Different ways of seeing


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/P/1925360849.01._SY200_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Bruce Pascoe, Young Dark Emu: A truer history, Broome WA: Magabala Books 2019.

Hardcover 80 pages.

$18 online

Reviewed by Ted Witham

As kids, my brother and I used to go through phases of collecting Aboriginal grindstones on our farm. These artefacts were ironstone. They weighed perhaps a kilogram and fitted into the palm of an adult hand. A smooth area had been sculpted out of the top. Our Dad told us to look for the other part of the machine, a smaller smooth stone. It was evident that seeds or berries were placed in the scooped-out area and the second stone used to grind.

Grinding stone – booma boyak

There were two inferences we didn’t make as kids. The first was that there is no ironstone near Tambellup. The nearest deposits are in the Mid-West 800 kilometres north. The existence of the grindstones proved there was an active system of trade around the State.

The second inference was that the people who used this device must then have gone on to mix the milled seeds with water and cook them. In Young Dark Emu Bruce Pascoe comments that, if this happened 65,000 years ago, this is the earliest known invention of bread, pre-dating Ancient Egypt by an astonishing 13,000 years. (p. 16)

The basic thesis of Young Dark Emu is twofold: one is that pre-contact Aboriginal culture included sophisticated farming and settled village life, and two that the early ‘explorers’ saw these facts – huge fields under yam cultivation, well-constructed huts that could accommodate 40 people easily – and wrote about them in their journals. By the 1880s the settlers had both deliberately and inadvertently destroyed all this evidence. For example, the hard cloven feet of sheep compacted the soil so that it became too hard to plant yams or seeds.

Once physical evidence had disappeared, Europeans failed to take notice of the eye-witness accounts of ‘explorers’, and soon came to forget the scale of the civilisation they had supplanted.

Young Dark Emu is a version of Bruce Pascoe’s book for older readers, Dark Emu. Young Dark Emu would be suitable for children upwards of 10 years old. Both books are a plea to learn from the land use and fire regimes that Indigenous people developed over 80,000 years (or more) of occupation of this continent. They adapted their crops aquaculture and food storage to the soils and climate of this place.

Text Box: Brewarrina Fish traps - the oldest surviving human construction in the world – Image courtesy ABC
Brewarrina Fish Traps – the oldest surviving human construction in the world

 The book takes its name from the Emu constellation. Traditional Aborigines named constellations not for the patterns made by bright stars, as Europeans did, but by the patterns in the dark spaces between them: a unique way of seeing.

Young Dark Emu invites readers to many levels of diverse ways of seeing. All Australians should read it or Dark Emu.

Naming our land


As a writer and language teacher, I know the power of language. We express ourselves in words and sentences. With language we persuade others to see things the way we do. The language of others influences the way we see the world. 

Think of the differences between Ayers Rock and Uluru: the former celebrating the Chief Secretary of SA at the time explorer William Gosse sighted the rock in 1873; the latter marking the complex relationship the Anangu have formed with Uluru-Kata Tjuta over tens of thousands of years.

The English names in our country reflect the dispossession of the land by its Second Peoples. Ayers Rock, backed up by the colonists’ military power, rendered Uluru invisible.  This has been repeated time and again across Australia. The obliteration of Aboriginal names may not have been a deliberate policy, but it was part of the large-scale destruction of Indigenous culture by the incomers.

We should rejoice that, at times, the settlers listened to the locals and used their name for the place. (According to Professor Leonard Collard, about half of south-western Australia’s placenames are Noongar.)

Wejulahs (my mob!) enjoying the ‘water that is there when all else is dry’, Lake Toolbrunup

Toolbrunup, the name of the lake on our family farm and of the mountain on the horizon, is` close to the original. It means ‘the place which has water when all else is dry’, which was true until 20 years ago. Sadly changing land use has turned the lake into a place which is perpetually dry, but the name still reflects the memory of the Koreng people who gathered there year after year at the end of the hot season well into the European period.

For this is the power of Aboriginal placenames: they record a staggeringly long bond between people and land. They are memory; they are the keepers of value; they are part of the record of the most ancient continuous culture in the world. It is arrogant to continue to give places new European names if they are already named.

Of course, it is appropriate that the built environment should be named both for Aboriginal and wejulah reasons. A new school can be called the Bob Hawke College, but another one could be named the Wagyl Kaip College after the inland region of Wardandi country. Above the Forrest Highway could be the Mokine Overpass. Our history now, for better or for worse, is a joint story.

Mokine – image courtesy Elders Real Estate

Local governments around Australia are developing commendable policies of dual naming, reviving the hidden Aboriginal name for places alongside the European name. Some have also adopted the principle of first using the Aboriginal placename (with appropriate permission from local elders).

The theme for National Reconciliation Week 2019 is ‘Grounded in Truth: Walk Together with Courage’. What better place to start finding the truth is in the literal ground, the land beneath our feet? Sensitivity to placenames will speed this recovery of truth and memory and help wejulah to absorb more of Indigenous culture and reality and walk together with courage into the future.

Wejulah is the Noongar name for non-Noongars.   

Talking the Talk


Israel Folau has been sacked. Rugby Australia could have handled the situation differently. But in the end, it was Folau’s own doing, and he knew it, so cannot escape responsibility. To his credit, it appears that he accepts his punishment.

Folau knew how his post would be heard. He claims it was written in love:  what he posted was bound to be heard as the opposite.

I think I have some credibility to comment on this: for four years I was the CEO of an inter-denominational Christian agency. Our main ministry was in a secular context. I learned that I was constrained in what I could say. Very constrained. But paradoxically, I learned that I could say anything at all – if I said it the right way. 

Effective communication requires you to think yourself into the shoes of the audience. It requires understanding their context, and, specifically, to communicate Christian truth, you must appreciate their beliefs: what they believe and how they express it.

Israel Folau’s post was based on I Corinthians 6:9-10. He added to it the command to ‘Repent’ and ‘Jesus saves.’ He invokes God’s mercy for repentant sinners, a central Christian teaching. However, I Cor. 6:9-10 was not written for non-believers: it was written for ‘brothers and sisters’. What is more, it was written for believers of the 1st Century. Its language does not cut through in the 21st Century; or it cuts through in the wrong way.

Folau’s Instagram followers include non-believers. If he was genuinely warning sinners to repent, then he should have known that they would not hear his message that way. He had already amended I Cor. 6:9-10 to include mercy for the repentant: he could have ditched “hell” and crafted a sermon to be heard!  

Kneel!



I have a childhood memory of Grandad kneeling in his striped flannel pyjamas at his bedside saying his prayers. Those were the days when the reflexive response of a congregation to the liturgical command “Let us pray” was to instantly fall to its knees.

Like the American tourist in London overawed by the Tower and the Beefeaters, we didn’t think about it. When the tourist heard one uniformed Tower guard call to another, “Neil! Neil!”, he responded instantly as in church and fell to his knees.

In his diminished height in the kneeling position, in every folded part of his body, Grandad was demonstrating his belief that he was in the presence of One far greater than himself. To bend before such a One is the only way to dare to enter into conversation with the Eternal One.

The Usher sings in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, “Silence in Court, and all attention lend. Behold your Judge! In due submission bend!”

More telling for us Christians is the Biblical example. The Hebrew word “shachah” means “to bow down” and implies kneeling and touching the ground with the forehead. Abraham, Moses and many others “bow down” at least 172 times. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “I bow down” is “proskuneo”. It means literally, “I kiss, like a dog licking its master’s hand”, and occurs 60 times in the New Testament. The people of God expect to bow down, to show loving submission to their God.  

We, as a church, have made considered decisions over the past 30 years to abolish kneeling. We have decided to stand as the redeemed people of Christ to hear the Words of Institution during the Eucharist. In many churches, altar rails have been removed to open the space and to encourage people to receive communion standing. These decisions are now inscribed as rubrics in our modern Prayer Books.

What we do in church and in ritual prayers at home is drill or repetitive training. And in those days when we knelt, we were training our bodies, minds and souls to enter the presence of God with adoration, awe and humility.

By standing where we used to kneel, we now train ourselves to stand upright, taking on the posture of people who are not bound and folded up in sin but forgiven and free. I think these changes are a nett gain to us.

What we do in church changes and evolves to meet the needs of today’s Christians. But we have lost much. We must be a people who can bend in the presence of the Almighty. However earnestly I may plead, I doubt habitual kneeling will be restored to general liturgical practice. In any case, I can no longer physically kneel, and as the church ages, there will be many like me.

But I suggest four changes to church we can make:

  1. To be aware of kneeling as a proper liturgical posture, and to ask ourselves when kneeling is appropriate.
  2. To kneel before and after Communion and before and after the service to mark those times of prayer.
  3. To choose to kneel on occasion to receive Holy Communion to express humility.
  4. For leaders to never say, “Sit for the prayers”, but allow people to kneel by instructing, “Kneel or sit for the prayers as you are comfortable”.

And at home review our posture for our own individual praying. Should we always be relaxed and comfortable in an armchair? Are there times when kneeling is the best posture, like my Grandad at the bedside before we commend ourselves to God’s keeping while we sleep?

B.E.L.L.S. without whistles for mission


Surprise the World: The Five Habits of…


Reviewed by Ted Witham

Under $10 online. $6.95 from Christ’s Church, Anglican Parish of Mandurah. Digital version at Exponential (free)

ISBN 9781631465161

Michael Frost, Surprise the World: the five habits of missional people, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016.

Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We Christians at the beginning of the 21st Century should recognise that kind of insanity: if we expect our usual patterns of worship, however contemporary and relevant,  to continue to draw people into Christ, then we shall continue to be disappointed by the Church.

There is a place for ministry to Baby Boomers using traditional worship, but every member of the congregation is aware that the mean age of our fellow church-goers is increasing. In other words, Baby Boomers are aging, dying and not being replaced by younger people. Older people in their eighties continue trying to keep up the level of Christian activity that had when younger, and are experiencing burnout and disillusionment.

Photo courtesy St John the Divine Anglican Church, 
Courtneay, British Columbia 

The answer is not more of the same. The Anglican pattern of gathering everyone for the Sunday Eucharist is only 60 years old, going back to the Parish and People Movement of the 1950s. We can dare to envisage new ways of being church.

Bunbury’s new Bishop, Ian Coutts, has been circulating copies of Surprise the World! as he visits parishes in his diocese. Bishop Ian states that responding to the Good News of Christ is pretty simple, really. Loving each other so that we want to reach out and love others.

He has chosen a book that all Anglicans can use and act on. The book is about “shar[ing] your faith in surprisingly simple ways.”
Australian evangelist Michael Frost, Co-founder of the Forge Mission Training Network, encourages us to follow his model of B.E.L.L.S.: “We BLESS people, both inside and outside the church.  We EAT together, sharing meals with believers and non-believers alike.  We LISTEN to the … Holy Spirit. We intimately LEARN CHRIST, … [and] we see ourselves as SENT by God to everywhere life takes us.”

The strength of this model is that it does not assume that every Christian is a gifted evangelist. Few Christians are: most of us are to live our lives so that they provoke questions, “living a questionable life”, and answer them simply and directly as they arise out of our mixing with nonbelievers.

Frost emphasises that the B.E.L.L.S. model is not a one-off program, but the cultivation of life-long habits that will feed this evangelistic lifestyle. The model as described is not difficult or complicated, and it sounds fun, social justice will be practised and beauty will be encountered.

I am impressed by this little book. As a Franciscan tertiary, my first aim is to “make Christ known and loved everywhere”. These habits will speed my steps to opening doors to conversations about the Good News.

I am also in ongoing pain, a misfiring of my nervous system. Pain is closely related to depression: if you have pain, the pain will eventually make you depressed. Two spiritual strategies to defeat the depression, and so modulate the pain, are to reach out to others in need and put yourself out in the community (and not hide away in dangerous isolation). B.E.L.L.S. gives me means to do that (BLESSing and EATing) and also shows how to nurture these activities through prayer and Bible study (LISTENing and LEARNing Christ).

There are questions for discussion for each chapter of Surprise the World! These will help readers take in what they have discovered and put the five habits into practise.

I am delighted that Bishop Ian recommended the book to me, and that he is encouraging others to discover B.E.L.L.S. and whistles (no whistles actually!) I read the book in three hours. Now I want to find three people to meet with, discuss the book, and get busy. Hopefully, B.E.L.L.S. will lead away from insanity!

A Date with Australia

Should they protest until change happens, or should change happen by changing the mainstream celebration?


Ngaala kaaditj Noongar moort keyen kaadak midja boodja

On Australia Day in 2013, I blogged as a native, but not indigenous, Australian that we should prize the anger that comes from seeing this day as Invasion Day: anger that fuels social justice and reconciliation. I believed that we should celebrate the Aboriginal culture, with its complexity, subtlety and beauty, that has survived as Survival Day, and even rejoice in the culture that came from Europe but which has now been modified by its exposure to Aboriginal culture.

Australians all, let us rejoice seemed to be the theme of my blog six Australia Days ago. I still think my piece said it well for a whitefella.

But there has been a change in six years. The #changethedate campaign has made Australians more uncomfortable about celebrating on Invasion Day. But that campaign and others has also had another effect: it has empowered Aboriginal people to make something else of Australia Day.

Yothu Yindi. Photo Mushroom Music

Yesterday on the ABC I watched a smoking ceremony, I was welcomed to Eora country, I heard Yothu Yindi sing Tjapana and Treaty, I thrilled at superb didjeridoo playing, I was intrigued by those who spoke in language, and I felt unexpectedly proud when Advance Australia Fair was sung in an Aboriginal tongue.

It was an ABC concert, so I wasn’t surprised that actor and PlaySchool presenter Luke Carroll acted as one of the hosts, but his presence was a pointer to the extent to which the concert was coloured black! It was an Aboriginal takeover, and I felt moved. I felt pride that this was our land, and I felt warmly welcomed into its deep culture. 

There were intense emotions expressed on the streets of capital cities at Invasion Day marches, and it is obvious that not all Indigenous people agree on strategy: should they protest until change happens, or should change happen by changing the mainstream celebration?

Source: Getty

Whichever is the most effective strategy, Aboriginal people are speaking loudly. They must say whether Australia Day can be rescued or whether we can only express our belonging together on a day without the historical resonances of invasion and frontier wars.

I for one look forward to a celebratory date with Aboriginal and all Australians.