Spirit and the land … a contemplation
In Australia I’ve always found the relationship that people have to this land fascinating. It is akin in many ways to the relationship that many people have to Spirit. And behind it all is of course the reality that for the indigenous people of this country the land is not separate from who they are. If you take an Aboriginal person away from their land, you take away their very essence. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Most of Australia’s population live on or near the coast. It’s comfortable to live on the edges. It’s exciting. Everything seems to happen here. Big cities, transport, facilities. And it’s easy to sit and look out to sea and imagine that the whole wide world is at our feet.
But behind our backs there is a vast continent. You only have to look at a map of Australia, or jump in a car and travel across it, to realize that the distances are immense. As George Johnston wrote, “Nothing human has yet happened in Australia which stands out above the continent itself.” In literature and the arts, the centre of Australia has been both demonized and glorified, but this has only served to remove us from its pulsing presence and power. Most, it seems, find it easier to pretend it simply isn’t there.
When I first travelled to the centre of this country, I thought I was merely “going on a holiday”. That was all. Sightseeing, bushwalking, have some fun. But as we started to travel that string-of-a-road north, something happened. It became a journey. There was simply mile upon mile of nothingness. Only earth and sky (and saltbush). And as the trappings of the modern world fell away it was as though in that nothingness a fullness was born that I could never have contemplated. I was going inland. I was going to my interior. I was going to the centre.
I had never understood why it was called The Red Centre, but when I got there I realised that much of the centre of Australia is red-brown. It is red-brown earth and red-brown rock; vivid, intense and vital colour. And the effect it had on me was astonishing. I was utterly fascinated with it. It became necessity to walk on it and sit on it and touch it. Take photos of it. Feel it on my body. And in doing so, it was as though I became immersed in it and pulled into it. I was drawn into its vibrancy, its depth and its mystery. And at the same time, without realizing it, I was pulled further and further down into myself.
This may sound like New Age mumbo-jumbo or some white person’s primitivist fantasies but it is not: the place is alive with spirits and you feel them there. They are not separate from the landscape. I felt the spirits of Women’s places in which I was embraced. I felt the spirits of Men’s places where I was not welcome. I remember sitting on that red earth in a remote aboriginal community with elderly women as they cooked kangaroo on a large fire and it was as though I was pulled into something that I had never anticipated. And frankly I could not have anticipated it, for I had never known that it was missing. I had never really delved into the particular Aboriginal cosmology but simply being in the land seemed to open the vast realms of possibility within me. For the first time in my life I knew my body as not separate from the landscape.
I began to understand how the indigenous people “sang” their land. I began to understand that the world for them was nothing static, but rather a world that assumed many shapes and many meanings. And I began to understand that my own world carried those same potentials.
It was a beginning. I was coming home in my own country, but I was coming home through the land. That red-brown earth was not separate from me.
(photo is of the sand python Kuniya, a creator being of Uluru)