“Elouera” is a D’harawal word that means roughly “a pleasant place by the sea”. Or, according to the Geographical Names Board of NSW “An adaptation of an Aboriginal word Elouera, Eloura or Allowrie variously translated as pleasant place near the sea, or, high place near the sea, or, white clay mountain. Wurra or Warra probably means mountain and Illa may be white clay.” Quite a few places, streets, etc., are named thus, most notably Elouera Beach in Cronulla NSW. The D’harawal people live in the area of the Greater Sydney Basin and south in the Illawara, an area of many lovely places, and particularly noted for the high density of rivers and waterways that meet the ocean along Sydney’s glorious coastline. It’s these creeks, rivers and that glorious coastline, particularly in south Sydney that I grew up on. Those places besides trickling creeks with their turtles and snakes, rivers and their eels, the little beaches and coves of the Illawara.
Below are the ways in which water informs my craft. From our strange and unusual relationship with it in Australia, the reality of its occurrence, resources that you might like to use to augment your consideration of water in your practice, links to causes and current events political and environmental that I use and am interested in, and finally, why it stands so important, and looms so large in my current practice, and how all these parts inform a the whole.
At the end of each, click on “Elouera” to come back to the top of the page.
In 2009 I packed up my little blue car, buckled in the pack and headed south on something on a life adventure. I was excited. I have driven much through NSW and even QLD, but this was my first interstate trip driving myself. One point I was particularly excited about was crossing The Mighty Murray River. I was so disappointed. Perhaps I had spent too much time reading as a child, of bygone eras, river trades, the building of a nation. But it seemed to me nothing on the Hawkesbury, and even the Georges that runs through Liverpool and into Botany Bay seemed wider than the Murray did at the crossing. It was small, tired, at that time, and still now, barely trickles to the sea, the mouth of which is more important to maintaining fresh sea water in the Coorong lagoon system for its health than it is because there’s any water in the Murray to drain into the ocean. Mighty it has not been for a long time. A friend only recently posted on Facebook thoughts regarding the dredging and the rains in South Australia where the Murray meets the sea.
When I was a kid, when I wasn’t reading, I was swimming. We had a pool in our backyard, and Sydney summers provide plenty of opportunity to use it. Like so many kids in Australia, some of my earliest memories are of swimming. My parents taught me, but I do not recall the process. Water, swimming, that’s something that just happened, and something I share with all Aussies. Almost all of us live within an hour’s drive from the ocean, and don’t we love it?! Beautiful beaches that sometimes seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. Soft white sand, and the glorious Pacific in the east, and the Indian to the west. Sapphire tropical waters, the largest coral reef in the world in the north, and the best oysters you could wish for in the cool waters of the Tasman in the south.
Water features in the story of us, all of us. A country girt by sea. I was going to write “but you cannot drink it”, but that would be untrue since they do indeed drink the Indian Ocean in Western Australia. There’s not much else for them to drink.
It a strange relationship we have with water in Australia. They (they being possibly only New South Welshmen) call The Yarra River, which runs through Melbourne Victoria, the “Upside-down River” because it appears that the bottom runs on the top, such is its lazy thick brown appearance. I’d love to know if anyone swims in it anywhere along its length! These, our little cultural idiosyncracies, strange colonial reminiscences, our brown water, and sun surf and sea culture, are the tip of a strange cultural disconnect between the idealised European vision of fresh water, sacred rivers, babbling brooks, holy wells, and the reality of our continent.
We are, all of us, fully cognisant of “water restrictions” in ways most other people in Europe and North America (though, in the U.S. they are certainly becoming acquainted with this scenario) are not. In fact, the idea of not being able to drink tap water seems like a kind of ludicrous waste of infrastructure to us, a sick ‘foreigner joke’ played on us when we reach for a tap travelling overseas. I’ve hardly heard a story from an Aussie in the U.S. that did not include “and then I turned on the tap, and they lost their shit! Apparently they have it running in their houses, but not to drink… I was like, ‘what is it for?'” In the same way, washing your car in the gutter or watering a lawn is some sort of heinous disregard for the stuff of life, that ranks up there with killing kittens for laughs. We don’t do it, good, normal people don’t do it, and many of us are very quick to go “have a chat” with the neighbour who breaks one of the sacred water laws on a weekend.
Yet we put it everywhere. In Australia, birds and animals die of thirst and overheating, and that’s well without a bushfire, they just fall out of the sky when the weather peaks in Summer. Along any city, suburban street, around any rural property, bowls are left out, (I have two, and live by a dam in the coolest, wettest part of the country, old habits die hard) even on the city strip, cafes and other shops leave out bowls for pooches out with their owners. It gets hot, and it’s unlikely to rain, and we all get thirsty.
Earth we have, in abundance though it is also of a nature that can not be taken for granted. Fire we do like it was going out of fashion tomorrow. By virtue of our southern location, those blessed Roaring Forties, and a small population, we have the freshest, sweetest, cleanest air in the world. We are indeed an island nation. But we’ve barely a drop to drink.
There’s a fantastic image that gets about whenever someone who is not Aussie speaks to the size of things that allows a little perspective about the element of water in Australia.
With that image in mind, here is a map of the rivers of Europe. Also note that these rivers are all perennial. That is, they flow, and have water in them, all the time.
And compare that to a map of Australian Rivers.
The unfortunate thing about these two maps is that the lines themselves indicate a sort of equivalence. Nothing could be further from the truth. A quick look at Wikipedia regarding distribution of river water globally, and Australia comes in at 1% of the world’s volume, Europe, at 6.7%.
Here, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) map showing the largest river catchment systems worldwide, and, Australia has one, The Murray-Darling Catchment upon which most all Australians are dependant. And includes that Might Murray that no longer reaches the sea.The thing about a catchment area though, is not what they hold, but what they catch. And they catch rain. And Australia gets the least of that in the world, save Antarctica, and sans summer ice/snow melt. On average less than half the average rainfall of Europe.
It’s fair to say if an element is sacred in Australia, water is that element.
If you are inclined, like me, to splice your magical action, and your environmental activism, here are few things on my list at the moment that might be something you can get behind, support, write to, keep an eye on, work a magical ritual for/in conjunction with. If you have something particular in your area, or nationally that I’ve missed, please leave a comment and let everyone know.
1. Queensland recently had a change of government. Good job, QLD! And with it, a slight portfolio change. Recently the new Government was sworn in along with Steven Miles Minister of the Environment and Great Barrier Reef. This is kind of awesome sauce. We’ve never had a portfolio so explicit before, and gods the Reef needs it! QLD in recent years has seen nothing if not a complete disregard for the Reef, from dredging and dumping for the Gladstone Harbour ( see fightforthereef.org.au ) to increased fracking with unknown threats to the underground water table and catchment, which invariably affects the Reef by virtue of QLD’s penchant for tropical storms and flooding. (And a quick shout out to the good people of QLD and the NT who recently went through the experience of Cyclones Marcia, a cat. 5, and Lam, a cat. 4.) The Reef is not just ours, but a World Heritage listed site, and we were embarrassed on the world stage by U.S. President Barack Obama at the G20 Summit in QLD in November 2014. In his speech given at the University of Queensland he said the ‘incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened“. He was right.
See Greenpeace Australia’s action against banks funding coal operations HERE, and see if your bank comes out clean.
Can we claim authenticity when we invoke and honour the element of water in our ritual space, only to choke it every time we visit the ATM or pay a bank fee?
2. LOCK THE GATE! Seriously, frack off! Ugh. Fracking. The dumbest thing humans have done in a long while. Like a great big collective brain frack. Thankfully, there are smart people all over the shop fighting to stop the Stupid. If you live near water, or in a catchment area (and yes, you probably do), then there will be a local group fighting the good fight. Google. You’ll find them. Few things could pose a greater threat to our water security than CSG fracking, to stay informed on the major battle fronts of Northern New South Wales and Queensland, you need to go here:
Lock The Gate Alliance “is a national coalition of people from across Australia, including farmers, traditional custodians, conservationists and urban residents, who are uniting to protect our common heritage – our land, water and communities – from unsafe or inappropriate mining for coal seam gas and other fossil fuels.” Awesome.
Put your name down and tell Tony Abbott it’s time for a Fair Go for residents, demand that Tony Abbott stick to his word and implement national legislation for:
1. Health Impact Assessments and baseline monitoring before coal, coal seam gas and other unconventional gas developments are approved;
2. Exclusion zones: no CSG, shale gas or coal mining near residential areas; and,
3. Your right to say no: no-one should be forced to have gas wells or coal mines on their property. Sign here!
Gasfield Free Northern Rivers (NSW) is asking for people to contact the NSW Minister for Resources and Energy, Anthony Roberts, against the renewal of a CSG Exploration Licence that covers a large area of the Northern Rivers, Lismore, Nimbin, and Kyogle. Go HERE and find details of how you can help by contacting the Minister.
GetUp! have the Don’t Risk Coal Seam Gas campaign running, calling on the Health, Environment, Water and Agriculture Ministers across the country. “From Sydney’s water supply catchment to the rich agricultural lands of the Liverpool Plains and the Darling Downs, the coal seam gas industry is expanding at breakneck speed. People’s health is under threat, our nation’s farmland being eroded away and the country’s precious aquifers permanently damaged.” Sign here!
Will the powers of the natural elements enter into our ritual space, can we call them allies, if we refuse to stand firmly against their demise?
3. There is barely a river in the country that does not have the love and commitment of a group of locals fighting for its health, and the community of life that depend on it. Often, a lovely flowing river hides a secret sickness. I live on a river just like that.
The Derwent River flows and meanders along, complete with toxic heavy metal pollution. You would not know to look at it. The Museum of Old and New Art in Berridale is situated near the worst stretch of the river, where zinc, mercury, lead, cadmium and copper lie thick in the sediment. In 2013 MONA founder David Walsh and partner Kirsha Kaechele launched the Heavy Metal project to find innovative and creative solutions to one of Hobart’s biggest environmental problems. You can read the article in The Mercury here. This year MONA were at it again:
HEAVY METAL OYSTER PONTOON (MADA/MONA)
The raft’s virgin sailing, upon the waters of Berriedale Bay (on the museum’s south side). A raft, yes, but a pontoon also: a bastion of scientific inquiry and watery frivolity upon the River Derwent. The raft is an extraction vessel, enlisting a troop of oysters (located in baskets around its perimeter) to filter poisonous heavy metals from the river. Scientific data will be collected from said oysters; we’ll monitor their heartbeats over time in relation to water quality. Once the oysters have done their duty, they’ll be kiln dried, encased in glass bricks and entombed in the Heavy Metal Retaining Wall on the Mona Lawns.
These kinds of things are not uncommon. At all. In fact, I guarantee you, if you simply searched the name of your local river, you’d find that somewhere, in your region, there’s a group cleaning up, preserving, and celebrating life’s most necessary liquid compound. Big things like the Great Barrier Reef get a lot more attention. But probably very much closer to you, there is a sacred place, Elouera, ready and waiting for its beauty to be enjoyed, and probably desperate for one more person to care and help preserve that beauty. Many of these links are actually government run organisations and sites, working in conjunction and partnership with all kinds of industry, community groups, local artists and universities, scientific programs and regular people who live next to them. They are not just about saving this or signing that. But list walking tracks, waterholes and areas fit for swimming, community events, and all manner of regular water related awesomeness.
This is not a definitive list, but these are some of the rivers I know and love.
The River Derwent, Tasmania:
Derwent Estuary Program (DEP) is a regional partnership between local governments, the Tasmanian state government, commercial and industrial enterprises, and community-based groups to restore, preserve and promote the estuary.
The Murray River, New South Wales, Victoria, & South Australia:
Discover The Murray has a great page of links to Murray River Associations & Community Groups, as well as every possible recreational activity across three states you could hope for!
The Georges River, New South Wales:
The Georges River Combined Councils Committee maintains Georges River. Smaller than many others, this river actually has a large number of people living on it, smack in the middle of Sydney as it is. And there are lots of resources for anyone in the area. The Tucoerah is my river, and I lived on (almost literally directly over the top of during some seasons in my childhood) Cabramatta Creek, and my childhood was spent in this Elouera and all its secret places with all its slithery and feathery denizens. The creeks, lakes (like Chipping Norton) and other reclaimed aspects of the Georges are a testimony to the work of community.
Parramatta River, NSW:
Parramatta River Catchment Group (now (again!) with swimming beaches with lifeguards, so chuffed about that!) and Our Living River a community initiative to make the River swimmable once more.
In most cases, the body of water closest to you is not likely to be the river proper. But starting there is a good way to develop a knowledge of the intricate creek systems around large river catchment areas. These areas don’t get a lot of attention like big flowing rivers, but are as necessary as capillaries are to arteries. And very often they are the secret jewels of fresh water. It is also likely that if you live in a built-up area, your local creek that runs into a much bigger body of water is more like a rubbish dump. Improving the health of a river is nothing without attending to these smaller creeks, and the surrounding areas, pockets of bushland, flood zones, and reserves.
4. On Sunday 1st March, quite a few of those little spots will get a helping hand as part of Clean Up Australia Day. There is no magical action that will ever be equal to a pair of gloves, a hat, a pair of sturdy boots and some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease when it comes to honouring, improving, and preserving our most precious resource.
This might seem like a strange post for a pagan blog. But it could not strike more perfectly to the heart of my practice, and I can’t bang on enough about these sorts of things, all Australians need to be reminded every once in a while of the reality of our life in this country. There’s nothing I can add regarding the nature of this element in terms of magical practice to what every other blogger and writer out there has written over and over and over again. In terms of cardinal directions and elements I’ve written before. Instead I think there is something more to be said about our magical practices in terms of the element of water. Rather than “what can water do for you?” I find myself asking “what can I do for water?”
I have written in other places that in the Summer months I no longer centre any ritual or seasonal observance on the element of fire. Such seasonal rituals are now almost exclusively centred on the element of water. Fire is easy, water has ever proven our greatest challenge as a species. Here, where I live, it is first and foremost an attempt to always remind myself of that resource, how endangered it is, and with it, life. Sea, river, ocean or fresh, we have degraded it dreadfully at our own peril and everything else’s. I know that others court the favour of the fire element, seeking protection during the bushfire season. But that seems to me to speak of fire as the key difference between the experience of the Australian practitioner and their Northern Hemisphere counterpart. Which it is not. Fire or no, we still would not have enough water. And bushfires only ever serve to further deplete our most scarce resource.
Ritual action, magical action is the means by which we alter our reality. Much of that alteration is in fact not external, but internal, a shift in our perspective, that allows us to see the world differently. Be in it differently, and thus bring about changes and growth. Ritual action serves as a way to align the mind, the will, of the individuals participating. Repeating symbols, and symbolic actions of the powers we would increase, commune with, work with. It seems to make a great deal of sense that in places where not only water, but snow and ice were abundant, our ancestors so often placed fire in the centre of their sacred spaces. On the other side of the world, in a place whose story is almost completely and literally reversed, water is placed at the centre of my sacred space.
My water bowls do still serve the local birds, small marsupials and reptiles in my yard. But further, as water is in my practice the primary sacred offering to the spirits. It is an offering, and a reminder that offerings and magical actions are not limited to a special time or place, all water is sacred and scarce. Every time it serves to remind me to take an extra bag on a walk to pick up little bits of rubbish when I can so that little bit less finds its way into the Derwent River and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Reminds me to be a little more frugal when I wash. It reminds me of the things that need the most attention.
It easy to bemoan a lack of sacred places in our environments, particularly in more built up areas. It is also easy to turn on a tap, easy to fill our bowls, bless water and sanctify our spaces. But how much do the spirits of water actually live there?
I speak often here of offering, which is a sort of sacrifice. And here where we depend on a thing strained to broken, what can we say is the true nature of sacrifice? How convenient are our magical and ritual offerings and sacrifice? Do they ring true or sound hollow against our everyday actions?
Water is an element that speaks to purification, feminine creative forces of life, flexibility, fluidity, and often clarity of vision, clairvoyance and dreams. In more scientific terms, it also speaks of the complex interconnectivity of all life on earth, all of which in every way shape and form depends on this one thing. It speaks to perfect sustainability. All water on earth is all the water there has ever been on earth, in our closed ecosystem, the lesson and wisdom of its flexibility is profound.
I think on these things and ask myself these questions when I place this element in the center of my ritual circle. I try to remember that the continent was once pristine, unpolluted and that the wisdom of our ancestors in this instance is less about repetition and much more about correction. And I keep trying to marry the dream with reality. For myself, there has to be a synchronicity between the vision inside the ritual space, and the work out there, in the elements. The one is only made sacred through the other.
We already know what water does. Cleansing, cleaning, restorative, always a focus on what water can take away, wash away, clean away, dissolve. In focusing always on what water does for us, we have stepped away from an understanding of what water is. I wonder that if the collective powers of water particularly in Australia could blog they would send a different message. I wonder if they could, in a post about themselves, they would begin with “Water is quite literally incapable of dealing with any more of your shit, your rubbish, your crap, your pollution!” Everything we do, every human activity finds an end in water, in the same way all life finds it beginning there. It is the universal solvent, it is the great recycler, it is the slow forge, and the soft mould. The blood of the body of the earth. We are the agents of the smoke in Her lungs and the needle in the vein that poisons that blood. There is no extraterrestrial transfusion, it has already happened when the oceans first arrived. There is not likely going to be another.
So this weekend, I will continue to chip away at the rubbish in my little piece of wild, in the local catchment area, secreted in amongst suburbia. I know in my hometown my family will be doing the same work. And many other people all over the continent. This is the work to restore what was already sacred. That we have made profane. In the full moon before the Equinox, when the tides and seasons shift again, it is these little places, Elouera, that I will be dancing and singing. In my practice, I have come to use the word as a title of honour, when addressing the spirits of place, exclusively near bodies of water, rivers and creeks, and estuaries, and small beaches. And particularly in places, like I have always lived, close to home, tucked away in suburbia, often used, abused and neglected. Not considered to be sacred. It is a word that reminds me we can reclaim our sacred places, which are all places, and that provide us with most especially water, the source of all life, the very reason we have populated them as we have, which has resulted in their pollution, destruction and neglect.
Maybe it will rain. And there is not one thing I will require it to wash away, to clean or cleanse, not a shred more rubbish, not a slither more plastic, nor iota of pollutant would I ask it to take away. Instead, I will call my allies Elouera, and ask them to bring their wisdom, I’ll ask for their wisdom as caretakers of so many species, for a newly sworn in Queensland Minister, their cool blessing for those who worked on Clean Up Australia Day, and to teach their slow, mountain eroding strength to those who fight against fracking. And to remind me in ever drop, that there is no water that is ever mine alone, that it will tomorrow belong to something else, who has just as much right to it, and will continue for always. But only as I leave it. I would leave it well then. Everything rejoices in water.