Recently I spent some time in the Glasshouse Mountains of Queensland. They are in the Blackall Range west of the Sunshine Coast above Brisbane. They were named “Glasshouse Mountains” by James Cook when he sailed past in 1770 because they reminded him of the shape of the glass making kilns in his native Yorkshire, known at the time as the “English Glasshouses”. To the local Jinibara and Kabi Kabi people the Blackall Range was a special place where once every three years hundreds of people from many First Nations would gather to meet, feast and hold important ceremonies from the bountiful crop of the Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwilliii). The forests of the Blackall Range were especially attractive to the European timber-getters in search of red cedar, white beech, hoop pine, and various hardwoods of the eucalyptus trees.
A small remnant of the rainforests which once covered this mountain range is near the Glasshouse Mountains at Mary Cairncross Reserve out of Maleny. From the entrance you can get a magnificent view of the Mountains and you can walk through the forest as it would have been when the First Nation people travelled through it to their tri-annual gathering. They have many stories of the area and the best known one is on the Glasshouse Mountains themselves. You can read the full version of it at: http://www.glasshousecountry.com.au/glasshousemountainsaboriginallegend.html.
Briefly it is a story of a family with Tibrogargan, the Father, Beerwah the Mother and Coonowrin the oldest son who shamed his family and the Father now looks away from him and the others. The following photo-story is offered as my reflections on the things I saw on that walk around the Mary Cairncross Reserve. I welcome your comments on my reflections.
I walk towards the westerly sun through the forest.
The seat of reflection calls me, but the blue light of truth beneath it beckons me on.
The clear light of spirit shines on my path as I hear the birdsong around me.
Tree Spirit watches me warily as I go since much has been lost to the human invaders.
His wisdom will remain in this place of sanctuary so I offer my thanks for his presence today.
He has seen much of what I will never know and his strength is grounded in time.
The forest floor holds the grounded spirit which climbs through the ancient ferns and breaks upon the spirit of sky above in it’s red pulsing glow.
“Look up!” it calls and I see the soaring canopy of leaves that opens above me and brings life and light.
I stand in wonder at the family of trees and wish my own could stand together with me.
I know the pain of dis-connection as I recall the sound of fire and flood that hurried me on.
At last I know I can see again the group I turned away.
It is peace I feel as I gaze before me at the solid shapes of the family I shamed. I know their tears will wash their pain as the clouds gather above to let fall their gentle rain.
Tibrogargan and Beerwah have found their family again.
has inspired me to think more deeply about the issue of “home”. To return home from a journey is, for most people, a comforting conclusion to an experience that leaves you with much to reflect on. That assumes the “home” you return to is a place where that reflection is possible and somewhere you are secure and safe in a supportive environment to enable time for that reflection. In our society, our home is our house but for many it is linked to land. The “house” can move but the connection to home is often expressed through a love of land and, in some cases, a yearning to return. This can be carried through generations and is, I believe part of the issue of disconnection that faces us today, a disconnection from ourselves because we are still trying to find “home”.
I am a direct descendant of a convict who was sent to this country in 1827. I stand as the fourth generation born in this land and each of those generations have made their home in different parts of the country. I have travelled to each of those places, Windsor, Queanbeyan, Beechworth, Albury and have recently been back to my birth town, Molong. I feel a family connection to each of those even though I do not live anywhere near them now. That connection is in my thoughts but in Albury and Molong it is physical as well.
My Great-Grandfather, the youngest son of the convict sent here in 1827, established a coach-building business in Albury and the building he constructed to house it is today a Motel with a plaque outside bearing his name.
At the Albury Library Museum a collection of tools used by my Great Grandfather at his factory can be seen.
In Molong, many of my parents artifacts are also housed in the local museum including programs from the local Show, Christmas Carols and sporting events held in the town during the 28 years they lived there. Most importantly, to me is the fact I was born in Molong and spent the first 18 years of my life living in that district. This is my connection and what draws me back sometimes to see the places I remember and feel in my heart. That is why I write in this blog about my journey beginning as it did on the “red road”of Gundawanna.
Just this year I had the opportunity to drive down that road again past the front gate I wrote about in my post on 5th August. The road is now sealed, the gate locked, the track overgrown. No-one uses that entrance to the property anymore, but part of my heritage is still visible. My parents moved away from Gundawanna 40 years ago and it has been owned by at least two or three people since that time, but still today, standing proudly on the post where my Father placed it long ago, is the mailbox with our name emblazoned on it. I was pleased it had been left.
No matter where the house we live in is situated, our home is where we connect. Part of that is our past and it is somehow gratifying to know that physically part of our past stays where we have lived. It gives us the confidence to follow our dreams in life knowing our roots are deep. Now I reflect on who I am knowing that where I have been and where I will go is part of me and secure in the knowledge that I am Home.
The mango tree confused him. Spreading its dense limbs over the luxuriant growth of the garden, lush with the constant rains of the tropical coast. Perhaps it was the house he remembered. He could not be sure because of the growth that had occurred over the years. If he walked past from one direction, there was something familiar, but walking from the opposite direction did not prompt any memories. And yet, those steps to the door, the wide verandah,, it all seemed so welcoming. He could remember sitting with her father on a front verandah. Was it here? He was a wonderful man, mild in manner, a man who seemed to know him better than he knew himself then.
He had met his daughter, Alana, at that youth camp. He had no idea why they had been so attracted to each other, something about her stillness had attracted him. Or was it her ability to see through his need and provide that quiet comfort that soothed him, made him remember what it was like to share. They had spent that night together on the beach, just talking and kissing. Those kisses! He could still taste the salt, the tangy feel of her tongue, the warmth of her body, the closeness of her, the sharing, the quiet. The intimacy of the comfort had been enough for him then.
They had spent the next two days in each other’s company. Such a joy. They found such common interests, they dreamed of a similar future. Just sharing closeness and time seemed to satisfy him, brought him a calm he had not felt for some time. After they left, they wrote long letters to each other, talking of their love, their dreams, their desires for the world that seemed such a challenge. He found in her a spirit which charged him with the energy he needed to believe in the changes he wanted to make. At that time he could only think of changing the world, not himself. It was easier to dream of a world of peace and love and work at ways to make it possible through his life choices than it was to love. She seemed to understand this, and gave him the platform for his ideas that he needed. She also knew that he had to change, but only when he was ready. She was patient, simply expressing her love in the ways he wanted to hear.
When she sent the invitation to come to her house and meet her father, he had hesitated. This would require a commitment. He was uncertain what it meant. Was he ready to be that personal? Did he trust himself to maintain the distance that was necessary while expressing closeness? Would her father understand? After all, he was not like him. She assured him it was fine, this was the time of openness, and hadn’t they written of how much they shared in belief, how much they had in common, how little difference there really was?
In the end, he had gone willingly and found in her father another kindred spirit. Talking to him had been like talking to an older, wiser version of Alana. He wasn’t as attractive, of course, but the physical was not as important to him then. They spoke of the world and the future, they described their ideals and hopes for change. They spoke for what seemed hours, even after Alana came out and joined them. He couldn’t remember what happened after that, he only knows that he never went back to her house again.
It hadn’t been easy. Others had not understood his need. They warned him not to keep writing to her, to discourage her from closeness because of his future. He had gone along with their request, he had discouraged her, he had stopped writing. Even now, he couldn’t remember what had actually happened, whether she had written last or he had. It had somehow just stopped. Time had passed. Almost a lifetime.
Now here he was in the street again, outside what he thought was the house, as far as he could remember. Somehow, the thought of her had always been there. Perhaps it was just the comfort he felt that night on the beach, perhaps it was just the thought of the life they could have shared, the life he might have had.
It had been a lifetime, a lifetime of struggle, of death and despair. It was supposed to be a life of joy and love, but he had not found it. The training had been the easy part. The ideals he carried like a torch for others had been fostered by a succession of worthy men. The travel and further study in South America, North America, Rome, had reinforced his views that people had to change. They had to accept the new way for life, for love. He had always found it easy to discuss these ideals, to believe in the way.
In his last year of study, the death of his mother had started it. For the first time, doubt entered his mind. His mother had died the night before his father came out of hospital. At her funeral his father was drunk again. Why did good people die in pain, leaving those behind to persist without accepting change? Where was life and love for his mother? How could he have made it better for her? He did not think it was regret he felt, and he certainly denied the anger. He was good to his father, accepting his faults, comforting him, but it didn’t change him. He flew back to Rome confused.
Working in South America had sealed it. He seemed to be surrounded with death. The old, the young, the fighters, the weak, even the just, all seemed to die without reason, without love. He did what he could to comfort the living, but the words started to sound hollow even to him. The ritual had comfort in its familiarity, the people still came, but something was missing. The fiery bitterness of the white rum became his solace, until his superiors stepped in and sent him back for rehabilitation.
The front gate stood open. It seemed to beckon him. He could imagine her looking out the window at his approaching figure and running joyfully to open the front door. He just wanted to see her again, he wondered why his eyes suddenly felt full, as though he was looking at the moon off that beach, that night…….
“Can I help you?”
“Does Alana King live here?”
“Alana King. She lived here with her father. She was a youth worker.”
“Oh! The Kings! They owned this house before we came. Tragic story. She was killed in South America on a holiday and her father never got over it. They said he used to just sit on this front verandah, waiting for her to return, I guess. I’m sorry, did you know them well? … Are you all right? … Father……?”
The front gate at Gundawanna was one mile from our house. That’s 1.6 kilometres today, but when I was growing up it was precisely 1.1 miles, as measured by my Father on the car odometer. That made the run there and back a two mile run if you stopped at the water trough at the top of Guanna Hill, .2 of a mile on the same car odometer from our house gate. When I was 17 I was playing Rugby for the school and the athletics season was about to begin. For training I would run to the front gate and back when I got home, because I couldn’t always get to training at school which was 20 miles away (about 32 kilometres). At that age you love to compete and I would compete against myself, timing the run each day on my wristwatch. I would start when the minute hand reached one of the lines and keep an eye on it as I went. No “fitbits” then!
The road leads away from the gate as shown here in the photo I took fourteen years ago:
It flows past the Shearing Shed and the dam next to it on the left where the trees in the photo stand, across three ramps separating four paddocks until it rises up the hill to the water trough at the top of Guanna Hill where you first see our house and the land falling gently away in the distance to the clear blue line of the Caleula Hills beyond the Bell River valley. That’s how it appears as you drive in, but the run I remember from fifty years ago went something like this:
I felt fit and strong. I knew athletics season this year would be a good one and I felt confident I could beat the other sprinter who had just got there ahead of me in the 100 yards last year. I’d won the 220 yards, but I was always a slow starter. My warm-up consisted of a few stretches of the legs, open the garden gate, check that the minute hand on my watch was lying along one of the number markers, and set off. The road was gravel with heaped stones pushed up the side and centre from the wheel tracks made by passing cars where the ground was smoother, but in some sections loose dirt and larger rocks could make even that surface slippery. I had done this run so many times I knew the best places to go and could concentrate on just running hard.
I had never been a good distance runner. Perhaps it was all the bouts of bronchitis I had as a child, perhaps it was just that I had never run very far when younger, spending most of my time on horseback. I was a reasonably successful sprinter but I had never run a fast time on this front gate run. Today I felt confident; I decided 10 minutes for the two miles could be my goal, something I’d never done before.
As you run down Guanna Hill away from our house you come up to the ramp where magpies swoop you in nesting season when you try to open the gate that always stands next to it on fences. No magpies today and no need for the gate either as the ramps offer no obstacle to me. They are meant to keep stock from crossing into other paddocks and are officially known as a “cattle grid”. It was always a “ramp” to us, and looked like this:
I have seen some sheep jump across the gap, not always successfully, and I don’t jump, I just need momentum. It’s all in the timing, plant your leading foot where the underlying support is and you have no chance of falling because the bar won’t move and in one stride you’re over.
After the first ramp the road flattens out and runs through a stand of gum trees – Yellow Box, the best wood for the fire, my Father would say, because it generates good heat and burns slowly. The limbs shed regularly by the trees provide a steady supply of winter warmth after they dried. Today my thoughts were more of the coolness you feel as you run through the stand, and the way the light changes subtly to that slighter darker, softer hue you get under a group of gum trees growing tall and strong.
I still felt strong, over the next ramp, down the slight incline to the last one then across the creek that carries the overflow out of the dam near the Shearing Shed. In this paddock a mob of sheep do what they always do when something startles them. They race together across the road in front of the oncoming object which is no problem to me as I run, but always causes my Father to curse them as he drives out in the car. He often claimed sheep were dumb, but as a child I thought chooks were dumber! That’s another story!
The Shearing Shed, or as we called it, the Woolshed, is always recognisable by the smell. Two decades of mobs of sheep all gathered in tight enclosures, all kept there for several days ensure a considerable depth of manure. Inside the shed that aroma mixes delightfully with the smell of lanolin from the wool and whenever I smell wool today, it takes me back to that place of magic and excitement for a growing boy. No magic today, just strong steady breathing and my heart pounding in time with my feet as I reach the half-way point, the gate and glance at my watch as I turn to head home. Just on five minutes! I think I can do this! Let’s go!
The run back goes well, the feet gliding, the heart thumping, the breath steady. As I run up Guanna Hill I realise I am right on my goal of ten minutes. I push it hard and race up there easier than I ever had. I breast the “tape” at the water trough and look down at my watch. Yes! I did it!
I stand soaking up the elation and breathing in the joy. Alone, without assistance or coaching I had achieved a significant personal milestone. As I walk down the hill towards home with head high, breathing deeply of the clear air, I look out towards the Caleula Hills in the distance and think to myself:
Joy … at one with self and scenery … the hills … the road … the run
The issue of “cultural appropriation” is very difficult to discuss in simple terms, especially in Australia where the First Nation people have suffered large scale “appropriation” that would be better termed theft. I have no Indigenous heritage being a 4th generation Australian descendant from Anglo/Celtic families so when I knew I wanted to use some words from the Wiradjuri language on this blog site, I contacted Mark Saddler who runs Bundyi School and Cultural Programs and the Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/WiradjuriMob/
We spoke and we discussed using Wiradjuri Language and I purchased from him “A New Wiradjuri Dictionary”, compiled by Stan Grant (Snr.) and Dr John Rudder.
During our conversation he told me about the word: “Yindyamarra”, which the Wiradjuri Dictionary states is “respect, be gentle, polite, honour, do slowly”.
This is what Mark wrote about yindyamarra in The Daily Advertiser in 2016:
Mark Saddler’s Wiradjuri Mabun, October 15, 2016
Yindyamarra is one Wiradjuri word that means so much. Yindyamarra means respect; learn slowly and respect yourself and those about you.
It is very important to make sure that we as Aboriginal mayiny (people) educate ourselves as well as others about our culture, language and heritage. Education is the key to being able to move forward in life. But education is not always about learning in a classroom or office. It is about being involved in connection to ngurambang (country) it is being involved in your dabaa malang (mob) your family and mudyi (friends).
Another part of what I try to do in my life is to impart knowledge, language and cultural awareness to people who are prepared to mabinya (stop), wudhagarbinya (listen), and yalbilinya (learn) about what Wiradjuri mayiny (people). We as Wiradjuri mayiny (people) have always been very open to sharing what we know and have learnt from our mudyigaang (elders) bearing mind what we can and can’t share.
In Albury, the Murray Art Museum (MAMA) presented an animated film work by artist Bernard Sullivan, narrated by Uncle Stan Grant in 2016 entitled “Yindyamarra: Respect, go slow, take responsibility”.
‘Yindyamarra Winhanganha’ is a Wiradjuri phrase meaning, ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in’. It’s a sentiment at the heart of CSU’s approach to education, and reflects the University’s ethos ‘for the public good’. So, welcome to CSU – learn to live well and make this world worth living in.
David A Patterson Silver Wolf, the first American Indian professor in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote on his blog in 2011 that:
‘Walking the Red Road is a determined act of living within the Creator’s instructions. Basically, it is living a life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually. Those on this road are by no means walking a perfect path, but are in search of self-discovery and instructions.’
Is what I am doing “cultural appropriation”? I was born in Molong Hospital almost 67 years ago. Today outside the Hospital is this sign:
On it we read: “Gawaymbanha – dhu”, which Wiradjuri Dictionary has as: “Welcome, Tell to come”. The suffix “dhu” denotes the action and calls to the individual.
I believe we can learn from our First Nation people how to truly live. “Yindyamarra” is the central component of that life and I walk the red road with humility “in search of self-discovery and instructions”, as David A. Patterson, Silver Wolf says. I honour people such as him and Mark Saddler and thank them for permitting me to learn from them. As Mark says so eloquently, we need to stop (mabinya), listen (wudhagarbinya) and learn (yalbilinya). Too many of us are in too much of a hurry to “achieve” whatever it is we desire to be able to understand that. We need yindyamarra to know what living is, and we need to live with yindyamarra to know who we are. Our goal as humans should be as Charles Sturt University says: “the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in”.
Let Mark Saddler have the last word, with my gratitude. Yesterday on his Facebook page he posted:
Mandaang guwu biyambul ngadhi mudyi
(thank you all my friends)
who follow ngadhi murru (my journey) thru this page
This page takes many hours to put together story and photos so that I can share with you and the world how deadly Wiradjuri and all the other nations of koorie mobs in our ngurambang (country) are.
Also to those who are not Aboriginal you are also a massive part of our lives, we are all in this place together, we are all just visitors to this place we call gunyah (home)
Pony Club was an important part of my childhood. My Father encouraged and supported us, having learnt his skills as a horseman working on properties in South West Queensland and the Snowy Mountains. He had also learnt the essential bush skill of leather working and we, along with many other members of Molong Pony Club had bridles and harness repaired or made by Joe Higgins. Molong was 10 kilometres from the property of Gundawanna where we lived, and we would ride in each month on Pony Club day with the other children along Belgravia Road. If we walked the horses, it would take about two hours. If we went a bit quicker, it meant our horses were fitter or we had less to talk about on the way.
We learnt how to ride and care for a horse and the equipment at Pony Club. The Pony Club Association of New South Wales still has the list of proficiency certificates that could be gained on their website, http://pcansw.org.au/coaching/rider-certificates. For the “C Certificate”, the one I achieved in 1966, they state:
C CERTIFICATE – 12 YEARS+
Independent seat required, with correct aids and a degree of competence in other aspects of riding. General knowledge of horse care and parts of the horse.
I was never an outstanding rider, either of the rough variety or the show. My Father was a great rough-rider, having successfully ridden a horse in his youth that no other Snowy River Horseman on the property at that time could ride. He only acknowledged me as a rider the day I rode a horse who did his best to buck me off, without success. We would compete at all the local country shows in Central West New South Wales, with my sister riding Prince and I would ride Goldie. This is us at Pony Club with two impatient horses that are clearly not happy with posing for photos!
As I got older and taller, I also rode Prince at Shows. He worked during the week as the Stock Horse at Gundawanna, an equine multi-talented creature. Here I am on Prince on the right waiting for my turn to show my skills to the judge with his back to us on the left, who is watching another rider on his work-out. Prince seems unhappy to be asked to keep so still, dropping his head in impatience.
In riding events at shows, the “Ring Events”, all competitors ride in a circle around the Judge who chooses people to come into the centre and line up so they can be assessed on an individual work-out ride called a “Figure of Eight”. To complete that work-out you must walk your horse directly away from the judge, begin a trot, then a canter, then complete two circles in the pattern of a figure 8 at the canter. As a rider, you are judged on your riding position, control of your horse, and the ability to complete the task preferably without breaking out of the canter. The hardest part is controlling the horse, because that is the real judge of horsemanship, the ability to have your horse trust you sufficiently to do exactly what you ask. They are independent creatures and you have to build trust with them as a rider. Only my Father, my Sister and I could successfully ride Prince. He just took over and played up with everyone else, a very intelligent horse.
My memory today is of the last competitive ride I had on Prince, a ride that has stayed in my memory for fifty years. It was at Cumnock Show, a small town near Molong and I knew it would be my last riding event at a local Show because I was not going to continue with Pony Club the next year. I was called in by the Judge and waited with the other riders for my turn to complete my “Figure Eight”. Being an independent spirit, Prince had never really responded perfectly to my commands on work-outs. In particular he had never done what is called a “flying change” at the canter at the crossover point of the two circles of the 8. That is where the front leg of the horse leads on the inside of the circle you are on, and as you change direction, so should the leading leg change. Prince used to always break into a trot for a few paces, then lead off again on the correct leg, if he really felt like obeying your signal of the pressure from your inside leg. A “flying change” is where the horse changes his lead foreleg in mid-stride at the canter. I was relaxed this day of my last ride and felt I just had to make it the best I could. I remember thinking:
Come on Prince, one last time!
I wrote a poem about what happened that day and called it simply:
He knew – he lifted under me,
Head bowed, rocking gait,
This was special.
Was it the subtle changes in pressure
From my thighs, my legs, my hands?
Was it that he sensed the occasion,
This last ride?
A flying change at the crossover!
He’d never done that before!
This was glorious – an uplifting experience!
Time slowed, everything was clear, everything was sharp,
There was nothing else, just the two of us.
Something to remember for my last competitive ride,
On that beautiful black horse, Prince!
The horse totem symbolizes freedom. People with this spirit animal will consistently find themselves on a new journey. This totem will teach you to ride in new directions and discover your power and liberty. (https://www.spirit-animals.com/horse-symbolism/)