It might not be obvious to many, but where I come from happens to be a most amazing and beautiful place. When most people think of South Western Sydney, there are a host of stereotypes and images that come to the mind: recollections of newspaper articles, crime, multicultural “enclaves” (I shudder to type that and what it means to many). Suburban sprawl, “lower socio-economic areas”, concrete, heat… Later this year will mark 5 years since I set foot on the Mainland. And I do adore the beauty of the Island, the Mighty Derwent that snakes into the view from my window, the Mountain that looms large over my house. There’s an immediacy to the Wild here, and a population of only 500,000 leaves less of a mark. It is fair to say (and I’ve said it before) that here, in Tasmania, “wild beauty” is vastly more accessible.
And I’ve known many people who wished to escape to it from the concrete jungles and heat-drenched sprawl I came from. More than one has called my home town the “hole” they dream of leaving. It was a descriptor and attitude I openly disliked. I had always thought if you want a greener, prettier, friendlier (&etc.) place, you should plant a tree, and be friendlier. An old friend of mine, when I announced I would be moving to Hobart, laughed at me for that, for moving to the greener place. I pointed out that I left more than one tree I’d planted behind. I always felt sure I was not moving because I disliked my hometown. But I’d lived there all my life, and a change was needed at that time. I’m thankful for it, for having experienced other places, and I hope that I get to see more of the continent in my lifetime. It is vast and varied.
I’m only human, and I get homesick all the time. Home is where the heart is, they say, and though I’ve had (and am still having) something of an adventure, my family and friends, my heart is and always will be back home in suburban South Western Sydney. In more recent weeks as I’ve approached a crossroads and thinking about plans I’ve set into motion this year, and choices I have for the future I realised something else is also very true: Concrete can be a very superficial thing.
There’s an unfortunate and intimidate sense memory I have the minute I think on Sydney: the smell on the T-way from Liverpool to Parramatta and the traffic on Canterbury Road in 40° heat. Something that simply does not occur anywhere in Hobart! But it is a memory that does not seem to deeply permeate my being. In the deep dreaming recesses there are other things. It’s easy to think of the Derwent when one thinks of Hobart, it is excessively clean and wild for the most part, and really rather large. It is not so usual for the same associations to be made when one thinks of Liverpool in NSW. Few outside NSW would even immediately know the name of the River that runs through that city. But She is there, and though smaller in parts, more heavily effected by the more than 1 million people who live in Her catchment area, when I am dreaming, when I am seeking, it is the Georges River and Her tributaries and inhabitants that I was born and lived near and with all my life that carry me back to the core places of myself.
It is not romantic. It’s not the River Shannon, the Mississippi, it’s not even the Mighty Murray. There are no great stories of the Georges, no myths and folklore that are commonly known. She connected several Indigenous nations and has Her own Dreaming. And evidently She features in this white woman’s dreaming. And it’s not insignificant, or dead, nor fails in the grand scheme of “things that have spirit”. The tributary I literally lived beside (and often in, as small children are want to do) is called the Cabramatta Creek. And given the number of shopping trollies at various times, is even less romantic.
But there they are. Running beside, underneath and around the T-way in Liverpool and Canterbury Road. I suppose small children are easily written upon, and rarely detail the superficial things. My dreaming is not populated by concrete, but by the Long-necks, the Red-bellies, the Browns and Blue-tongues; by the Flying foxes, the Tawnies, the Kookas and the Maggies that were my neighbours and friends. The first teachers. Aided by my parents who taught me to listen to their voices, and what it was and is to be part of and custodian of the little bit of the world you find yourself. In my dreams they are not the altered places of urban disregard. They are clear running powerful spirits of wisdom that can point me, carry me to where I need to go.
I had not thought to write this post, but today I came across this post by Sarah Anne Lawless, which was of great interest to me. Though she writes in and of North America, this particular post is universally applicable (much of her work is and I highly recommend it). Speaking of a practice and way of being that resonates most acutely with me. And timely, since only last week I was detailing my dreams of the Georges to my Mum on the phone. The question Her Spirit answered for me.
“Look, listen, feel. What is land trying to tell you?” Lawless writes. “[B]ecome familiar with your bioregion, its changes, seasons, wildlife migrations, and weather patters and in turn, it will come to know you.” Truer words have rarely graced the internet. As I read and nodded my way through, it occurred to me that I would add one thing. One more thing that my country, my land, my home has taught me. One piece of advice for those seeking to know their Land and its Spirit: Though much of the world is desperately in need of “fixing”, much is ill, many ecosystems in peril, and so many of us look to help, to heal, to mend mistakes of the past, never approach Land with a view of the harm we humans have done it. Your small piece of the world may have no great myth or story, may not be famous, may not have entered into the culture in the same way other more notable places have done. It may be broken or scarred. But approach it always with the same sense of its beauty and terror the way a five year old might. Spirit does not so easily ebb, and if you allow it to write itself on you, enter into the marrow of you, enchant you with the smallest of its manifestations, it has the ability to reveal itself to you in its truest form, which is vast and greater than you are, larger and more powerful and enduring. Enter into it not as its saviour, but as a small skink, a little bird. Because that is what you are. One small life in a complex system that supports you.
Lawless concludes: “We must become healers and start the hard work of relearning the song of the land under our feet so we can play our part in harmony instead of harm. We have been ignorant, careless, and disrespectful for a long time and now it is our duty to repair the damage and teach our children the error of our ways and how to undo what we have done.” And she is most certainly correct. I would suggest that it works both ways, that we must heal first ourselves, and we must let our Land do that before we can heal it. We have to understand our dependence upon it first, how we are but a part. We have to understand how it captures us, holds us, even when it is already in need of healing. How it enters into the story of us even before we understand or are even vaguely aware of it.
Walt Whitman wrote “… a leaf of grass is no less the journey-work of the stars.” It is perhaps important to remember this, and approach even the smallest of things as its students, be healed, and thus learn to heal. There is an ever oscillating harmony always between individual, many and the whole. But to “relearn the song of land” remember yourself as a child first. No other person in the world may know the song of the Land you do, but if you do manage to learn one, from my experience, it will serve always to remind you how young you are compared to the vast, complex mystery of our Land. That there is no distance, nor amount of concrete that can sever you from your Country.
At least, that has been my experience. Those places in which I remember myself smallest, even in the physical sense, before their brokenness or illness was understood by me are most powerful still. There is a heavy burden of awareness that I find can be a hindrance to entry into communion with Land. Where I have been able to experience things free of that awareness, and instead with child-like awe, I have found the song. One that doesn’t have words the way we understand them. I am thankful for this first fundamental lesson that the River and Creek of my home have taught me, I have found it most valuable in my practice as an adult. There is a kind of bravery required to go back, get down on all fours and let things be larger than you are. And it is sometimes very difficult. But it’s worth it.
And because this post is about Spirits of Land, because many Spirits who are part of the Land are also human spirits, because I’m lucky enough to know human spirits who are deeply invested in the Spirits of non-human persons, who also happen to know this River and Her inhabitants; I would like to dedicate this post.
To my sister, who also knows the turtles are speaking and have important things to say.
To my friend R. who has crossed the Georges River with me more times than we actually remember.
To my friend V. who promised to kayak the length of the Georges with me, and I haven’t forgotten we’ve not done that yet. We will.
To my Mum, who continues to work to preserve and heal the Land when others do not think it important, and who knows the Songs of the Birds who sing the songs of the Georges River.
P.S. ‘D’ is for Dreams! This post participates with the Pagan Blog Project!