Com­ing home to Mother Earth

The new wave of indige­nous tourism

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

Be­fore we walk on Mother Earth we must let her know we are com­ing. “It’s like go­ing to visit some­one, and you knock on the door,” says Faith Landy-Ariel. “It’s one of the cus­toms we have.”

Landy-Ariel lifts the lid from a small wooden pot filled with creamy ochre; she dips her fin­ger into it and stripes it on my wrist. “This is how we trans­mit en­ergy. We are com­mu­ni­cat­ing with our an­ces­tors through this sub­stance,” she says.

Thus pre­pared, we re­gard Mother Earth. She’s spread out all about us, but she no longer re­sem­bles the pri­mor­dial be­ing she was when Landy-Ariel’s an­ces­tors first walked upon her. It’s hard to com­mu­ni­cate with her now, for there are jog­gers glid­ing along her prom­e­nade, women clip-clop­ping along her pave­ments on their way to work, tourists milling about her streets.

Mother Earth is largely paved and con­creted th­ese days, and the home she pro­vided to the indige­nous peo­ple all those eons ago — the sand­stone bluffs that gave this Sydney sub­urb of The Rocks its name — have been largely gouged away.

“Look across at the sand­stone ridge be­side the Opera House ... that’s what this place used to look like,” LandyAriel says. She sweeps her hand from Cir­cu­lar Quay down to­wards Sydney Cove, in­di­cat­ing the erst­while flow of the Tank Stream, a trib­u­tary thought to have been used by Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple for fresh­wa­ter and fish. To­day, it’s noth­ing more than a stormwa­ter drain.

She points to­wards the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art, where a sand­stone for­ma­tion once stood; in its place now stands the hand­some gallery, also clad in sand­stone.

It’s an ex­er­cise in cog­ni­tive trick­ery, try­ing to imag­ine The Rocks, and the greater city, in its orig­i­nal form, but this is pre­cisely what Landy-Ariel and her col­leagues at Dream­time South­ern X are help­ing res­i­dents and vis­i­tors do dur­ing their Sydney cul­tural tours. The com­pany was es­tab­lished in 2007 by Aunty Mar­gret Camp­bell, a Dunghutti woman from around Nam­bucca Heads. This is her dream­time story, Landy-Ariel says, and she is its cus­to­dian.

Landy-Ariel is an ex­cel­lent teacher, for where I can see noth­ing around us but modern devel­op­ment, she senses Mother Earth acutely. Af­ter all, indige­nous Aus­tralians are the old­est cul­ture in the world, she re­minds me; their re­la­tion­ship to the earth is close, and their con­nec­tion has never dimmed. “I re­fer to all liv­ing things as a rel­a­tive ... they come from the an­ces­tors, so they’re part of the fam­ily.”

One of th­ese fam­ily mem­bers, a ca­sua­r­ina tree, stands be­side Cad­man’s Cot­tage, another colo­nial sand­stone relic. This is a coastal tree, she says, and it gov­erns the lives of the peo­ple who live in its vicin­ity. She smiles as she re­calls how, as a child grow­ing up in the Tor­res Strait, she would take com­fort from the ca­sua­r­ina.

“Af­ter play­ing on the beach I’d go and lie un­der­neath it, on the soft mat­ting of pine nee­dles.” The tree has other

Dream­time South­ern X’s Faith Landy-Ariel with dilly bag in The Rocks, main; wooden pot filled with ochre, above; art for sale at the Blak Mar­kets, left

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