Sunday, February 20, 2011

Connection to place

I am an Australian Citizen.
My ancestry on both my mother's and my father's side originate in Scotland. Both families settled in Victoria several generations ago (sorry if this information is a little vague, this is not a genealogy post)

I grew up in the outer Northern Suburbs of Melbourne. My parents house was build in a new Estate back in the late 1960s. Prior to this the land had been a farm, which I believe was owned by ta family by the name of Black. I have heard that an elderly lady, Mrs Black (possibly the original farm owner prior to subdivision), still lives in the old farm house around the corner, but I've never met her. I don't know the true history or the  original People who belonged to that place, although there must be one. It is known to be part of the Wurundjeri people's country. I can see evidence of where and how they lived in books, but their story is not commonly known to the settler inhabitants of their land and I can imagine those who remain do not fully know their land like their ancestors did.
Growing up I never heard their language or even of their existence. It is only now and due to all the work that has been done to rediscover our countries Indigenous heritage that these stories are beginning to be told, but they are revealed like relics from the past rather than threads of a tale that might connect us to the land we are on.

When I was a kid our house was still surrounded by open paddocks, horses would occasionally visit our yard. At the bottom of our street there was a fresh water creek and a patch of bushland that  must have been considered too steep to develop (The creek has since been filled in, the bush cleared and houses stuck on the side of the hill). Beyond the creek was open woodland on the steep slopes and dairy farmland on the flatter country, all subsequently redeveloped as housing estates. An open aqueduct passed through the farmland but beyond that was the Plenty River and more native bushland in the valley around the river. As the land on the city side of the aqueduct gradually became suburbia everything North of the aqueduct remained, The Country!'. This was where I liked to go most, it became my second home.

Land for Wildlife
Unfortunately it seems everything is up for grabs if you have a few bucks more...FOR SALE?
(The orange flags hanging on the fence mark out land to be bulldozed and paved)

As a kid I spent most of my time outside, riding my bike and exploring  having adventures of one kind or another. I explored every corner of my neighborhood especially the waterways, creeks, rivers and dams. I ate it's mushrooms, blackberries, cherry plums, sour apples and pears as well as whatever fruit I could reach over local gardeners fences. I noticed every bird, lizard, wallaby and roo; there were even turtles and bats. As I got older I'd often spend nights in the bushland adjoining the Plenty River with one or two of my adventurous mates, we'd catch eels and the occasional fish from the River. There was a special place on that river  where platypus lived. At night Sugar Gliders would leap through the acacias back at camp. My friends and I also spent many hours hunting rabbits along the banks and in the cow paddocks surrounding the river. We knew all it's secret places.

A sacred space by the river

Pebbles Crossing... As known by some

I often wondered about the original people, how they must have loved this place and why there is no apparent sign of them now. I grew up in that country and lived in it, I have been burned under it's sun and drenched in it's rain. I have walked across it's frost covered fields and felt the frozen grass snap under my feet while my toes froze in wet boots. I've drunk water from it's creeks, sat by the smoky fire of it's eucalyptus trees and sweated across miles of track and through the scrub. I've assisted the farmer to deliver a still born calf and skun my own calves crossing his barbed wire fences. I am not an Indigenous person of this country but can sympathize with those who are if they love it like I do. Although my ancestry is Scottish I  can only consider myself a native of the place I was born and grew up. I have traveled and lived a long way from the Plenty Gorge but my mind and heart keep tripping back there. It is my country. Yolngu friends have told me that it is quite natural for us to become part of the place where we are born. Even if it is not our own Clan Estate  the spirit of the place will be part of us and we a part of it.

It is no dream of mine,
To ornament a line;
I cannot come nearer to God and Heaven
Than I live to Walden even.
I am its stony shore,
And the breeze that passes o'er;
In the hollow of my hand
Are its water and its sand,
And its deepest resort
Lies high in my thought

(Henry David Thoreau)

I have heard it said that the land is not dead.
It is sleeping and waiting for it's people to come home. To sing the songs and call it by it's true name. Even though Piece by piece it has been sliced up, re-allocated, subdivided and sold! Dozed, filled in and paved, barely a scratch of earth remaining beside the concrete, bitumen and bricks! Ignorant and ambitious to profit from what cannot belong to them the developers have moved into places they should never be granted to step! They haven't ever seen a single mist rise from the river.

Drainage from the road straight into the creek

A pretty view for new home owners, but will it ever mean anything more than that?

The reality of modern 'best practice' land development technique

Out of site out of mind!

As Thoreau foretold in his reference to Flint's Pond, they have even re-named, profaned it and ultimately shamed it!

"Flint's Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomenclature. What right had the unclean and stupid farmer whose farm abutted on this sky water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to it? Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a bright cent, in which he could see his own brazen face; who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers; his fingers grown into crooked and bony talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like;— so it is not named for me. I go not there to see him nor to hear of him; who never saw it, who never bathed in it, who never loved it, who never protected it, who never spoke a good word for it, nor thanked God that He had made it. Rather let it be named from the fishes that swim in it, the wild fowl or quadrupeds which frequent it, the wild flowers which grow by its shores, or some wild man or child the thread of whose history is interwoven with its own; not from him who could show no title to it but the deed which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him who thought only of its money value; whose presence perchance cursed — him all the shores; who exhausted the land around it, and would fain have exhausted the waters within it..."

(Henry David Thoreau - Walden - 1854 The Ponds chapter)

If language is a gift from God, how many generations will pass before those who live here now will begin to speak the language of the places we inhabit? When will it be revealed to us if this place is Dhuwa or that place Yirritja? Who is this tree, rock or animal? What name should that sunset have? What songs do they sing and call me to dance to? Do I call this place mother, sister or brother? Will finally know that to kill a river is murder?

No comments: