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All Memory

I went looking in the shed for an old book I thought I had, The Dreamtime Book1. Two white guys pulled it together in the seventies. One – Ainslee Roberts – contributed amazing paintings. The other – Charles Mountford – curious and considered text. Both interpretations. Of Australian Aboriginal stories. They dedicate the book, “TO THE BROWN PEOPLE who handed down these Dreamtime Myths”.  

I had became interested in alternate views on time. And use of storytelling to build and transfer and retain knowledge. I had also put up my hand to try and incorporate a First People’s Perspectives Program Learning Objective into a Masters-Level course I had been running for while. In addition to that I was also asked to embed systems thinkinginto an Undergraduate-Level course. I mention the latter as the more I thought about it the more I couldn’t shake the feeling that systems thinking was Australian Indigenous pattern mind2 re-labelled. 

On the cover of this book I was looking for is a really wild painting – which I had never forgotten – of ‘Mamaragan’ smashing his white boulder billows of clouds together. His laughter thunder. And this monumental disturbance causes rain to descend onto a “thirsty earth”1. I always remembered him as shouting or screaming. Roaring. Definitely not laughing. I recently read in Noel Pearson’s Mission that he was “haunted by thoughts of falling far short of the ambition [he held for his people]” and the challenges of scale “that speaks to the structures that impede”3. Pearson has been roaring for a long time.

I wrote two poetic inquiry style pieces at some point over the last year or two that incorporated some of this exploration. Not only of Australian Indigenous thinking and belief but also that of Chinese Taoism, Indian Buddhism, Japanese Zen and of spirituality based on the growth of consciousness proposed by the psychedelic school of “queer fish”4 Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Co. I was trying to create a path on fundamental common ground. An enlightened way forward. In the words of Tyson Yunkaporta, “the ways not the things that sustain us”2. One of these was focussed on Learning Curves – i.e teaching – and the other was a response to the poetry call out for Griffith Review’s Acts of Reckoning (Issue 76)5. Both were rejected and have sat idle since. 

In a short section for the now defunct Smith Magazine titled, things I know Novelist Richard Flanagan wrote, “somewhere between the dream you start out writing and the failure you end up [submitting] is something worth reading”6. I routinely take solace in the idea and just as often pass it on to students who rock up to my courses every semester. In the first of those rejected pieces I seek anything and everything that lies on the other side of intellectual understanding7. I “listen [intently] to Archie Roach go beyond his flesh and blood’8 and reach for what, “lies beyond Kirrilly Dawn’s handed down bones”9. In the second I reflect on my white privilege and fragility10 and attempts to walk “centred – and in the centre” – of my limited but evolving understanding of the concentric circles of Indigenous time, “all time as one time”11

At some point during the most recent semester – I am writing this in the backend of 2023 – and this somewhat spontaneous exploration that ran in parallel to it – I come across a set of kid’s sized handprints at my local beachside skatepark. And a finger-painted flag with the big sun in the middle. All done in that vivid and primary black and red and yellow. I shoot a pic. But my fascination goes beyond the aesthetic. I see the handprint as a sacred symbol. Not only in Australia but across the globe. I read in Yunkaporta’s, ‘Sand Talk’, that it’s “a meaning remembered everywhere”2. For him a call home. For me the potential common ground. 

There is this musical collective and ensemble based in Cairns named, Spinifex Gum. In their track titled, Yurala I find the lyric, “And rich boys and the royal family – they needed water for their dusty money – they don’t give a dam – going to build a dam – over my country”12. The dam they sing of bears my family name, “Bad business that Harding dam”12. And by way of a Spotify recommendation I also listen to Australian rapper Nathan Bird – professionally known as ‘Birdz’ – drop the track, Aussie Aussie and within it the line, “we just want our f***ing land back – we still living, they can’t stand that”13. Damn. 

I once read journalist Kevin Donnelly state in an opinion piece, “Settlement is a crime that can never be expunged – or forgiven”14. And more recently I read Noel Pearson turn the tables on his interviewer – former host of the ABC Kerry O’Brien by asking a question in response to a question,“What do you think is going to happen if the outstretched hand of Uluru is refused?”. Their long form interview was titled, ‘The Pearson Interview: How does the elephant sit down with the mouse15. Obrien had asked Pearson, “what if this fails?”. 

Twenty something years ago (in 2002) Aboriginal Australian artist and political activist Richard Bell published an essay which addressed colonial structures and an argument for the right of self-determination. It was titled, Bell’s Theorem16. His conclusion was one line, “There is no hope”. Bell would call me a ‘Bookee’ – someone who “learns everything about Aboriginals from books” and who would “rarely, if ever, deign their presence upon the Aboriginal people”. He’s probably right.

Flanagan6 believes that, “Australia should be an invitation to dream” and “for too long we have locked the dreamers out”. And once wrote, “If we want it, if we are large enough and brave enough and generous enough, we can have the great gift Indigenous Australia offers us in return for recognition”. Flanagan would tell me to “seek the abyss” and “write about what I don’t know”. So I do. 

But I tread carefully.  I don’t want to “parade”17. I am no ethnographic expert. I know of my hypocrisy and contradiction. I am also no anthropologist. But am aware of the old saying in Aboriginal communities, “Here come the anthros”18. And I have no interest in falling into Aboriginal Australian singer songwriter Thelma Plum’s ‘Woke Bloke’ category, “I’m so sick of these woke blokes – Living their woke lives – F***ing the woke girls, not like me – Yeah not like me”19. But I am interested in old ways. Long nows. Connections. To desire and learn of things that others do not. And turn back to what the multitudes have passed by17

I came across a poem by Drew Dellinger a while back. At the beginning of Roman Krznaric’s book, ‘The Good Ancestor’20. It has been stuck in my head ever since, “it’s 3:32 in the morning – and I can’t sleep – because my great great grandchildren – ask me in dreams – what did you do whilst the earth was unravelling?”21.  And if author of the kaleidoscopic non-fiction, ‘The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test’ Tom Wolfe had it right – that intellectuals have always sought “another country, the fatherland of the mind, where it is all better and more philosophic and purer, gadget free, simpler and pedigreed”22 then Australian thinkers need not look further than their own backyard and the ancient law held by its Indigenous people. 

I read with sadness Bell’s belief that his people “have been consigned to the dustbin of history”16. And I was a bit bummed that I never found the book I was looking for in the shed. But I did find another version of the same thing. This one was titled, ‘The First Sunrise’. At the end of the introduction Mountford writes that sometimes, “the spirit simply ceases to exist – the use of this name is forbidden – and all memory of him disappears”23.

My perception of time, use of storytelling, and capacity to incorporate an Australian First People’s Perspectives Program Learning Objective into university courses is embryonic. It was daughter who inspired me to sit down and write one of those rejected pieces mentioned earlier. I had captured an image of her wearing a set of fake white angel wings for some Nativity play at school. I titled it, ‘she is’. And lead with,

she is waltzing white wonder

i am wretched white guilt

that she will inherit

both our wings will wither

mine will do so first

but not yet …


1. The Dreamtime Book | Roberts and Mountford | 1973

2. Sand Talk | Yunkaporta | 2019

3. Mission | Pearson | 2021

4. The Doors Of Perception Aldous Huxley | 1954

5. Learning Curves + Acts Of Reckoning | Griffith Review | 2022

6. things I know | Smith Magazine | Flanagan | 2018 

7. Mindfulness In Plain English | Mahathera | 1991

8. Archie Roach Sings from The Soul  | Scolaro | Dumbo Feather | 2017

9. In My Bones I Find My Living Ancestors  | Dawn | Paradiso | 2020

10. White Fragility I Robin DiAngelo I 2018

11. she is I Harding I Unpublished

12. Yurala I Spinifex Gum I 2017

13. Aussie Aussie I Birdz I 2021

14. Unknown I Kevin Donnelly

15. The Pearson Interview I Kerry O’Brien I The Saturday Paper I 2023

16. Bell’s Theorem I Richard Bell I 2002

17. Tao Te Ching I Lao Tzu I 1868

18. Watch The Skies I Ghillar Michael Anderson I Chris Harrington I Smith Magazine I 2016

19. Woke Blokes I Thelma Plum I 2019

20. The Good Ancestor I Roman Krznaric I 2020

21. Hieroglyphic Stairway I Drew Dellinger I 2015

22. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test I Tom Wolfe I 1968

23. The First Sunrise I Roberts and Mountford | 1971


Griffith University ⎮Indigenous Champion Service Role. 



Scribbly Gum I Moth Grub Tunnels I Kosciuszko National Park I 2023

Text Completion Date

31⎮ 10 ⎮ 2023

Publication Date (Self-Published)

05⎮ 02 ⎮ 2024