2022 has been my year of Tim Winton novels : Dirt Music, Cloudstreet, Breath, and TheShepherd’s Hut. An Australian writer Winton was named a Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia, and has won the Miles Franklin Award four times.
Two and half weeks in and I’m abandoning the latter novel. I’m done. Sorry Tim, it’s me, not you. Too much ugliness in the real world I don’t need anymore of it in my own little bubble. Shepherd’s Hut is almost too painful to read.
I’ve also put Carpentaria, another Miles Franklin winner by Alexis Wright, to the wayside. I will come back to it when the days are meant for languishing under a ceiling fan but for now I’m battling to work out if the author is being sarcastic, passive aggressive, or if I just lack sophistication required when it comes to award winning books. Guessing the latter.
Talking of stories I did attend a presentation of short films at our local Performing Arts Centre last week. “A Celebration Of Stories from Minjerribah”, as North Stradbroke Island is known by our First Nations People, these shorts captured cultural stories from Elders and community members about the stolen generation, an old mission, passing on traditions, and the last Aboriginal fishing crew on the Island and how fishing on the open beach connects them to their ancestry.
A few tears, a few laughs, and Straddie never fails as a beautiful back drop.
Because of my recent travels and oranges falling in price to $1.60 for a 3 Kilo bag I’ve been occupied by tourism pamphlets and marmalade recipes. My attempt at the latter is another Epic Fail though the peel is currently brewing to create an organic house cleaning product. Fingers crossed that effort is more successful. I’m also relying on Dr Google to navigate me through a couple of craft projects which is totally bizarre as I don’t craft. I’ll share if my Lazy Susan’s and table placemats make acceptable Christmas gifts….
(Pop Quiz 1: Is all this cooking and crafting a sign that I’m sliding into old age?)
September 7th marked Indigenous Literacy Day, at which time the Indigenous Literacy Foundation promotes literacy to improve the lives and possibilities of Indigenous Australians.
So I’ve also read two books from The Books That Made Us Challenge ( as in made us as a country) that featured on the ABC last year. Both deal with the white occupation of Australia and are cruel but fascinating reads.
Benevolence by Julie Jansen follows the life of young aboriginal girl, Mary, who was gifted to the white community by her father in exchange for a bag of flour. The Secret River by Kate Grenville is the story of an Englishman who came to Australia as a convict in the country’s early days but works his way up to being a wealthy land owner which just happens to necessitate the decimation of the local Aboriginal communities.
I’ve started on the third indigenous themed book in the Challenge – Carpentaria by Alexis Wright – but I’m a bit done in by history and tragedy at the moment.
So just for fun I’m working my way through The Island Of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak which is narrated by a fig tree. Yep, a fig tree. Thought some whimsy would do me well after all the bleak history but the mind is too occupied by craft glue and varnish.
The Little Library is going gangbusters and the assistance from other community members is making the whole caretaking process less onerous. I’m working on creating Book Marks for Christmas for the kiddies to colour and have just added this Book Bingo to create more engagement. I’m not fond of cricket. Can you tell?
(Pop Quiz 2 : Is this ease in handing over the reigns yet another indication of my slow slide into decline?)
The Zoom Book Club fell into a heap after Life returned to the New Normal after Covid, but we are getting back on track next week. I’ll make a cheese platter in preparation.
(Pop Quiz 3: A glass of red or a glass of white? Or two?)
At the other Book Club readers were asked to bring in the oldest book on their bookshelves. Talk about fascinating : all kinds of books made their presence, including guides to shorthand, Mickey Mouse annuals, and one lass ( in white gloves doing her Michael Jackson impersonation) brought in her book published in 1703. A great little exercise. Highly recommended.
A Bookfest this weekend, a tea towell exhibition, and a couple of new projects on the go. Don’t worry; it’s not ageing. Just doing the Gemini thing and ready for change…
Wattle Day has been celebrated on the first day of September each year since 1992, the official start of the Australian Spring. Prior to this, each State acknowledged the day at separate times depending on when the Acacias were in full bloom in that territory.
During my childhood growing up on a quarter acre block surrounded by suburban bushland Wattle Day was celebrated on the 1st of August, sharing the day with Horses’ Birthday. This meant wearing a sprig of Cootamundra Wattle, which flourished in Sydney, to Primary school on that day which seemed such a special event all those years ago.
I read something from our First Nations people (Dance of the Plants) about Wattle this morning which made my heart sing:
“GARRON( Wattle) season is upon us. But if you believe in a little magic then you must listen to my Elders and my late Auntie Lennah♥️ a senior Bunurong Elder, she told us that we were never to bring GARRON into the house. It was to be hung on the door, outside the house, where it would keep the bad spirits away. If you bought it inside then you would get bad luck. The GARRON is a very important plant to Bunurong people, not only for food and medicine but also for bush dye, wood and a thousand other things.Enjoy the sunshine it brings right now as GARRON tells us the season is turning, soon it will be PAREIP(Spring).”
I have always loved Wattle. I have always lived with Wattle. Here’s one I planted as a sapling in the koala corridor that my house backs on to (to replace the palm trees that some idiot planted and which are not native to the area).
-Australia was only federated as a nation in 1901, so its World War I efforts were integral to the formation of a national identity, and the golden wattle played a significant symbolic role. Wattle flowers were sold to raise money during the war, it became tradition to send pressed wattles in letters to wounded soldiers in Europe, and fallen diggers were often buried with a sprig of wattle.
-The flag might be red, white and blue but Australian sporting teams have been wearing green and gold on their uniforms since the late 1800s. The hues were officially recognised as Australia’s national colours in 1984 and these days you won’t spot a national sporting team decked out in anything other than green and gold. It even earns a mention in the cricket team’s victory song: “Under the Southern Cross I stand, a sprig of wattle in my hand, a native of my native land, Australia you f***ing beauty!”
-The designs of the Order of Australia medal (the highest honour an Australian civilian can receive), the National Emergency Medal and countless Australian Defence Force honours are based on the golden wattle. The national flower is also a common motif in works by iconic Australian artists Albert Namatjira, Sidney Nolan and John Olsen, as well as pieces like Banjo Paterson’s 1915 poem We’re All Australians Now, and John Williamson’s song CootamundraWattle.
– A sprig of wattle has appeared on the official symbol of the Commonwealth of Australia since 1912 … but it’s botanically incorrect. Wattle frames the kangaroo, emu and shield representing the country’s six states, but technically the spherical flowers and green leaves don’t provide an accurate depiction of the acacia. Ssssssh. Keep that one to yourself.
-Koalas can supplement their diets with Wattle if they are short on Eucalypts ( or aren’t too lazy).
Frank Sinatra popularised a song in the late 60’s that contained the lyrics “Regrets, I’ve had a few But then again, too few to mention”. My Way – can you hear it playing in your head now? – has recently been knocked off the top of the charts as the most popular song to have played at a funeral. As at last October the perennial favourite dropped to number two in the annual rankings, being replaced by Gerry & The Pacemakers’ You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Anyway, I totally get the sentiment. Even with Covid my life has been blessed. My only personal regret is not having made it to the Northern Territory to visit my daughter due to border closures, especially following the arrival of the country’s finest project, young Harry Kilom.
Kakadu National Park is in the Northern Territory, roughly 180 south east of Darwin, the capital city. It covers an area of 19,804 km2 making it the second largest national park in Australia. It is the size of Wales and nearly half the size of Switzerland to give you some perspective.
Our First Nations people have occupied the Kakadu area continuously for at least 40,000 years. Kakadu National Park is renowned for the richness of its Aboriginal cultural sites as well as the diversity of the fauna and flora. Its cultural and natural values were recognised internationally when the park was World Heritage Listed.
Dry To Dry : The Seasons Of Kakadu won an award in the 2021 Children’s Book Council Of Australia for “books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style.“
Written by Pamela Freeman this book explores the changing seasons of Kakadu – the Dry and the Wet, then back to Dry – and how this impacts on the animals and plants that live in the region. Liz Anelli’s illustrations are simple though easily recognisable even by younger readers.
Each page includes a simple storyline about the environment in its various stages and in a different font at the bottom of each page is a paragraph of factual information, though still in language for younger readers to understand.
Interestingly, although we label the seasons of Kakadu the Dry and the Wet our Indigenous people believe that there are indeed six seasons. This is important because following the seasons is vital for their food supply.
One of the greatest dangers to the natural environment of Kakadu is the Cane Toad, imported in the early 1900’s to combat beetles hurting our sugar cane industry and which are poisonous to our native birdlife and marsupials. A note at the end of the book gives thanks to “the native water rats who have figured out how to safely eat cane toads”.
This is one beautiful children’s book and if you are unable to visit the NT it isn’t a bad substitute. Young Harry Kilom just loves the baru – crocodiles.
( For Gum Trees And Galaxies Gaia/ Nature Reading Challenge ).
Wombats are stocky and close to the ground. That does not stop them from running at speeds up to 40 kilometres per hour which is just under retired sprinter Usain Bolt’s fastest recorded speed.
A group of wombats is called a ‘wisdom of wombats’ a ‘mob of wombats’ or a ‘colony of wombats’.
The name wombat comes from the Darug language, spoken by the Traditional Owners of Sydney.
The southern hairy-nosed wombat is the state fauna emblem of South Australia. And my favourite :
Wombat poop is different to any other animal’s, because wombats are famous for doing cube shaped poop– pumping out around 100 of these a day. It’s all to do with their slow digestive system.
In recent months I’ve shared my developing interest in Aboriginal Astronomy and related artwork. Our indigenous could tell the weather for food finding purposes by watching the night skies. For example, moon haloes, or rings around the moon, are used by Aboriginal people as a weather predictor since ice crystals indicate high moisture levels in the atmosphere.
Many of the Dreamtime legends are depicted in the stars.
Here’s Ngarga warendj, the dancing wombat by artist, Mick Harding.
” Warriin the Wombat is a solitary fella. He is a vegetarian who spends most of the day in his burrow and feeds at night. In our Taungwarrung creation stories, Warriin and Marram the Kangaroo were good mates. One day they had a fight because Warriin would not let Marram into his burrow. Marram cut off Warriin’s tail with his axe. Warriin was so mad he threw a spear at Marram and this became stuck in his back end and is now his tail”.
This is the first novel that has broken through my brain fog, courtesy of Covid, for quite some time
“Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.”
Set in 1852, the Marrambidya – what we know as the Murrumbidgee – floods through the newly established township of Gundagai, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The local indigenous had warned the colonists though this went unheeded. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away.
Wagadhaany is a 13 year old Aboriginal lass and considered to be one of the lucky ones because she survives the flood and lives in a settler’s home as a domestic. When she is forced to move away from her “mob” her spirit is crushed despite forging a friendship of sorts with the new mistress of the house. Her heart slowly heals when she meets a Wiradyuri stockman and she dreams of escaping from servitude and returning to the river of her ancestors, though there is danger in escaping from the white man.
Beautifully written with a nod to indigenous language, the images of rural NSW with its flocks of noisy cockatoo and the swirling currents of the river and dry plains are almost lyrical. The ugly events of our past are covered, such as the massacres, payment to workers by way of rations, abuse and mistreatment of the women, and early days of mission life. It’s not pretty.
Wagadhaany’s partner takes their twin sons camping on their first “walkabout” to learn many of the Indigenous ways and I felt as a reader that I too was being educated in bush craft. I will never again move a log with my hands until testing first with my feet ( in case of snakes)! I particularly enjoyed the lessons gained from looking at the night sky given my recent reading about Aboriginal Astronomy.
In Gundagai today there is a sculpture of Yarri (Wagadhaany’s father in the novel) and Jackey Jackey commemorating how many of the colonists were saved during the flood in those early days.
Though not an in-your-face, aggressive look-what-you-done look back at historical events which is so very prevalent in other recent publications, this story is no less forgiving. It in no way detracts from the appalling treatment that our Aboriginals suffered but rather confirms that you can ” catch more flys with honey than with vinegar”.
About the Author
Anita Heiss (born 1968) is an Aboriginal Australian author, poet, cultural activist and social commentator. She is an advocate for Indigenous Australian literature and literacy, through her writing for adults and children and her membership of boards and committees.
It is only over recent months that I became aware of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy after having listened to Astrophysicist and Science Communicator, Kirsten Banks, on of all things, a home renovation show.
Of Wiradjuri descent Kirsten has a particular interest in how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have used the stars for over 65,000 years for navigation purposes, predicting weather seasons, and for determining when the best time is to hunt for certain foods such as emu eggs. “ Aboriginal Astronomy can teach us about the link between the sky and the land”, she said.
My interest was further piqued on my recent outback Queensland travels and in particular Winton. Winton’s small population, low humidity, and low light pollution make it the ideal location to stargaze and the area around the Australian Age of Dinosaurs is now one of only ten internationally recognised areas certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary.
Since then I have been receiving social media alerts regarding Aboriginal artwork related to the skies. ( see Aboriginal Skies)
With a daughter in Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory – which I grew up calling Gove – an area in East Arnham land populated for some 40,000 years by the Yolgnu people, we all have a new appreciation for the story tellers from our First Nation. Contemporary Australian Indigenous art often references astronomical subjects and their related lore such as the Seven Sisters.
Here are examples of some of the art works:
This fabulous artwork was submitted by Annette Joy. Annette is a Gourmanjanyuk/Wergaia artist and the painting represents Yerrerdetkurrk, which is the star Achernar. Yerrerdetkurrk is the ‘Nalwinkurrk’, or mother of Totyarguil’s wives. The ‘Nalwinkurrk’ never allows’ her son-in law to see her. Achernar is a bright, binary star system located in the constellation Eridanus, and is the ninth-brightest star in the night sky.
“Hydra the Water Serpent” from the ‘Shared Sky Exhibition’. This exhibition highlighted the connections between Aboriginal & contemporary astronomy. This artwork is acrylic on linen (70cm x 52cm) and the artist is Nerolie Blurton. “The Water Serpent, stretched across the sky with its many heads, was a monster until it was cut and killed. The red blood drips down from the clot. The browns and orange show that the Hydra can be seen best in autumn.”
If Aboriginal Astronomy intrigues you I recommend reading the story of The Emu In The Sky by Ray and Cilla Norris. Fascinating and guaranteed to give you a brand new perspective.
Dark Sky and Dinosaur Country at Winton overlooking Banjo’s “plains extended” and “vision splendid”.
Isn’t it bizarre how watching something on TV simply to learn how to stop bugs eating young eggplants can take you on such a convoluted journey ? * shaking head and muttering.
Barcaldine is a sheep and cattle town 520 kms by road west of Rockhampton, and over 1000 kms from Brisbane, on route to the popular tourist destinations of Longreach and Winton.
Affectionately known as Barcy, most travellers on the road through town stop to peruse the Tree of Knowledge. The current tree is a copy, the original having been vandalised in 2006, and represents the trials and tribulations of the Great Shearers Strike, one of Australia’s earliest disputes between union and non-union labour, and an event that is today acknowledged as having led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It is a glorious sight by night and the original rootball remains under glass – even Liberal voters are impressed.
A recent addition to Barcaldine is the Desert Dreaming Centre.
Local First Nation woman, Cheryl Thompson, is a big believer in “closing the gap” and “sharing the Dreaming” and runs a hostel in town, with no Government funding, for children from indigenous communities who want to complete their secondary schooling. Remote areas do not have internet or other facilities so the School of Air is not an option. These students learn about work ethic and managing finances through weekend shifts at the Ridgee Didge Cafe, and are also involved in traditional Aboriginal activities and learn about the local Iningai history of the area through Thompson’s Desert Dreaming Centre, where they follow a curriculum that combines school work with learning about culture, art and tourism.
There is a dedicated work room which is strewn with artists’ materials where the students work on projects which are then sold at the Desert Dreaming Centre’s Gallery.
The Desert Dreaming Centre is also a tourist destination from which Thompson offers a variety of authentic aboriginal cultural experiences. Activities include :
Creating artworks and message sticks.
Sitting around a corroboree ring stories, song, and dances are shared, often involving the students, who are also being trained in other arms of Cheryl’s business activities such as the Barcy Base Camp (hospitality) and Trackers Tour Company( tourism). The latter includes the concept of Dreamtime Guides who are trained by Thompson to present culturally appropriate and culturally safe information.
We enjoyed the Desert Dreaming Dance and Dinner Experience around burning log fires whilst being entertained by the young dancers who explained the cultural significance of each performance.
Cheryl’s partner, Paul Stumkat, is a renown palaeontologist with a passion to further open up the Queensland Outback’s Dinosaur Trail. Together they present a blend of palaeontology and living cultures in order that tourists gain a better understanding of both the past and present life of outback Australia.
Paul has developed workshops that he uses to this result which I found both fun and educational. Here’s my caste of a fossil footprint of a small dinosaur, and I’ve also gained some experience in identifying the tracks of both kangaroos and emus. For the Little People there is even a sandpit where they can unearth a dinosaur skeleton. I warned you : mega fauna freaks are everywhere in the outback!
Yeah, so artwork is not my forte……..
NOTE: The students currently participating in Thompson’s dream have a 100 per cent school attendance rate. Now that’s called ” closing the gap”!
LIFE LESSON :
A reminder to never dismiss a country town. You would be surprised by what lies lurking…..
September 1st is National Indigenous Literacy Day, a day designed to bring awareness to the general community about the rate of literacy amongst our Indigenous communities.
“Only 36% of Indigenous Year 5 students in very remote areas are at or above national minimum reading standards, compared to 96% for non-Indigenous students in major cities.” – 2019 NAPLAN.
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s approach to raising literacy levels starts at a community level with the supply of books. They have worked with many remote communities and published books reflecting up to 26 Indigenous languages from all across Australia.
These new and culturally appropriate books are gifted to schools and organisations operating in remote communities with an aim to develop familiarity and engagement with books for children under five through a daily dedicated Story Time session, so children can start school with some basic pre-literacy skills.
The current COVID climate makes it difficult to raise funds for any charity especially after Australia’s recent frolic with bushfires, floods and drought. I can only ask, what’s next? Oh, yeah, a mouse plague.
What I have discovered is a range of picture books for the very young at my local Australia Post ( Post Office) published by Little Book Press. One of their projects is the Emerging Indigenous Picture Book Mentoring Project.
These books cost $4, have wonderful illustrations, and are written in both English and the local Aboriginal language. At the back there is also a QR code where you can listen to the author read the story in the Aboriginal dialect.
Just delightful for all kiddies, whether they be black, white, green or purple. Added bonus : light to put in the mail.
My daughter who has been living in East Arnham land for over twelve months now – the one who gifts her hair to the local First Nation elders after a hair trim so that they can make new paint brushes – sent me a text over Easter. It said “ Mo, they caught a baru off the beach”.
Baru is a crocodile. By sharing communication, by acknowledging language, I hope that we can move towards closing the divide between our peoples.
AND ANOTHER AFTERTHOUGHT :
Watched the 2007 film Rogue on the weekend. Filmed in the Northern Territory by the same Director as Wolf Creek, the movie opens with some truly stunning images of the Territory. Absolutely gorgeous. Doesn’t last long unfortunately because it quickly becomes the crocodilian version of JAWS. OMG. Had to walk away but you’ll be pleased to hear it has a happy ending. But I‘m never, ever going on a Kakadu boat cruise.