Outer Edge - - Australian Adventures - ~ Tour Par­tic­i­pant

As I stand mid- way up the side of Bluff Knoll, in the Stir­ling Ranges, I see the low white cloud nestling the sum­mit and, Joey Wil­liams, Abo­rig­i­nal Elder and Lore­man, sings in lan­guage, ac­com­pa­nied by the tap­ping of his clap sticks. The sound seems an­cient and the hairs on the back of my neck raise, and I shiver. Joey tells me that the Noon­gar spir­its re­turn to Bulla Meile, the ‘hill of many eyes’, as it is known to his peo­ple, and the loom­ing rock faces jut­ting out of the rock above me, are the faces of his an­ces­tors. I feel the eyes upon me and be­gin to in­tuit why this is ‘power’ place.

I have trav­elled in this south -west­ern re­gion of Aus­tralia be­fore, walk­ing the Bib­bul­mun track, which runs from Perth to Al­bany, on the south coast. Peo­ple I walked with were able to tell me the botan­i­cal names for the plants I saw, the ge­o­log­i­cal fea­tures of the land­scape, and sto­ries of farm­ing and the early ex­plor­ers and set­tlers. How­ever I wished to con­nect more deeply, I felt like I was merely touch­ing the sur­face and I want to con­nect with the cul­ture who had lived so in­ti­mately with this land for many thou­sands of years be­fore white set­tle­ment. So I was de­lighted to come across Poornarti Abo­rig­i­nal Tours and they seemed to be the only gate­way into Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture open to me in this re­gion.

On the road here, to this spir­i­tual heart­land of the Noon­gar peo­ple, as well as telling us the Dream­time sto­ries of the area, of the waal­itj (ea­gle), whos wings formed the moun­tains, Joey has re­galed our small group, over the bus PA sys­tem, with sto­ries of his life. He tells us of liv­ing in the bush with his par­ents, of them work­ing for the farm­ers for crates of tea and flour, to clear their own land, to fence them out, of hunt­ing yonger (kan­ga­roo), karda (goanna) and other an­i­mals with his fa­ther, and of col­lect­ing bush tucker with his mother. Joey only spoke in Noon­gar un­til he was 8 years old. I am in no doubt of this mans au­then­tic­ity, his deep and proud con­nec­tion to his cul­ture, and am im­pressed by his pas­sion to share and ed­u­cate wad­jella’s (white fel­las) like me!

Amaz­ingly, also, Joey has man­aged to trans­form the ubiq­ui­tous road­side veg­e­ta­tion, “lots of quon­dong here”, he re­marks, “those ones with the light green shiny leaves….you can see the fruit start­ing to turn red”. Sure enough, now my eye is trained, I see them ev­ery­where. At the camp­site, we pitch our tents, which thank­fully, Poornarti has pro­vided for us. While Poornarti staff, in the camp kitchen, are pre­par­ing the evening meal, we are taken on a bush tucker walk. “This is our su­per­mar­ket”, Joey ex­plains, “you can get ev­ery­thing you need here” and sure enough, amongst the strange plants and trees, Joey re­veals to us Abo­rig­i­nal equiv­a­lents of pota­toes, spices and herbs, sal­ads, fruit, tea and even a ‘lolly’ tree. There are medicines too, one of which is the crys­talised sap of a gum tree, which was used for stom­ach prob­lems. “Don’t you try this,” Joey ad­vises, “the ol’ Noon­gars knew ex­actly how much to take, you don’t. Too much can make you sick”.

There is a rich kan­ga­roo stew for din­ner. Joey also has some tails to cook on the fire. He shows us how the fur is first singed and scraped off, be­fore lay­ing them in the fire. There are roundels of damper, which are also lain in the coals. We try the bush tea, which is sim­i­lar in colour to green tea, and in my opin­ion, much nicer. Joey tells us of the diet of bush tucker he had as a child, and how the cook­ing fire was a fo­cus of fam­ily life. There is a funny story of how, in the prepa­ra­tion of karda, or goanna, the sinews in the legs must be cut first be­fore cook­ing, other­wise they con­tract from the heat, mak­ing the dead an­i­mal ‘stand up’ in the coals, which would frighten the chil­dren. He tells us of the cook­ing tech­niques, for eggs, fish, wild duck, koonacs and bardi grubs. I am struck by how varied their tra­di­tional diet ac­tu­ally was, a ver­i­ta­ble smor­gas­bord!

When the roo tails are done, I try them both. On one the meat is ten­der and moist and falls off the bone, and I find my­self suck­ing on the ver­te­brae to ex­tract the juice and gela­tine. It is quite de­li­cious. The other tail is as tough as shoe leather, and Joey says it must have been an old roo. We watch a beau­ti­ful sun­set and as the stars come out our group gath­ers around the fire. It is a clear night and the big sky is spec­tac­u­lar. There are shoot­ing stars in abun­dance. Joey tells us Abo­rig­i­nal sto­ries of the stars and their mean­ings. There is one of an emu, that we can clearly see when it is pointed out. The po­si­tion of the emu’s legs at dif­fer­ent times of the year, sig­nify when the emu’s are hatch­ing their eggs.

The next day we drive to ‘the lake of many colours’, which is also the site of the sa­cred ochre pits. We stop at a farm gate and there is an in­cred­i­ble view of the moun­tains from which we have just driven. Joey re­peats the song he sang to us at Bulla Miele, with the Noon­gar names of the for­ma­tions “kaya,kaya, Bulla Meile, Yonger Mir, Mabrunup, Toolyul­brup”. The hill of eyes, the kan­ga­roo with the spear thrower on top, the place of the ‘spe­cial’ men, and the beau­ti­ful woman sleep­ing. I am struck my how much the shapes of the moun­tains, ap­pear to be what they are named, par­tic­u­larly Tool­brunup. I can see the woman clearly, the pro­file of her face, her arms at her side and her rounded preg­nant belly.

At the ochre pits, we are wel­comed into the site by Joey and we pass by Joey sin­gle file, while he sings to his an­ces­tors, ask­ing them to give their bless­ing for us to be there. We are asked to go bare­foot, so that we can con­nect to the land. The ochre rocks here are as­tound­ing, the colours so vi­brant and varied, from deep­est bur­nished reds, mus­tard yel­lows to star­tling whites, and bright or­anges. It is like an artists pal­lete, the colours swirl amongst each other, and I can see shapes, faces, foot­prints and an­i­mals.

Joey takes us to the ‘pow­der room’, where the Noon­gars pre­pared for cer­e­mony. Re­mark­ably there is a rock with a con­cave bowl shape in it. Wa­ter is poured into it and mixed with the deep red ochre pow­der that crum­bles from an earth bank, nearby form­ing a rich paste. Joey then paints our faces, and as­signs us a spirit an­i­mal. I am waitch, old man emu. We are each taught the move­ments and we cre­ate a dance, our feet stomp­ing with the red dust puff­ing up round our an­kles. We are told to dance as if the earth came up to our waists. My awk­ward self-con­cious­ness­ness falls away and I be­come cap­ti­vated by a sense of time­less­ness, where I feel free, play­full and awake. We can’t help but to smile.

We go to a patch of flat salty sand and stand in a cir­cle as Joey uses his dig­ging stick to draw his home­land in a tra­di­tional map­ping style, telling us the story as he goes. The con­cen­tric rings around the shapes re­mind me of gra­di­ents on ord­nance maps, and Joey ex­plains that he sees them as au­ric fields, and this makes sense.

Joey now tells us that he is go­ing to do a paint­ing for us and I am hon­estly feel­ing less than en­thu­si­as­tic about the prospect of spend­ing the af­ter­noon lit­er­ally watch­ing paint dry but As Joey sets up he warns us “now don’t wan­der off, or blink, be­cause you might miss it” and I watch in awe as Joey paints a Car­rolup Mis­sion Art style of land­scape paint­ing in un­der 10 min­utes. One of the group asks to buy it as soon as he is fin­ished.

Next, we have our Heal­ing. Joey is a Mubarrn man, a ‘spe­cial’ man, and a unique heal­ing tech­nique has been passed on to him through his lin­eage.

What I ex­pe­ri­ence next, was un­doubt­edly for me, a life chang­ing event. I have ex­pe­ri­enced nu­mer­ous ‘al­ter­na­tive’ heal­ings in my life, and I have mostly come away, feel­ing that I was some­how lack­ing in my sen­si­tiv­i­ties, as I just didn’t get it, and I was never able to dis­cern, or sense that any­thing tan­gi­ble had ac­tu­ally oc­curred. The ex­pla­na­tion given that the “hap­pen­ings” oc­curs in the meta­phys­i­cal, or etheric realms, was never very sat­is­fac­tory, and you could say that I was also a lit­tle cyn­i­cal.

Con­trary to what many heal­ers say about rais­ing our vi­bra­tions, Joey tells us the op­po­site. “Most of us, most of you, need to lower your vi­bra­tions. Lower it, closer to the earth. Re­con­nect, to Bood­jar, Mother Earth”

I have been asked not to share the specifics of what oc­curred dur­ing the heal­ing that took place in the lake. But what I can share with you is that I felt some­thing very tan­gi­ble oc­cur. I felt my own vi­bra­tion. My scep­ti­cism dis­solves and I weep, with­out quite know­ing why and I feel em­braced and nur­tured and some­how ‘home’ in a way I have not felt since I was a child.

We drive back to camp, and our group is strangely quiet, and I know that the oth­ers are also pro­cess­ing what they have just ex­pe­ri­enced.

That evening, Joey con­ducts a fire cer­e­mony. He calls the names of his an­ces­tors as he pounds swatches of leafy branches onto the fire. His fam­ily totem is fire, and his fam­ily, masters of fire cer­e­mony. As sparks and smoke fill the air, we are di­rected to pass through the smoke and cir­cle the fire and spi­ral around. There is chant­ing and clap sticks and the whole ef­fect is dis­ori­en­tat­ing and hyp­notic and when we stop I feel as if I have just stepped out of a dream. That night I sleep deeply.

The next day, after we have packed up camp, and are driv­ing back to Den­mark, I can smell the smoke on my clothes and there are traces of ochre in my skin. I re­flect upon the jour­ney I have just been on with Joey and Poornarti Abo­rig­i­nal Tours. The land­scape I see from the bus win­dow is as beau­ti­ful as al­ways, but now I feel that it’s mys­ter­ies have been re­vealed to me and I have a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the an­cient sym­bio­sis the Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple have with this land. In turn I feel my own con­nec­tion to the land is stronger and I grate­fully feel em­bod­ied in this coun­try in a way I have never felt be­fore.

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