My ancestors came by boat to this country
With arrogance and violence and ignorance
They made their home without regard for the spirit of this land
Without respect or care for her people
In 200 years very little has changed
Always was, always will be, aboriginal land.
My placenta is buried under a lemon scented gum in Mitcham
I spent my childhood holidays among granite mountains and wide beaches
Ormond point oversaw my first spiritual awakening
The great trees have guided and comforted me
When I have travelled I have yearned for these landscapes
This land has raised me, it is in my blood and bones, in the depths of my psyche.
The horror of our history is overwhelming
As much as I feel love and connection to this land
I am as a child playing by the ocean of indigenous understandings
All my life I’ve carried an ancestral guilt
The deeper I connect to this land
The more keenly I feel the damage done to the first peoples
The more I feel the personal loss of the knowledge they hold.
I love this land and I feel its claim on my heart
But it doesn’t belong to me
I can’t own the spirit of the land
I can only listen and serve and pay my respects
My spiritual connection gives me no rights
And if I ever have the privilege of sitting with the elders
I would want them to know
As deeply as I love this place
I would give it up for our healing.
What I feel called to do is harder than that.
In giving my heart over to this country
I open myself to all the grief and love it has to offer
I feel the injustice of the ongoing process of colonisation
I see how my own spirit is dominated, controlled and subdued
Entwined with the land I love.
Some things are so big you can’t possibly write about them.
Three months ago I flew to Colorado to spend a week in the wilderness on a vision fast with a group of magnificent women. All the way there I wondered why I was flying halfway around the world to connect with the Earth when I feel so connected to the Australian landscape. The whole journey was about surrender, about feeling called and acting on impulse, about letting myself be helped and carried by the people around me.
When I arrived in Colorado my heart broke open with the beauty of it. Those mountains!! Those delicious, incredible, magnificent mountains. “No wonder” I said to my generous host “American’s like big cars and big houses, anyone would feel insignificant next to that!” I enjoyed feeling dwarfed, having a real sense of my humble place in the scheme of things.
Somehow the long journey, the altitude and the jetlag conspired to leave me vulnerable and weepy but rather than fight it, I saw this as a blessing. It stripped layers of reserve off me, here on the other side of the world, far from family and broken relationships, I could lay down the burden of grief I’d been carrying. I spent much of the first two days in tears, I was beginning to feel self-conscious about it when one of our guides, a woman of few words and an impressive herstory of wild Earth love, looked me in the eye and said “your tears are sacred.”
I cannot tell you the relief those words inspired in me. “Here you are safe,” they said, “Here you are enough. Just be.” I have had the great honour of offering those four simple words to a number of people in my life. Each time I have witnessed the gentle sag of shoulders as they relax into their grief. Recently as I cried in the arms of my new love, she offered them back to me. What a beautiful place the world would be if we were all able to hold this understanding in our hearts and minds – your tears are sacred.
People seem to fear tears, fear the discomfort of grief but I have found it is only repressed emotion that is truly discomfiting. After and between and through my tears, up there in the mountains, was a boundless joy. The remote valley where we stayed was alive with new creatures and I was in a perpetual state of wonder. Thrilling to the sound of chipmunk chirps, delighting in their feathery tails and observing their movements with rapt attention. Every bird and butterfly was a visitation, the whole valley seemed to rise to my attention, almost showing off.
Around the circle I laughed at myself, bashfully admitting that I felt like Snow White, surrounded by birds and small mammals. Our guide looked me in the eye once more and said “You have come here, across the world, and offered your loving attention, why would the land not respond to that?”
Last Friday I had the great priviledge of watching Tanderrum, the ceremonial coming together of the five language groups of the Kulin nation, the local Aboriginal people and custodians of the land where I live. It was beautiful and moving, only the second time the ceremony has been carried out since colonisation. I cried most of the way through for reasons that are difficult to articulate. I kept wondering if it was wrong to cry, disrespectful or embarrassing, but our guide’s words rang in my head and my heart “your tears are sacred, your tears are sacred, your tears are sacred.”
Last Saturday I had the great privilege of listening to authors, Maya Ward (The Comfort of Water) and Claire Dunn (My year without matches) in conversation with Sean O’Caroll (founder of Wild Mind) at CERES. It was held on the Village Green, right by Merri Creek, the perfect location for a discussion of rewilding in urban contexts.
Sean took a moment at the start to invite us all to listen to the more than human world around us and bring that richness into our awareness. Throughout the evening Maya and Claire’s reflections were punctuated by the call of ducks, wattlebirds and crows. It was delicious to open my senses to all of these things and include them in my experience of the conversation.
What struck me most about the conversation was the way that it traversed personal, spiritual and political worlds. So many levels of the human story are highlighted by the journey of these women. Their choices have made them different from other people but the fears and personal confrontations they describe are universal. By choosing to engage with the world in new ways, they challenge the status quo and open space for all of us to privilege new/old forms of knowing and ways of being that are based in direct experience of the more than human.
To close they taught us wide angle vision and fox walking. I have been using wide angled vision throughout the week – on the train, in crowded city streets, on my walk to work through the park. It’s a difficult experience to describe but there’s definitely something to it, a kind of clarity and presence outside my usual perception.
Over all the evening was very enjoyable but it barely scratched the surface of what it might take to rewild ourselves in urban environments. Hopefully this will be the first of many such conversations. There were over 250 RSVPs on Facebook (about 60 showed up on the day and it was a chilly evening). It demonstrates to me that there is a great hunger for conversation about living closer to wildness in our cities. I’m excited that so many share my passion.
I haven’t written for a little while because I’ve been busy planning an adventure. Ruth over at Inscendence put out a call for women to join a wild nature retreat and vision quest and, since I was looking to justify a trip to Portland a week later for World Domination Summit, I said ‘I’m in.’ I was hoping to make the Back Creek Project happen as soon as I get back but that doesn’t feel very sensible now. I’ve had some good discussions with a few people at council, the local friends group and the Wurundjeri Council but I think it’s worth letting it gestate a little.
In the meantime here are some photos from a bit of reconnaisance I did with a friend of the Denman St portion of the creek:
I’ve also been thinking about some of the ideas that precipitated this project, apart from Maya’s beautiful book and wanted to share some with you.
About seven years ago now I discovered that I have lived by a creek for most of my life. Back Creek is a tributary of Gardiner’s Creek (formerly Kooyongkoot Creek) which is a tributary of the Yarra River (also known as Birrarung).
This map of the Shire of Boroondara circa 1871 confirms the original path of the creek (and a number of others besides). The green line is Kooyongkoot/Gardiner’s Creek, the light blue is Back Creek and the purple lines are Canterbury, Riversdale and Toorak Roads (from top to bottom), they should help to orient you if you live locally.
In environmental circles it’s widely recognised that connecting with ‘nature’ is important. Most people tend to think that the only way to do this is to go out into the wilderness where the human is dwarfed by the more-than-human. But what if it’s not?
The environmental crisis requires us to live more efficiently, with smaller footprints. It doesn’t make sense for all of us to go and live in the wilderness so we can stay mindful of our true place “in the family of things.” We need to look with new eyes, to see the wildness in our own backyards, our cities and suburbs, to see that we are part of a greater whole no matter where we are.
To this end I am planning a walk along the length of Back Creek. This journey is significant because the reason I didn’t know I lived near a creek is that it mostly runs underground in barrel drains. I’m not sure what it will be like to walk it, whether the land still gives clues as to the creek’s location.
Much of its length is now parkland and walking trails, a few short sections are open to the sky. It is cared for by council staff and ‘friends’ groups made up of local residents. I am in the process of collecting stories and information, if you have any to share please get in touch.
I invite you to join me on an adventure, on Sunday 27 July 2014, into the history of land, people and home. Come see the wildness in our streets. The creek may be covered but traces remain for those with eyes and heart to see.
It was over two weeks ago but the memory still rings with warmth, softness and love. I stood and read a story at Mother Tongue about my mother and about grief. Mum was in the audience at my invitation and when I started to cry she came and stood with me. I clearly remember the gentle clicking of support from the audience that bore me up as I stood, too overcome with emotion to speak.
I was terrified before hand. Sitting in the audience while other women bared their souls, I told the persistent nag in the back of my brain that we weren’t going through with it. When my turn came I calmly rose and took the stage. My mother, the family historian, proudly introduced me with six generations of matrilineal ancestors, all the way back to Brigid who got on a boat in Ireland. I was and am so pleased at her joy in that moment, sharing a knowledge that is seldom appreciated.
The story I read was about me and mum and grief and a hug that was 45 years late but no less meaningful for all that. It’s a precious moment and the sharing of it has only extended and expanded the gift. The next day Mum said “Your story has deepened the experience for me. I had told myself that it was mostly about you, that hug. Reading your story I realised how important it was for me.”
All night people approached us to thank us for sharing it and to share their own stories. “You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.” they said, each in their own way. I’m so glad Mum was there to receive that with me, to know that her experience has echoes in other people’s livess. It felt so right to be sharing the story together, even though I wrote it, it belongs to us both.