The skies have been extraordinary this past week. I am in the desert and during the day, the blue sky is only interrupted by puffed cirrocumulus clouds that remind me of schools of fish, which is rather ironic as these clouds are entirely bereft of precipitation. At night constellations are easy to see and navigation of any desert ship would be easy. In the in-between times the opalesque skies meet the horizon at dusk and at dawn the east glows on arrival with every shade of gold.
This is a precious, wise land, so ancient you can see the past all around you, snippets of the jurassic period in cycads in the chasm on the way to shafts of light; fossils on the floor of a seabed now at ground level travelling in parallel with highways; a newcomer, a three-hundred-year-old cork tree in a gallery courtyard a reminder of how settlers count time. Time is not the same here and one of my fellow travelling companions commented on the shift in her experience of time since being in the desert – everything has slowed down, and the last stop seems an age away. I am remembering land rights leader Vincent Lingiari , a Gurindji man who led the walk off at Wave Hill and spent eight years getting the result when in 1975 the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam symbolically and legally passed a small parcel of the station land back to Gurindji. One of Lingiari’s gifts to the world was his saying immortalised in Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s song From Little Things, we know how to wait. When you are in this country you get a deeper understanding of that phrase. This land is a great teacher of waiting and holding true to essence. The rocks apparently immovable, have formed over millions of years and carry plenty of life, with gum trees springing from what looks like the most improbable of places. The relationship between waiting and timelessness is collaborative – waiting a precondition to understand and appreciate what takes time.
I won’t get to Gurindji land this trip so I go to listen once again to that song and I chose a relatively new version of the song by Electric Fields and when you hear some of the song in language which leaves me in tears every time. I have been listening and singing this song since it first was released in 1993 but nothing prepared me for the Electric Fields version. The female voices, words in language, the baton truly passed on to a new generation, in every way new style and the new meaning for this anthem. Power and privilege and standing in law, cultural law, law of the universe, law of the sand and for a settler like me, I can only glimpse what land rights mean. We are waiting as a nation to be initiated into the meaning of time by the oldest living culture on our planet. This is unfinished business. Treaties are coming as they must – no peace without justice – always was always will be Aboriginal land.
I am reflecting on how my soul has gone ahead to prepare a place for me to wait and the rest of myself is catching up and my own treaty-making with the past, justice, reconciliation and repatriation is unfolding as surely as the movement of the caterpillar. Being in womens caterpillar dreaming country is not lost on me. Meeting the moment in this place seems to be bringing a compassionate patience to appreciate the healing properties of time and time’s ability to stand still and hold you still while knots can be massaged out of existance. From little things big things grow and in the growing, transformation comes next.