Much of my life I have felt my role is as a translator, sometimes of languages, sometimes between people at odds, and most often between cultures.
My primary discipline is anthropology with a strong interest in oral history. Some of my work has been in Aboriginal Heritage in Australia, which has enabled me to connect to parts of outback and rural Australia mediated by indigenous knowledge holders, with their very particular link to nature in all its forms. This image is a commemoration of getting Tabulam Aboriginal burial ground back.
My earlier work was in PNG where I lived mostly with the Kalam of the Bismark Schrader Ranges, but also in a village on the Gira in the Northern District of the Gazelle Peninsular, and on an Island called Uneapa off West New Britain.
In each of these places I was socialised into a particular world, and had many delightful opportunities to experience aspects of the host culture. Here you see Kate, my daughter, watching Zigede handing a prohibition on forestry to Waiko.
Anthropology invites one to enter into the understandings created by others—it can be challenging, especially if one is attached to and rewarded by one’s own worldview, and the career one enjoys within that. However, allowing oneself to enter different ways of experiencing and conceptualising is immensely rewarding. The challenge thereafter is to make these experiences, and the understandings that come from them, meaningful to others who have not had the same opportunities.
The lack of understanding between cultures, and the variant worlds that each culture creates, is one of the tragedies of human life on this planet. One example is the immense suffering and desecration perpetrated upon Aboriginal Australians and their ‘church’—the land. It is a prime example of actions, based on lack of understanding and lack of appreciation of the wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and life skills, that another culture offers.
The loss of the many jewels of human development all over the Earth that have been destroyed in the name of colonisation, development, modernisation and all sorts of other hegemonic expansionist activities is not just the pain of watching people destroyed, but also the agony of the loss of their culture and all its riches, for ever.
The heartening aspect of this in Australian Aboriginal culture is the immense resilience of its root beliefs and attitudes that have valiantly survived the cultural genocide and racism visited upon them—the taste of the ‘other’ in their being is still available to the honest searcher.
To me the wild is not a place, although it can be expressed through place—it is an attitude of mind that resists restrictions, domestication, and the impositions of maximisation and globalisation. It is an attitude of mind that rejoices in difference, in the strange, in the challenging—indeed in the wild.
Currently I am involved in various projects. I still have a lot of material from my PNG fieldworks that has not been written up and I am in the process of putting it together and writing on the theme of dealing with death in the Kalam culture.
One Kalam, whom I have known since he was fourteen, took up drawing through the PNG National Art School with Georgina Beier. Although drawing is not an artform in his own culture, his works are deeply culturally imbedded, covering general cultural activities, illustrations of myths and events that have made an impact on him. The drawing illustrated here is of the annual ceremonial festival of Kalam, called Smy.
Another one of his drawings was of being bitten by a bull ant on a visit to my farm in Northern NSW. I have worked on producing texts explaining his drawings in terms of his relations to his culture, the forest and the modern world he encounters. Later on this year, when Wkeng visits me here in Katoomba, I am planning on organising an event where he can explain his culture’s worldview alongside an exhibition of prints of his artwork.
I am also working on some translations of Tibetan Buddhist texts, which, in their worldview of smashing the walls that concepts maintain, give another glimpse of the ‘wild’. My other project is more politically oriented being a critique of the process of Native Title in regard to its destructive effect on Aboriginal polities.
I am delighted to be part of the Wild Mountain Collective and sharing with others who are attracted to the call of the wild—our response to the tamed civilised world that has wrought so much destruction to the people and nature of this planet.