Issue 6 Editorial

A grandmother sugar gum tree (Eucalyptus cladocalyx), lives in the park opposite my work
place. With her girth of over four metres, she holds court in an arc of her sisters and daughters. The area is called a park because it is certainly not bush in the colloquial sense. Although it is not too neatly manicured, the small level of ‘wildness’ is severely curtailed to provide for the sporting and picnicking delights of humans. And, like so many others, this park is bearing witness to the extremely dry summer and the severe drought that grips much of our land at present.

At the peak of mid-summer, the sugar gums stood proudly in auras of bare earth or within skirts of native grasses that unabashedly displayed their survival skills in times of stress. The trees shed their bark in large slabs to reveal glorious shades of fresh red and orange dappled with brown and grey. Every now and then the heat determined that a branch must be sacrificed for the good of the whole and the mature trees bear marked scars of limbs long gone and now encased in new growth.

Creamy white flowers appeared in abundance this summer as if in an urgent desire to ensure the future, and parrots and lorikeets arrived in flocks to enjoy the feast. From the drying capsules, miniscule seeds are sprinkled like hundreds and thousands on the parched soil, waiting, waiting, waiting, for the slow journey into new life. Meantime the magpies carol on at dawn and noon and dusk as if to say that all will be well.

I frequently sit at the foot of grandmother gum and am caught up in the rhythm and story of this little ecosystem. Did the ancestors of these trees live here along with ancestral humans? Was their timber used for spears and clubs and were their burls made into bowls? Was their dark shining gum used for glue and did the children delight in the sweet new red growth with it sweet sugary taste? This microcosm is teaching me how much my own spirit is dependent on its well-being.

As I watch the enormity of the effect of the drought, I sense the depletion of my own spirit but am gratefully aware of the tapestry of relationships whereby my imagination and sensitivity are shaped by it. As many introduced trees and grasses die, I feel a diminishment in the absence of their colour, shape and movement.

On the other hand, I am encouraged not only by the survival abilities of those indigenous to this land, but by their adaptability and the wonder of their life cycles. They are mentors for me, inviting  me to a deeper sensitivity to place, indeed offering an invitation to accept belonging in this habitat and to know that a sense of place is not confined to those who live in the bush or on rugged coastlines but can literally  be found in one’s front (or back) yard.

This edition of the journal presents a wonderful array of reflections from those on similar journeys but in quite different circumstances. Feature writer, Rosaleen Love, explores the journey of the human spirit, indigenous
and more recent, into a deeper relationship with place through the lens of the Barrier Reef. At a time when we know of the devastation impinging on the reef through accelerated human intervention, she concludes on the hopeful note that a new ethics may emerge from this deeper relationship.

In his short piece, Mark O’Loughlin asks a profound question about awareness in tiny sea creatures with ancient ancestry, whilst attentiveness to Australian landscapes is the source of our celebration of place and the joy of Frank O’Dea’s gardening with natives.

We see an increasing development of school-based awareness of place and sustainability in several segments and, through Stephanie Alexander, the potential for creative learning in this regard. In the voice of student Michael Nieuwesteeg, faith-based communities are challenged to a new level of ethical awareness. This challenge is complimented by Richard Slaughter’s alert to envisage alternative futures and Kerry Dawborn’s exhortation to locally-grown food consumption. Further food for the spirit can be found in the poetry, whilst more food for thought is offered in the book reviews.

It is encouraging to have a growing engagement of readers with their Forum and we look forward to its development as a place of vibrant conversation and debate. The back cover is our final message of hope. In
this land of droughts and flooding rains there is an ever-present allurement to water. In the Autumn 2005 edition, Tim Winton wrote about Australians as ‘veranda people’ – we sit and look, mostly at water! The annual EarthSong symposium will invite us into the mystique of water and a deepening appreciation of the rivers that nourish our lives. Join us.