Good Reading : August 2010
AUGUST 2010 ı goodreading 27 behind the book We threw both the fish and the meat on the coals as the sun was setting. It was extraordinary. It encapsulates in my mind all that is beautifully simple and full of heart about sharing a special meal with family.The delicious fire-seared fish and chargrilled meat fed the whole clan bedding down on the banks of the Wearyan.The fishing, the travelling away from town, setting up the camp and the quiet chat around the aromatic cooking fire lulled us all into the settling dusk. John's Yanyuwa family has nurtured the spirit for tens of thousands of years. They call it anynkarrinjarra ki-awarawu. It means 'listening to country'. It refers to a time to find stillness; a place with family, a place of freedom in the mind, or a physical place of quiet. For me, finding that place of stillness was the start of a jour ney which became many jour neys. The journey of writing a book -- an entirely unchartered horizon as a first-time writer. The jour ney of our family and our design quest, which wove its way in and out of my pages. And the physical and spiritual jour ney of apeople -- theYanyuwa -- andof a nation -- Australia. This is a story of great love and fortitude, but also of tragedy, as our generation witnesses the passing of the last line of the full Aboriginal Law women about whom I write. 'When our fragile and beautiful land, Australia, will no longer be sung by its first people, and will no longer remember their nurturing, resilient hands'. The catalyst for finally embarking on the book came in May 2006, when I had an unexpected chance to 'listen to country' with Bor roloola women. With swags and a few scant cooking and eating utensils, we set out from the Gulf on a two-day drive west to the edge of the Tanami Desert. We camped over night on the way under a star-blazed black sky: 'Above us, the Milky Way is a slash of sheer gossamer, studded with diamonds. The star s of other constellations are in sharp focus, stretching far out into the heavens,' I wrote. We arrived at the ceremony ground where, for a week, we joined with two hundred Aboriginal women from Central Australia to paint up, dance and practise age-old ceremonies. These are the sacred songs that have been passed down for thousands of generations: It is solemn, simple, deep. I can feel it. I have sensed moments of similar spiritual calm in foreign places, bur ning a single candle in a quiet moment in another country's cathedral. But this is just a big circle of red sand, inside a ring of desert grass and scattered, spindly trees. In my own country. We cooked kangaroo tail in the ashes, sledged and chopped firewood, slept and rose with the sun. There were so many questions I wanted to ask my mothers-in-law, sisters, cousins and aunties to better understand the spiritual bonds between them, and their triumph of mind and spirit in the face of cataclysmic change. I wanted answers to the big issues which define us all, regardless of race and place: love, belonging, meaning, purpose, giving, compassion, truth, grief, family and forgiveness. These revelations define and structure my book. I aimed for my book to be ultimately an uplifting tribute to the deep beauty of a complex, intricate culture which ordered life brilliantly on the Australian continent for more than 40 000 years. In Listening to Country, I hope to open an intimate window to a spiritual base and way of living that most of us barely know exists, yet which invites us to 'gulp from the well' of our country's spirit. Listening to Country by Ros Moriarty is published by Allen & Unwin, rrp $32.99.