I’m really lucky. Really, very, über lucky. Really. Because I’m a white woman, born and living in Australia.
The older I get, and the more I learn, the more I feel that luck. The further along the Crooked Path I tread, the more I feel that luck. The deeper into the Beautiful-terrible Mystery of my Land I go, the more I feel that luck. Doubly so. When I was growing up I was taught to embrace “my country”, Australia, NSW, Liverpool, these were things I belonged to. I should own it, and be proud of it, and such things were couched in terms of my contribution, my care, and understanding of the small things, environment, animals, seasons, people, community, politics. My parents’, and my own education was deeply lacking in any real Indigenous content. I was much older and largely in charge of my own learning before I began to grasp the gaping hole and start to understand where the knowledge was I could fill it with. Thankfully, I had a least a better starting point than many of my peers. In my late 20’s, and the real “meaty” beginnings of my Witchcraft began the exponential exacerbation of this obvious problem. Barely contained (if at all) beneath the surface of our communities, our politics and government, our culture and our national wealth, and the very earth itself is a deep, deep chasm of grief and brokenness. There are angry and painful things to be found in many dark places in the world, Australia has no special claim to that. But I don’t live in other places in the world.
As such, the following posts are going to be deeply personal. Contentious, perhaps. Certainly, it feels that way to me. I want to detail the ethical, philosophical and spiritual impetus that leads me to consider the Lore of my Indigenous Brothers and Sisters. I don’t use the terms lightly. If my blog was perhaps more politically focused, I would use my other favourite term “comrades”. It is more than a fluff & stuff new-agey term that speaks solely to our shared humanity. We share a house. And whilst ever I choose to live in it, and I do not plan to live anywhere else, then we are bound together in the fate of that “thing” whatever it is; nation, commonwealth, culture, people, that we call home.
The “problem” of Indigenous Australia
And let’s not mince our words. There is a serious problem. Though it is born by Aboriginal people, it belongs, in its entirety, to White Australia. I have absolutely no intention of including in that ownership, in any way shape or form, “non-Indigenous” Australia, because within that are others who bare the brunt of many an issue that is a White Australia Problem.
I feel compelled by forces greater than I am to own this problem myself, openly. Compassion, love, ethics, appreciation, sorrow. I know that I bare it by extension, like a book written in English, is English language regardless of what its theme might be. None of my ancestors are either convict or aboriginal. None of my forebears are “misplaced peoples”. My ancestors, old and recent, chose to come to Australia. And I light my candles in deep appreciation for their wisdom, whether or not they understood that wisdom in life. Because of their choices I have an overwhelming wealth and privilege that I can not take for granted. But it is that privilege that extends the problem of white Australia onto me. I can choose the path of denial, and rabbit on like so many “Oh, not me! None of my ancestors did anything to an Aboriginal!” and wash my hands of the whole palaver, safe and sound in unacknowledged privilege. Or I can recognise that my very participation with that privilege serves to reinforce the schism, and do something else.
That something else is not particularly easy. When I was growing up, I don’t recall more than one or two children of Aboriginal heritage and descent at primary school. And certainly not in my year. There were none at my fundy Christian private highschool. It wasn’t until I started working that I began meeting and talking and making friends with people who identified as Aboriginal. Which looking back, seems hugely odd to me. Because I had friends every colour of the glorious human rainbow, and from far flung places. I was raised on hand-made Vietnamese spring rolls. My Indian friend’s Dad used to stock my pantry with home blended curry pastes and powders, my Islamic Pakistani workmate would discuss the poetry of the Qur’an in our down-time with me (when we weren’t talking cricket), and even gifted me a copy of his favourite English translation. I discussed the caste system with an Indian workmate, I ate the best Eastern European, Asian, African and Middle Eastern food ever made by friends’ parents and grandparents. I’ve been to Shabbat dinner, celebrated the breaking of the Fast of Ramadan at Eid al-Fitr, and more kinds of Orthodox Church liturgies than I can even recall, attended temples, Hindu, and Buddhist. And I loved it! But Aboriginal culture was pretty thin on the ground. For a time I felt that was about numbers, statistics. And Aboriginal people count for such a small percentage of Australians, let alone in immigration heart-land where I grew up. The more I learn the more I am beginning to understand something far more insidious was at work.
It seems such a shame looking back. I always felt lucky, cultural diversity defined so much of my youth, and I never felt like there was not enough room. My White Australia problem was first understood in terms of Sydney’s vast and thriving multiculturalism. It is, fundamentally, the same problem. Australia has a very deeply entrenched vein of very nasty racism. They’ve just been at Aboriginal people for longer than say, Vietnamese people. Which makes the problem worse, because it extends back to a time in which they were not even considered human, let alone possessed of a culture and sovereignty that maybe might have something to offer the nation as a whole. At least in terms of the Vietnamese refugees they were worthy of the term “enemy of war”. Such a term denotes a sort of equality, where two sovereign nations clash. Talk about “Black wars” and white Australia laughs “hyperbole much?!” “Ethnic Cleansing”, “Genocide”, “Apartheid” and “Slavery” are not terms Australians associate with their history, they’re simply not things that happened in the minds of most.
I don’t know that I understand these terms in the context of the experience of the Aboriginal people. I say that honestly, not because I deny them, and I use these terms increasingly, because I feel that, since I’m already a “left-wing nutjob” as defined by those I don’t count, I feel it is important to change our narrative and language to reflect the truth as it was and still is experienced by Aboriginal people. But I do not pretend to be Aboriginal, I can’t know the extend of that experience. In the same way I don’t fully understand “refugee” and “war” to their fullest extent. I have never experienced these things. Ethically, intellectually and politically, I can argue and advocate for those who have had these experiences. Through their stories I can empathise, to an extend. And I am not afraid of that empathy, that emotional experience. I can even call myself an empathetic person, and detail my emotional response to these things. But I’m kidding myself if I think there’s a sameness in that response and experience to that of Aboriginal Australia. There isn’t. It is emotion and empathy felt from the comfort of my home and society, as a white Australian.
This post, though, is not a catalogue of political and cultural issues as understood by me. I am a Witch and spirit-worker working inside the context of the Australian experience, my experience and my understanding, but these things impact my work with Land, and as such, setting them as a premise for a consideration of that work is necessary.
Certainly, there is information about that for those who would educate themselves. For my own online community, the free-to-air screening of Jonh Pilger’s film Utopia has become something of an event. Adam Goodes, 2014 Australian of the Year, and noted Aboriginal ALF star wrote in an article for The Sydney Morning Herald just after it’s cinematic release, “It should be required viewing for every Australian.” Screening on SBSONE Saturday, May 31 at 8.30pm AEST.
National Sorry Day was this Monday, May 26, an annual day of commemoration and remembrance of all those who have been impacted by the government policies of forcible removal of Aboriginal children that have resulted in the Stolen Generations. You can find out more, here.
Since beginning to draft this post, I’ve had the displeasure to read commentary regarding Warren Mundine’s comments regarding Aboriginal ceremony. The fact that Mr Mundine is Indigenous, and chairs the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, that this issue was not plastered on every social network and page in the same way that #BustTheBudget is, only serves to strengthen my resolve. As someone who engages in my own set of “bullshit” ceremonies, I need only be empathetic to the importance of spiritual & cultural expression to be offended by anyone who would off-handedly dismiss the importance of same for anyone. As Aaron Corn wrote in his response Aboriginal ceremonies are not ‘bullshit’ for The Conversation;
I care because I have had the great privilege over the past two decades of learning from many generous Aboriginal elders and colleagues, who have wanted nothing more than to have their most cherished traditions and values respected and reflected in the great Australian narrative.
This week I’ve reflected on this problem, a problem of Two Worlds, a White Australia Problem, and have decided to examine these things, in oft used terms in pagan spheres like “appropriation”, “syncretism”, “respect” and how access to Aboriginal Lore and Teaching has effected my understanding and experience of Australian Culture, the Australian Land and ultimately, my Craft. I find myself asking; as a witch, an animist, engaged with spirits of Land, can I “respectfully” ignore Aboriginal Lore that is freely given and taught to us by Indigenous Elders and Keepers of the Land’s own ancient story? And if not, how can my participation be most respectful to those Elders and Teachers, and their stories and cultures? Can such a participation, beyond deepening my own experience of my Land and Culture, be a further expression of that political and cultural impetus to progressive, community based activity and activism towards healing the rift between these two worlds of which I am part?
How radical can my witchcraft be?
My blog has always acknowledged the First Nations, the Indigenous and Original Custodians of Land. In general terms. Today I would like to acknowledge the custodians of my countries more specifically. Firstly, the Mouheneener tribe of Hobart, from where I write this post, and their Lore, Land and her Spirits who have been great teachers to me in the last five years. And the traditional custodians of the Land on which I was born, beside the River they call Tucoerah, and their ancestors past and present; the Cabrogal Clan of the Dharug Nation and peoples of the Dhurawal and Dharuk Nations. That Land, even in my absence, has taught me how indivisible man and Land truly are, and how deeply woven into my being, her She-oaks, the Eastern Long-necked Turtles, the Red-bellied Black Snakes and rivers and creeks are. The first and best lesson our Indigenous Teachers and Elders, and my Land have gifted me with.
This post is the first in a series titled Two Worlds.
Click here to read the second: Two World: Just Listen
Click here to read the third: Two Worlds: kunanyi / Mt Wellington
Click here to read the fourth: Two Worlds: Look Out & “The Sight to See”
Click here to read the fifth: Two Worlds: Tales from the Rainbow Track – Part 1
Click here to read the sixth: Two Worlds: Tales from the Rainbow Track – Part 2