Ancestral pilgrimage: Beginning

I am a fifth generation Australian settler and I am in the UK, in the lands of my ancestors, on a quest of healing.

It is a quest in the sense that the outcome is unknown to me. I do not know what, if anything, I will discover while I am here.

It is about healing because my whole life has been about healing. Specifically healing within myself the false divide between me and the Earth.

As a settler Australian, connection with the Earth entails reconciliation. When my ancestors came to Australia they dispossessed many ancient peoples, the longest continuing cultures on Earth. Those cultures continue to thrive, though the process of colonisation continues to this day. I can not come into relationship with the land of my birth without acknowledging this reality.

As I open myself to my larger self – the whole Earth community – the legacy of colonisation presents itself to me. My longing for rituals that respond to and honour the Earth has led me to appropriate the cultural practices of first nations people. I have become aware, on my travels, that much as I love the country of my birth (the lands of the Wurundjeri people) there is a hesitancy, a legacy of guilt that weighs on my subconscious and prevents me from fully surrendering to it.

Then of course there is the question of how my people came to see themselves as ‘separate’ in the first place. It is clear to me that the violence of colonisation was perpetrated against my ancestors many times over before they came to serve the project of colonising ‘Australia.’ I do not say this to claim victim hood for my people but to give myself the chance to rigorously search out the roots of this malpractice in hope that it will give me insight into how to live differently.

In order for me to be born 32 different people left their ancestral homes across England, Scotland and Ireland between 1832 and 1860. Only one was a convict, the rest were economic migrants, squeezed off the land by over population and the enclosure of the commons, refugees fleeing famine, boat people.

Here I am, in the homeland of my ancestors. Seeking to be present to a land that does not carry a burden of guilt, seeking knowledge and understanding of the life ways of my people prior to colonisation and seeking to experience, to feel into, the land my ancestors came from.

My quest is made possible by my travelling companions, my Mum and Dad.

I have the honour of being daughter to a rigorous and knowledgeable family historian who considers my interest in her life’s work a tremendous gift. I can not believe it has taken me this long to realise the vital importance of her work and the privilege of my access to it (just before when I was writing about the time span of my ancestor’s migration all I had to do was turn to my right and ask Mum). She does not only collect names and dates but stories too as we shall see as we go on.

Jill Bear taking a selfie in front of the Trafalgar Square lions, Kiri Bear stands under a lion in the background.

Dad thinks he is just ‘tagging along’ on this expedition but without his lifelong dedication to the financial stability of my family, this trip would be out of my reach. He is also good at getting enthusiastic about things, providing philosophical musings and making suggestions like “Let’s go to the local pub and ask if they know anything about Bears.” that are anathema to my highly introverted mother (I mean no offence by this description, she gave her approval for it).

Kiri Bear opens the tardis of family history, Noel Bear joins in the fun.

I am aware that few of my people (by which I mean settler colonials the world over) have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage such as this. I am extremely grateful for the confluence of conditions that make it possible for me to be here and so I dedicate this journey to the healing of my people, to the healing of all peoples, to the healing of the Earth.

The Weekly Service


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Last night I couldn’t sleep, lay awake for an hour and then woke before dawn still crackling with energy. It’s as though I am carrying the collective healing of a whole group of people and I can barely contain it, barely open my heart to let it in, it is so joyful. Who would have thought such a reaction would come from talking about grief? Continue reading



There were a bunch of things that came out of my last vision quest but I’m wary of trying to capture them. Some seem like elegant nuggets, they can be named and shared, there is a temptation and a danger in reducing the experience to these.

Other things happened that have a felt impact on me but their meaning is elusive, Continue reading

Poetrees is live!

sit with a tree, write a poem, share the tree-love,

Poetrees is alive! You can go to right now and read poems that people have submitted, you can visit their treasured trees and you can even add a poem and a tree of your own.

So now it’s your turn to become part of the Poetrees story. Sit by your favorite tree and write a poem. Know that we are listening gently, ready to hear the feeling behind your clumsy words. Tell us what you love about it. Tell us what your tree loves.

If your muse has deserted you and the words are stalling on your tongue, never fear! Here are a bunch of other ways to support the project:

1. Spread the word. ‘Like’ our posts, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, share our posts and tag people you think might be interested.

2. Tell us what you think. It’s tough sending a brand new baby out into the world, words of encouragement or feedback about how the site is working are very welcome!

3. Encourage other poets. Share the poems that are already up on the site with #poetrees, let them know how much you appreciate their work and show support for the courageous early adopters.

4. If you are in Melbourne, Australia come to a Poetrees workshop:

Flagstaff Gardens, 18 Feb, 5.30pm
Carlton Gardens, 21 Feb, 2pm

Poetrees is supported by the City of Melbourne 2016 Arts Grants Program.

Poetrees was created on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and future and to all people around the world who care for country.


The Poetrees seed has been lurking in the dark for over three months. We’ve been gently watering it with encouraging words, fertilizing it with our creative insights and learning from our mistakes. Over the past week a small tendril has been reaching for the sun as we test the prototype and make sure it’s all ready for your poetic words of tree love.

For those who are new to the project, Poetrees is a playful community arts offering that explores our connection with trees. Users will be able to submit a poem and a tree to the interactive map on our website so that others can visit the tree and read the poem.

I’m excited to let you know that after hours and hours of hard work from the team, the Poetrees website is almost ready to burst into the daylight!

We’ve done everything we can to make a joyful container for your tree-loving words. Next week it will be your turn to step out of the shade and share your poetree with the world.

We’re not leaving you out on a limb though! The important task of composing poems needn’t be carried out alone. We have prepared a series of poem seeding workshops throughout the Sustainable Living Festival to help you tend to your creative garden.

The one hour workshops will comprise a tree meditation and some simple writing exercises to help the creative sap rise through your limbs, onto the page and up to the electronic mycelial network (aka the internet).

Come to one or come to all three! Commune with trees and write poetry! Invite your friends and family, spread the tree love across our city. #inmelbcity #SLFAus #poetrees

Birrarung Mar, 13 Feb, 2pm
Flagstaff Gardens, 18 Feb, 5.30pm
Carlton Gardens, 21 Feb, 2pm

Listen, listen, listen to the birds

After the success of our crowdfunding campaign my partner and I headed up to norther NSW to learn bird language and nature awareness with American tracker, Jon Young.

A view of our campsite.

My first day of learning bird language was difficult and confusing. We were sent out to find sit spots with a simple instruction to observe tension vs relaxation in the birds around us. It seems easy enough but the diversity of Australian song birds, the high activity of spring and the amount of territorial aggression made it extremely difficult to weed through the complexity to make any sense of the whole.

The debrief with my small group felt long and tedious, the blind leading the blind, it was hard to know what to share or what to listen for. At the end of that first session though I felt like I was beginning to get a sense of what is ‘baseline’ behaviour as opposed to alert or alarmed. It seems that in the Australian landscape it is silence that speaks loudest! The bush is rarely quiet unless there is some kind of predator nearby.

The view from my sit spot for the weekend.

Jon was very clear that Australia is an unfamiliar landscape for him. He didn’t try to teach us about the specificities of the local flora and fauna, instead he taught us a process for engaging with the more-than-human and generating our own connections and understandings. In fact, I observed that he rarely asserted his own knowledge at all, preferring to tell stories that left us to join our own dots.

What we did learn though, after we had started making our own observations, was patterns for how birds communicate and what they might be saying. These patterns are not based on the specifics of bird evolution or biology but where birds tend to fit within an ecosystem. For example Australian birds will go silent when there is an aerial predator on the wing, just like birds in other countries.

I am already putting some of the processes we learned into practice. In my morning sit-spot (at Highfield Park) a pair of magpies landed 15 metres away and looked me over. Rather than staring at them like I usually do, I avoided eye contact and tipped my head away from them. The magpies walked closer, eventually crossing my gaze a mere 2 metres in front of where I was sitting. Having been a dog owner I am familiar with using body language to communicate with animals but I had never thought to try it with birds.

I feel like I have taken the first steps on a long and exciting journey! My knowledge and my sense of connection will only continue to grow.

Artist as Family

We made some new friends! The week after I finished up at work we travelled to Daylesford to ‘SWAP’ (Social Warming Artists and Permaculturalists) with Artist as Family. I can’t think of a better way to begin this new phase of my life. It was divine, too many thoughts and ideas and inspirations to share but this little poem captures some of the spirit. Continue reading