I’m going on a trip next week. It’s led by Uncle Peter Williams who was one of the contributors to my new book Belonging to the Earth: Nature Spirituality in a Changing World. He spoke about how we can arrive well today, taking the time and effort to learn about the culture of the First Nations here in a way that the majority of the early settlers neglected to do. Through this he helps us to understand more about the totem system and how it created systems of responsibility and interconnectedness between people, the land, and it’s plants and creatures.
On this trip we are going to be travelling along the Emu songline, learning from traditional owners along the way and visiting various sites and special places, all the while hearing the dreaming stories and how these relate to other aspects of culture. It will be a small group and we will travel over five days. I know this is going to be a life-changing experience and I simultaneously can’t wait and am feeling a bit nervous, because I know it will be a lot to take on and process.
There is a quiet beginning to rest in me in the lead up to it. I am feeling very drawn to just sitting in nature, or in our garden at home and listening. I feel like there’s a need to tune in to what the Land itself is going to be sharing with us, it its forms, stories, special places and people. I want to let go of the many swimming ideas, expectations and stories in my head that I have been exploring in research and reading, and be in the present moment.
Yesterday I went to a talk at the Festival of Resilience that was held in Lawson. Aunty Jacinta Tobin spoke about Dharug history and culture and I was moved when she spoke passionately about how we can all take time to listen to nature, observe plants, animals and seasons and share what we learn so that we can all look after Country better together. The way our community in the Blue Mountains is coming together to learn more about Dharug and Gundungurra culture is always heartwarming to learn about. There is still a lot that needs to be acknowledged and healed in terms of the sad and destructive history here, but at the same time, there is a lot of hope, collaboration and community working together towards a better future.
As I sat there in the audience listening to her talk, it felt like a kind of primer for this trip. Hearing what’s important locally, so that I can learn more with that in mind as we go on this trip to areas that it is connected with. Dharug Country includes a large percentage of the city of Sydney, so the First Nations here have taken a massive hit to their cultural connections, however their community is still strong. Aunty Jacinta spoke also about regenerating songlines – a concept that songlines can be rebuilt through learning from neighboring Countries that have retained those stories. They are also doing amazing work in reawakening the Dharug and Gundungurra languages and more and more people are beginning to learn.
We will be travelling through Dharug and Gundungurra Countries on the trip. We begin in Guringai Country by the sea, and move along the Emu songline through the mountains, then into the Central West of NSW, stopping at various locations to learn about their significance to the songline, including Uncle Peter’s home of Ngemba Country. Each place will helps us learn more about the overall songline in terms of its local aspects. I can’t wait to learn more about this.
It seems to me that the basis of connecting with local culture no matter where we go in the world is similar – we learn about the local plant, animals and seasons; we learn about the local people, stories and histories; and learn the local language(s). Through these, culture is shared and strengthened, and people come to understand how to truly belong to a place with harmony and balance. I’m so interested to see how this will shift and differ in each place we visit. It is a reminder that each place is unique, yet connected to the whole.
In terms of Druidry, I feel this is particularly apt. Each person practicing Druidry should be a Druid of a place. Are you a Druid of a particular place? What does that mean to you? If each of us has a responsibility to adapt our practice in a way that makes it more localised, we move toward learning about the local plants and animals, the local seasons and the local history and language. If we live in a land with a history of colonisation, that also includes learning how to practice with respect for the First Nations cultures of that place. It shapes how we practice and how we engage with the world around us. And mostly, it requires us to listen deeply. We listen to the traditional custodians, and to the Land itself.
Listening to the land is also something that I feel has a spiritual quality to it. And for me, I understand that through the lens of Druidry. I meditate and listen to energies and vibrations, I feel the flow of Awen and nwyfre, I meet spirits of place that offer me conversations and insights, I contemplate through art like nature journaling and poetry and I tell stories of my experiences so that I can share them with others. This is my spirituality and I am so interested to find out how it will meet the experience of this trip. The silence I am feeling drawn to in the lead up to it feels like a preparation, getting my mind into the right state to be able to learn well.
It is such a wonderful thing to have this opportunity. I will share the experience with you and let you know about future trips that happen if you would like to experience it for yourself too.
My book Australian Druidry: Connecting with the Sacred Landscape helps readers to explore the spiritual path of Druidry within an Australian landscape. It might also be interesting to all Druids wanting to localise their practice more. Belonging to the Earth: Nature Spirituality in a Changing World is about ways the nature spirituality community is responding to the climate crisis and environmental grief. An important aspect of this is listening to First Nations voices. It includes an interview with Uncle Peter Williams about his work as a senior song person of Ngemba Country as well as interviews with others.