START – ROYAL NATIONAL PARK – YEARNING TO BELONG
Sometimes, for exercise purposes, i walk back from a shack at Era, in the Royal National Park (South of Sydney) to a train station at Otford. Not just an exercise of the body but a gentle massage of the mind as well.
There is an RNP Coastal track, which is presently being upgraded. But if you come up to the Garawarra cark park there is a good wide (“vehicle/fire trail”) track which goes along the top of an escarpment.
It runs parallel to the sea – with some spots where you can take a short side track through the bush and take a break while you look out over the sea from on high. Great bit of coastline.
One problem I had been pondering during the last time I did this walk arose from a tweet which, in light of the usual news, I had felt compelled to share with others earlier in the week:
“To the same extent that we treat our home planet Earth as an inert and lifeless ‘thing’ our own Being is numbed, suppressed and denied.”
I have this notion from thinking about First Peoples and animism – that they are truly alive, while modern Western people like myself suffer from a secular flatness of our Being. I sometimes refer to this as ‘the great depression’.
My pondering was – “Yes, but where do we go from here?” No answer had emerged.
I half know the answer is to be found in the metaphors which are built into our means of interpreting experience – but you can’t just suddenly just reconnect Being with Cosmos in one orgasmic swoosh (Freud discussed something like this in comparing his position with that of Jung). At least, for people like Freud and me, it seems impossible.
During the week I had been lightly researching the notion of ‘existential crisis’. A Wikipedia entry had mentioned that flattened affect was associated with a modern existential crisis.
My earlier readings on what we in the modern West categorise as “animism” alerted me to the difference in how life dances for those who relate to life in an ‘animistic’ way.
It seems to me that, for those we call ‘animist’ their whole Being is alive – not merely their whole brain – in contrast to the condition of those of us (me in particular) in the modern West where we have developed what is truly a ‘flat’ earth means of interpreting experience.
Australia’s First Peoples dance and sing country. Not only that – and this is in contrast with some of the grim non-indigenous ‘cross-cultural’ professionals I have met over the years – First Peoples live with laughter. Anthropologist Robert Tonkinson, writing about Mardudjara people ‘living the Dream in Australia’s deserts’ noted:
“The Mardudjara have a keen sense of humour that pervades their activities, including ritual. There are very few occasions so awe-inspiring or momentous in their religious significance that laughter and joking would be thought out of place.” (Tonkinson 1978:100)
To me this is the best kind of evidence of both healthy mental functioning and the full operation of our frontal lobes at the cutting edge of creation.
It points to a lighter mode of Being. We (casting ourselves as Homo Sapiens) often need to lighten up rather than take things far too seriously. Homo Ludens – where the sense of play has its place as well – is also on offer..
The walk from Era to Otford takes me a couple of hours. Mainly through heathland with its hard and scratchy plants, on the thin soils and sandstone, some large trees e.g. fantastic shaped Angophoras, and hairy coned Banksias.
As I walk along this track I am frequently aware of my own ignorance regarding my surroundings. I do not know the original names of the plants and animals I come across nor do I have anything much by way of an idea of how these parts of life may have been signified and utilized by the original peoples for this country.
I feel that I am, very much, part of an extensive system of false consciousness. And no amount of scientific study of the plants and animals I seek to relate to is going to connect my part of Being to this part of Cosmos.
The walk is very pleasant in spring with a lot of Native Irises (Patersonia sericea) out in some patches, and flowering plants such as ‘eggs and bacon’ (yellow – Diliwynia retorta) and Gymea lilies (reddish/crimson – Doryanthes excesla) to mention a few of the striking features.
My dear mother’s name was Iris – meaning the Goddess Rainbow in Ancient Greece. I am the son of a Rainbow.
Native Iris pic at http://anpsa.org.au/p-ser.html
Down at Era my wife – who, in my view, comes from that country – had been showing our granddaughter, Daphne, some sea anemones in the rock pool at Era.
With my daughter, Fuchsia, we were pondering why there is also a plant called anemone. Was it Latin or Greek? I looked it up when i came home. Wikipedia says that the sea creature in named after the flower – and the flower:
“According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Greek anemōnē means “daughter of the wind”, from ánemos “wind” + feminine patronymic suffix -ōnē. The Metamorphoses of Ovid tells that the plant was created by the goddess Venus when she sprinkled nectar on the blood of her dead lover Adonis. “ http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anemone
Iris, Fuchsia, Daphne – a floral matriline. Daphne has Greek mythic connections. (Google ‘daphne’)
Fuchsia has a very interesting lineage – from German for ‘fox’ – animal species – to human surname ‘Fuchs’ the Doctor who named the flower species ‘Fuchsia’ – to the human first name of my daughter.
Myths all over the world relate to the shapes and colours of plants (and much more).
Due to the shortcomings (or otherwise) of my own school education I prefer the myths to the Latin-like scientific names, and the memorialising of botanists and colonial figures.
Banksia – after Sir Joseph Banks, wealthy English Gentleman.
Note that the ‘Royal’ was added to ‘National Park’ after a fleeting visit to the Sydney-Illawarra region by the English Queen? It is full of imperial measure forms of names. Governor Game lookout? Just off Sir Bertrum Stephens Drive? Along from Lady Carrington etc etc.
Even the scientific name for the Native Iris – Patersonia sericea – refers to another minor colonial figure – Paterson was another NSW Governor. Shortly we will consider a connection between another State Governor – LaTrobe – and an indigenous flowering plant.
We have a very handy plant identification booklet “Burnum Burnum’s Wildthings Around Sydney”. Most comprehensive in terms of small entries on the many plants you encounter.
Burnum Burnum, you may recall, was the Koori man who planted the Aboriginal flag in land in the United Kingdom. He had an Anglo-Australian name – Harry Penrith – which he later replaced with Burnum Burnum. (From his great grandfather according to Wikipedia)
This naming business is very much part of a kind of conceptual framework which we take for granted but which may not serve our deeper interests – if we come to find it more like a constraining straight-jacket than an enabling means of relating to the rest of life.
Burnum Burnum’s name is on the booklet, and he provides a brief account (pp8-9) of Aboriginal legends regarding the Waratah and the Gymea lily but there remains a long way to go regarding a full account of the plants – as I shall try to tease out.
These accounts appear similar to those published elsewhere (Rolland Robinson; Michael Organ’s compilation, some of the work of Reed). I need to get a bit more systematic in learning these things, but connecting with country may require more than a book-based academic approach.
For the moment, our Subaru Forester is packed ready to set out to Central Australia in the morning to follow the lead to Eremophila – desert loving plants.
First main camp stop, Lake Mungo – where something of an ancient spirit of this land may be encountered.
Friday 19 May 2017
Self-learning exercise – google search ‘eremophila’