Blood ties, land ties

Saturday 12 April 2008

Regardless of their origins, Aboriginal peoples share a common devotion to their countries. No matter how stony, cold, barren, dry, hot or harsh their country might appear to others, to the indigenes their country is the only place that truly matters. It is where they or their parents were born, where their ancestors are buried, where the generations before them have lived and died. It is indisputably where they belong. It is where a correct life is possible; your true country is the Good Life incarnate.

They want me to go to Paris! Why would I go to Paris? I'd rather go to Tennant Creek for a week. - Central Australian Aboriginal writer, incredulous upon being invited to a literary festival.

For indigenous people steeped in meaningful tradition, to live outside one's country is to be constantly in peril, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Exile is a peculiar form of illness, and of blindness, since the stories that give life meaning - the pedagogies of the generations - are contained not in books or language alone, but in language expressed within and by landscape.
Melissa Lucashenko, 'Not quite white in the head', Griffith Review 2: Dreams of Land, Summer 2003-2004, pp. 17.

These words from yesterday's writing class were ringing in my ears today as I sat at the summit of Hanging Rock (25 minutes uphill climbing; I resisted a heart attack but I shall definitely feel it tomorrow in my legs :) In the sense as described above, I am still an exile in my own country. I shall never have the experience of strong generational blood ties to the land, of being able to speak the land. How much more I would be able to see and say if I did. And yet, the land still talks ...

I was just a visitor to Hanging Rock. Had never been here before, possibly would never come here again. I was aware of my visitor status - not simply because of the fee I paid to go into the area, nor the trail markers and stairs, signposts, toilets and a cafe to indicate that this was a place that people visited. But the land itself told me that I was a visitor. Not in an unfriendly way (although many Europeans in the past have thought so, comparing this land to what swam in their own blood and finding it wanting, so alien they couldn't begin to fathom its personality). I wouldn't be able to see the true intricacies, character and nuances of this place unless I lived there for generations. And yet the land was willing to talk ...

Much Australian scenery, to be captured properly, requires a camera many more hundreds of dollars more expensive than mine, or a photographer who could manually set F-stops and shutter speeds to capture the different colours of the rocks, the differing shades of brown and grey, the mint green of the lichen. Not for this environment the dramatics of the main street of Mount Macedon where, on my way home, the English-ey maples and elms and other treeish amazingnesses were coming into their autumnal glory, causing me to drive as slowly down the street as possible so I could stop and utter audibles to myself out the window. Beautiful.

But this land is different. It sings to me in a way that those beautiful Macedon trees don't. Englishness sings strongly through my blood, the unseen memory of those ancestors before me who saw with their own eyes and lived with their own hands and feet and heads and hearts those same trees back in the Motherland. That is my blood too. But England is not my country. Australia is my country. But Australians are some of the most itinerant people in the world, a reflection of our not belonging, of living uneasily upon the land, this willingness to pick up and take off at a moment's notice. Uneasy exiles in our own land. We think we can't learn the language. It takes a long, long time to learn a language. And yet, the land still speaks ...

As long as it takes to really get to know a place, the land reaches out and sings to us very quickly, if we are willing to hear. It just takes a while to be willing to hear. Sometimes guilt gets in the way. But when we do, when we start listening, that's when slowly, slowly, a place begins to seep itself into our own blood too.

I took my shoes and socks off and sat and rested for 15 minutes or so, on warm yellowish rock, the dog panting beside me, and gazed over the yellow dry of the pastoral land below, so much cleared, and wondered how it looked 200 years before, covered in trees. Even sitting there for 15 minutes, the colours and shapes and textures of my surroundings began taking on a significance, began revealing a bit more of themselves, showing a bit more of their gentle hues. I sat on the rock and I knew that at least these rocks were the same as they looked to those generations past. And even though I was a visitor, the land sang itself to me through my feet as they connected with the rock, was willing to seep itself into my blood if I stayed long enough. The land - the spirit of land is forgiving, even after being so ill treated.


  1. This is a beautifully evocative piece! Perhaps you are more strongly connected to the land than you suspect?

  2. Wow. What a beautiful and insightful post. I love the way you talk about the land singing to you through your feet...connection.

    Were there really trees covering the area two hundred years ago?

    I think we may be sharing the same frequency again. :)

  3. Beautiful words and they really touch me and make me feel slightly sad. Isad because I dont feel very connected to Australia's landscape, I can appreciate it, I can see why others love it, but I dont feel that deep love and oneness Id love to feel.
    Your post has really made me think want to try and hear its song through my feet, as you did.
    You are amazing!

  4. Marvellous post, Sue!

    I'm so conscious of this earthing myself. Your post reminds me of what I so hate about long-haul flying (in other respects I love aircraft, and the whole business of airports and travelling...) which is this sense of total non-connectedness, being 8 miles above the good earth. Man, I'd make a lousy astronaut!

    I don't take long, once I'm back on terra firma, to establish at least a temporary, provisional connection with wherever I am. But I belong on the South Coast, and that's that.

    Like Jennifer says, the bit about the land singing to you through your feet is just perfect. That's it, isn't it? Just that.

    Thank you


  5. I guess I never connected anywhere, am a visitor everywhere. I have lived in Montreal, Quebec, Canada longer than I lived in the land of my birth, the USA. I lived a couple of years in Germany and a bit over a year in Japan. Even my grandparents were immigrants from Europe.
    So your beautiful post struck a melancholy note in me. My roots are relatively shallow in this earth. I am a kind of symbiot, giving and taking from wherever I land, deriving life from a relationship with people rather than a landscape.

  6. Sue, funny to come here today and find a post about a connection to the land. I had a client, several years younger than myself, tell me today that she loves coming to see me because she loves the conversations. She told me that she is convinced that it is connected to the fact that I grew up on a farm. I thought to myself at first that sounded kind of strange. She then told me that all the people she seems to be drawn to the most have some connection to the kind of life I had growing up on a farm. She and her husband are going to Montana in June and July to see a very close friend that just makes her feel so alive when she is with her. She grew up on a farm also and to this day goes back every summer to be a real live shepherd, the kind that stays out in the field for days sleeping under the stars watching after the sheep.

    I actually began to understand and feel what she was describing and reading this post today helps me understand it even a little better.

  7. Shelia - thank you. I do feel connected to the land, but I don't think it's anywhere near like how you feel when it's a generational connection to the one spot.

    Jennifer - if you were there with me,you could have sung back to the land through your feet! How cool would that have been? :D

    Andi - *blush* Thanks :) I don't think you're alone in not feeling that strong connection. It's the sad part of being a white Australian

    Mike - I was thinking about flying yesterday, and driving. Thinking about how I spent x dollars and polluted the environment x whatever-the-measurement-is to drive my car an hour each way to this place. And that kinda made me sad too (but not sad enough that I wouldn't do it again). Transport has its dark side, most certainly.

    Mmm. Looking at your profile, it says you are from Wool, in Dorset. Is that really the name of where you live? Wool? How cool :)

    Barbara - yes, the melancholy of the white person living on land that was not theirs. You would understand this post certainly. We probably have the same blood in us. Hell, maybe our ancestors lived next door to each other :)

    Kent - that's a very perceptive thing from your client, that she recognises the connection that draws her. I think I understand what she means.

    I would love to be going to Montana in June or July (not least of which it would mean I'm missing a winter here, but that is sure some beautiful country)

  8. I love that photo of Mr Naughty (Who isnt really very naughty!)
    He looks like he's enjoying the walk between the rocks! I wonder what he picks up from the earth.

  9. Yeah, I wonder too. He had a great time yesterday :) I was worrying at one point that I was gonna give the poor dog a heart attack (that part Boxer heritage - they have weak hearts; I think it's something to do with the barrel chests).

  10. Yes, Sue, it really is Wool! Here's the Wikipedia link...

    Don't forget to follow the external links at the bottom for some pics. One day, I should probably put up a blog post about Wool. It's a good place!


  11. What a fantastic post. I've always wanted to be able to meander towards Australia and travel around for an extended period. In the back of my head though, I know that it will be as alien to me as I to it --when that bonus travel happens.

    It's a wonderful land to be connected to so intensely. Getting less discombobulated?

  12. Thats it Mike, Im moving to Wool! It looks beautiful..I really loved Dorset when I visited.

  13. Let me know when you arrive, Andrea, and I'll show you around!

  14. I might come along and visit too, Andi. Make sure you buy one of them thar thatched cottages :) Beeyootiful spot, Mike! Please do write a post about Wool. (I hate polyester, myself. An evil fibre).

    P&P - I will never be discombobulated. Although I would like to be a little bit less than I have been over the past few years, thanks. I find sitting on giant rocks and hugging trees to be immensely helpful.

    Like Mike said, let me know when you arrive in Australia, and I'll show you around :)

  15. Sue,
    You don't miss a beat. ;) I'm even nerdier than you cause I like more than one song by John Denver, so if I ever make it to Australia I'll be sure to let you know and we can sing a rousing rendition of Annie's with your vocal cords and I through my feet.

  16. P&P - I actually meant I will never be undiscombobulated ... which is probably the same as saying combobulated. I don't know if I want to be, really. It means I will have stopped looking ahead around the next bend :)

    Jennifer - oh, that's just too nerdy. Liking more than one song - that's just not on.

    Can we not find something less nerdy to sing? If I'm gonna get to sing a duet with your feet, I would prefer it to be something more appropriate. Like a song with feet in the title. Like ... umm ... Footlose (yah, hate that song). These Boots Are Made for Walking? Tired of Toeing the Line by Rocky Burnett? But that's probably almost as daggy as John Denver.

    Don't mind me. I'm just procrastinating writing my essay :)

  17. I’ve been catching up a bit on some of your past posts and felt the pull to stop here and say thanks for sharing this spectacular walk with us. I’ve not been to Australia …(and may not get there in this lifetime)… but I’m grateful for glimpses like this one. I’m sure Molly would love exploring this area too ;--)
    Hugs and blessings,

  18. Thanks, ST! The pleasure was more mine in sharing :)


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