Ancestral adventure: Letting go

We have moved from the flat, flint and clay lands of East Anglia to the hilly stone lands of the Peak District. It is lovely to see the difference in the buildings as they respond to what’s abundant in the land. Today we are in Castleton, there are no ancestors to hunt down and visit here (as far as I know) and it is something of a relief. No expectation, no stories, just me and the land.

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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.