Remembering the Black Mist

 Originally published 19 September 2018 on Indigenous X

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Recently I viewed the Black Mist Burnt Country exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. Launched on 27 September 2016, to mark the 60th anniversary of nuclear bomb testing at Maralinga in South Australia, the exhibition has already covered a lot of ground touring the eastern states.

This exhibition is a vivid and reflective collation that is raising awareness of the impact of nuclear testing in Australia. The cost for British and Australian army personnel and civilians was high. More so for Aboriginal people, who often weren’t even considered before the bombs went off.

Given re-emergence of interest in uranium mining and the proposal to construct waste dumps on Aboriginal lands, despite strong community opposition, this exhibition is also a stark reminder of how little some people have learnt from the past.

When British interest in nuclear testing became known, uranium deposits had only recently been discovered in Australia. Wishing to strengthen British protection post-war, newly-elected Prime Minister Menzies saw both security and economic opportunities in offering the British land for testing nuclear weaponry.

There was a lot of secrecy around these joint operations. Not only were citizens unaware of what was happening, in some cases even the Australian government was left in the dark by the British. Even now, many Australians are unaware of the historical background of British-led nuclear testing in Australia.

From 1956 to 1963, atomic bombs were set off in central South Australia, including at Maralinga. Prior to that, testing was conducted at Emu Field (SA, 1953) and Monte Bello Islands (WA, 1952 and 1956). The fallout from the last operation at Monte Bello Islands, off the Western Australian coast, reached Rockhampton on the Queensland coast.

Rockets were also tested in 1964. Detonated at the Woomera Protected Area (SA), the long-range path of the Blue Streak rockets moved across central SA to the Pilbara region (WA) and out to sea (between Broome and Port Hedland).

Aboriginal people were not consulted prior to any of these operations. They were often forcibly removed from the area or left to suffer the consequences of the fallout. There are no records of how many Aboriginal people became ill due to nuclear testing, or research into the generational health impact. Too many voices remain unheard.

Maralinga, meaning thunder in Garik language, is probably the most known nuclear weapon testing site in Australia. It was also the site where the most damage to people and environment was experienced.

Due to leftover plutonium, the land around the Maralinga testing range has remained toxic for many decades. After the British signed off responsibility in 1968, the Australian government has maintained control of the site.

In more recent years, the British government made minimal compensations to the surviving service personnel. And as a result of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, some compensation was provided to Anangu people, and for clean-up operations.

The Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984 provided freehold title to Anangu. Remaining parts of the land, which had been part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, were handed back by the Defence Department in 2014.

Despite not having been consulted by previous governments, Aboriginal people have always been pivotal to movements that advocate for socially and environmentally responsible management of uranium – from mining, to transportation, usage, and disposal of waste. One example is the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA), which celebrated twenty years of activism in 2017.

And Aboriginal voices were embedded in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). A recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, ICAN was instrumental in lobbying the United Nations to agree to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

One of the most known voices for the anti-nuclear movement was Yami Lester (1949 – 2017). Yami Lester OAM, respected Anangu elder, educator and activist, was blinded by the nuclear fallout as a child.

It was Yami who first described the explosion at Maralinga as black mist, which the exhibition has taken as a title. Yami was a pioneer of the anti-nuclear movement, and his image rightfully takes centre place in the Black Mist Burnt Ground exhibition.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Karina Lester is one of many representatives of First Peoples voices within ICAN. This campaign includes 400 international organisations, so Karina has exchanged personal/familial stories of nuclear testing and warfare with First Peoples from around the globe. Her sister Rose is also a strong advocate.

The British and Australian government nuclear weaponry testing is part of the truth-telling that many are now engaging in. Raising awareness of settler-colonial history helps people to better understand the impact of colonialisation on First Peoples. Sharing stories, such as those from Maralinga, can also inform current decision-making – to stop the past repeating.

Top 4 books about Maralinga
If you’d like to learn more about nuclear testing at Maralinga, I recommend these four books.

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Maralinga, the Anangu Story by Yalata and Oak Valley communities, with Christobel Mattingley

An illustrated children’s’ book, capturing community stories.

Mima Smart: “Our story is a very important story that needs to be heard by children and adults across our country.”

 

m3.pngAtomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story by Elizabeth Tynan

Liz Tynan is an academic and former science journalist who has been researching British atomic tests in Australia for many years.

“In 1950 Australian prime minister Robert Menzies blithely agreed to atomic tests that offered no benefit to Australia and relinquished control over them – and left the public completely in the dark.”

 

 

m4.pngMaralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story by Christobel Mattingley

This book features the recollections of Yvonne Edwards (1950 – 2012), artist and community leader, on the impact that the nuclear tests had on herself and family.

‘Grandfather and Grandmother telling lots of stories. They had to live at Yalata. Their home was bombed. That was their home where the bomb went off. They thought it was mamu tjuta, evil spirits, coming. Everyone was frightened, thinking about people back in the bush. Didn’t know what bomb was. Later told it was poison. Parents and grandparents really wanted to go home, used to talk all the time to get their land back.’ Yvonne Edwards.

 

m5.pngCleared Out: First Contact in the Western Desert by Peter ohnson, Yuwali Nixon and Susan Davenport.

Through primary documents and personal recollections of Martu women, this book gives a behind the scenes look at rocket testing in the western desert in 1964. Patrols were instructed to track down a group of Martu women and children, who’d had no prior contact with settler-colonials, and remove them from their country.

 

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Maralinga: the chilling expose of our secret by Frank Walker

An investigative journalist, Frank Walker’s book focuses on the impact that this testing had on scientists and British and Australian armed forces personnel.

 

 

 

More resources on nuclear and rocket testing on Aboriginal lands is available via the Black Mist Burnt Country catalogue and educational resources

 

Such as it was…..

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Here is another snippet of what I’m currently editing. Its some years past the previous piece I shared. Its from a work-in-progress, which will hopefully become my second novel, called Where The Fruit Falls. Its a rough draft, but I hope you enjoy the read.

As the last plutonium-loaded cloud settled over the red sands in the south-west, many miles away three strangers emerged from a sister-desert; seeking rest from a road seldom travelled. Even though they had entered town cloaked in dawn’s light, news of their arrival had spread before the last rooster finished crowing. This flurry of curiosity was not because it was unusual on the gibber plains for people to suddenly emerge from out of nowhere; others have arrived in such a manner. Nor was it unusual to see strangers, even though the town was in the middle of nowhere; as the train, in passing, often spewed out adventurers, government officials, wayfarers, those of a missionary-bend, and other lost souls. And it was not the shock of seeing a young woman unaccompanied by a man; for strong, independent women were a familiar sight in the desert terrain. No, the inquisitive stares behind curtains and the gossip that raced at the speed of wild-fire was fuelled by the peculiar guise of the two girls that walked alongside the woman. For even in this era of fast-tracked social change, it was still unheard of for one of her kind, for the woman’s bloodline was unmistakable, to be travelling unaccompanied with a white girl.
And such a pretty little girl, a precious rose – many would add to their recounting of the tale. Obviously cared for, loved dearly, despite the marks of a long trek clinging to her clothes – others would remark to their neighbours later that day. Such flawless, milky skin – sighed many behind sun-withered hands. And what eyes, they pronounced, like precious opals – they all pronounced. Even though, in all reality, her eyes were more akin to a less precious but equally enchanting gemstone: malachite.
Once they could tear their attention from this child, they took in the other girl; reluctantly at first. They openly appraised this child, and not with kindness in their eyes or truth in their hearts. This other one, wearing the trials of the road so well, brazenly strode into town; or so they thought. With the steadied gaze of a sun-browned cameleer from days long gone, this girl kept her bright blue eyes focused on the road, ignoring the crescendo of disapproval. Clearly she hasn’t been taught her place in the world – some muttered. She needs to be knocked down a peg or two – grumbled others. Such arrogance, but what can we expect from the likes of them – verbalised a few. Giving them the vote will ruin this country, mark my words – others predicted.

That last comment drifted down the street, carried by the wind, towards the town’s edge, where it floated over the unseen boundary and fluttered around a gathering of makeshift homes. Those still trying to catch a few moments more of sleep tried to shoo the words away with the flick of a hand, not at all concerned about being bitten in exposed places. Others took a broom to the nonsensical declaration, sweeping the air until that unwanted opinion was encouraged to move on. As smiles of redemption began to brighten sun-toughened faces, they soon realised that there was now an unpleasant smell in the air. One by one, the fringe dwellers gathered outside, trying to locate the source of such a rank odour. An old man caught the eye of another, and then another, and another, Until soon they were walking away from the town, carrying only the essentials. They hadn’t needed a second whiff, for they had smelt this unpleasant odour many times before. Younger kin, refusing to follow, instead walked closer to the main part of town, allowing curiosity to be their guide.
Standing unseen, in the shadows cast by the rising sun, they saw the town-dwellers staring at a trio of travellers. The new spectators were also taken aback by what they saw, even if their comments were vastly different than those already dying in the dust or floating off on the air. For rather than seeing what was different, they had immediately noticed the similarities. Eventually, everyone began to see. It’s something in the bone structure, some thought – such high cheeks. No, it was the way they both moved, the way they hold themselves, certain aura. They could see that those girls had shared secrets, for they speak in a clandestine language only known by twins. Those young ones were the mirror images of polar opposites.
Never before had the townsfolk seen such non-identical twins; one white and the other brown. Only the fringe dwellers could see the truth of the matter, even though it was so very obvious: both girls were in fact black.

While all this was unfolding, the woman kept moving, oblivious and quite accustomed to the astonished stares and whispers of strangers. As she walked down the main street, such as it was, the woman took no notice of fingers clasping at almost-closed curtains, nor did she acknowledge the slack-jawed affliction that her progenies left in their wake. Steadfastly she walked up to the veranda of the general store, such as it was, dropped her bags and shook the red dirt from her skirt. Leaving the uncanny twins sitting on a pile of road-worn bags, she walked into the store, with her head held high enough for trouble to find her.
A short time later, the three of them turned a rusty key in a dusty lock, entered a pre-loved shack and set to turning it into a home; such as it was.

Did you hear….?

Did you hear the news?

They found…
A pile of discarded clothes.
An old drunk.
A crumpled bird.
A boy.

Did you hear he took….
A bike.
A pack of smokes.
A jumbuck.
An orange.

They hunted him down….
In a ute.
On horseback.
On foot.
On Facebook.

He was killed…
In revenge.
By accident.
In blind-rage.
With hate.

Its his fault…
He shouldn’t have stolen.
He shouldn’t play hookey.
He shouldn’t be black.
He shouldn’t be.

They arrested…
Your neighbour.
Your friend.
Your father.
Your son.

The boy’s family is…
Grieving.
His family is grieving.

Airing Dirty Laundry

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Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s talk about Lateral Violence

Lateral (or horizontal) violence rears its ugly head in many places and guises. You may not have called it by name before, but most likely you have felt or seen the damage it leaves in its wake.

Lateral violence is where negative and destructive behaviour between individuals occurs across groups of people with a commonality, as opposed to coming from ‘above’. It’s when people in similar circumstances and environments turn on each other, rather than address the problems. And it happens more often than what you may expect.

  • Workplace and Community Groups / Committeesmany, if not all, would have experienced unhealthy workplaces and/or community groups; the ones where moral is low, conditions poor and things are just not feeling right. Under unfavourable conditions, or in toxic environments, people can turn on their colleagues. There are probably four main drivers that can lead to lateral violence in these situations: 1) Lack of Leadership 2) Changing Group Culture 3) Inefficient Management Structures/Governance and/or 4) Poor Communication.
  • Families – competition, misunderstandings and low emotional intelligence can lead to lateral violence in families. If not addressed, whole families can be torn apart.
  • Peoples and Nations – this is too huge to cover respectfully here, but briefly: war, conflict, colonisation, oppression, slavery, widespread poverty, and other types of human rights infringements can turn people on each other, as opposed to the perpetrators. In simple terms, it’s a mentality of dog eat dog; being forced to fight over meagre bones to survive.

For example, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced lateral violence. The cause of such behaviour can be linked to the massive change post-colonisation, including: dispossession/loss of land; restrictions on movement and incarceration (from missions/reserves to prisons); forced removal of children; loss of sovereign rights; racism; world-view bias; loss of traditional food sources; food insecurity; equity and access barriers; changes to law and social structures; and reduced decision-making.

All of the above lead to inter-generational issues, impacting on the social-emotional well-being of individuals, families and communities. Poor health, suicide, poverty, unemployment, homelessness are all legacies of colonisation, and side-effects of systemic racism, power & privilege and inflexible world-views. Navigating new social structures, where the goal posts feel as if they are constantly being changed, can contribute to lateral violence.

Some people say it’s best not to air dirty laundry in public. And I usually agree with that sentiment. Drawing attention to internal issues raises fears of funding cuts, or changes in who manages programs and services. Even if problems arise, its important that communities manage their own services and programs, especially where these have been proven to be effective; such as community controlled health. Supplying resources and other supports for communities to build capacity and achieve their own aspirations is the best strategy, as a paternalistic approach can contribute to generational disadvantage.

Let’s have the tough conversations, but let’s talk about lateral violence in a way that does not lay blame. What do I mean?

Know the origins of Lateral Violence and Take Action

I have personally experienced lateral violence and, I must confess, I have expressed lateral violence towards others. If I am to walk the talk, then its important that I address my own behaviour and thinking. Easier said than done.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I would like to put forward the below suggestions (some of which I have been attempting to adopt/learn):

  • start a conversation – in your workplace, with your family, with the person showing signs of lateral violence.
  • choose not to participate – familiarise yourself with the signs/behaviours of lateral violence (bullying, with-holding information, excluding, gossiping, cronyism, bias, etc) and first address them in yourself.
  • extend a hand – ask people ‘how they’re tracking’, be there for others.
  • look beyond the surface – understand why a person / group is behaving in a negative or destructive manner, things are not always what they seem.
  • acknowledge where the problem comes from, and be a change-maker – for example, understand the ongoing impact of colonisation and instead practice decolonisation.
  • recognise yourself in others – awaken to yourself, show compassion, know thy own faults.
  • deep listening – put down that phone, stop thinking of your to-do list, and really listen to people.
  • support re-culturalisation – be strong in your own culture, heritage and identity; and respect others’ rights to their own sense of identity.
  • find your collective voice – advocate, learn how to speak up in a constructive not destructive way.
  • learn about lateral love – created by Uncle Brian Butler, this concept is spreading world-wide (see the below links)
  • we all deserve a share of the pie and there is enough to go around.

Each drop of water contributes to the ocean of change 

We are each a drop of water, all coming from the same source. It is a fallacy that we are of many races; there is only one human race. Our difference is in ethnicity and sense of identity; in our place of origin and our sense belonging to where we live; our culture, world-views and values. We are all diverse, but still of the same race. It’s all part of the great duality – just like a drop of water is unique but, at the same time, is just like all the other drops. All drops return to the clouds, pools, rivers, gutters and puddles – to mix with the other drops, to become part of a whole.

Eventually, every drop once again finds its way to the great ocean.

 

Read what Brian Butler and friends have to say about Lateral Love:

Lateral Love Australiahttp://tinyurl.com/laterallove

Brian Butler’s Bloghttp://tinyurl.com/brianbutler

Find out more about Lateral Violence:

Audio explanation by Richard Franklin (via ABC Radio Mildura) – http://tinyurl.com/myzvner

Lateral Violence and First Nations Australians (Human Rights Commission) – http://tinyurl.com/m7d5aey

Fact Sheet (and video links) by Native Women’s Association of Canada – http://tinyurl.com/lvdvknt

Lateral Violence in the Workplace (nursing) – http://tinyurl.com/lowa953

When magic is the reality

735011_10151317440863518_1886868707_nLike attempting to compare a fish to a bird, Magical Realism is not akin to Fantasy.

To begin with: lets remove that ‘magical’ tag that has recently crept in, and return to the original title of ‘magic’ realism, for what we discuss here is not magical at all; there is no fantasy within this genre. I must confess, I am a fan of magic realism; although slightly pedantic in what I feel deserves to carry that well-earned title. Yes, its genre we are talking about here – well, sort of. I hope you didn’t think this was a post about magic? I suppose the heading and picture were somewhat deceiving, but they got your attention; so I hope you do read on.

Luckily, I am not an academic or a genre-expert, so you will not find a long-winded, heavily researched piece here. And I have a short-attention span when it comes to discussions on genre, so we may just skim over that. Anyway, I tend to see genre as a (somewhat necessary) box that writers are often forced into for the sake of marketing our work. And perhaps sometimes genre is used as a form of elitism among writers, publishers, academics and reviewers; especially when the term ‘literary fiction’ is thrown in to the pit for them all to scramble over. Instead, what you will find here is written from a reader’s point of view; someone who aspires to be a writer of magic realism.

Like all stories, this post needs a beginning, so let’s make that ‘this morning’. So, this morning….actually, it was the afternoon: late night with friends + weekend = sleep in. Anyway, today I woke with the awareness that it was once again time to compose a new post for my blog, but with a deep sense of: what do I have to say that anyone would want to hear today, or perhaps ever? Before I could be dragged into that fiery pit of despair, known more commonly as Writers Block, I was saved. Thankfully, a chance sighting of a post on the ever-a-pool-of-knowledge for us writers – the Indies Unlimited blog (check it out at: http://tinyurl.com/cogmryp) – gave me the inspiration I was seeking.

It lay in just one sentence, a harmless one really, which was repeated as a question on the Indies Unlimited facebook page: Do you think that magical realism [is] nothing but fantasy with an accent?

This question (or shall I say challenge) was put forward by Lynne Cantwell; fellow blogger, published author and frequent contributor to Indies Unlimited (information on her books can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/ccr2g4m). It’s important to note here that my post is not a critique of Lynn’s post, and the only point in common is the interesting idea that magic realism is a posh form of fantasy.

Well, simply put, the answer to Lynn’s question is: No

And now the non-simple response:

Fantasy and magic realism come from totally different places, written by authors who see the world from a unique angle, because of the way that they belong in this world, their realities; their identity, their cultural knowledge and the historical experiences that continue to impact on their kin and homelands.

If we look at the works, lives and origins of the masters in magic realism, we see some common threads. I speak of authors such as: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ben Okri, Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende, Alejo Carpentier, Franz Kafta and Toni Morrison. They have all experienced, or are descendants of those who have experienced, massive social upheaval such as: colonisation, slavery, genocide, diaspora, loss of land, conflicts and wars, and other forms of inhumanity that humans continue to inflict on each other. These things, and the telling of them, are truths, they are real; they are not akin to fantasy.

An author uses magic realism to tell of these big picture (macro) moments within their lives, or the lives of their ancestors. However, their stories focus on the little picture (micro) happenings; broken down to simpler terms, relationships among families and communities, and those from outside that sphere of belonging and identity. Their stories are based on reality, on history and truths that many would prefer were buried; never to be spoken off again.

There are no glittering vampires here, no trips to the underworld, no dancing with the pixies, or transportation to other realms. There is just reality, a different view of history, that the author is asking you to accept as realism.

Magic realism uses devices still found within indigenous storytelling; an oral tradition which continues despite all attempts of cultural genocide. It subtly tells historical facts by blending the difficult-to-swallow parts with the ‘magic’  or arcane elements found within traditional storytelling; for the purpose of planting greater understanding in a reader’s awareness of humanity, to gently shift the worldviews of those who have not had the experiences that the author endures/has endured.

Indigenous peoples use stories in a multi-leveled manner; like an onion, there are many layers to carefully uncover. On a simple level, a story is a form of entertainment, told around the communal fire to both children and adults. This story often has the dual purpose of being educative: a cautionary tale as to what may happen if a child strays too close to the fire, or a person steps beyond the cultural norms; breaching law or lore. As a person grows in their understanding of the world, and are judged ready for more knowledge, the same story would be re-told, but with some additions. This adding of layers to a story continues until it reaches an arcane level; usually only accessible by Elders – that which is secret-sacred.

To be fair, I have read some books labelled as magic realism, written by authors who are not indigenous and/or do not have a lived or ancestral experience of the historical events I have mentioned. However, I would hazard a guess that they have a deep connection to the land on which they live, and a respectful understanding of the hidden side of history.

Now for the (more?) controversial statement: I believe that it is the lived or hereditary factor of social and/or political upheaval, and a continuing connection to culture and identity, that forms an author of magic realism.

We might give you a peek into our worlds, share with you parts of our culture, or you may feel a deep connection to country, or even a sense of shame for what has happened/continues to happen to our peoples, but you can never fully step into our realities. Instead, we give you magic realism, so that you may have a glimpse of our worlds for a fleeting moment, and perhaps accept a new realism, one which will hopefully help you to grow in your understandings. Just like the stories of old.

Back to that notion that magic realism is fantasy with an accent. It may not be fantasy but it does have an accent. Not a hoity-toity accent, like that of ‘esteemed’ literary fiction. It has the accent of the many (or their descendents) who have seen the horrors that humans can and do inflict on other humans; and have survived to continue their way of life, their culture, their deep connection to country and treasured sense of identity.

As I said in my opening, I aspire to write magic realism. I may never reach that goal, but still I can try. For an example of my work, please see the (for now) opening to a novel I am writing (http://tinyurl.com/c9qs4wg). On the surface, yes this extract could be confused for fantasy. However the intent of this piece is to set the scene for the bigger story, which explores themes such as: identity, colonisation, stolen generations, belonging, culture, diaspora and Country. This piece asks the reader to put aside their worldviews and values for just a moment, and accept that Aboriginal people have always been on Country and always will be; despite the social-political upheaval that they have had to/continue to endure.


Image downloaded on 4/5/13 from:  http://tinyurl.com/c726fnu  

The Rainbow Serpent

Earlier this week I posted a short piece titled ‘Shedding Skin’.  So, for my overseas followers, I thought that a story about the Rainbow Serpent may be of interest.
This is one of many versions of the Rainbow Snake, who is seen as a creator in many Australian Aboriginal song-lines (i.e. Dreaming).
Pre-invasion, there were hundreds of separate Aboriginal nations living in Australia: each with their own distinct languages and cultures.

This video is based on a book by the late Dick Roughsey (book published 1975).   Dick Roughsey was a Lardil man from Queensland.

The narrator is David Gulpilil, a well known Australian actor. He is a Yolngu man from Northern Territory.

Enjoy,
Karen

 

Credits

I have downloaded this from Youtube. The ‘about’ information, as supplied by the person who posted it on youtube, is as follows:

Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories, Story by Dick Roughsey, Narrration by David Gulpilil, Soundtrack by Andrew Vial

Photographed and edited by Alexander Cochran, Artwork adapted by Stephanie Adams, Book published by Collins, 1975, Film produced by Weston Woods

Buy the book: The Rainbow Serpent. Collins: Sydney. ISBN 0-207-17433-4

Shedding Skins: writer as creator

SHEDDING SKINS

I’ve shed a few skins in my lifetime. Some were seamlessly discarded. Too many came off one ragged piece after another. And others were ripped away.

Like a snake, we continuously out-grow our ‘skins’ – the personas that we show the world, and the person we believe ourselves to be. The snake sheds skin after a growth spurt, as the old one no longer fits. In a similar manner, as we grow, we leave behind the ‘skins’ that no longer fit. I’m not referring to physical growth but to personal development and the nurturing of the creative self; something familiar to writers and artists of all types.

Whether consciously or not, we change many times within one lifetime. We have the capacity to take on a wide range of tools and talents; to develop skills; to learn how to interact with others in a more meaningful way; to discover what motivates us, and how we limit ourselves; to reflect on, and be driven by, our values and beliefs; to harness intuition and release our creative powers; and to choose what paths to take. As we meander on this journey of being human, we leave behind personas, the characteristics and beliefs that no longer fit who we have become. We all shed skin. How we shed is up to us.

As a child, my skins came away often and without much effort. Hungry to learn, finding excitement in the simplest of happenings, eager to race out into the unknown, the child-self gave hardly a thought for the skin that lay discarded on the ground. With barely a glance either behind or ahead, I would step out of my too-tight membrane. In a new skin, the one which allowed more movement, I could again live for the moment.

Born of a growing awareness of the outside world, fear set in and the wonderment of childhood was replaced by the half-baked awareness of youth. Other sheaths came and went; constantly changed on a whim or ripped away in pain. Shedding occurred regularly and with a fair dose of unnecessary drama. With adulthood came many more skins; and just as quickly, they were cast-off. Some came off following times of loss, grief and hardship. Then there were the ones that I took off slowly, whilst walking consciously towards personal growth. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say there has been many casings and much shedding.

Perhaps with the passing of time, the process of shedding has become less eventful and more enlightening; as I move further along my haphazard life-path. Although I have stepped out of these skins of my past, pleased to be donning a fresh one, they have not been tossed away. For I have the spirit of a writer. While many people are content with keeping only the memory of their lost or discarded skins, the writer is not always so sensible. The writer cannot toss away their outgrown castings.  A writer uses everything: minute moments of experiences, snippets of over-heard conversation, every emotion ever felt, every scene that flashed by, and the last tear-drop from every relationship. A shameless opportunist, the writer will recognise both their own and others’ coatings for their creative potential. So I have stored my skins away, packed them safely in a sealed trunk – until they are needed.

When I write, when I am in the midst of creating story, I often unlock this treasure chest of skins. Reaching in, I might take out a skin or two; whole or in tatters. I hold it up to the character I am attempting to give life to. One skin after another, until I find a suitable pelt to dress my emerging character. As objectively as possible, I peer at the character that is now adorned in my castings, and I consider if I have breathed enough life into them. I do this carefully, full of thought. It’s important that they do not resemble me too much. Best not to expose too much of the writer, even for the sake of art. Luckily, I have such a diverse collection of shells to rummage through, enough to enable me to tell stories for many years.

One of the original storytellers was the snake of ancient times. As it wove across the land, under waters and through the skies, Snake left many stories behind. In Australia, her path is clearly seen and felt in the landscape. Snake is the creator of life, the first teller of story, giver of many gifts. Perhaps she gifted us the ability to shed as a means of recognising our growth; to clearly see the story of who we were and who we are.

Being able to treasure past skins, to read their imprinted stories, is not just for writers.
We are creators of our own stories: past and present…..and future.

 
 Graphic from http://www.windmill.net.au – image of a stamp sold by Windmill Educational Toys & Equipment.

Bushtucker

Bushtucker

I thought I would share an example of my work….fibre weaving:

In 2007 I participated in a WOMAD artist-in-residence program. A number of women (Australian and overseas fibre artists) were selected to work under the guidance of the Tjanpi Weavers, who are renown Aboriginal artists from the Western Desert in the north-east region of Western Australia (near the South Australian border). At that time I was still  learning the craft, so the opportunity to develop skills in fibre sculpturing and weaving, with artists that I admired, was amazing.
Spending over a week together, we created a camp scene out of grass and other fibres.  These works were displayed at WOMDAdelaide 2007. Around the mock camp, there were full-sized people, camp dogs, roos and cooking utensils.
I made this basket to sit by the mock camp fire.  It represents a coolamon (wooden dish) and is full of bush-tucker (a snake, witchetty grubs and bush tomatoes).
There is something special about women sitting together, working together. That is when you hear others’ stories, share laughter, reconnect with the land. It is also a time to let your own stories flow: shared out loud or imprinted into the objects you create in that circle.