to people of the developed world
Dear rifca and team,
If we had met, i may have looked like some kind of naked white wild man, caked in red mud, squatting in a decrepit hut in remote desert scrubland. ninija and her people always call us ‘white-fella ghost,’ as you probably know. And you may think that I am trapped here in the Desert just like lumaluma was. ‘lumaluma?’ That’s another strange name the Desert people have for white skins, but especially those who exploit ninija and her people. ninija, as traditional landowner of these Lands, which stretch further than the human eye can see, was almost torn out of them, as you’ll see in her story. Actually, roughly translated, ‘lumaluma’ means ‘money-money’ in their ancient tongue. However, ‘wild white man’ or ‘lumaluma,’ neither name applies to me, as you will see. In fact, very far from it.
ninija and her people all left the settlement some time and day before ‘right now’ and ‘right here,’ on the evening of the twelfth day and The Djang. it was full Moon, a highly auspicious signal. we couldn’t notify you of this, and i can’t tell you when it was exactly. However, i can tell you it was the end of the Wet season – the time in the centre of australia when it Rains so much that the Land is suddenly completely flooded. Huge Trees and Rock formations are completely submerged. Then, quite suddenly too, the floodwaters recede and the heat starts to build up again like a furnace. As I say, there are no humans here now, so no need for outbound words or inbound thoughts, not that I have any desire to make any except to apologize in this last letter. Once, my inner life used to be constructed entirely from a coarse fabric of such words and thoughts. Nowadays they are mostly irrelevant, and i feel smooth and silky inside.
Today, i decided to come inside to get my very last experience of being in ‘white-fella’ Lands before I leave too. i should explain this key phrase so vital to life out here in the Desert. ‘The Lands’ is the term used by ninija to represent the physical country belonging to their tribe, and also its psychological or spiritual dimension. Both of these consist mainly of Stories, Legends, and the Tribal Laws. ‘The Lands’ having other dimensions apart from the physical Earth may seem to you a strange notion at first, but ninija’s story will explain this beautifully. She officially entrusted it to me for safe-keeping just before she departed, exactly as the Moon started to rise, ready for you to read. she was certain it was time the world knew about it and that you rifca would make sure it did. she knew you would come in your red dress, referring to you as ‘red-dress woman.’
So, standing behind the Fly screen inside this clammy ‘dog-box,’ as these temporary shelters of concrete and tin are called, for the very last time, i recall vaguely how it used to be home to me. i realise now, after so much has happened, that like ninija did, i feel wedged fast between white fella’s Lands and ninija’s Lands.
You see, in ‘the Lands, ninija’s ‘Lands,’ there are Stories everywhere, even on the horizon. And the Skies are filled with Songs. It’s hard to imagine i know, and i also had trouble understanding it at first, but ninija’s story will make it really clear to you. The other amazing thing is that, as I mentioned earlier, here it is possible to stay always right in the centre of the moment and not get distracted by either a worrying future or a depressing past. ninija always refers to it as in ‘the right here’ and in ‘the right now.’ Perhaps, you’re not sure what i mean, so bear with me.
In fact, in ninija’s Lands it is possible to take up our place in eternity. By doing this, we are able to become truly and consistently happy. This is something i never dreamed was possible, but i’ll let ninija tell you about that in her own way. It’s no good talking about it in ‘white fella’ way. It has to touch the hearts of each of you who read from her lips directly.
In ‘white-fella’ Lands, you will probably agree that for many there is only one chance at life before they die. To make it worse, they are terrified of dying. So most of them spend their time regretting the past, or worrying about the future, and are in fact rarely fully in the moment. In the story, no wonder lumaluma needs to soothe away the stress of having only one chance at life with drugs, with alcohol and nicotine, and worse pleasures. And no wonder he wants everyone to be like him. There’s perhaps certain safety in numbers. i can see that now.
‘Right here’ and ‘right now,’ as i look through the mesh of the Fly screen, it seems that i have always looked out at the vast blue Desert Sky and the red Ochre of the Land below it. The two are held together by the dark outline of the huge Casuarina Tree. ninija’s people so cherished it, and insisted on making their settlement around it. i can still see them all staring in wonderment up into its muscular Branches, especially so at the meetings of the Elders which were convened at the base of its massive Trunk. ‘Back then,’ as i looked out, i remember that at certain times of the day something high in the Tree would shine, dazzling me so i had to look away. it was like a bright star. When i asked what it was, ninija told me that by the end of her Story i would understand what it was, and i did. Now it’s for you to understand by reading.
Then, somewhere in this rectangular frame of the mesh that I stare into, there is me. My pale eyes and white skin reddened by the colossal heat. My unkempt hair and fuzzy beard strained through the thousands of minute wire cells to become part of everything outside. Then, everything outside is filtered back to become part of me. One moment, i become the strong Tree and the stunning blue and red, and the next the Sky and Earth somehow take on my pale strangeness. There is no separation at all, and there is no beginning to my gazing and no end to it. ‘Right Now.’ ‘Right Here.’ ‘Now.’ ‘Here.’ On and on. i would try to explain it to you as total ‘integration.’ ninija taught me how to do it.
As i look around outside, from one rubbish heap to the next, it nowadays seems bizarre that the ‘developed’ human species has a compulsion to collect material objects. And then, to sequence and sort them, arranging them in heaps like these, or on shelves, or inside custom-built drawers and cupboards, in albums or boxes. With time, the collections become the entire identity of the collector. In fact, they think they are nobody without them.
i too have stood in the ranks of these collectors, for most of my life until recently. This dog-box i am presently standing in was once walled with stacks of meticulously ordered green notebooks, written up, every day since my arrival. Then, there were wads of photographs, taken religiously, sorted into wallets and numbered to correspond to passages in the notebooks. Stacks of cassette cases containing taped conversations with ninija and her people, their counter numbers indexed with the main body of notes.
All this data was rigorously cross-referenced, clinically collected. Any subjective observations were censored out to give clear insight, evidence and finally proof of the tribe’s ancient lives. This collection would one day be presented to the intellectually curious, and become the intellectual property of the ‘foundation for indigenous peoples,’ known for short as fip which i’m sure you are familiar with. it was this organization, which sent me to the Desert to make these studies. Yes, there is no doubt now that my own data had come to represent my entire identity too, and that without it i was nothing or nobody.
Looking more closely at the motivation behind the making of such collections, or any collections, is interesting to me now. Whim? Greed? Obsession? Fixation? The quest for a unique collection? In my own case, my motivation was spelled out in a contract and rewarded with a regular salary, like yours i imagine will be. With recognition as a distinguished researcher in the anthropology field, and supplies dispatched without fail to sustain my once-frail life out here.
my actual brief as an anthropologist was to study in depth the “tolerance of pain assisted by magic and other non-chemical means” of these Desert people. To explain further, there are no chemical medicines or mechanically assisted treatments out here in the Desert, so traditional, folk medicines and cures have been highly developed by aboriginals. But my great interest was how the aboriginals, indeed any ancient peoples, use magic or shamanism (the communication between the spiritual and the human world performed by medicine man) to cure and deal with pain.
my subjects were a female aboriginal Traditional Landowner named ninija, her granddaughter gina, and their people. The location of my field work: 1100 miles deep in the centre of australia, reached by land-cruiser surfing the Desert, or ‘flying-doctor’ planes if the money was available. i sympathize with how difficult your journey must have been, by the way. To cheer you up, ninija calls land-cruisers, white fella’s Silver Goose, and aircraft, white scratching Bird of Sky. Contrary to what we thought, this particular tribe of Desert people have never known these modes of transport until very recently.
i was indeed a professional collector back then! my neat rectangular book spines and sharp corners, and the sharpened leads of pencils and precision-made nibs, had actually become my arms and legs, my eyes and even my heart, my strange collector’s heart. All my indexes and bibliographies practically formed a fine film under my fingernails and across my top lip. Oh yes, it is true that i would have killed to protect my collection ‘back then’ in white-fella’s Lands. You will feel the same i’m certain, because that’s how we are trained to live in so-called civilization.
Then one day ‘back then’ i was moved to do something very strange. Call it a sign from heaven, a directive from my higher self if you like. it happened the night they, ninija and her people, finally left, and i stayed behind to make the last arrangements. Almost immediately the queer procession had disappeared from my view, i was moved to go out and bring many Grass baskets made by ninija’s women into my ‘dog-box.’ Then, as if hypnotized, i stiffly took armfuls of my precious records, and fed their spines into the baskets, as easily as if they were unlatched concertinas.
As i fuelled the baskets, the meticulous order of my precious records slipped and slid inside their curves, for there were no straight edges and corners to fit their dry geometry into. Then, because of the intense humidity inside, i slowly carried each basket outside, one by one. it was still hot even during the night at the beginning of the Dry season – the time here when there is no single drop of moisture in the Land, and the Rocks are hot enough to fry eggs and boil a billycan of Water on. The Flies swarmed hysterically, desperate for my moisture to drink.
Outside, i walked from one of the many rubbish heaps to another. i opened each note-book unseeingly, tore out chunks of written words, then mixed them with my hands in with the other items. A page here with a blue dress, a white shoe, a toothbrush; a page there tucked in with a broken plastic clock, a half-used bottle of detergent, a blond-haired doll; and there, a few pages on the back seat of a derelict ford station-wagon inhabited by striped Emu chicks. Emus by the way are the very tall flightless Birds, which inhabit the Desert, rather similar to the Ostrich, which lives in africa. There are herds of wild Camels too, which may surprise you.
It took some time to tear all the pages out of all the notebooks, to unwind all the magnetic tape of my interviews from their plastic cassettes, to separate all the photographic negatives and scatter them. Finally, i secreted my coloured pens, erasers, rulers and paper clips inside a torn discarded mattress. There was no more need of them.
Perhaps i should explain the presence of these rubbish heaps here in the Desert. If you were prepared to rummage through them, you would find a thorough treatise on the subject among the discarded pages of my notes. Also many photographs. I have decided that Desert rubbish heaps also constitute some kind of collection. Though in this case of deliberately discarded items, not those worn out, finished-with or rotted as in civilized societies. The items which compose a rubbish heap here consist of anything which is not part of the Great Mother Nature. This is a huge difference.
During my field-work here, one of the most important things i have learned is that ancient ninija and her people are truly not collectors. On the contrary, they do not value these unsolicited donations from the real collectors. What is their motivation for donating you may ask? In short, to civilize, to sterilize, to regularize, and to make life ‘Easy,’ ‘Happy,’ and ‘Sexy,’ in lumaluma’s words. ‘Easy-Happy-Sexy’ is another place in white-fella’s Lands, along with ‘back there’ and ‘back then,’ according to ninija.
In fact, the rubbish heaps exist exactly because ninija and her people have no use for disposable material goods. They snatch them with no sense of gratitude, initially aroused by their novelty. they are attracted by their unaccustomed colours and textures, and by unfamiliar concepts such as those of toys, culinary aids, paper goods, textiles, metal and plastic fashioned into shapes. Then they pass them quickly through their fingers and discard them. In this way, the heaps of mixed ‘civilized’ gifts accumulate inside and outside their uninhabited dog boxes. They very quickly discard those too.
ninija told me that she could not stay inside the dog-box allotted to her by her benefactors because she was made separate from Sky and the Lands. In fact, I would say that not one of these provisions made for her and her people by the ‘white-skin’ colonists, are of any value in their traditional lives out in the Desert.
On that night of their departure, on my way back from the disposal of my own data collection in the ‘civilized’ rubbish heaps, i made my final walk around the deserted settlement. I looked up into the massive Casuarina Tree, its strong arms holding up Sky and balancing Moon, its roots gripping Earth. i stared out at the wind-disturbed remains of the sacred Burial Grounds built entirely out of Sand: the purification trenches, the Dreaming mounds. i climbed on to gina granddaughter’s evening hillock where she used to howl at the sunset each day, and I sat up on ninija Rock by the Water hole and lumaluma’s hollow, the highest point in the Lands. it was from here that ninija as chief could carry out her duties as overall keeper of the Lands.
‘Traditional Landowner ninija – sole keeper of the Stories, Songs and artifacts of her people and her Lands.’ That is her full title. Now, she has gone to find another Rock deeper inside her massive Lands, which stretch across the hottest area of the world. There will be new Stories and Songs to record about her journey, but not by me this time. i am no longer an observer, and you will probably not be able to find us in the interior. i must warn you that you and your team take your life in your hands walking into the roaring furnace of the interior without Totem initiation or Dreaming protections.
On departure, as i watched the group prepare to leave, they packed nothing at all. They took only a few handmade possessions which they habitually carry or wear: their dilly bags woven from Mangrove string, containing personal effects such as churingas (totemic identity badges); their Wood and Grass carrying bowls, coolamon, sported on heads, shoulders or against bellies; their custom-made digging sticks slung across shoulders with ornate Kangaroo straps; a range of beautifully crafted decorated boomerangs for hunting both for children and women; and perfectly cylindrical Hollow Log coffins containing Bones of their deceased. Churinga. Coolamon. Hollow Log Coffins. This is the local terminology, which you may not be familiar with. i remember how strange theses names were to begin with, but how now they have become the objects they describe; no other interpretations are needed out here. They are so beautiful, so practical and of course hand-made.
For my part i, like ninija and her people, have discarded the baggage I do not need. Need is so often an illusion. ‘Right Here’ and ‘Right Now,’ i am certain that all i need can be found in the Vast Hot Desert. No, i’ll go further and say i am completely sure that ‘the Lands’ will provide everything. Today, from my strange position between worlds, i can never ever forget their departure. it has for me the quality of a fantasy, the first-hand experiencing of a fable or myth. There was no need for ‘goodbyes,’ only the silence of real trust.
Looking around inside this dark clammy dog-box, i remember so clearly when i first arrived at the settlement ‘back-then.’ i would religiously sit down to write painstaking observations of ninija and her people. my dog-box became a haven from the relentless infestation of Flies. Once tightly shut inside, i would light various deterrents warding them off, and then nervously remove my Fly net from my face, along with my sweat-sodden hat.
i would sit in the boiling evenings surrounded by all means of gadgets and potions to keep my tender skin safe from the Desert ‘greedies.’ But soon i began to run out of them, like my supplies of dried milk for tea, deodorant, breakfast cereals, etc. my fat rucksack lost weight rapidly like me. In desperation i called for extra supplies on my transmitter and awaited confirmation of delivery. Then the Wet season came and flooded out my dog-box, ruining my transmitter. No supplies were delivered.
i was suddenly on my own, news-less, unsupported by my culture. i was consumed by a deep-seated panic that what had been my world was land-sliding away and leaving me behind. i became fearful of dying a Desert death. But most of all, i was absolutely petrified of intolerable pain. Despite my studies, i was convinced that it would not be assisted by the ‘magic and other non-chemical means’ available to my subjects, once my own ‘chemical’ medical supplies were completely exhausted.
It was when i was utterly consumed with my mortality, not any longer daring to step outside, that i began to speak in my dreams. At first my dry lips seemed to be talking to myself using strange unconnected strands of language. i became quickly persuaded that i was in the early stages of malarial madness. But then i realized that there was someone else involved. i was dumbfounded when I immediately got an answer to a question i asked myself, searching wildly in my four clammy corners for its provider.
In time, i was amazed to find that i was talking to ninija, though she was nowhere to be seen. she was giving me words, which i carried around like supplies of glucose:
‘Great Mother provide everything. Trust. There enough for you too if you trust.’
After that scary time when i feared for my mental health, and as i gradually accepted her as an invisible guide, ninija was with me most of the time. my sleep-dreams and day-dreams were woven into a gigantic carpet. she invited me continually to believe in ‘abundance,’ a word i had little recollection of ever using before. This word broke my conditioned addiction to the idea of ‘scarcity,’ to fending-off hardship, to over-protecting myself until i became a dried twig. Instead, this new notion of ‘abundance’ gave me a bright outlook of plenty.
Soon, after this mystical dialogue with ninija had begun, my aids to protection from Desert assaults did indeed run out entirely. Then one strange night, besieged as usual by armies of Flies in here, i inexplicably removed all my clothes, opened this Fly-screen door, and walked outside. To my amazement, i no longer compulsively swatted or cursed the winged squadrons. i was no longer repelled by their persistent tickling and foraging for moisture.
Outside, Moon welcomed me and banished all fears of poisonous Snakes and pernicious Spiders. i was given permission by the Great Mother to be a naked and innocent creature, without collections of possessions or status. i no longer had any use for sensual cravings, and suddenly my heart and mind were empty of their stuffing of pictures and words.
i stood there with my bare feet dredged in Desert dust turned blue by the moonlight, shrouded by Insects for which bared white flesh was a new sensation. i was empty and yet full. Instead of images, many of which had been planted there by the media throughout my life, the battery of my being was charged with Desert, Earth, Air, Sky, and Moon. My head was unaccustomedly clear and quiet. it was simple. i had taken up my place, which the Great Mother had been saving for me in eternity.
i no longer cowered before the terrifying giants of Desert death and intolerable pain. Instead, i had listened to ninija, and she had led me to freedom. Looking back, i have to confess that my own personal terror of disease and dying in a drawn-out agony had been my major motivation in the choice of my research for the foundation. i had selfishly coveted the secrets of primitive or indigenous peoples once I was certain that western science had no sure solutions to death or disease. my original motives may seem entirely selfish, but perhaps there was some unconscious wisdom involved, as you will see.
That night, quite soon after stepping naked outside, ninija arrived and led me, without any verbal instructions, away from the settlement. she turned left and right ahead of me among interminable thickets and Mulga scrub, the thorny bushes which cover the Desert, as if obeying invisible signposts. Her broad back was dark blue in colour as we walked quickly. Then, beyond the hillocks of Spinifex Grass, which she and her people called ‘Yellow Hill,’ we went on to a collection of large holes dug into the ground. They were deep and smooth-sided.
ninija turned and pointed at one, and i knew to climb down into it. she slowly lowered her strong body into the hole to straddle me, her cheeks swelling and emptying rhythmically, her eyes closed. Then she began to produce long rivulets of saliva, which silvered down the narrow cleft between our bodies into the bottom of the hole, reaching blind arms below us to knead her mouth fluids with the skin of Earth to make paint. i must have smiled in a bewildered way, for i had no idea what she was doing, or what it would lead to.
Then her black eyes opened and penetrated my blue eyes as she brought her fingers close to me and began to paint the traditional patterns known as ‘clan lines’ on my naked body. she made what looked like Fish or Reptile scale shapes which ranged down my chest and thighs, and a huge tooth-filled jaw line across the width of my collar-bone. As she painted, she unexpectedly pronounced the words ‘Baru, Crocodile!’ Finally, moving to my head, on my cheeks she painted Baru’s tiny hooded eyes, and on my chin, his ovoid nostrils. i shuddered.
She directed me to lie face-down in the clay grave. Then i felt her strong fingers marking bigger scale shapes across my back, and Crocodile’s thick spine in line with my own. i struggled to resist blathering while she worked, but failed, blurting out impassioned questions about Crocodiles. i demanded to know why she likened me to a Reptile, exactly what type of Crocodile i was, and so on. But she remained immune to my talk. After a time, the realization of how inappropriate words and thoughts were on this occasion slammed into my mind, and i was silenced.
When she had completed painting me she told me in broken English that the Great Mother had shared my soul with Baru, Crocodile. That i must go and watch and care for my scaly brother and sister ‘Totems’ down by Green River. Baru, Crocodile Man, according to the Dreaming myths, created Fire with the friction of his tail by accident one day during a ritual. he later learned how to burn the lands with fire to make them more fertile. But then he couldn’t stop making it. So, the Vast Hot Desert came into being. Soon, all the species the Great Mother had created started to disappear in the ensuing drought, so she and her helpers created the Wet season exclusively to put Baru’s Fires out.
my clan lines painted, ninija left me in the strange blue light of the Desert clay hole. i had only ever seen pictures of Crocodiles, and most of them were in zoos! Everything was to be transformed after this night.
To explain further, as you probably are aware, ancient peoples live so closely with Nature that when babies are born they are immediately associated with a particular animal or natural object or phenomena like weather. That then becomes their ‘totem’ or emblem, and they become the caretakers of it and are strongly spiritually linked with it for their entire life. In this way, they can protect and nurture their natural environment.
During the following days i did not set foot inside the biscuit tin of my dog-box. Instead i found myself walking, still naked and painted, away from the settlement and its giant Casuarina Tree towards the Buga Hills. i was no longer afraid of getting lost. There, i became magnetized to a group of pink Rocks, and especially to one with a smooth vertical face. i stared at its smooth surface on and on endlessly. i searched among piles of Stones nearby, in crevices, at the mouth of Caves, the faint traces of questions still between my lips. What was i looking for? Where would it be? What would it be like?
But, there were no answers in words, only a sharp stone axe between my dirt-caked fingers. i sat happily directly on Earth, something usually avoided at all costs, ready to start cutting into the surface of my pink Rock canvas with it. i could rarely remember having such a strong conviction to do anything. i had never been a practical man until now.
After that, my gawky fingers forged the form and the spirit of my new soul mate ‘Crocodile’ into the deep channels carved in Rock. i sit looking now into that Rock and will always do so. And yet at the same time i sit inside it, becoming the animal looking out into the Desert. Crocodile. Baru. me. i have been down to Green River day after day, often sleeping there, always within watchful distance of Crocodiles. i have even learned to swim with my brothers and sisters. they are pleased to see me, their tails expressively welcoming me to their homes of Mud and Water.
Back on that day of departure, ninija and her people left without maps or compasses to go deep into uncharted territory. No forwarding address. No medical or emergency contacts. No signal flares. they are mostly advanced in years, weakened by a cultivated dependence on ‘Easy’ supplies of ‘civilized’ bags of white sugar, flour, pre-packed snacks, tea-bags. Modern medical assistance and intervention was forced on to them at the settlement, their own natural remedies and healing practices kicked aside as voodoo.
it was quite soon after i started my wordless dialogue with ninija that she gave me sole custody of her special Story. This was a supreme act of faith. she knew in some deep way that she could trust me to be her representative to the developed world. Although, she and her people had no reason to believe in modern men of european descent, or in anyone with vaguely white skin. she also knew that she and her people would leave the settlement forever soon, and that it was time the world knew the true Story of white man’s cruelty to the aboriginals, and abuse of Great Mother Nature.
As a result of this amazing process of piecing together her Story, i believe now that a Story is a precious jewel found by accident in a pocket. it is to be brought out again and again, gazed at closely, breathed on and polished with a silk scarf, then secreted away once more in the darkness. i marvel at the change in me as these words tumble out. me-the academic, the one who once detested anything ‘made-up,’ and craved the facts and proofs. ninija says that Stories are made of pure Sun and Moon, without time, without space. she insists that they live deep in the veins, the soles of the feet, far behind the eyes, and that their energy is indestructible.
ninija knew that i must communicate her story through the elaborate means of the written word. First i must find enough pens, spend hours at my notebooks reviewing and correcting, attempting to pin down ‘the Lands’ on white-fella’s paper. she giggled, calling my spiky handwriting, Running Ants. i meanwhile envied the simplicity of being able to commit everything to memory as she did and her ancestors before had always done. i have promised her that i will explain all the phrases commonly used by her people as the Story goes along, so that nothing is missed. In fact, there is even a glossary so you can read up before you start!
you will also have noticed by now in my letter that natural phenomena and anything connected with glorious death or Djang always start with a capital letter, and humans and anything made by them with a small. ninija insisted on this to show respect to the Great Mother and Father Earth. she hit me hard on the head with her digging stick when i suggested we must start all sentences with a capital letter. she was adamant that if her name or any unnatural thing began that sentence, it must be small, and this included ‘you’ or ‘i,’ or pronouns of any kind.
Now, an explanation for our deserting the settlement before your arrival. After the glorious Djang preceded by 12 days of Burial Ceremony for ninija’s son ginger who died tragically in lumaluma’s city, and the banishment of lumaluma from the Lands forever, ninija and the Elders put an end to all their dependence on white-fella. they decided to move back into the centre of the Desert to resume their traditional life. they no longer wanted the ‘Easy’ of white man. As i said, the group consisted mostly of the elderly, and the orphaned or abandoned children of the straightbacks – they are the young adults who were compulsorily clothed, shoed and cleaned up, then dragged off to Desert schools, where they were forced to study hygiene along with reading and writing in white-fella’s style. Before she left, ninija told me with great joy that she had called the straightbacks to her, and they were slowly making their way back to join them. Soon the whole tribe will be together once again to make a new start deep in the interior.
If only you could have been there to see them go. ninija’s tribe, leaving the disorganized collection of tin-roofed huts, each with its rubbish heap outside. All naked and all barefoot, now all indifferent to white man’s comfortable way of living! ninija, leading the exodus, tall and broad. her strong frame stooped to carry the extra weight gained as a result of unaccustomed starch and lack of exercise. her hair a flaxen thatch cropped short by sharp scissors. she carried a large Grass dilly bag slung over one shoulder, a digging stick of the Pelican clan across the other. And held loosely down by her thigh the perfect wooden cylinder of her treasured Bone Coffin, distinctively that of a Traditional Landowner, containing the precious powdered thigh Bone of ginger son.
At her side was small gina, her granddaughter, ninija’s successor to be. she was strapped up with her own digging stick of the Porcupine clan. her grandmother’s coolamon, carrying bowl, balanced perfectly on her small head. gina spiked the sand as she walked with a black tightly-furled umbrella, outsized for her, its crook and ferrule of lacquered wood now flaked by the strong Sun.
The party of shiny black skins with their blond and red topknots of wild hair was joined occasionally by competing Kangaroos. On one side, they were flanked by a massive flock of high Emus, great scratching Bird of the Lands, and on the other by a troop of wild Camels. i too, as I know you will be, had been so surprised to come across wild Camels in the australian Desert. Apparently, they were once imported by arabian explorers and have now become naturalized. Above the whole assembly, white Pelicans flapped their slow wings through indigo Sky, muttering to full Moon. The shimmering tribe was walking away from civilization, from ‘security,’ from ‘safety,’ away from Health Care and Education, and from the culture of ‘the thinking’ stuffed with words and ideas.
The word ‘Dreamtime’ is something i feel requires a few words to help prepare you. it has been a phrase that we civilized have played with through the years, a fashionable pre-occupation in western life. i used to think the ‘time of Dreams’ might be made from: ether; vapour; strange substances through which people might walk; sequencelessness; a conveyor belt through a mountain side; a gigantic mirror; and other surrealist fads. But i realized long ago that this was part of the paraphernalia of thinking, of words and images, all mere frivolities to traditional life. they had nothing to do with the real meaning of ‘Dreamtime.’
ninija! it is not that i have ever spent quantifiable time with her. Time spent with someone can often be a measure of their influence, but we have no use for such measures in the Desert. she was both accepting of me and at the same time kept her distance. There was actually no need for the long talks I craved with her when i first arrived. Rifca, ninija informs me that you are more enlightened, and that you will remain silent and get on with trying to locate the tribe and continuing to learn about what we have lost. she has total confidence that you will know what to do which may surprise you.
When i first arrived in the Desert, without fail i had my latest observations ready for the area warden to come to collect on a pre-arranged day once a month. When the document was safely locked into his dispatch box, he would volley the giant land-cruiser to meet a doctor’s plane to take my package to the mail. Deadlines were no trouble in those days. i was accustomed to writing up my field book daily, but gradually, i lost track of the days. i no longer remembered if i had entered my daily notes. In the end, my package was not ready for the appointed collection day.
Eventually, i told the warden not to bother coming any more as there was nothing else to send. he was perplexed, insisting that his contract was for a further year, but i insisted that it was a waste of time. After that, he came once more on the appointed day to deposit various official letters, which were never opened. they were probably bold demands for ‘goods paid for’ from fip. i stacked them away with my notes, and they have eventually joined the rubbish heaps outside.
Then, as i slowly assembled the collage of ninija’s story, i often smiled at her utter commitment to global balance and peace. my heart opened wide at her wisdom and cosmic authority. it was at this time, as her scribe, that i really understood more about why she was the most spiritually evolved of her tribe. i sat back and relished images of millions of copies of her vision being devoured by my lost but arrogant people. The Great Mother indeed provided abundantly. my last sheet of paper, my last droplet of ink, has brought me to the story’s end.
i also told her of my strong belief that my people had learned how to be transformed by receiving the written word through their eyes. That it had the power to reach directly into their dreams and unconscious minds. she knew this and so frequently gave me dreams and visions. i must have scribbled them in a trance state, coming upon them later and reading their rich imagery with delight for the first time.
Before the Desert and ninija ‘back-then,’ i was a human camera. i was an archivist, and a repository for captions. ‘Say it. See it. Say it. See it. Check it. Now prove it!’ After arriving here, i soon stopped looking and listened instead, and so slid into my rightful place. Now, if i cease listening to the Universe for an instant, ninija strides into to my mind and elbows me roughly in the ribs. she strictly guides me back from the needy eye, and from the very needy ‘i’ of my ego.
Communicating with you is the final thing keeping me here at the deserted settlement. The manuscript is carefully secreted, wrapped in Grass and Paper Tree bark, deep inside the base of the massive Casurina. Beware of Gina-ganddaughter’s porpcupines fiercly guarding the tree! There will be no corrections. No critique. No rewrites. No editorial whims. That is it. i will not be at the end of a telephone to negotiate this and that, a capital letter here, a new paragraph there.
That piece of white-fella’s business completed, i will now set off in the same direction as the tribe went, through the Buga Hills. i will vigilantly watch for ninija’s Fires and make my own to let her know everything is accomplished. In this way, she will guide me to her and i will be with her forever.
Oh, i almost forgot. Here is the promised glossary, which will provide more explanation of some of the terms and beliefs prevalent amongst ninija and her people, and some of the Dreaming stories which she and gina tell. she asked me to ensure that everyone who reads her story will understand deep in their hearts. This is her greatest wish.
- ‘now’ and ‘here’
This represents the innate ability or talent of becoming utterly absorbed in the moment. ninija and her people (children are included in the term ‘people’) possess it. it is also found in certain non-primitive sectors, e.g. young children below the age of 7 of any epoch, modern people who have some kind of sensory deprivation, e.g. visual impairment, auditory/speech impairment, physically or mental disability. it is especially so for those who are diagnosed ‘autistic,’ along with anyone involved in artistic activities i.e. musicians, composers, sculptors and others who express themselves in modes other than language. i like to use the term ‘aesthetically absorbed,’ as it perhaps makes a distinction between intellectual and aesthetic absorption. This has also been coined by colleagues interested in the phenomenon.
Those experiencing ‘now’ and ‘here’ have the capacity to become the thing in which they are absorbed. they may become a Song they are singing, a drum they are playing, a painting, Cloud, Rain, gong, Flower-head. In this state, nothing other than the thing in which they are absorbed matters. they are absolutely ‘now’ and ‘here,’ utterly engaged. There is no ‘then’ or ‘there.’ Their senses are working at maximum capacity, their intellects are quiet. they interact with the world as if they are creatures; in other words, they are not driven by thought or language.
To ninija and her people ‘now’ and ‘here’ is their natural state, their native home. ‘now’ and ‘here’ is not connected with time or place; they are both constant states or conditions, and usually they know no other way of being. In the kingdoms of ‘now’ and ‘here,’ they are eternally present, integrated, notched into Earth, eternally grateful and reverential.
These three words occur a great deal in the text and of course they are simply adjectives known well, for the most part, to us all. But on the lips of ninija, they are her way of describing what happens when you live ‘there’ and ‘then,’ as she believes most of my people do. she is forced by lumaluma to experience this state briefly during the story, but generally it is alien for those who live ‘in the moment.’ Often, all three words are used together to evoke a cumulative feeling, ie. the second depends on the first, the third on the second, etc. – easy-happy-sexy.
In more detail, ‘easy’ is about the convenience of modern living e.g. switching switches, opening cans, travelling at high speed in vehicles without effort, stealing from others, and corruption, etc., which is unnatural in traditional aboriginal life. The so-called ‘ease’ with which we live, according to ninija’s beliefs, means that we lose touch with our native instincts and thus cease to have any direct interaction with our environment, living always indirectly, or at a distance, through materials and commodities. If we have ‘easy,’ then we have ‘happy.’ ninija considers this to be an illusory happiness which obscures a natural state of being in which ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ are not considerations. This concept is elucidated in gina’s story, ‘mini, Honeybee girl.’
Then, ‘happy’ leads to ‘sexy,’ which is about the tireless obsession with physical stimulation because we are no longer directly seeing and sensing the world. it is also bound up with an enduring power over other people, which ninija believes generally white men have over white women, and of course, children and black women, if they are available. The power is created insidiously by developing a dependent state, and a lack of genuine identity. This concept will become clearer during the course of the story. At this stage, it is perhaps important to say that ninija and her people have entirely different moral-sexual codes to those of white europeans; and that there is no ‘easy’ out in the Desert. This last concept is made clearer by one of the Stories ninija tells, namely ‘sacred Love.’
- ‘white-fella’s flashing pictures’
ninija believes that my people live by words and pictures rather than by Stories and ritual language, as hers do. During the events of her Story, she discovers that white people often make sense of their individual worlds through millions of pictures which they store in their memories. These consist of both pictures that they take with their eyes, and those forced upon them through the media. There are others, which are handed down to them through the nuclear family and other social groups. Each person must match him or herself with the pictures. On top of this, the pictures all have words associated with them so that each person can make a continual internal commentary based on them. i suggest that this is because my people have ceased, largely, to use the other senses in tandem with the dominant visual sense, ie. taste, smell, hearing, feeling, the kinaesthetic sense of our bodies moving through space, etc., so that our lives and our self-images are often constructed totally from words and pictures.
ninija also believes that ‘white-fella,’ a term she will often refer to us by, has the power to flash his pictures into the lives of peoples who inhabit ‘here’ and ‘now,’ thus tempting them away with ‘easy- happy-sexy.’ This was a common occurrence among the young male and female straightbacks of her tribe, and of many others, and is exemplified by her story for gina called ‘the telephone box.’
- ‘The Lands’
This is a state of consciousness rather than a particular place, although of course ninija is the Traditional Landowner of a massive tract of Desert where she and her people move around with the seasons, and these are called her ‘Lands.’ she does not own them in a material sense, but is the custodian as a result of her spiritual enlightenment. Often when she refers to ‘the Lands,’ she is alluding to Earth and so to her intimacy with Nature. ‘The Lands’ could be said to represent her integration with the, more of which will be revealed in the narrative.
- The Dreaming Legends
There is a great deal more awareness of the Dreamtime nowadays, but in her precious Story, ninija tries to give a special insight. its design illustrates how the Dreaming Legends are an integral part of real aboriginal lives, both told as a prayer in ritual language over and over again, and present physically in the Land forms around them. So, the spirits of the Dreaming heroes, known sometimes as the Sky Heroes, are tangible and constant in their daily lives. they have no choice in whether to believe or not. they do not question. The heroes represent their moral models as well as the Spiritual.
- ‘standing and becoming part of Earth’
This is similar to being absolutely in ‘the moment’ or ‘aesthetically absorbed’ (see 1. ‘now’ and ‘here’). ninija and her people are so integrated with Nature that by standing completely still and projecting themselves into the Rock they are standing on, and by concentrating on their blackness (their skins are some of the blackest among the peoples of the world), they are able to get inside the Rock. There they will shelter, nourishing themselves under the skin of Earth.
A Totem is an aboriginal’s main link with the Dreaming Legends. Children are born into a totem clan and so become eternal members of a group of people, all of whom take the same name and identity of a natural object or phenomena. they share their soul with this creature or other natural phenomenon, and a great deal of their lives is spent caring for their soul mates. If an aboriginal should for some reason deny the existence of his or her totem, then they will lose their personal identity totally, and, more crucially, be forced to lead a life of agony and isolation outside Nature. ninija’s custodial story, Jundal Gianga, skillfully describes how Totems are bestowed.
- ‘travelling on /making campfires’
ninija and her people believe that physical death signifies the termination of a visit to the physical world, and that this is merely an interlude in perpetuity. After the Djang, the departure of the spirit from the human body, the Spirit resumes its travelling on in the Lands of the Dead. Each Spirit lights a campfire which is visible in the night Sky as it goes, and which constitutes the observed phenomenon of a star in western knowledge. Towards the end of the narrative, we experience the Djang as her son ginger’s spirit quits its body and goes ‘travelling on.’
- ‘Clever Fellas’
This expression is used to denote the Elders or wise people of the tribe. They are similar to shamans in other traditions and occupy a special place between the physical and spiritual worlds.
These are the young strong people of the tribes who would customarily look after their Elders and rear children. During ‘white-fella’s domination of the native peoples of australia, and of new zealand and tasmania, there was a movement to ‘civilise’ the young people so that they could live in a normal western society. These cruel acts entailed removing them from their natural state and forcing them to attend colleges where they were taught hygiene and brainwashed into behaviour, which was socially acceptable to the white middle-classes, essentially so they could become their slaves. Predictably perhaps, eventually these young unspoiled beings were corrupted by white- fella’s money, liquor and drugs, and often died of excess in the backstreets of cities, which were alien to them.
ninija believes that the way in which the Story has been set down will allow my people to understand how it is that balance may be achieved. Also, how allegedly ‘civilized’ people may discover other ways to live that do not deplete the world’s resources or disconnect them from natural lives. But perhaps above all, for in all other respects I am confident that her Story will speak eloquently without further elucidation, it is important to underline in bold the cruelty and total insensitivity that many of our forefathers and more recent kinfolk have perpetrated on primitives or indigenes. Their attempts to ‘civilize’ those whose lives are judged as savage is perhaps one of the grossest, most arrogant acts ever. i believe that all such attempts have been inspired by fear of different value systems, and disdain for magic, spiritual evolution, and the like, but they are unforgivable in many ways. Although, you will discover as you proceed to read the Story, forgiveness is always possible where people dwell in the Lands of the Heart.
As i took the bus from Alice Springs to visit Ayer’s Rock deep in the interior of australia the day ninija called me to her, the seemingly genial bus driver was making a commentary by microphone as we drove along. he kept his bespectacled eyes always conscientiously on the endless road ahead. i see his eyes often, dry, myopic, and i hear his reaction-less flat voice relayed through the sound system of the sleek bus. we were soon to make the only turn south towards the cul-de-sac of Alice Springs, the last ‘civilised’ outpost before the Dreaming Lands begin. When we drove past the aboriginal College, established by missionaries of whom he seemed extremely proud, we stared at a utilitarian building, continuing to listen to his drawling clever commentary as we looked.
‘The aboriginals come to this college from their townships to learn reading, writing, arithmetic….but first they have to learn hygiene.’
He paused to measure his morality.
‘It’s not true that we have a colour bar in this country! No. we have a dirt bar.’
Is it a coincidence that there were no aboriginals cluttering up the front of this deserted college of ablutions and fumigation as living specimens of his discrimination, nor any travelling on the bus?
Rifca, i’m sure we will meet in one dimension or another, at some point in the processing of our minds, but you may not be ready to recognize me. i will recognize you with your red dress and you will come for initiation i know.
Leaving white-fella Lands forever, i deeply wish with all my spiritual power that white-fella will come to his senses by truly listening to wise ninija.