Wise Birds Come Visiting


“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.” ~ Auntie


I woke yesterday to the mournful cry of the black cockatoos. Black cockatoos are never just birds for me. They are a spiritual presence in my life. A strong tie back to the land where I was first welcomed to country, the wild remote Kimberley of Western Australia.

Now I live on the opposite side of Australia, but this place ties me energetically back to the Kimberley, and my wise old Aboriginal Aunties. Somehow, living here, they feel stronger in my heart.

This country where I have my farm, Byron Bay and its hinterland, is home to the Arakwal People. The Bundjalung mob have called this place home for thousands of years. There is strong Aboriginal energy here. It nurtures me at every turn.

The past few days I’ve been feeling better. Stronger. Yesterday I woke with a sense of energy and purpose for the first time in over a year.

As I sat in meditation the mournful cries of black cockatoos seeped into my consciousness. At the end of my meditation, as I stretched and breathed the cool morning air I watched them sitting in the big old hoop pine near my back door. So many of them.

There’s my Aunties“, I thought to myself, and tears pricked my eyes. My heart was back in country, and I could feel the red dust in my veins.

Soon Ben and I were in the ute, driving down to Byron Bay to read the papers and have an early morning coffee.

I took a notebook and began jotting some ideas down. To one side I also wrote a shopping list on the back of an old envelope, because its been weeks since I’ve been well enough to shop and we’re running low on basics.

“Good,” Ben said as he sipped his coffee. “Shopping. We’ll go tomorrow.”

I was careful not to let him see the ever-expanding list beneath it.

I began to plan some ideas and goals for the weeks and months ahead. Mostly they were things to write. Old manuscripts to edit and tidy up for submission. Some e-books and courses. Things for my new website. Words to get down on the page, bit by bit, now that my brain is working and I have a little more energy. Things I thought I should be writing.

I was proud of myself. It was a sensible list, with no crazy deadlines. It would allow me to rest, write and rest some more. But oh, how good it felt to be creating some kind of plan.

As we sat on the sidewalk outside Mary Ryan’s a sudden mad cacophany of screeching filled the air. What seemed like a battalion of white cockatoos flew directly up the street, making a line for the hoop pines that rim the edge of the beach. Some of them alighted in the paperback above me. A single white feather fell down and landed in my breakfast.

More soared up the street. Seven white birds, strong and vibrant. They whooshed past our table and a tear slid down my cheek. Seven birds. Seven Aunties. I felt them all beside me. I heard their voices in my ear.

The trees at the top of the hill near the beach were filled with cockatoos.


I looked down at my list. Was that really what I wanted to write?

All I could hear was Auntie’s voice:

“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

When I got home I put my list away and spent some time in the kitchen instead, baking a cake, doing some dishes, preparing some food for the week ahead. I was lost all of a sudden. I had no confidence in my list. What was I supposed to write?

I tossed that question around in my head all day.

Late in the afternoon Ben came up from the river paddock with a present for me. A wedgetail eagle feather.

“It reminds me of one of those old-fashioned quills,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to start writing again.”

I agree.

But what?

There’s a fresh white page in front of me, longing to be filled with words. I’m going to trust that just as I feel guided back to writing, what to write shall also be shown to me.

And of course, I’m open to suggestions. 🙂

2014-03-17 06.32.24

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

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.


‘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…

Little Bird

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” 
~ Robert Frost

The next installment of my Kimberley Story

Auntie, the old barefoot Aboriginal Elder in her faded pink dress, had turned up in my dream before she ever turned up in my waking hours.

And when we finally met she promised me that she would take me flying again. In turn I had promised her that I would visit her in her country – the land to the north of us.

But I never went.

And she never came back to my dreams. Instead she sent others to the Station to check on my progress. Little Auntie and Grandmother, two other Aboriginal Elders came to visit me. I fed them sweet tea and cake. They helped me to feel the connection to my ancestors, and they awakened the energy in my hands.

Which was fine. But they went home, life went on, and I was still stuck in this agonising limbo of spiritual awakening where I felt less like my old self each day, and more and more a stranger in my own skin. I had not a single soul with whom to share my journey. No benchmarks for what was normal, no-one to ask for help or to help me understand what was going on as my psychic skills lurched from one level to another.

Image from www.pbase.com

Image from www.pbase.com

I was struggling, out there on my million acre cattle property in the remote Australian Outback. I was desolate with loneliness, and the strangest sadness. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how I filled my days, there was an emptiness inside me that nothing seemed to fill.

My nights were crowded with crazy dreams, snippets of things I knew I should understand, things I DID understand in the dream state, but that left me bereft and confused each time I woke.

I began to withdraw from the handful of people I lived and worked with, and spent my spare time gazing out over the river or the flats. Each night I watched the fire, went for walks to count shooting stars, and waited for my owls to visit.

And then one day a little bird turned up. It was a tiny bird; a type of wren with an upright blue tail, a duff coloured crown and tiny splashes of chestnut around the eyes. I had never seen another bird like it.

It flitted from branch to branch outside the dining room, and when I walked back to my office after lunch it followed me to the door, chirruping and singing and click-click-clicking away.

It was there again in the afternoon. And somehow when I saw that little bird, I felt less alone.

The little bird followed me for two weeks. It even flew into my quarters one morning and sat on the railing at the end of my bed, all bright-eyed energy and curiosity.

That tiny bird came to mean something special to me, and I looked for it every day.

So, of course on the morning that it did not turn up I worried. Where had it gone? Was it okay?

As the day progressed I became more anxious. Perhaps you could even say I felt depressed. And then, in my head, I began to hear wailing.

At first one voice, this high keening sorrowful sound. It was so real that I actually looked to see where it was coming from. But I was all alone in my office, with the hum of the air-conditioner. Outside in the dry heat I could hear the helicopter, braying cattle, a motor bike, the sound of banging in the workshop and of mens’ voices. I could still hear the wailing, but I couldn’t tell you what direction the sound came from.


I really thought I might be going mad.

By nightfall I could hear more voices, all keening and wailing in the most melancholy of manners. No one else could hear anything.

I was overcome with irrational sadness. So sad that I couldn’t face dinner. So sad that I couldn’t face people. I went down to the river with my dog, and scuttled off to bed as soon as it was dusk. I threw the verandah doors wide to catch the breeze, had a shower and put my nightdress on and hopped into bed, longing for sleep to come quickly and end my day.

I don’t remember falling asleep. But I do remember peeling back from my sleeping form and looking down on myself in the bed, hair fanned out around the pillow, and my long limbs all tangled in the sheets. I felt such love for my other self, lying down there on the bed. I saw my pain and confusion and loneliness as if they were the emotions of someone else, and I understood that it was all transitory, and attached to that life I was immersed in, rather than to my soul. This, THIS was my soul – this joyous free being floating near the ceiling of the room.

I soared out of the bedroom and began flying over the dark Kimberley landscape. I could feel the pulse of the earth. I could feel the flow of the river as she flowed over stones and sand. I could feel the fishes swimming, and the crocodiles sliding from the banks into the water’s murky depths.

As I flew I could hear the breathing of the animals, and the thoughts of the trees. And like I was tuned in to some strange compass I kept flying northwards.

North to Auntie’s country.

I could still hear the wailing, but now it sounded like silver light rippling along the dark face of the earth. I could hear the individual voices, I could hear the ancestors’ voices contained in the voices of their children’s children. It was a song as old as time, a linking song that ties our souls to all that ever was.

It was the saddest lament. It was a song of goodbye, a release of pain. It was a staircase made of sound.

The little sparks of souls illuminated the night. I could see every one, lighting up the darkness like the nightscape of a city.

Orbs of light by sadman2k

Orbs of light by sadman2k

Through the soft air I flew. By myself, but connected to everything.

When I woke up back in my own bed my face was streaked with tears. My hair smelled of fragrant smoke. I hastily packed a bag, and scrawled a note.

It was just on dawn. I crept out of my room and went over to the dining room, bag slung over my shoulder.

The Aboriginal Stockman was squatting on his haunches just outside the door, mug of coffee in his hand, a thin home-made rollie cigarette dangling from his lips.

“You ready?” he grunted.

I nodded.

He flung the reminder of his drink into the garden, and placed the mug on a table.

Wordlessly we walked back to his ute.

He didn’t say it. I didn’t say it.

But we both knew.

Little Auntie was dead. We needed to go home.

Munja Wandjina 1Sister, sister, watch over me. Little Auntie in the night sky…