“Inevitably that story is Aboriginal,” said author, Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man, Bruce Pascoe. And in this time of ‘so-called #reconciliation’, we need to think in terms of #conciliation. As Uncle Max asks: “How did we offend?” We did nothing wrong, yet all his family bar one boy, Uncle Max’s great, great grandfather were obliterated. “If we become closer we will become so much more powerful.” 

And as Bruce Shillingworth, pictured here at the microphone said: “We are the now. We have to refuse to despise our grandchildren my brother. We have to look after our home.” 

Co-author, photographer and artist, Vicky Shukuroglou and Bruce Pascoe shared these stories and more with ABC Radio NationalsAwaye’ host, Daniel Browning at the 2021 Sydney Writers Festival when talking about their Guide to Sacred Australia, Loving Country.

“As Australian aboriginal people, we want to talk to you about humanity and our country. Our shared country,” said Bruce. Adding that, “It’s important to be slow, to look carefully, to listen and absorb. The more informed we are, the more country will tell us about ourselves. Even in our own backyard.”

A paraphrased excerpt from the section on the Birdsville track towards outback Queensland … Having driven through the heat and ‘rattled from the corrugations’ of the track, you dismount and ‘the first thing you feel is the breeze through the corkwood trees.’

The sand is soft … you recline in the shade, and you hear that sound again. ‘Soft, repetitive whistles, a churring babble, a plaintive whistle, the variety is enormous and the effect dreamlike.’ The voice of the spiny-cheeked honeyeater seems to come from every corkwood, beefwood or acacia.

‘It asks you to listen, to let the spirit of the country stroke the back of your neck’ … ‘to feel the spirit of the place of solace.’

The intention of the Loving Country guide is to foster communication and understanding between all peoples and country, and to encourage environmental and social change.  

It builds on an original book by anthropologist, geographer and activist, Professor Marcia Langton, Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies and now honoured as Associate Provost at the University of Melbourne.

With beautiful photographs, stories and a practical index of places to go to, look at and things to do in 19 special places in Australia, this ‘sacred’ guide is a way both actual and virtual travellers can delve deep into the heart of country. From the ingenious fish traps at Brewarrina and the rivers that feed the Great Barrier Reef, to the love stories of Wiluna and the whale story of the Margaret River.

Loving Country is to know more of the whole story of places like Marree for instance, at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks in north-eastern South Australia in country where Antikarinya, Arabunna, Dieri and Pitjantjatjara languages are spoken.

What we know as Lake Eyre is just north of Marree, named after the lost early European explorer.

In this chapter Pascoe and Shukuroglou combine early Australian exploration history with Vicky’s close up portraits of echidnas, saltbushes and galahs. Of Sturt, Pascoe writes of how he, and his party of men and horses, halted by ridge after ridge of sand dunes in what appeared unforgiving desert, almost blind with scurvy and close to death, were welcomed by a gathering of 400 prosperous Aborigines, who watered the horses and fed the men roast duck and cake – the ‘lightest and sweetest’ Sturt had ever tasted.  Read more of this early tending and care of country in Pascoe’s Dark Emu.

The stories capture both past and present, and ancient times when the people of Margaret River communicated with the whales as they migrated north for the birthing season and the whales in turn communicated with them teaching them to talk their language and so linking land, sea, human and animal.

They are stories of unity and peace, of restraining human ego and letting country have a voice. In this guide we learn to pay attention and recognise the links between us, the people and the animals who have walked before us.

The authors also urge readers to think in terms of #conciliation not #reconciliation.  If we become closer we will become so much more powerful.

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