space and freedom as my birthright.

As a child, on many an Australia Day long weekend, my dad would take us to his best friend’s house. Sometimes we’d even join their family and visit some of their relatives in the country. Evan, Dad’s mate, was a school teacher with an abiding love of the bush, and a strong social conscience. Looking back, these were formative times for me.

There was always a tribe of kids running round like lunatics, adults drinking beers and tossing steaks and snags (sausages) on a barbecue, lamingtons, fruit salad and pavlova, a game of cricket, and as the afternoon wore on, a recital of poetry and short stories from the likes of Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall.

At night, while the other kids would bunk down telling ghost stories or watching a video, I would quietly sneak in to where the adults were sitting. Thereafter would follow more poetry, philosophy and perhaps some Australian History. Evan would regale us with tales of convict life, early settlement, the waves of immigrants, wars in which we’d fought, and of that time before Australia was colonised. He’d talk about the great Bunya Nut feasts, and of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Evan had taught, and what they had taught him.

I would drink in these stories until my soul was full to bursting.

Inside me a tiny flame was sparked and fanned. My fascination with my country and its collective history was born from these gatherings.

This is my Australia. A land of poets and artists. A land of plenty and of hardship. A land of ancient wisdoms and new beginnings. A place of fantastic landscape, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

This is my Country:

wallabs

koala

NicoleCrab

1003

Regrowth after the 1976 Divide fire; Don Despain; July 1977

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sandcastlebb

2013-09-07 18.03.35

hand stencils

WoolScour1

IMG00061-20090826-0909

Bert in ute

2012-07-31 14.04.26

2004-06-29 20.30.06

2013-09-02 18.39.42

“And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.” 
― A.B. Paterson, Clancy Of The Overflow

Calling in Rain

Image from Wallpaper Seek
Image from Wallpaper Seek

“Rain drops are not the ones who bring the clouds.” 
~ Sorin Cerin, Wisdom Collection: The Book of Wisdom

The next installment in my Kimberley Story

Before I tell you about the Fairy Mound, I need to give you some more back story.

If I don’t none of what I write after this will make much sense, so forgive me if I jump back in time again to my days living in the Kimberley.

It was about four months after Little Auntie’s sorry business and I was working back on that Outback property in the middle of the remote Kimberley. The isolation and lack of female company was getting to me, and although I was trying, my relationship was less than fulfilling. I felt depressed and alone, confused about who I was and where I was meant to be going with my life. All of this psychic stuff was unfolding for me, whether I wanted it to or not, and there was no-one I could talk to about it.

The wet season was well and truly over, the tall green grass long ago burned golden brown. There was no rain forecast. From here on in it would become drier and drier still. The mud had turned to dust and the smaller rivers were shrinking to a series of chained waterholes. The dry heat parched everything it touched.

I was alone in my room one hot still Sunday morning when a familiar old red truck rattled up from the river crossing and stopped near the machinery workshop. I peered through the curtains of my room, not feeling like engaging. A group of people tumbled out, talking and laughing, and the Aboriginal stockman and the Station’s mechanic came out of the shade where they had been drinking beer to see what was going on. It seemed the truck needed something welded.

“Where’s dat girl?” I heard a familiar voice saying. It was Auntie. The stockman waved a lazy hand in the direction of my room, and the old lady started walking over.

For a moment I considered ducking out the back door and hiding down in the lee of the riverbank. What was wrong with me? Instead I pulled my hair back off my face and caught it up behind my head with an elastic band, rammed on a hat, dragged on my boots and went outside into the baking heat to meet her.

“Plenny hot, hey?” Auntie laughed when she saw me, all red-faced and sweaty. “Come on. Dey gonna take all day fix dat truck. Get a water bottle and you come along me.”

I really didn’t want to go, but I didn’t know how to say no. I figured we’d be going down to the river to sit in the cool and look for rocks and fossils like we’d done a few times before.

“Alright,” I said reluctantly. I grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and met her at the gate. Auntie immediately set off at a steady pace, walking not towards the river, but away from it. I was dragging my feet before I’d even left the homestead.

We walked for over an hour, not following any particular track. The land was just gibbers (small stones), dust and small flowering grasses and shrubs. There was no shade. I could feel the air sucking me dry. I guess you could have called it pretty if you’d been in the mood. I was not in the mood.

“Here good enough,” Auntie suddenly pronounced, and she sat down in the dust.

I sank down beside her, slurping greedily from my water bottle. I offered some to her and she drank daintily before handing it back.

“Gonna show you sumping. Sumping you can do. Sumping already inside you.” She smiled at me cheekily and patted my leg, leaving a faint orange dust mark from her fingers.

“Why did we have to come all the way out here for you to show me?” I asked. I’m sure I sounded ungrateful. Cranky in fact. Did she even notice?

“Gotta get the feel of dry. Gotta get the feel of hot.”

“Well, we’ve got those alright.” The sun was beating down mercilessly, and I was regretting having come.

Auntie leaned forward, cupping my sweaty face in her hands. “When you gonna stop fighting dis?” She pinched my cheek gently. “Dis one feel good. Special kind of magic. Your old Grandmothers, they knew this magic too. Dat’s why I show you. Cos now all dem family of yours forgot.” Auntie chuckled heartily at this.

She pushed me gently, so that I fell back in the dust. Giggling, she lay down beside me. Then she put a hand over my heart. “Let dat anchor you, strong into the ground. Feel your body close with dis land. Feel it right in your heart. Feel dis place. Feel the power of country. Your country now too. ” When she took her hand away I could still feel a burning heat, different to the rays of the sun.

I tried. I lay there and tried. But I felt stupid and awkward. I was worried someone would see me, although I KNEW there was nobody who would see me.

Auntie clicked her tongue. “What happening in your head? Relax!” She smacked my arm gently. “Try.”

Slowly I calmed down. Eventually all I could feel and think about was the sun.

Auntie started laughing. “You got dat sun?” she said. “Got dat big ball of fire?”

“Yes.”

“Bring him down inside you, right in your chest. Feel him spinning, all powerful. Feel him moving in your heart. Golden. Everything golden.”

That was easy.

Image by Sakura Chrno
Image by Sakura Chrno

I felt as if I was entranced. My limbs were so heavy I couldn’t move them. I’d lost the definition of my body. All I could feel was the earth and the sky, and the sun inside me.

Auntie spoke again, but now it felt as if we were both on a hill, looking down on that spinning sun.

“Let that spinning fella drag the whole sky into you. Keep feeling, and wait a bit. Let me know when you feel lil bit moisture.”

I had no idea what she was talking about.

And then I did.

I got the smell of rain. I got the taste of rain. Not a raging storm. Just a hint of wet. A lick of moisture on a hot breeze.

Inside me I could see the whole sky swirling, like a whirlpool in my chest. Every kind of weather; sun and hot and dry in the middle, but at the edges rain and wind and night sky. Beyond that stars and moons and planets and all kinds of mystery.

Whirlpool Galaxy by Adam Block
Whirlpool Galaxy by Adam Block

I didn’t feel strange. I felt the deepest calm, and an all-pervasive love.

“Go on now. Call dat rain in. Feel it in your body and make it bigger. Grow it real big til rain is all you have, rain is all you see.”

I knew Auntie was doing the same thing, calling in that rain. Her presence lent me a steadiness. With her beside me I was capable and strong.

I called that rain until my entire chest, my body, my mind was filled with the idea of rain. All I could feel was rain. I was rain.

And then I wasn’t. Just like that the feeling shifted, and was gone.

Disoriented I sat up and opened my eyes, expecting raindrops on my skin.

Instead, the sun beat down. I felt so betrayed. So stupid.

“Where is the rain?” I asked dumbly.

Auntie thought this was hilarious. “Girlie, you so impatient. Dat fella rain, he come far, far from here. He gonna take some time.”

I didn’t believe her.

We walked home in silence. Well, I was silent. Auntie laughed, and talked to the birds and the trees, grinning at me any time I looked her way. She was certainly having the last laugh.

Back at the homestead I excused myself and stood under a long cold shower for so long that my skin pruned and my feet became soft and spongy. By the time I emerged the truck had been repaired and Auntie and the others had gone home.

It was stiflingly hot, and the evening brought no reprieve.

About two in the morning I was woken by an unsecured French Door to the veranda banging in the breeze. A change had come through. You could smell the dampness in the air, and the promise of rain. A little over an hour later it bucketed down, and I fell back to sleep to the sound of rain on the tin roof.

When I woke at dawn the skies were clear and my world had been washed clean.

To be continued…

Zebra Finch 84a

Zebra Finches by Richard Waring

The Gift of Feathers

Wanjina with Black Cockatoo Feathers - Photo by Kim Akeman

Wanjina with Black Cockatoo Feathers – Photo by Kim Akeman

“Now you got your Story, your Spirit no longer lost. That Dreaming inside you make you understand who you are. That Story how you gonna walk this world.” ~ Auntie

The next installment of my Kimberley Story

It was late in the afternoon. The shadows were long, the air had cooled and a light breeze had stirred, bringing with it scents of warm earth and the salt of the sea.

We were still sitting, these old Aboriginal women and I, around the embers of a camp fire. Auntie was right up close to me, and we were back in our bodies. No more flying. But she was still holding my hand in her strong gnarled ones. Auntie kept holding my hand but turned her body away from me.

She said something in language, and a proud elderly woman came and sat with us. Her hair was dead straight, and glossy black, with just a few white hairs showing through. I hadn’t paid much attention to her before now. She and Auntie had an earnest conversation in language, and another old woman soon came over to join them. They all talked back and forth, back and forth, while I sat there excluded. I didn’t care. I was dazed and exhausted.

I found a plastic bottle pressed into my other hand. A wide smile grinned down at me. “Drink some.” I did. It was Fanta, and the warm, sickly orange-flavoured liquid tasted like the most sacred and beautiful thing in the world.

“Dem Elder sisters not all from dis place. Not all speak same language. Dey talk around, talk around; dis tongue, dat tongue, old words, new words. Try find right fella guide for you. Big business for you today.” The woman with the Fanta had squatted down beside me, while the others were talking. She was younger, maybe in her thirties or forties, with coffee-coloured skin and curly hair bleached blonde on the ends.

“How many languages do you speak?” I asked her.

“Four. And English.” She grinned. “How ’bout you?”

I felt embarrassed. I spoke English, and had a smattering of German and Japanese from school. “Only English really,” I answered.

“Yeah,” she sighed. “You lost your languages too. Just like us. Dem old people die and they take language away. Lost to us living folks forever. Dem Grandmothers and old, old Grandmothers of yours, all dem Ancestors, speak only to you in the Spirit tongue now. Speak only in the Dreaming way.” She patted my shoulder kindly. “My name is Maggie. At least we got language together.”

Maggie sprang up from her squatting position. “Auntie is ready now.” She hurried back over to sit down in the circle.

One of the old woman retrieved a thick curled piece of bark from her bag, and placed some green leaves on it. She took a smoldering stick from the remains of the fire and added it to the leaves until it began to produce a thick white smoke. The bark bowl was then passed to Auntie.

Something else was passed to her. A large white feather.

Image from Hiking Fiasco

Image from Hiking Fiasco

Auntie used the feather to stir up the smoke, and while the smoke enveloped me she gently brushed the feather all over me, from the top of my head down to my toes. As she did she sang something under her breath. I became covered in goosebumps. I knew something important was happening.

Then, reverentially, she gave me the feather. As she pressed it into the palm of my hand my head was filled with images of the bird.

“Dis fella your totem,” she said. “Dat your sacred animal, come to guide your spirit. Remind you who you are.” Auntie chuckled and her eyes danced with light. “Dat fella whitey just like you. We give dis fella in honour to your Grandmothers and their grandmothers who kept that family voice even when men took them a long, long way from their own country. Dat why we took you home again just now. With dat flying business. Anchor that home energy back in. Restore your country in here.” She put a hand over my heart and I felt it – that connection to the places she had taken me.

All the women were smiling at me. Smiling with happiness and connection, and smiling with the joke that my feather was white, like me.

“White fella bird is dat messenger. Tell all the people. Tell the big stories. Talk, talk, talk. Always gonna have dem stories, stories people need to hear.”

“You gonna see dis fella everywhere. He not let you forget. Even pictures. Even on the TV. People talk to you about him. Spirit saying, you dat ting. Spirit not let you forget.”

Another feather was passed around the circle to Auntie.

Glossy Black Cockatoo 451-2 (400)

Once again I was drenched in smoke and brushed all over with the red and black feather.

“Dis fella keep you company too. Remind you of your black sisters, up here in dis country. Even when you leave and go far, far from here, dese black fella birds and their yella-tailed cousins will find you. Sing to you and say ‘Remember, Remember,’ No way we let you forget. Dat story in you now. You belong part of our family now.”

“One day you live somewhere, you call dat country home. Smell like dis place. Earth. Sea. But make you happy again. We send all dem black fella birds remind you your promise. Remind you your story. Then you know it’s time. Time to be dat story. Live dat story in your heart. Live your true Dreaming.”

She pressed the other feather into my hand and I saw, not birds, but a lush green country, with tall pine trees and tropical lushness. I heard the mournful cry of the black cockatoos. Tears streamed down my cheeks.

Auntie kept talking, and her voice dropped to a whisper only I could hear. “Dat fella husband you got now, he finished. No good for you. End soon. End good for you, okay? Good for him too. Not be sad. Better man coming. Better for who you are now. You dat ting. Need man who understand.” She hugged me and stood up.

“Let’s go, sisters. Enough now. Tucker time!”

Brown hands reached down to me and hauled me up. We walked back into camp holding hands, bedraggled and dust stained, and as giggly as school girls.

To be continued…

My farm, with the big old hoop pines where the black cockatoos come to sit and sing to me

My farm, with the big old hoop pines where the black cockatoos come to sit and sing to me

The Sound of Smoke

Catching Smoke by Donnie Suazo

Catching Smoke by Donnie Suazo

 

“Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men´s eyes, because they know – or think they know – some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.” 
~ Bram Stoker, Dracula

The next installment of my Kimberley Story

One of the strangest, most magical and most disconcerting events of my life was that day in the remote Kimberley region of Outback Australia, sitting in a circle in the dust with a group of old Aboriginal women, when Auntie gave me my story.

I didn’t understand at the time that I had been welcomed to country, that I had been cleansed with smoke, that women’s business had happened.

All I knew was that I had sat under that relentless sun in the dirt and the dust for hours and hours, cranky and bored and waiting for something to happen.

That ‘something’, when it came, remains the clearest mystical experience of my life. Still. After all this time.

Auntie told me she was going to give me my story. She asked me if I wanted this. If it was okay for me.  Of course I said yes. I was so young then. So trusting and so completely ignorant of the gravity of the situation.

She moved up close beside me on the ground, put a hand over my heart, cradled my head in her other hand so that one ear was cupped.

As soon as she put her hands upon me I had a sensation of energy coursing through me. All around my heart was this tingling heat. A warmth flooded into the ear that Auntie cupped and soaked through my body and into my bones. She drew my head closer to her.

I became heavier and heavier, and soon I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The only way I can explain it is that I shrank into myself somehow and was closed off from the world. All I was aware of was Auntie.

She put her lips to my other ear and began to talk in a voice so soft, so quiet that it I could barely hear it, and yet it filled my head like a symphony. I became calm and open. I knew I was ready for this, but there was no excitement for me. More a sense of relief and validation.

Her voice was soft, smooth as smoke and it crept inside my head. I lost all concept of time and space. All of my boundaries exploded and I was left a naked soul in a vast dark eternity. I saw the whole Universe. I was flying, or the Universe was rushing past me. I’m not sure which.

It gifted me a knowing, an understanding of the timelessness of our soul’s existence, and the fleeting nature of the life we take on when we slip on a skin and become a flesh and bone human for a while.

Dark Secret Inside My Head by FractalMonster

Dark Secret Inside My Head by FractalMonster

Then I travelled and Auntie was with me, and so were some of the other women from the circle. We really were flying. Flying over the world. We flew and flew. As we did some of the women left us. They stopped at the border of their country. Soon it was just Auntie and me again, and we kept travelling up the world until we came to places unfamiliar to me. Cold places, green places. So unlike the wild empty Australian coast we had come from. We were high, high up. Some other women met us, up there in the sky. White women. ‘Dese be your grandmothers and their grandmothers long way back,’ Auntie explained.

The land below us reminded me of a Christmas story – all snow and ice, big fir trees and dark forests, and houses with smoke coming from their chimneys.

And then a man joined us . A huge strong man with flowing ginger-blonde hair and a long beard. A man with a deep good-natured belly laugh. He found this whole flying business amusing and I understood somehow that the way we were flying was Auntie’s magic and not his own. ‘I am a Walker.’ His words came into my head. ‘The only flying I have done is on a Dragon’. He chuckled endlessly and I knew that he didn’t mean a real dragon, but I had no idea what he was talking about and it didn’t really matter. I felt safe with him there.

He and Auntie had some kind of spoken exchange that brushed past me like wind. The words so silvery and fast I couldn’t catch any of them. Then the big man simply vanished. I felt so sad that he had gone.

‘I show you where dem fairy people come from now,’ Auntie said. ‘Spirit folk and family folk all cosied up together.’ We were low to the ground again, and the fields beneath us were grassy and green. As she spoke we flew over some big green grassy mounds. I felt my heart pull towards them.

‘Some of your people, old time family, there in dem places. I bring your spirit home.’ I didn’t understand, but tears streamed down my cheeks.

And then we were back at the circle in the dust and still Auntie kept talking her story into me, and my head filled with faces and images, falling all around me like ash from the fire.

To be continued…

Dreamtime Sisters by Colleen Wallace Nangari

Dreamtime Sisters by Colleen Wallace Nungari

 

Circle in the Dust

Seven Sisters by Maggi Yilpi

Seven Sisters by Maggi Yilpi

“There were once two sisters
who were not afraid of the dark
because the dark was full of the other’s voice
across the room,
because even when the night was thick
and starless
they walked home together from the river
seeing who could last the longest
without turning on her flashlight,
not afraid
because sometimes in the pitch of night
they’d lie on their backs
in the middle of the path
and look up until the stars came back
and when they did,
they’d reach their arms up to touch them
and did.” 
~ Jandy Nelson, The Sky Is Everywhere

The next installment of my Kimberley Story

Have you ever totally underestimated the importance of something?

I know I have.

Sitting in a circle in the dust of the Kimberley with a bunch of old Aboriginal women was one of those times.

It’s laughable now, my ignorance. Some of those women were probably around the age I am today, but back then, with the arrogance of youth, to me they were all old. My Mum’s age at least for the youngest. Although Auntie and Grandmother were the age of my own grandparents. Or older.

The day after Little Auntie died is such an important day for me. Why didn’t I see it then?

While it was still early in the morning we walked out from the house, those women and I, and into the scrub. Behind us I could hear the wails of the rest of the women left grieving. I was sick with not belonging. Sick with a physical discomfort and a spiritual unrest. Why had I come? Why was I doing this?

But it was as if something in my soul compelled me. I can’t explain it any better than that.

On we walked until we’d left the township behind. We walked, and then we walked some more. Every so often one of the women would stop, and so we would all stop. She would regard a bird, a tree, some marks on the sandy ground. She might pull some leaves from a shrub.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, and in what seemed to me to be no particular spot, they sat down.

Auntie and another lady built a small fire. Other women broke branches from scrawny trees.

Every so often one of them would throw a pile of green leaves onto the flickering flames in our midst, sending up fragrant clouds of smoke.  From where I sat, most of it blew my way. My eyes watered. I sneezed. I didn’t know what to do, and no-one said anything to me so I simply sat there. One of them brushed me all over with a clump of green leaves which were then thrown into the fire too. From time to time the women sang, or made strange guttural noises. I was a little frightened by those noises. They were totally foreign to me, and made the hair on the back of my arms stand up.

Eventually the smoke died down, and no more leaves were added. My streaming eyes dried.

There had been singing, but now we were just sitting. We’d been sitting for hours, or so it seemed. Nothing but scrub around us. Scrub and open sky. My bottom was numb, my legs were all pins and needles. I’d lost count already of the number of times I’d asked myself what I was doing here.

This was so far removed from the life I knew. My world, on the other side of Australia, was ordered and logical – shaped by education and social graces. My world was about intellect and achievement. Life was organised and controlled, discussed and planned. And yet here I was, sitting in the dirt, with no idea what was going on.

What had I hoped to learn in coming here? The women around me had enjoyed little schooling and most had failing health. Some of them spoke only broken English. Their clothes were mismatched, worn and stained, no bras, no shoes, messy hair – everything my own Grandmothers would have admonished me about. My mind jumped from thought to thought, and increasingly those thoughts were negative. I was hot. I was thirsty and hungry. I was twenty-five years old and I had thought I knew everything. Now I just felt like an idiot.

Image from whealth.com.au

Image from whealth.com.au

Uncomfortable, tear-stained and confused I finally addressed the oldest one, Grandmother, looking straight at her. “What are we doing? Why am I here?” I asked. I couldn’t help it, I was plaintive, whinging even.

I knew she could speak English. The old woman ignored me, so I asked slower. Louder. Even now I am embarrassed thinking back…

I’d always been told I was smart; after all I went to a good school, I was University educated, a career girl. I had a genius IQ. But what I didn’t know then was manners.

Oh sure, I had Western manners, White Girl manners. But when you ask an Elder a question, the answer comes slowly. Best to come sit beside them, looking out in the direction they are looking out. Best not to look into their face. Best to ask politely.

And if the answer is important, if it’s really important, a really BIG question with a BIG answer then they’ll make you wait. They’ll give you that answer in dribs and drabs as you’re ready for it.

And if you’re not ready for it, they won’t tell you at all.

But I was white. I didn’t know those things. So in my ignorance I was rude, offensive and increasingly belligerent.

“Why won’t you tell me?” I shouted. “Why?”

None of the other women spoke. None of them even moved. I sat, a big white wriggley girl amongst women still as stone while the vast sun beat down upon us, making me redder and redder. I hated all of them, this stupid country, this stupid ceremony. Why didn’t they hurry up? Why had I even agreed to come?

Over and over in my mind I started saying, “I’m done with this. I just want to go home.” I might have even yelled it out. I’m not sure now.

Still, something made me stay, and after a while I settled down. Something overwhelmed me. Fatigue maybe, or heat exhaustion. On some level I stopped struggling and surrendered.

We sat there until the shadows grew long. My bladder, which was bursting, stopped bothering me. My body was taken over by stillness. I could have sat there forever.

Finally Grandmother nodded and one of them spoke. “I’m gonna give you a story,” Auntie said. “It plenty big. It gonna be your story now, sister-sister. You want dis? Dis okay by you?”

I nodded with relief. “Okay,” I said stupidly. And I never even asked what I was agreeing to.

She moved over beside me and placed one hand cupping my ear and one hand over my heart. I felt a surge of energy and heat. She began to talk in a voice soft as smoke, her language, not my own. I became hot and heavy and the tendrils of sound crept up inside me.

To be continued…

Image from flickr

Image by Lindy – flickr

Sorry Business

Image from Slideshare

Image from Slideshare

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” ~ William Shakespeare

The next installment of my Kimberley Story

I cannot tell you how I knew that Little Aunty had passed away. I do not know how the Aboriginal stockman knew it either. But here we were, sitting in the front of his vehicle, driving back to the community Little Aunty had called home. Not a word passed between us. He did not look at me at all.

When we arrived in the dusty run-down town, the stockman pulled up out the front of a modest house. I could hear wailing. “You go inside,” he said over the rumble of the V8 engine, still not looking at me. I got out, and before I could say anything he drove off, leaving me no choice.

My heart was in my mouth. What had possessed me to come? I had little money, and no way home.

My feet seemed to walk themselves through the front gate and up onto the veranda. As I stood awkwardly at the door a young girl greeted me. “Aunty bin waitin’ for you,” she said shyly, and then she took my hand and led me into the lounge.

It was filled with women of all ages, most of them crying and some of them wailing. I didn’t belong there. All I wanted to do was turn around and run.

But then Aunty stepped forward and wrapped me in a big hug. I was overcome with emotion and burst into tears. She just held me and let me cry.

When I was done she took me into the kitchen where more women were gathered, making a mountain of food. It was noisy in there. People moved out of our way. Someone gave me a mug of sweet tea and a jam sandwich. Someone else pressed me into a chair. Aunty sat beside me.

“How you know?” Aunty finally said. She wasn’t looking at me either. Everyone was looking down, so that’s what I did too. Eye contact seemed wrong, somehow.

I felt so awkward. “There was this little bird,” I started. The room went quiet, and I stopped, embarrassed.

“Go on,” Aunty said.

“I came out of the dining room one day, a couple of weeks ago, and there it was, darting about and singing. When I walked back to my office it followed me.”

“What kind of bird?” another lady asked, the one who had given me the sandwich.

“I don’t know,” I murmured. I thought I had said something wrong.  The energy in the room had changed, and intensified, as if they were waiting for something.

“It had a stand-up kind of tail,” I offered. Still the room was quiet. “About this big.” I indicated with my hands; a tiny bird, a bird I could cup between my palms. “It hopped, and darted and it made a click-click-clicking sound. It seemed happy to see me.” And then I remembered something else. “The tail was blue, and the body of the bird was the colour of my hair. It had a patch like the colour of the red dirt outside around its eyes.”

Image from www.pbase.com

Image from www.pbase.com

“It came every day. One day it flew right into my room and sat on the end of the bed. When it didn’t come yesterday I was worried about it, and then I was very sad.”

Aunty put her hand on my arm, and I knew I should stop talking. One by one the other Aboriginal ladies in the kitchen went back to what they were doing. In the front room they kept on wailing and crying, and more people seemed to be arriving.

When I finished my food, Aunty indicated that I should stand, and we went out into the back yard alone. The air was thick with humidity, and it smelled of the ocean.

“What else?” she said.

“I heard the crying in my head, and I became sadder and sadder but I didn’t know why. And then when I went to bed, I went flying in my dreams. I could hear the thoughts of the animals and the trees, and I could see all these little lights below me. I came here, to this place I think. But I don’t remember what happened after that. When I woke up this morning I just knew.”

Aunty nodded her head, and absently dragged one toe through the dirt, making a pattern of wavy lines and circles.

“Dat her spirit, come visit you,” she said finally. “I have to tell you these things. She get in her bird form. Dat her totem. Taboo for you to talk about, okay?”

“Okay,” I echoed.

“So she come visit and check on you. That little bird visit, make sure you come back here to this place. Make you welcome here.”

I was crying again. “Little…” But I couldn’t finish because Aunty shot out a hand and pinched my arm.

“Don’t say her name. No good to say that now she’s passed. Don’t say her name no more. And don’t lift your face to the family members til this Sorry Business all finished. We gonna go soon, leave this house all of our mob, and go to this other place. You come with us. Some important things for you to see. Just us women.”

“For the funeral?” I asked.

“No. Plenty people still gotta come here yet. Lots of people coming from far, far away before we can have that funeral. But still we have work to do. You join us now.” Aunty’s voice was firm. It didn’t sound like a request.

“Are you sure?”

“Humphh!” the old lady snorted. “Sure? Girlie, you don’t understand. You dat ting. We gotta make dat happen right.”

I had no idea what she meant. “Okay,” I said with more confidence that I felt. “Thank you.”

Aunty patted my back fondly. “Good girl. I knew you was gonna be true. Gotta learn you plenty now. Better get started. Welcome you to Country. Come on. Let’s get dem others.”

She led me back into the house.

141_feature-article_02

‘Unggud Snakes,’ acrylic on canvas, 2007 by Gabriella Dolby and Gordon Barunga. Collection Trans Remote Assistance. Photo Nigel Gaunt, Red Dirt Photography.

To be continued…

Night Flying and Cups of Tea

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”  ~ Leonardo da Vinci

 

The next installment of my Kimberley story…

Do you know what it’s like to sit in a bush kitchen with a barefoot old aboriginal lady in a faded pink dress – a lady you’ve never met, but who you’ve dreamed about in vivid detail?

It’s a spin out. It’s a crazy feeling that makes you feel tissue-paper thin, like if you breathe too deeply you’ll just bust yourself to pieces and drift away on the wind.

The day that Auntie turned up at the remote outback cattle station I called home, my life changed forever.

While the aboriginal stockman and his brother made a fire to cook the big fresh mudcrabs they had brought, Auntie and I sat down together and drank strong, sweet tea. Mug after mug, pot after pot. At first she didn’t say anything much, just drank her tea and ate the cake I had put out on a plate for her. Then she asked about my family, and where I had grown up. What about my parents? My grandparents? She wanted to know what my ‘country’ was like. And where had my people (family) come from when they all came to Australia in the boats, back in the old days?

We sat on chairs under a tree by the river, not far from the fire, and in view of the main staff dining room. The afternoon shadows drew long, and soon the stockmen and station-hands began to gather for their evening meal. My partner at the time came to see if I was coming in for dinner. Things were strained between us so he didn’t linger when I said I was staying outside to talk with Auntie.

crab I was almost beginning to think I had imagined the whole flying-through-the-night-sky-holding-Auntie’s-hand thing when she said, “So, girlie, you like our night-time trip?”

My cheeks flamed with embarrassment. What could I say? Would speaking about it make it more real, or less? What if some of the staff heard what we were talking about? Not sure what to do, I smiled.

“Your grandmother, your women-folk, they tell you about dis thing? They take you in the sky?”

“No.” My voice was small, hesitant. It didn’t sound like my own. It was as if I was brimful of tears and if I opened my mouth any wider or said anything else I would dissolve into a puddle of salt water.

Auntie sighed and patted my hand. “No one help you with dis thing? No one get you ready?” She seemed puzzled, perhaps even a little sad. She sighed again and shuffled her feet in the dirt.

The sky filled up with stars.

When the crab was ready we feasted together in companionable silence. The two men stayed by the fire, drinking beer and eating. Others joined them but Auntie and I stayed where we were, under the tree. P1010139 My partner came out of the dining room, and called to me, “You coming, Nic?”

I shook my head and he trudged off. I felt guilty, and part of me wanted to run after him, but the rest of me was glued to the spot.

“Dat your fella?” Auntie asked, inclining her head.

I nodded.

She shook her head, her mouth a grim line. “Dat all finish. You be dat ting, it all finish.” She made a wiping motion with her hands and a clicking noise with her tongue. Her face became very serious. “Finish. Understand?”

In my heart I did.

If I kept sitting here, I was making a choice. She was giving me a choice.

I was so far from home, so far from everything that had shaped me or made my life make sense. Out here I was drowning in loneliness, so far from fitting in, so far from everything familiar. Out here I was someone else. I was something else. And I couldn’t seem to make it stop. I didn’t want to make it stop.

The stockman came over with his big yellow torch, In his other hand he held a flask of tea, and an unopened packet of sweet biscuits. He looked at Auntie, but didn’t say anything. It still seemed as if they were having a conversation, the air thick with their thoughts.

She wiped her hands on her dress and stood up. “You come up country, okay? Come sit with me at my place. We got plenty to talk about.”

I stayed sitting on the plastic chair, my hands gripping the sides tightly, as if I might fall off if I didn’t hang on. I made my choice. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll come visit you.” I had no idea what I was agreeing to. It felt bold and reckless and a little bit stupid. I felt drunk with the fullness of what I’d just done.

“Good,” said Auntie. “But I see you first. Take you flying some more. Show you some things.” She chuckled, and cradled my face in her hands. “You got the stories in you. Plenty stories. Old stories. Dat’s your magic.”

She pinched my cheek, hard enough that it stung. “Gonna make big-time magic, girlie. You dat ting.” Auntie said it happily, smiling so that her whole face lit up, and she tapped me hard on the breast bone as she said it, just above my heart.

 

All of a sudden my heart was racing. I felt a wild heat coursing through my body. It looked like the night was lit up with sparks. There was no way I could stand up.

“Don’t go walkin’ in the night-time alone with dem owls, okay?” Auntie said sternly as she left.

“Okay.” I didn’t know what else to say. Something big had just happened and I didn’t even know what it was, but I felt it, right down to my bones.

And those big old owls, they just kept watching…

Waking from a long sleep…

Vintage 1947 pinup advertisement

Vintage 1947 pinup advertisement

“You can only come to the morning through the shadows.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien

 

I woke up this morning, stretched my arms out, yawned widely and realised that something has shifted as I slept last night.  My fever’s broken, my pain has eased, and my mind is bright.

It’s a great relief.  The last few days have been quite horrid.

But even in the misery I’ve endured there have been gifts.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of owls.  I’ve spent a lot of time flying through the night skies while the world was sleeping.

The silver lining of illness is the time I get to spend on Cauldrons, rather than Cupcakes.

In honour of that blessing, for the rest of the week I am going to write a little about my family connection to owls, and to magic.  And I’ll tell you what’s been unfolding with the Owl and the Orchard Man.

It’s a magical week – and I’m so looking forward to sharing some of my magical world with you!