I have had the very good fortune to read a great many things lately that I would share with others, excellent, insightful, inspired things. And I have shared them, on my Facebook page, on Twitter, as I am wont to do, and I spent a good couple of hours updated my Links in the Web page to better reflect my reading habits and suggestions. It made me think, for all the slower, more considered behaviours from times past I would love to see more of now, of home-grown foods, of more immediate wilds, of thriving wilds and free-flowing rivers, there are some things I am very attached to that are distinctly modern; public transport, modern medicine, and the interwebs.
It is perhaps fortuitous that this week the Pagans Down Under prompt should be “The Element of Earth”, because to begin it, I read this most wonderful article by Al Cummins at Gods & Radicals (my new favourite pagan site), ‘Dirt Sorcery I – Home‘. I think I have shared it everywhere I can, and also, I think that everyone Down Under, and indeed, everyone in the New World, should read it, a sort of “Dirt Sorcery 101” if you will. Writes Cummins
I thought I’d be starting with a rundown of magical theories and occult operations concerning the gathering and usages of dirt. After all, I wanted to be practical – you know, grounded. But that’s not what the gnomes wanted. They wanted a true story of lived work. They wanted a journey about home. Seems a lot of earth elementals don’t see the difference between personal and political, between history and journeys. The land remembers.
And a story of home follows, home for Cummins being New York, New York, U.S.A., a story written by someone evidently attuned to what the Land remembers. Foreign to me though the place is, Cummins strikes clear to the heart of Dirt. Something I spoke of in my last post, dirt’s triplicate nature: Because the Land is where the dead rest most physically and immediately, it is a memory to those that live. Because from the Dirt the Green Realm emerges, it is a boon to those that live. Because into it we all must enter, it is a hope to those that live.
In his story, Cummins aligns himself with the memory held within the Land, connects with the reality and symbols of a lived and living culture irrevocably connected to the soil from which it grows, even with its selective memory, and ends at a new beginning, the foundations of which are firmly planted.
There are many parallels between the history of the United States and the history of the Commonwealth. Perhaps ours is a smaller scale history. Perhaps it is not so, only we remember things on a lesser scale. Few people in white Australia understand that unlike in the U.S. territories, the British didn’t even pretend to recognise the Indigenous Peoples as people, and so never bothered to declare an actual war like The Indian Wars. War, as it happens, requires two sovereign nations. If the other side is classified as fauna, then it’s easy to forget or even admit there was a war. Indeed, only two months ago at the appropriate time to march in memory of our fallen warrior dead, we were very busy denying it still, the official line I believe was “this day is not for you”. Our War Memorial doesn’t even hint at the “undeclared Frontier Wars”.
Of course, the National War Memorial has a point, as Nicholas Clements wrote in his article for The Conversation ‘Tasmania’s Black War: a tragic case of lest we remember?‘ in April 2014:
Growing calls for the Australian War Memorial to commemorate the nation’s frontier wars have been steadfastly rejected. They did not involve the Australian military, runs the objection.
This is technically correct; Tasmania was a British colony until 1901.
Perhaps Aboriginal Australia is chasing up the wrong government? It does seem odd though, ANZAC Day is celebrated on the day Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915, at the behest of and under the command of the British, and it was a spectacular failure! The British actually won the Black War, and it was fought right here, on the very land from which I type this post!
Nevertheless, colonial forces played a significant role in the island’s [Tasmania, then Van Diemen’s Land part of the British Colony of New South Wales] frontier conflict, which culminated in 1830 with the Black Line – the largest domestic offensive in Australia’s history. This ambitious seven-week operation involved 550 soldiers and 1,650 settlers and convicts – fully 10% of the colony’s population. (My emphasis.)
Even if you consider how much we Aussies love a right proper trouncing as an excuse for a public holiday, this surely qualifies. But no, obviously there’s a problem with the colour…
It is a sad fact that our collective cultural memory is indeed colour blind. Slavery, for example, is an American thing. Except when it was an Australian thing, quite a time after the Americans got all Emancipation Proclamation (1863) on the whole business.
“Between the 1860s and the 1970s, Aboriginal people of all ages were taken from their homes and sent to work on cattle and sheep properties all across Australia” writes Verica Jokic for ABC Radio Nation. I was born in the 1970s! If you think for a moment that is just one more aspect of the amorphous “Indigenous Problem” think again. We did properly round up black people from far flung Islands in the Pacific and bring them here on boats, and we call their efforts now the Queensland Sugar Industry. On 14 August 2013, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the ship Don Juan in Queensland, Cathy Van Extel writing for ABC Radio National in ‘Australia’s ‘Sugar Slaves’ remembered‘;
Shipowner Robert Towne was the first Australian to transport South Sea Islanders to Queensland for cheap farm labour. The 67 aboard the Don Juan were the first of an estimated 50,000 South Sea Islanders, or Kanakas as they were called. They arrived on 807 voyages from 80 islands to work primarily on Queensland sugar development farms between 1863 and 1904.
Last week, during National Reconciliation Week, Adam Goodes, after scoring for the Swans, only danced a little warrior’s hat-tip to his ancestors, a little mimed spear action, and the vast majority of white Australia lost their collective shit. Thankfully, there were some who could join the dots.
Right here in Australia, on this very land. And it remembers.
White Australia has a Black history. And unless we can come to terms with it our nation’s future will rest on a falsehood. And that’s really the point, isn’t it. For those of us who dare wade into the deep memory of the Dirt here in Australia we will find it red, and not with the stains of iron ore alone, but with black blood. Blood that is still fresh, the blood of those who die in custody. Those of us who dare to wade into the blood red memory of our Land, who call the Spirits there our allies, and who dare declare our intent one with, and allegiance to, the forces of the Dead and Elements cannot pay even muted lip service to the falsehoods of our Cultural narrative. Because they want a true story of lived work. They want the true story of our journey to now be told. It has been my experience that a lot of earth elementals don’t see the difference between personal and political, between history and journeys. The land remembers.
And as sure as my bones will one day rest in it, it will remember whether or not I told its stories, or turned away and stayed silent. I am quite convinced that when that day comes, the spirits there will meet me in kind.