Sacred Connections back to our Past ...
by Simon O'Connor

Recently, I attended three separate events in a single week, that were opened with a traditional welcome by a Wurrundjeri elder, the aboriginal tribe of the Melbourne region.

These included a rally for native forests, a talk by the Dalai Lama, and a forum on refugees (busy week!). And I was amazed that at each of these events, the proceedings were commenced by a formal welcome by a wonderful, inspiring woman who was a Wurrundjeri elder. With each of these welcomes, a simple ritual was performed with branches of eucalypts, placing them across the stage to signify the land that lay beneath our human constructed floors. She spoke beautifully, poetically, and was so engaging as she welcomed us to country and told us of our responsibility to that country now that we are here.

The feeling that most struck me by this sudden deluge of welcomes was that I was included as holding part of the responsibility to this land and I was told that I was welcome to this land- me, a white anglo-Australian. Until that point, I had never been sure whether or not I was welcome to this land.

For a few years now, I have been aware of having a strong feeling of connection and awareness of this country around Melbourne. I feel that finally I am growing roots in this land as I awake further to its secrets and treasures and learn more of its stories. For some years, I have felt deeply that this land is my home. It may have begun long before, probably years back when I was riding along the Yarra River in North Balwyn with my brother, attempting to find every puddle possible and coming home covered in this land from head to toe, much to the displeasure of my Mum. But I have a couple of very significant recent memories of this country, Australia, saying to me, 'you are part of me and I'll protect you'. Some life changing experiences that happened to me whilst up in the Northern Territory on the blockade of the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine in Kakadu National Park….

My time up in Kakadu was a significant time for me and perhaps concreted what I value so strongly today. They were magical events up there, living on the land within the Kakadu National Park supporting the Mirrar clan with our voices and presence. One dawn march to the mine lease gates, I felt so privileged to be able to carry the aboriginal flag for the entire 14 kilometres, walking under that flag as the sun began to rise and the micro-bats swooped and grabbed insects from the air, and the plateau became visible to the east with its vast energy pulsating at me- this was quite an emotional experience, a bit of a pilgrimage perhaps.

The human line we had formed across the gates to the lease one morning was smashed through violently by the police in their utes, leading through a convoy of trucks and equipment for the mine construction. It was still dark that morning and the dust rose around us like a mist as utes flew past, headlight beams shooting shards of light randomly through the dusty darkness. A group of us held strong against one four wheel drive, because passion and high emotion said we should, and as it came for us, I was thrown violently to the ground out of the vehicle’s path by a green beret-equivalent Territory Response Group member – the Northern Territory’s terrorist response squad. I was stunned as I watched the ute accelerate past me up the red sandy track towards the mine site. Another activist came to check I was ok having looked as though I had been run over. I pulled my stunned self together, brushed myself down and stood up slowly, at the same time looking up towards the plateau beginning to take a shadowy form in the very earliest of morning light, stars and moon still shinning brightly. At the very moment I looked, a bright shooting star flared its tail across the sky. An expression of gratitude? (that may well be an anthropocentrism). Whatever the interpretation, it felt to me a communication of sorts, an intended coincidence, and was a significant sign of a connection at some indescribable level to the earth and the broader cosmos.

A week or so after that experience, the impression of the star still strong in my mind, I was heading back to Darwin. A friend and I had managed to find a car and driver willing to take us along. Driving back in the evening, we were speeding along the open highway, clearly in an attempt to break all prior land speed records between Jabiru and Darwin. As we came over a rise a car’s bright lights were directed right in our eyes blocking the road from our sight. Our driver headed to the left of the lights, but the other car was pulled over onto that curb forcing our driver to swerve right as we hit the gravel on the left shoulder of the road. Our car skidded across the road at over 100km/hr, jumped off the side of the highway and completed three cartwheels. We came to rest on our wheels, the car all smashed up - somehow we were not. Within the week I had had two profound experiences bestowed upon me. This car crash too I read as being looked after by a higher spirit and felt profoundly that this was a form of communication to me - a message to be learned and never to be forgotten. The path I had chosen was right and these were gentle reminders to stay on it.

Both of these experiences remain vivid in my memory as reminders that I am linked to the earth and to this country and that it is looking after me as much as I am responsible for it. I am welcome in country, but my presence here comes with responsibilities.

This sense of connection to this land has also given me a feeling of guilt. Guilt that comes of knowing that these white feet of mine treading this land lightly are actually those of another place in the world, and that by my white feet treading on this land, I am part of the white presence that has taken the land from so many cultures and people who inhabited it for many thousands of years before. There has been a guilt for a long time that I can't put down my roots, that my roots are merely a further invasion of this land. This dilemma is a catch 22; without my roots here, I am homeless. I don't know the land in Ireland, the place of my ancestors, I don't know any names of birds or trees or the feel of the seasons or the dirt.

It is for this reason that the welcome to country three times in one week was so significant for me. The welcome from the Wurrundjeri resonated strongly that I was allowed to be here. I am allowed to call this home in the recognition and respect for where it comes from and who has been before and the other roots that I am sharing this land with. And that I too have a responsibility, not just a desire, to look after this land.