My recent adventure in Australia has left me head over heels for this fascinating one-and-only island continent. I mean who would have thought that the dusty red soil and ancient desert landscape would have so captured my heart when I am such an ocean-lover! I am just at the beginning of my love affair with Australia. So I guess you could say we’re in the honeymoon phase. Have you ever had the experience of travelling and falling in love with a place because it feels like home and just fits with your personality and lifestyle? Yes? No? Maybe? Well, anyway, I’m officially attached – or some might say, obsessed – but why pathologize what I consider a healthy obsession? I mean, after all, Australia and I are in love and I’m focused on being an attentive partner and, since I don’t have a romantic human partner in my life right now, I might as well devote myself to a big piece of land sticking out of the ocean! It’s not doing me any harm, unless of course my New Zealand family finds out! Sorry, mates! For one thing, Australia has inspired me to write this blog, and I haven’t felt inspired in quite a while! I reckon (insert Australian accent here) Australia has given me a gift (although I am not exactly a gifted writer and this is my first blog!). Australia has reminded me that I have stories to tell and I’m starting with this one…
If your heart and mind are open, the desert will bring you gifts – gifts of knowing and seeing. Many writers have expounded upon how a desert landscape can be a numinous, magical and mystical place of strange happenings. Our amazing Mulgas Adventures tour group of fifteen adventurous souls was long out of hot and humid Darwin in the van and, as I gazed sleepily out the window, I suddenly saw a tall thin Aboriginal man in blue jeans and a bright blue and white checkered shirt leaning up against a knarly gum tree close to the side of the road. I wondered what he was doing out here in this remote part of the landscape but then it seemed logical that there may be a village or community nearby that was just out of sight. As the van drew closer, I stared at him carefully until he disappeared and all I saw was the beautiful white bark of the gum tree splattered with dark markings. He literally dissolved into the tree. I attempted to dismiss my unusual observation but the experience refused to leave me alone. After some time, as I continued my relaxed gazing outside the window during the bumpy ride, more people appeared to me randomly along the way – a child and three others walking in a line, one behind the other. I saw water where it wasn’t (and I’m not talking about the mirage effect on the roads) and objects like cars and animals that shifted into scrub, stumps, and trees. I had the eerie feeling that I was seeing things that existed in the past.
While exploring at Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles) I read on an information board that spirits in these sacred desert areas can appear to some people. There are even stories of them capturing children. I opened up about my experience to our (attractive, knowledgeable, sensitive, caring, fun) Aussie tour guide and he somewhat casually reminded me that spirits can be visible in human form but then can shape shift into the natural flora and fauna of the region. His non-chalant response demonstrated an acceptance that this was just a natural part of the way things were in this territory. Indigenous peoples in Australia (and all over the world for that matter) have been sharing such stories for thousands of years! Two days later we found ourselves in the care of another (attractive, knowledgeable, sensitive, caring, fun) tour guide. As an aside, these tour guides are special men for sure! I mean they have a zest for life and so much passion for what they do – they can cook, organize, tell stories, manage and entertain unruly wide-eyed tourists, identify flora and fauna, speak to Aboriginal culture and explain geological processes, and drive for hours all the while spotting camouflaged blue tongues and bearded dragons at the roadside! Anyway, to continue my story, I fell into a lucid sleep state in the van as we were on our way to Alice Springs and an old Aboriginal man clearly appeared to me and woke me up with a startle asking me to follow him. He disappeared as I came into full consciousness. He was a short and stout Elder with long ropey silver and black hair, had clay markings on his body and carried a spear. What? Intuitively, I knew he was telling me to follow my heart.
Later on, as I settled into the magical town of Alice Springs, I bought a book called Songlines and Faultlines in which author Glenn Morrison talks about the Aboriginal concept of time being most appropriately translated into English as “everywhen”. Think about it. It’s brilliant! Past and present are interchangeable. They are coexisting dimensions. We see the ancestors and we become the ancestors in the here and now. We are their footprints and they are ours. “Everywhen” – such a beautiful term for understanding Aboriginal ways of knowing and being. This, of course, struck me profoundly as it seemed to perfectly fit with my own experience gazing out the window and falling into a dream state. Perhaps I was witnessing other dimensions, seeing the spirits or connecting with the ancestors of this sacred ancient land. I don’t know what is real or true but I am happy to embrace the mystery of my personal experience.