Stop the closures of remote Aboriginal Communities in Australia

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

communities2

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.

 Communities

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.

Cacao Ritual – is chocolate sacred?

Chocolate. We all love it. But is this another case of modern society simply farming the land, ripping off the locals, spraying alarming amounts of pesticides around and reaping the profits? If chocolate is so great, is there some kind of super ingredient in it, a chemical that makes us feel love or power, a natural kind of magic that deserves a bit more respect than we grant when ripping off the wrapper to another bar of our favourite variety?

wpid-20150121_184120.jpg
The cacao ritual altar

I love the move towards more organic, raw, whole foods as well as fair trade. These shifts in consumer sentiment reveal a deepening awareness of and care about the source of our foods and this shows more respect for the earth – a shift that underpins a lot of what White Fella Dreaming is all about. But the next step – the thing that brings us back in line with the source at another level, that hums with the sacred and fills life with meaning – is to perform ritual.

wpid-20150121_192636.jpg
The chocolate being dispensed

Ritual can be very simple and brief, a silent giving of thanks or a bow, or it can be complex and lengthy, as in many initiation rites. It can help facilitate transformation, from one time of life to another, from everyday to sacred space, from one state of mind (such as so-called ‘ordinary consciousness’) to … something more. A type of awareness that appreciates more of the different levels or dimensions of a thing, or a time, or a feeling. So, yeah, I participated in a cacao ritual.

wpid-20150121_230150.jpg
Asher and Lydia

Facilitated by Asher Glass and Lydia Marolda, the group imbibed a batch of cacao imported from Guatemala specifically for this purpose. Inspired by his meeting with Keith Wilson, when travelling in Central America, Asher has begun bringing this same amount of respect for the active ingredient in chocolate – and for the place it is from, the people who farm it locally there, the process that goes into transforming it into an edible delicacy for us western consumers – to Melbourne. After discussing how we could allow the cacao, under these conditions of conscious intent, to help unfurl the body’s prayer, we danced. What’s the body’s prayer? Whatever it is for you. Mine, when offered to the group as we all did, was to more deeply embody the sacred mysteries. Yours could be whatever arises – yes, you can try this at home!

wpid-20150121_203523.jpg
Getting down for chocolate!

The dance session was facilitated in the same style as the Dancing Freedom events that Lydia runs. We dance as if we are earth, which we are; water, air, fire … we dance in the elements and celebrate life. The wind-down included some feedback from each participant following their experiences and their body’s response to the unfurling of its prayer through the ritual. For myself, I felt the usual reawakening of spirit I get from successful ritual; no surprises there, after the vehicle of ritual opened me up to a wild dance with conscious intent.

wpid-20150121_215714.jpg
Meditating on & sharing the experience

Finally, though, I just have to add: how easy would it be to dismiss this as a laughable new age fad, without some context. Chocolate shamanism, pfff. If I hadn’t shared so many of these kinds of experiences over the years, I might be part of that dismissive crowd. The intellectual field of academic thought and research, for sure, works hard to protect itself from seemingly irrational challenges much of the time. I know, I have spent years in that game. But what that perspective misses is what I had to go outside and look for – or rather, remind myself I always had – direct relationship with the sacred behind all things. To keep that alive, I’m prepared to consider rituals that resacralise any aspect of modern life; especially when such practices also align with the values of environmental justice I support as part of the ecospirituality movement. So enjoy your next taste of chocolate – in the best possible way!

All photos by author. Asher and Lydia are intending to hold this event monthly and the original invitation can be found here.

The Old Ones

100_7829Stone circle, Loughcrew, Ireland

 

Deep within our own codes – soul shapes and DNA – lie the memories of the Old Ones; the Ancestors who got us here, who survived the hard times, who inform our own behaviours and predispositions. At our best we recall them, give thanks, even revere the memory of these beings, who can be human but are also other kinds of inner guide, including the wisdom of cellular memories, which are informed by interactions between waters and salts and earth matter, by the evolution of animate life, by the historical play of light and darkness, by the creative spirits that lay down the paths across the land upon which we walk and breathe.

 

100_7845Petroglyphic carvings, Loughcrew.

We have our parents, theirs, and so on back to the ancients; European ancestry, Chinese, African, Native. These people got you here, so it seems only fair to respect their fighting spirit for life – it wasn’t always easy. But deeper behind this, who or what gave rise to them? Primates that came down out of the trees in the Rift Valley, evolved the opposable thumb, began to use symbols to communicate strategies to overcome their relative physical weakness in the face of the other giant predators; or who awakened as if overnight having been gene-spliced by another, more evolved race; who grew out of the swirling mud of the earth or fell from the sky, or both; and anyway, what about all the other animals and beings along the way? Didn’t the amoeba that began to divide and become more complicated give rise to more life from the oceanic abodes of earth’s earliest history? Ancestors arise from the cosmic soup, the swirling chaos out of which life emerged, in the newts and frogs and toads and salamanders closest to life between land and liquid; in the other mammals that teach us how to watch and listen carefully … the timid deer and painstaking owl, the insouciant yet speedy kangaroo or emu, the burrowing wombat or the roaring lion or the bull or cow or horse whose powers join ours in the flux of life.

 

100_8180Section of Sargon’s Gates, ancient Mesopotamia

 

All life gives life to all other life, in a co-creative dance of mutual support and, if we are open to it, lifelong learning. Trees emanate oxygen and we breathe it in; trees die and parrots nest in them; rodents eat acorns and butterflies feast on the bugs that live on the leaves; and as for fresh water … we are nothing without it. Even light, radiating out from the stars, the original life force, is part of the life and breath of our ancestry, as is the darkness that is its relief. The Old Ones, our ancestors, are everywhere, still, and they are also buried deep in the past. If we listen to the power of the stars, the wisdom of the animals and plants, the silence of the stones and the burbling of the waters, we can still hear new ways of thinking about current ecosystems. These stories are myths, in the best possible way – powerful narratives and symbols that are capable of tying us back to the great magnificence, reminding us of where we come from, what we rely upon, how much we love what we seem to be losing, how sad we need to be at the destruction of the earth, how much we need to then let go of that sadness and remember again our fortune, forever in a cycle of giving thanks and fighting for what is right and what supports more life …

 

shutterstock_69675613-sunOur local star, flaring with the stuff of life, light and warmth (if you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time).

 

 

I give thanks to my ancestors, the Normans and Celts who lived across western Europe, who eventually joined with the Anglo Saxons and other moderns to emigrate to Australia; to the ancestors of this land, who cared for it and lived on it and kept their ancient ways as strong as possible, while also remaining open to new ways when that became the most intelligent and sustainable option, who still work with creativity and tradition in dealing with the colonizing force of the modern west, just as native people all over the world deal with invasive forces from larger, more technologically developed societies; to the ancestors of the human race and to the other animals and plants who helped give rise to us, who give rise to themselves, who work in co-creation to support life even as they consume it, to earth creatures of all stripes and to the stars, the furnaces of life, the great, deep, celestial intelligence of light that fires our planet every day and drives cellular growth and wires motor neurons together so that we can comprehend and compute and cry and be awake and love and feel and think. I give thanks to the ancestors.

All of them.

 

dugong-hunters-150x150This image is from an Australian Aboriginal “Dreaming”, or songline, or country line (story to come soon).