Issue 5 Editorial

Have you ever been in a group where you were asked to recall a favourite place – a place that has nurtured your spirit and possibly drawn you into a sense of the sacred?

This has happened to me often, but I am not yet used to the surprise of hearing people, born and bred in our land, citing the beauty of sites such as the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the Swiss Alps. There is no question that these are magnificent places, inspiring the imaginations of poets, artists and musicians in the most lyrical of ways. But my surprise is stimulated by the apparent lack of attachment to Australian landscape and to the mysterious relationship that I sense with my own home land.

It has taken two centuries for a significant number of European settlers to ‘see’ our land. The eyes, ears, nose, hands and taste buds of our forebears were still intrinsically set to a default system grounded in another  hemisphere, a cycle of four distinct seasons, deep, fertile, well-watered soils, along with the flora, fauna and food that flourish in these systems. Deserts were places of emptiness in foreign lands and the setting for hardship and heroism.

It seems that we are still very much novices on this journey. The first peoples of this land were not only deeply nuanced to the rhythms of this continent and, in particular, her desert regions, but they understood they were created by it and integrally related to it.

The International Year of Deserts is a major focus for this edition of EarthSong and in her fascinating and scholarly feature article, Ros Haynes takes us on the very gradual journey of conversion experienced by some of our forebears as their senses were gradually opened and enriched by the fullness that is to be found in the  apparent emptiness of the Australian deserts. The desert, still relatively imperceptibly, takes its place in mythic literature and art as an integral part of the country’s story and imagery.

But, as Viv Benton’s poem so poignantly illustrates, we have not yet become ‘native’ people of the land. We continue to perpetuate the worst of Western attitudes to power over and possession of land, in direct contrast to the attitudes of earlier peoples. Place has become an object of ownership, property to be bought and sold for the benefit of the ‘owner’ and to the exclusion of the ‘other’.

Freya Matthews’s pilgrimage to the source of the Merri Creek contrasts markedly with the intentionality of early European explorers and with the contemporary attitudes to possession and exclusion. But our journey to re-connection need not be in exotic or distant places. She claims that the ‘place of the transcendent encounter and discovery lies at the edge, or in the depths, of what is already meaningful for us, on the other side of the given’. And does the snake not evoke the same for Gretta Beveridge?

We return to the desert regions with Mark Stafford-Smith and Glen Abblitt’s articles and witness their own experience of a deepening sensitivity and sensual response to the abundant and diverse life of Australian desert regions. Their spirits are clearly living in the land and so the nature of spirituality again arises and Tom  Kingston takes on a further step in the quest.

Cultural coding is a powerful thing and education is an agent of cultural coding. Teaching and learning can pass on to the next generation a sense of purpose and belonging, a language for, a sensual attraction to and an identification with the seed bed of one’s life. This is not easy in a world of consumerism and brand names that defy any difference or local appreciation.

Nevertheless, one of the major sources of good news about connection to land and place is the work of many schools in opening up for their students the experience of location in places such as Gumburu in the heart of the Queensland rainforest. Visionaries, such as Maisie Enders on her north-eastern Victorian farm, inspire  youngsters to take on projects similar to those initiated by Galen’s Eco 9s. And of course actions speak more loudly than words in any educational endeavour and Jo Russell describes putting her money where her values lie.

In this edition we also continue our focus on genetic modification. This is an area in which we cannot afford to be illiterate. It is complex and multifaceted, but we must be diligent in our search for understanding and for an ethic that honours the integrity of each life and its right to retain its own inner dynamism and self expression.
We were delighted with the contributions to this issue’s Reader’s Forum and encourage you to engage with other readers through this avenue Wildflowers blooming in the desert is the cover image for this Spring edition. Whilst we have focused on a celebration of desert in an Australian context, no one is unaware of the looming disasters of desertification around the planet. We trust that we can be energised by Earth’s beauty to be more active in our defence and protection of her fragility.