‘They are talking about changing the Kiwi flag.’ I am driving back to Alice Paul’s house by the lower Hutt River. It is night and the taxi driver and I have struck up a conversation. A new flag sounds like a good idea. They say the land is very young in New Zealand or Aotorea as it is called in the Maori language. The land of the long white cloud.
Ferns grow huge here and give the place a prehistoric feel. We are on a pacific island and you can feel it. The Maori culture is woven proudly into the colonial identity of the people. We were welcomed traditionally by the festival staff and performers who were from all cultures. The ceremony was very definitely Maori. The air between the newcomers (us) and those already here (those whose land we are on) was cleaned by a song sung by a young woman. A solemn welcome and a call for respect.
As we followed her upstairs we could hear the haka and it had the energy of a wild beast. It was an invitation to engage. We sat as they stood and danced before us making it clear that we are guests here and that is to be enjoyed and respected. We responded speaking of our own ancestry and sang a song in the language of my native land. We danced. The movement came from Rian. A piece of work created by Michael Keegan Dolan and me with four other musicians and eight dancers of different ancestry. Because of the context of the ritual our moves spoke anew and had meaning. I was proud of the work we had done. Newly proud.
The oldest castle is nothing in time compared to the songs and dances of the first people. Our songs go back to beginnings and our beginnings are still alive in our songs.
Sydney is the territory of the Eora people. The word comes from the local word meaning ‘from here’. The people were describing themselves to the colonial visitors. It is also Cadigal land. The Cadigal people lived along the coast of the area where Sydney now is. They suffered great decimation at the hands of the colonial land lust. There are places in Sydney where the aboriginal people cannot go because of the atrocities carried out there. Women left to die in a swamp area near circular quay; their hands cut off. Too painful to even be there.
The story is becoming clearer and at last moves are being made towards some kind of healing. There was an official apology two years ago. The aboriginal flag now flies alongside the colonial one.
I saw a play called The Secret River in the Sydney theatre. It tells the story of a settler family and a local family. Not pretty. The aboriginal culture is like pure water. Instead of investing their evolutionary energy in material permanence, they advanced in the sophistication of their relationship with creation and each other. To pay attention to this culture is to be deeply moved and connected to the world on new levels. Their art still lives in caves and sacred places all over the land. Just like European cave paintings except they continue to refer and relate to theirs. They are connected to their beginnings. There is a strand of this dreaming in Irish tradition. One Steve Cooney carried some of the dreaming when he came some 30 years ago. He brought the yidaki into our music and with it a respect for the law of that culture. A law that relates to the mystery of creation. A foundation for great visionâ€¦that is my experience. It lives in my heart.
Sydney still has untamed land. There is national parkland all around. It makes it easy to feel the presence of the songs and the dances that made this land. I shared a dance with Trevor Jameison one night after a show. An eagle about to fly from the Nullarbor Plain. Inland of West Australia which is Trevor’s country. Pidginjarra people.
We were welcomed by the descendants of the Cadigal (sometimes sounds like garrigal)….people before our third performance in Sydney. It is now an official part of political protocol to be welcomed formally by the original people of this land. It has always been important to be welcomed to a country. Someone from one territory would have to be welcomed if they were to travel to another area outside of their ancestral claim. This is civilization. The welcoming tunes the person to the energy and spirit of the land they are visiting. We were singing and dancing on Cadigal land. It was important that we were welcomed. Millie Ingram. Her sister Norma, and their Niece Delara and Christine, a saltwater freshwater woman did us the honour.
Saku, Louise T, Anna and myself took ourselves out to the royal national park on a Monday. Breathtaking beauty…bush and sandstone, pink and white. As we descended from the cliffs Saku nearly stepped on a black snake. The snake went to bite him but stopped short. I believe our welcome protected us. The Royal National Park is also Dharawal country.
I am back now. There is a great wind blowing outside. It is night here. It is morning there. The earth is a miracle…
ps … there is a lot more detail regarding people and language groups around the Sydney area. If you go to Aboriginal People and Place you will find a beautifully put together site giving more detailed information and history about Sydney’s aboriginal heritage.
Before going to Lyon I heard that the city was inhabited and founded originally by the God Lugh. A Deity from some of our oldest traditions. Lyon made us welcome, very gently. Maison de la Danse is a fine place to work.
The city is a meeting point of two rivers. I crossed one of them one night. I heard a voice call ”Hey! Irish!!”
I stopped and peered around the corner saying “yes?”
There he was. Benoit. He wore a pirate’s hat, a great coat, and scarves. He had books and songs in his head. He was a scholar. His head was shaven on both sides and his eyes shone blue above his cheekbones. We had a glass together by the river’s edge.
He reminded me of a messenger…a mythical creature who lived for life. But he is real and a reminder that life is good and is there to be embraced and made clearer by music. A brother. We bade each other strength and I returned to my room, smiling.
I like meeting strangers for no other reason than to pass the time and share dreams and songs.
Lyon made Rian welcome. I look forward to returning.
‘Il n’y a pas de movement sans Rythm’