Stop the closures of remote Aboriginal Communities in Australia

Why is it so important that we stop the closures of remote Aboriginal Communities?

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Australian Aboriginal people have given a new meaning to the word “country.” For them, it means a “spiritually enlivened” world, filled with different types of life, each of which has its own intrinsic rights to be there.* Aboriginal connection to country informs a culture with a proven record of sustainable habitation. By building relationships with country – the land, the other creatures, the sea and fresh water bodies, the ancestral spirits that formed these different varieties of life – Aboriginal peoples could remain in conversation with nature. Their place in the world was significant, meaningful; Aboriginal people had responsibilities to country and held it in an attitude of gratitude, for it had given birth to them, the people, just as it had birthed the landforms and other creatures. This is a loving relationship between subjects, or people, of different kinds, all of whom play their part in the biodiverse ecology of any place.

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This is the relationship we need to learn from, not break. We should not only be calling to stop the closures of remote Aboriginal Communities; we should be calling on increased funding, which would allow true self-determination, so that Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can continue to rebuild their timeless cultures, strengthen their connection with country, and teach us white fellas (or kardiya) the wisdom of their ways. We haven’t done a very good job of this since our own ancestors, the British of the late 18th century, landed here and declared the great southern land Terra Nullius, a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning “nobody’s land.” This means they assumed that the new territory had never been subject to the sovereignty of any state, or over which any prior sovereign had relinquished sovereignty. It’s a pretty poor take on the complexity of the Aboriginal people that inhabited the land, the complexity of their political systems and processes, the ingenuity of their technologies and ways of being with country.

 Pilbara Language Families

But that’s the past. Let’s not repeat it. Further dispossession on the basis of poor economic figures is unfair and unjust. Let’s fix this situation, by asking how the people themselves would like to see it fixed, rather than acting paternalistic – or even worse, acting ruthless – from the governments in the cities. This situation reminds me of the doco shown recently on SBS, Contact. This was the film about how the Murtu people were found living in the area where the rockets from Woomera were going to land in the 60s. Most of the tribe, including all the men, had left the traditional lands (presumably to chase work, though this wasn’t mentioned). A group of around 20 women and children remained and the scientists realized this with little time to go. They raced against time to move the Murtu along, in their trucks, which the children thought were monsters. The group ran away, hiding in caves, asking Yimiri the great ancestral Serpent to protect his people. They asked for a storm to “drive away the devils” who were chasing them; and it worked. A huge storm rolled in, and the rain washed away all their tracks. Ironically, this victory made them impossible to find; and horribly, the British and Australian scientists fired anyway. The rocket failed, however, breaking up in the sky, and falling on some other “unoccupied” land. With a little more time, the white fellas were able to find the group and dispossess them to Jigalong, further south in Western Australia.

 Jigalong sign

This isn’t the time to mention how much such dispossessions have cost all Australians, especially the Aboriginal peoples, in terms of their health and welfare, and their ability to care for country and to pass that knowledge on down the generations. But it does seem a fair time to point out how many natural resources are under the ground in WA; just in case there’s a link between mining futures and clearing the land of its native people.

Mineral prospects in Oz

This has been going on since large-scale civilizations began. It’s time it stopped. There is hope. At the end of Contact, those children, now grandparents, are showing the old film to the new generations; to show the kids their old families, but also to show them the “waterholes, where the stories come from,” so they can help to “keep the law strong.” Let’s help them. See the site at http://www.sosblakaustralia.com/  and show your support on the page at https://www.facebook.com/sosblakaustralia

* See Deborah Bird Rose on this.

Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

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Easter is a ceremonial celebration of life. The Resurrection of Jesus signals the soul’s victory over death; we rise to the heavens once we depart this world, the myth tells us, so long as we align our earthly lives with that divine realm while we are here. This is a religious model built on an ancient pattern; in nature, we see life burst forth from death all the time. Spring in the northern hemisphere is a concrete signal of this. Out of the depths of winter, finally the new sun hits the world, warming up the frosty ground, shaking buds to life on what looked last week like withered branches, even calling cute lambs from the wombs of woolly ewes in the fields. The seasonal cycles continue, from birth to growth to death and back again, drawing new life out of the great mystery, the darkness is the womb or matrix of the universe, the life behind life out of which all is born and to which all returns.

You can see why reincarnation is such a popular idea; it is just another version of the same universal paradigm, applied to the human soul. And when we pay attention to who we are within, we do find we are part of a wider nature without, the physical world of all beings, to whom we are related and to whom we owe our loyalty. Deepening our attention to this cycle and to our place in it can help us to get more in touch with our own innate sense of an ecological spirituality; a sense of the sacred in nature and in ourselves.

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The idea of Jesus and/or the Easter Bunny is a way of trying to link these mortal lives of ours to that Sacred Mystery, in one way or the other. For Christians, the religious model works to bring the divine into life, using the myth of Jesus to help us see the glory of God, in our hearts and in the world. In the secular world, the Easter Bunny brings magical gifts of abundance from an invisible realm, beyond the rational world. And this brings us to the problem of the sacred in the consumer capitalist world of commercialism. Commercialism consolidates the commitment to materialism that is part of a capitalist society, so that our intuitions of a better world, with higher values and more widespread compassion, are too easily consigned to the shelf of dusty ideas, past their use-by date or too ‘unrealistic’ to take seriously.

DCF 1.0

Ecological spirituality is not against materialism; in fact it is a new kind of materialism; but one that takes our bodies and the physical aspect of life on earth far too seriously to side with the slide into lazy consumption, which is promoted as the good life by the propaganda machine of global corporate marketeers. Ecological spirituality requires taking seriously what goes into our bodies, what ‘resources’ – aka other forms of life – are used to fuel our lifestyles; in other words, how we work with the earth rather than assume a false order of mastery over it and its other peoples and creatures. Without this dimension of care, spirituality is merely another version of escapism. We need to underscore this at times of seasonal celebrations such as Easter because as White Fellas – or those who were not born out of the ancestry of their land, such as in Australia or North America – we have a duty to try and better understand our ‘country’ and its original peoples. In any case, now that ecological crisis is finally becoming apparent to all but the most hardened ideologues, loyalty to the earth must be paramount in our relationship with what we hold sacred. And to hold the earth itself sacred is not only a real aspect of most religious perspectives, it is a vital and living part of the Australian Aboriginal way of life. And this is something we can learn, both from wisdom traditions and from attention to our own inner knowing.

One of the ways to deal with our current set of dilemmas is to be even more inventive with technology; in fact, we already know how to scale fossil fuels out of the equation with renewable energy sources, we just lack the political will and vision. But another way is to recalibrate our relationship with the rest of nature; to reconsider the way we think about the earth, so that it is not merely a resource but a place we hold sacred. One of the keys to making this shift real is to recall our own deep affinity with nature – and one of the best ways to see that this can be a real source of deep satisfaction; of a materialism beyond consumption; of an ecological spirituality – is to consider the Aboriginal inhabitants of this ‘country.’

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

Aboriginal Australians consider their ‘country’ to be not only the place with which they identify; it is an enlivened spiritual cosmos, filled with other parts of nature that have just as much right to live and flourish as humanity does. The way to live right with this kind of natural environment is to build relations with it. To consider the river as a really alive, flowing source of replenishment, for people and for life itself; to consider the eagle as brother, the kangaroo as kin, the sky as part of the web of life. And to be responsible for part of this, via a totemic system, so that I may need to protect the Bilby Dreaming of our particular ‘country’ while you may be responsible for the Native Grass Dreaming. The system works by organising everything and everyone into a nested series of cares, where we all share empathy and compassion for all of life, together as parts of the pattern.

So; what can we rediscover about the hope held out by an Easter festival in contemporary terms, when we stand outside of conventional Christianity, on an ancient land, with secular freedoms? We can consider Easter’s iconic imagery of the Resurrection, which is in turn a version of a much more ancient idea; that we can transform who we are in real terms, in the body, with a kind of rebirth out of ritual. When we think of the mythic story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we can’t help but recall the Mystery Schools of the Greeks, who likewise spent time in dim caverns, spending their symbolic dark days and nights of the soul being inspired by personal experience that went beyond the limits of the personal, so that they could be transformed in their everyday lives in alignment with a greater vision of what is possible.

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Eleusis, a site of the Greek Mysteries, dedicated to the goddess Demeter; the grains on the left of the carving represent new life out of the earth, a physical and spiritual symbol at the same time.

If ever there was a time we needed to tap back into this deep stream of European and Levantine wisdom, this was it. We can re-find inner riches in ecological spirituality, which also link us to the rest of nature, to the other creatures and even to the landscape itself, all of which now requires protection from the worst ravages of the human race. White Fella Dreaming subscribes to all of this, as a counter-culture to the dominant paradigm and its damages, in the hopes of transforming modern society to a more sustainable set of practices; and we need to do this within ourselves, at the same time as we activate it in everyday life and in the wider community of the planet. And we have inner resources, our own links to early practices like this, and existing wisdom traditions of this land to learn from.

Thanks for reading. And have a regenerating and transformative Easter.

*This is a short version of my Easter Sunday service given at the Unitarian Church in East Melbourne, Australia, April 5th.

Images: 1. “Lubok of Resurrection” by Anonymous – Музей народной графики. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg#/media/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg. 2. “Easter Bunny” by Littlerockphoto – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG#/media/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG. 3. “Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details” by User:Franconia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg#/media/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg. 4. By Arapaima [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Sketch trying to illustrate the Arnhem Land North Coast Indigenous Australians cosmogony, as described by David Gulpilil in the australian movie “Ten canoes” made by Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr (sketch derived from a painting by Johnny Bulunbulun, a Ganallingu artist working in Maningrida). 5. By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany (Eleusis) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Moon in Australian Aboriginal and White Fella Dreaming

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In many indigenous myths, the moon waxes and wanes because of the greed or selfishness of an ancestor spirit. Whether lusting after an unavailable romantic partner or feeding endlessly on a special foodstuff, often sweet, this character ends up displaced into the night sky, forever to repeat the pattern of unrestrained appetite, to fullness, to the wasting away that is its cosmic recompense. Ultimately, the moon/character is reborn, but this act of seeming divine forgiveness is once again sharpened by the karmic lesson it must teach us mere mortals; endlessly, the greedy one must repeat their transgressions and pay the price. It won’t learn, which should be enough of a reminder to us that we must – unless we also want to repeat destructive patterns forever.

 

We all know traditional cultures, including our own, looked to the night sky and told stories about what was seen there. Can we, as moderns with scientific knowledge, still learn from these stories? Part of what White Fella Dreaming seeks to do is to draw those threads together; to be true to what we know of the world and ourselves, today (as Campbell exhorted), but also to learn from wisdom traditions at the same time. We know the moon waxes and wanes according to its orbits around the earth and the earth’s cycles around the sun. But the old stories mean a great deal, if we are prepared to listen. They can put us back in touch with the laws of nature, both inner, in the human psychic world, and outer, in the environment. How? Check it out.

 
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The greedy character acts against others in order to fulfill their desires. The endless loop of their gratification and demise in the sky teaches us to take care of others when we act upon our appetites. This applies whether our tastes run to sweet nectar from the trees or that gorgeous young lady who is already promised to another, or who loves another, or who has the wrong skin name. (Interestingly, in Australian Aboriginal mythologies, the moon is often male.) The moon’s constant demise in the second half of its cycle, from fullness to death, teaches us to curb our desires, to let it go, to recognize that our appetites won’t always be sated. Same goes with the fruits of the land; in the hunter/gatherer world of feast and famine, it doesn’t do to long for more of a crop that is going to be lean this season, or to let others go hungry, or to force them to work for your greedy desires … others must be considered, if we are to act in a civilized, sociable manner. Tighten the belt, accept a measure of suffering, give up on something you thought you had to have, allow your desires to be ‘educated’ (as suggested by utopian theorists Miguel Abensour and Ruth Levitas).

 

We don’t only have something to learn in regards to our inner lives here. We also need to relearn the lessons provided by the long days feast and famine that are coded into our cultural codes; to curb our material appetites, in order to align our human ways with the laws of nature and be true to the earth again. The oil bubble, combined with the industrial revolution, working on top of large-scale agricultural civilizations, has led us to an era of unprecedented plenty. It’s hard to exaggerate how much this means: in the privileged centres of western (and any technologically advanced) societies today, we are gorged on an eternal feast in cities of light. This is an entirely new level of abundance and one that we cannot deny for its power. We are drawn to it like primate moths to a flame. And I am not merely suggesting a move away from abundance, technology, modern life or our highest hopes for al humanity here. But what I am suggesting, as I listen to the moon – exactly at mid-point in its phase tonight over Eltham, a perfect semi-circle lit against the night sky and the ringtail possum walking the tightrope of an electric wire past my front verandah – is that we need to remind ourselves of the cost of this feast. We are the ravenous man now. Modern global civilization is acting as if it can have everything and will not have to ay for its greed and selfishness. And we know, in our hearts, that this is true. I’m just reporting that the wisdom traditions still speak that truth. Go outside at night and listen to the moon. It will tell you; restrain your desires and think of the earth’s others. Or accept the same destiny as befell all of those that have come before you, who were placed in the sky to remind you of the danger. Before it’s too late.

 

 

Images: purchased from one of those megacorporation places. Sometimes i do it.