New discoveries about Stonehenge

I have been delighted by the numerous readers who have send emails and messages about the new discoveries about Stonehenge from the excavations in Wales. These wonderful readers have all enthusiastically claimed that the new findings fit beautifully with my theories about the purpose of Stonehenge and other monuments from the Neolithic.

The following is my response to the reports.

Image source and media report: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/feb/12/dramatic-discovery-links-stonehenge-to-its-original-site-in-wales

People need a vast knowledge system to survive, both physically and culturally. Cultures without writing have an alternative – orality – a complex of memory systems used to store a vast amount of pragmatic information. These mnemonic systems have been the focus of my academic research for well over a decade.

The new discoveries for Stonehenge describe a perfect system for replicating landscape sites when settling in the transition from a predominantly hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one with a base in agriculture. Key to such systems is the essential need for mnemonic structures such as the stone or timber ‘circles’. This is why they are found all over the world in this transition phase.

There are two possibilities which logically led to the transfer of the bluestone circle from the Preseli Hills in Wales to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. At this moment, I don’t think the archaeology is sufficient to differentiate between them.

Firstly, an entire tribe moving from Wales to the Salisbury Plain took their encyclopaedia with them. This would require the circle to be erected in the same order as in Wales and oriented in the same direction. In effect, these people were taking their database of knowledge with them, the structure in the stones, and the data in their memories.

Secondly, a different tribe conquering those in Wales might identify just how effective this memory technique is and steal only the technology. Essentially, they stole the database structure and filled it with their own data. The bluestones are particularly suited to a mnemonic purpose due to the blotches and blobs in their material makeup.

For those not familiar with my work, the analysis of indigenous cultures from all over the world showing how they use these mnemonic technologies can be found in my LaTrobe University PhD thesis, published by Cambridge University Press as Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies (2015). An expansion of the archaeological sites for a general audience, but without as much technical detail, can be found in The Memory Code (2016). It is almost impossible to can see just how effective these methods are until you have tried them yourself. I get emails daily from readers astounded by their effectiveness. The techniques are detailed in Memory Craft (2019). In order to understand how the mnemonic technologies work from Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, you are best to read my most recent book, Songlines: the power and promise (2020). It is co-authored by Dr Margo Neale, Head of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Senior Indigenous Curator & Advisor to the Director at the National Museum of Australia.

A full bibliography can be found on my website.

The archaeological team reporting on the new Stonehenge find, led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson, are outstanding archaeologists. I have been following Parker Pearson’s teams thorough archaeological reports for years now. Without their rigorous detail, I could not have developed my ideas. However, I do find the constant emphasis on death to be limiting thinking about the way such a monument would function in an oral culture.

There is no doubt that considerations of death would have been part of the knowledge system, but indigenous cultures tend to utilise integrated knowledge systems in which all facets of knowledge are interwoven in song, dance and narrative – and physical spaces. Physical mnemonic technologies used in every oral culture I have explored include the the entire landscape, localised monuments and portable mnemonic devices. There is good reason to assume that the oral culture at Stonehenge, a mere 5,000 years ago, would have done the same.

In Australia, we are so fortunate to be able to learn from a continuous culture dating back over 60,000 years. We have ample evidence from our Aboriginal cultures of robust knowledge of landscape and skyscape events dating back 17,000 years. (See Patrick Nunn’s amazing book, The Edge of Memory). That is how powerful these methods can be and why they have developed in so many disparate cultures.

There are so many signs that Stonehenge served as a memory palace that is not a simplistic claim. There are ten criteria that I look for before I even suggest that a monument is primarily a knowledge space.

This suite of criteria is replicated at Stonehenge. There is far too much to explain here – that’s why it took a thesis and four books to thoroughly cover the topic!

For example, the essential presence of portable devices is represented at Stonehenge by Grooved ware pottery and the Stonehenge chalk plaques.

Above: A Grooved ware pot I was shown by Dr Ros Cleal at Avebury. (Photo: Damian Kelly). Those familiar with my work will notice the similarity in the pattern to the back of the lukasa of the Luba people which we know was used a mnemonic device because they explained how they use both the back and front of the lukasa. Australian Aboriginal shields also show the same patterning. There can be no link between Neolithic Brits and these contemporary cultures other than they share the same neurological structures used for memory. And that is the key to it all!

The Stonehenge chalk plaques are similar to the one I was shown at Salisbury Museum by Director, Adrian Green. (Photo: copyright Salisbury Museum. Reproduced with permission.) They would have worked a treat as a mnemonic device, recognisable as such by those familiar with mnemonic devices from oral cultures.

Let’s return to the constant reference to death. It is interesting to note that the Guardian report linked above included this statement:

The remains of at least 10 of 25 individuals, whose brittle charred bones were buried at the monument, showed that they did not spend their lives on the Wessex chalk downland, but came from more than 100 miles away.

The first stage of the monument was the bluestone circle talked about in the media reports. There were no big sarsens in the centre. They came 500 years later. Does the evidence of 10 to 25 individuals over 500 years seem enough to suggest that it was primarily a cremation burial site, primarily about death?

Quoting: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/tv/stonehenge-stood-400-years-wales-19822260:

It was known that Stonehenge was used as an early cremation cemetery, but not who was buried there. … It will show how Stonehenge, believed to be a tribute to the dead, is actually a second-hand monument, brought by neolithic people migrating east into England from Wales.

Why is it believed to be a tribute to the dead? Surely, the vast amount of information needed to maintain life would be just as significant, if not a great deal more so. Granted, that knowledge is often integrated in teachings from the ancestors. In all oral cultures, the concept of ‘ancestors’ is far more complex than just relating to a memorial to the dead.

If we are to draw parallels from monuments and memory systems when considering Stonehenge, it is essential that we only consider evidence which dates from times when there has been little or no contact with writing. As soon as a literate culture intervenes, very quickly the power associated with knowledge and memory diminishes and the indicators are lost. We cannot transfer beliefs or customs from one culture to another, but we can transfer generalisations from multiple cultures about how humans maintain critical knowledge when they are dependent on memory.

The time has come to acknowledge that the people who built Stonehenge, and all the other incredible Neolithic monuments around the world, were not ‘primitive’ people on the journey to ‘civilisation’, but complex, intelligent, knowledgeable people with the same intellectual capacity as contemporary humans – embracing science (my focus), philosophy, ethics and so much more. Working with Aboriginal cultures, Australian archaeologists include such understanding in their interpretations every day. The rest of the world needs to follow suit.

Asking help from Classical Music buffs – Updated

During a discussion on the Art of Memory Forum, it was suggested that existing artworks could be used as miniature memory palaces. Indigenous cultures have used art as mnemonic, as was also the practice in medieval times.

I decided to test the idea using Pieter Bruegel’s Children’s Games. The Wikipedia entry gives 80 games as shown, so there are 80 obvious locations possible.

I have decided to encode classical composers. I have just started to listen to a lot more classical music than before, but know very little about the topic.

Original post included: Below is a list of 100 composers since the Baroque. So could I please have help reducing the list? Who can I eliminate at the stage without missing out on the major composers? Is there anyone missing?

After much debate and much discussion, I didn’t get to reduce it much, but there were a lot of changes. Below is the list I am working from now. Thank you to all those musical types who helped so much!

Baroque Period: 1600–1750
1 Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
2 Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
3 Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)
4 Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687)
5 Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
6 Henry Purcell (1659–1695)
7 Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725)
8 Tomaso Albinoni (1671–1750)
9 Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
10 Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767)
11 Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764)
12 George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
13 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
14 Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757)
Classical Period: 1750–1820
15 Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714–1787)
16 Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1806)
17 Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782)
18 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
19 Franz Xaver Sussmayr (1766–1803)
20 Bedrich Dionys Weber (1766–1842)
21 Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770–1827)
22 Niccolo Paganini (1782–1840)
23 Carl Maria von Weber (1786 – 1826)
24 Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792–1868)
25 Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828)
26 Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (1797–1848)
Romantic Period: 1820-1900
27 Louis-Hector Berlioz (1803–1869)
28 Fanny Mendelssohn (1805–1847)
29 Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)
30 Frederic Chopin (1810–1849)
31 Robert Alexander Schumann (1810–1856)
32 Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
33 Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
34 Giuseppe Fortunino Frencesco Verdi (1813–1901)
35 Jacques Offenbach (1819–1880)
36 Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896)
37 Cesar Franck (1822–1890)
38 Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
39 Anton Joseph Bruckner (1824–1896)
40 Johann Strauss II (1825–1899)
41 Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
42 Eduard Strauss (1835–1916)
43 Charles-Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)
44 Georges Bizet (1838–1875)
45 Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839–1881)
46 Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
47 Antonín Dvorak (1841–1904)
48 Edvard Hagerup Grieg (1843–1907)
49 Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov(1844-1908)
50 Gabriel-Urbain Fauré (1845–1924)
51 Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
52 Sir Edward William Elgar (1857– 1934)
53 Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
54 Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
55 Achille-Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
56 Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
57 Jean Sibelius (1865–1957)
58 Erik Satie (1866–1925)
59 Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
60 Sergei Vasilievitch Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)
61 Arnold Franz Walter Schoenberg (1874–1951)
62 Gustav Theodore Holst (1874–1934)
63 Charles Edward Ives (1874–1954)
64 Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
65 Béla Bartók (1881–1945)
66 Artur Schnabel (1882–1951)
67 Percy Grainger (1882 – 20 February 1961)
68 Zóltan Kodály (1882–1967)
69 Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
70 Alban Berg (1885–1935)
71 Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofieff (1891–1953)
20th Century: 1900–present
72 George Gershwin (1898–1937)
73 Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
74 Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
75 Samuel Barber (1910–1981)
76 Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912–1990)
77 Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)
78 Dulcie Holland (1913–2000)
79 Peter Sculthorpe (1929–2014)
80 Arvo Part (1935–)
81 Philip Glass (1937- )
82 Carl Vine (1954- )
83 Elena Kats-Chernin (1957-
84 Nigel Westlake (1958- )
85 Margaret Sutherland (1897–1984)
Back burner
1 Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613)
2 Witold Roman Lutosławski (1913 – 1994) (Polish)
3 György Sándor Ligeti (1923 – 2006)
4 John Adams
5 Carl Heinrich Biber (1681-1749)
6 Darius Milhaud
7 Luigi Cherubini
8 Zbigniew Preisner
9 Michael Nyman

Memory Craft – I have the advance copy!

I am so excited that the advance copy of Memory Craft has arrived. Details of the contents can be found here!

Only a few weeks now until the June 3 publication by Allen & Unwin.

The launch will be help at Castlemaine Library at 5:30 pm on June 13. To be launched by Dr Duane Hamacher, with talk on memory methods. Booking will be available through their website very soon. If you are coming to the launch and want to join us for dinner afterwards, please contact me through the contact form and I’ll let you know what’s happening.

Memory Craft is available for pre-order through Book Depository (world wide) and Booktopia (Australia only) among others.

Long corridors as memory palaces

Corridors are perfect to use as memory palaces – once they are decorated in a structured way. So why do we waste the corridors in schools and universities when they could become such valuable spaces? Usually, if there are any decorations, they are just nice pictures or random posters.

I was pointed to the Long Corridor at the Summer Palace in Beijing by a reader of The Memory Code. It is a superb use of a corridor as a memory palace.

Click on the image below to go to the Wikipedia entry about it.


I finally found a book showing the images and simply adore it. This covered walkway is found in the Summer Palace in Beijing. It dates from the middle of the 18th century. At 728 metres long, it is decorated with more than 14,000 gorgeous paintings. These tell stories – the entire structure acting as a sensational memory palace.


Why not use school and university spaces as memory palaces?

Instead of numbering rooms as dull old 1, 2, 3 … why not 5000 BC, 4000 BC, 3000 BC … and use the spaces between for images suiting that time period. Students will recall where they saw Stonehenge, for example, and associate it with the area around 5000 BC. Or number the rooms for the last few hundred years and illustrate more recent events chronologically?

How about naming the rooms by letter a, b, c … and add images for the words in a foreign language? Or new words in English?

Why not have the students do the images in art? All indigenous cultures integrate art as a key component of the knowledge system. Our even include small videos recording songs composed by students to store knowledge? The ever changing display will attract attention.

It is well known in educational circles that taking information in one form, say writing, and adapting it to another form, say images or music, makes it more memorable. You need to concentrate and know the information well to creatively adapt it. The only limits are imagination – and schools all have art and music teachers and a mob of creative types who can help set the imaginations of students on a wild spree.

A memory palace must be structured – not just an array of paintings or a set of songs. Without structure it is just another gallery display.

And while we are at it – why not use the school grounds as memory palaces as well – just like the Australian Aboriginal songlines and Native American pilgrimage trails? And none of this needs funding! We can do all of this within the art and music curricula as well as meeting the requirements for every subject in the school. We just need to stop separating knowledge into neat little packages – we need to integrate it.

But what I really want is my very own Long Corridor just like the one in the Summer Palace. Please!

Why absolutely everywhere needs a name

And I mean everywhere. And I mean a memorable, useful name. When setting up a memory palace, name every location carefully and it will serve you well. That is a lesson from indigenous cultures that I had not learned well enough.

It was five years ago that I set up my first three big memory palaces for the Countries of the world (including independent protectorates), Pre-history and History. I have done many since. I learnt a major lesson this week when I returned to those first three palaces to write about them in my new book. They are constantly in use because my brain jumps to any location on them when I need the information, but I had not travelled them and checked all the locations for well over a year.

Granddaughter Abigail and Poppy walking past Curaçao (the Netherlands), aka the fruit shop.

Countries walk was still easy. In the Countries memory journey, every location had a name by default. It just took the name of the country. When I announced to my husband that ‘Kirsten had bought Tokelau’, he knew that she was just moving in round the corner and had not, with the income of a school teacher, suddenly bought an entire island.

The actual locations of particular events along the Pre-history and History walks were still in my memory despite the lack of revision. These are continuous journeys, not a set of separate locations, as is usual for memory palaces. Time doesn’t work in neat moments – so I need to walk through time. I can also put any new event in place because there will always be something (a tree, rock, fence) at the point where I want to add the new item.

But the dates were not there in my memory as I walked these familiar trails. I needed to work out the dates of most of the locations that I had chosen to divide up time and ground the walk in the landscape. Only a few highly memorable dates were firmly in place. I had divided up the two historic journeys in a varying scale because they started at 4,600 million years ago and go to the present.

Once I get to 1900 I continue the location for every year in what I call my 20th Century journey. The last one was fine – the numbers in the memory palace ‘name’ the dates. The scales on the three history palaces vary greatly. If I included every year from the beginning, I would circumnavigate the world well over 2,000 times. As it happens I walk about 2 km.

The problem with the Pre-history and History walks dawned on me and was very easily solved. The locations for each of the significant dates dividing up the journey should be named. How blatantly obvious! Why had it taken me years to realise it?

Hadean’s Wall

My first location in Pre-history is the stone wall in front of our house, which I referred to as ‘Front stone wall’. Good, isn’t it? I had then linked the wall to the Hadean geologic eon. The Hadean? A wall? And it hadn’t occurred to me for five years to call it Hadean’s Wall? I hang my head in shame.

The driveway at 65.5 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were wiped out, is no longer referred to as ‘the long driveway’ but is now ‘Dead-Dino-Drive’.

I named lots of them in French. It made my memory palace sound so much more sophisticated.

At 100,000 years ago, I listed the house by the name on the gate which is rather useless for my purpose – and I kept forgetting it anyway. It is now ‘Cent Maison’ and the power pole which I referred to as ‘Power pole’ is now ‘Trente Chauvet Poteau’ which rolls off the tongue rather nicely, don’t you think? It also tells me that I’m at 30,000 years ago and that this is the date for the wonderfully painted Chauvet Cave. The little gap at the bottom of the pole (a cave, if you have a vivid enough imagination) confirms that I am at the right power pole.

Two walks around Pre-history and History later, saying the names aloud (once I checked that there was no one within hearing) and the names were all in place.

Why has it taken me so long to realise the problem? It’s not as if I didn’t have plenty of indigenous advice about the importance of naming locations. I also had experience. When I set up a version of an Australian Aboriginal songline through the nearby bush, I named each location, every ten metres or so along the track, as I had been told to do. It was astoundingly easy to sing those names and visualise every single metre of that bush track. By naming I noticed a whole lot of details which I simply wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. So why didn’t I realise the importance of naming locations for my history walks?

I just didn’t.

Alongside Aboriginal  songlines, one of the most influential writers on my thinking was Keith Basso. He described similar phenomena for Native American cultures. In particular, he wrote about the importance Apaches put on place names in his fantastic book, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (1996).

This is just a small portion of what Basso wrote:

As conceived by Apaches from Cibecue, the past is a well-worn ‘path’ or ‘trail’ (‘intin) which was traveled first by the people’s founding ancestors and which subsequent generations of Apaches have traveled ever since. Beyond the memories of living persons, this path is no longer visible the past has disappeared and thus it is unavailable for direct consultation and study. For this reason, the past must be constructed which is to say, imagined with the aid of historical materials, sometimes called ‘footprints’ or ‘tracks’ (biké’ goz’áá *), that have survived into the present.

These materials come in various forms, including Apache place-names, Apache stories and songs, and different kinds of relics found at locations throughout Apache country (the hand-cut stones surrounding the spring at Snakes’ Water provide a good example). Because no one knows when these phenomena came into being, locating past events in time can be accomplished only in a vague and general way. This is of little consequence, however, for what matters most to Apaches is where events occurred, not when, and what they serve to reveal about the development and character of Apache social life. In light of these priorities, temporal considerations, though certainly not irrelevant, are accorded secondary importance. (pp 31-2).

I have learned my lesson now.

See also:

Starting a contemporary Songline – Countries of the world
Memorising and understanding History

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Australian Memory Championships

I was delighted to win the Senior division (over 60) of the Australian Memory Championships as run by the IAM (International Association of Memory).

This is what we do for 10 events in a total of 12 trials. In this event, we are memorising the order of a shuffled deck of cards. From left in this row of competitors, or memory athletes, as we are known:

Anastasia Woolmer (AUS), Chris Griffin (New Zealand), me (AUS) and Takeru Aoki from Japan. The International event was won by Liu Renjie of China closely followed by Kwon Soon-Moon Orissam of South Korea.

The Australian National title was won by Anastasia Woolmer for the second year in a row.

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Guest blog: experiments with memory

I am getting a lot of emails from readers which is so rewarding. Some are trying out the memory methods and are as astounded as I was about how effective they are.

A memory palace - From Emma Willard, The Temple of Time, 1846.
From Emma Willard, The Temple of Time, 1846.

Barry described his experiences. I will hand over the blog to him as he writes so well I don’t want to change a thing:
________________

I thought you might get a kick out of hearing how your work has impacted someone. It’s certainly had a powerful effect on me!

I’ve always been interested in the mystery of prehistoric civilisations, and of Australian indigenous culture before its catastrophic disruption by the Europeans. Your book has changed the way I see all of that. Myths and legends are not childish fantasies, but are multilayered storehouses of information! Astonishing, and yet, in retrospect, so obvious!

Anyway I could rave for ages about the insights into human history you’ve given me, but I will resist. I’ve been happily raving to practically everyone I know.

Of course, your book is a double-whammy — not only casting a new perspective on non-literate culture, but also painting an intriguing picture of the potential of using these long-neglected memory systems. I’d encountered memory palaces before, but they always seemed like too much hard work, and perhaps of dubious worth beyond remembering long shopping lists and playing cards.

Charged with new enthusiasm, I decided to make some memory journeys of my own. I too normally have a rather vague and temporary kind of memory. Here’s what I’ve tried:

First memory path

I live in a small town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, and often walk to my office in town — about a 10 minute journey. I took note of potential sites and took photos of them all. Then I added them to a spreadsheet and gave them all unique names. I then worked to be able to remember each in order.

Following your principle of marking 5s and 10s, I added special markers to every 10th item. Every 5 spots I make special by imagining them as extremely cold. This worked well, as any story I add is enhanced by the dramatic cold. I can easily remember where the “cold” sites are.

This path is now 118 stations long. I’ll make it longer but it will involve a lengthy hike into the outskirts of town where landmarks are further apart.

Periodic Table of Elements

As a test, I decided to memorise the elements. It’s not something that I particularly need, so I figured if I messed it up it wouldn’t matter. It took about three weeks, but I got there. The marker system makes it easy to jump to any point by atomic number. It piqued my interest and I bought a little pocket book about the elements, which I’m now using to add interesting facts to the stories.

Countries of the World

I liked this idea and decided to emulate it, using my existing memory track. I was worried that the Elements would interfere but to my surprise they made it even easier! Each station is now ready-made with extra meaning and personality that makes them distinct; so the countries and the elements just seem to reinforce each other without getting confused.

I’m still working on this one. I’m up to Bolivia (the Monkees singing “Daydream Believer” in a South American accent, compressed into a Ball of Ears and rolling around. It’s also the station for Lead, and fishing lines with lead sinkers are casting their hooks into the ears and pulling them around painfully).

I do like this journey, because the countries of the world are mentioned all the time, and now when I hear their names I think of their special place and I have a chance to add to it.

Ukulele Chords

I’m sick of not being able to remember the chords when I jam with people. I normally have to look them up on my phone. Now I just have to think for a moment and I have the chord I need.

I made a small circuit in my garden, with 12 stations, each representing a musical note. Each station has a totem animal to remind me of the note, eg “B flat” is Beetle. Each station has two stories, one for the minor chord and one for the major. The major story is high up, the minor story is low down or underground. I turned the finger positions for each chord into 4 numbers and converted them into words using a version of the “major system”. This gives me the basis for each story.

I guess I eventually I won’t need this system as I’ll have learnt it by rote.

(BTW did you know that the etymology of “rote” is unknown, and may have the same origin as “route”? Interesting…)

Future Plans

Next I would like to learn something about the natural world. such as all the known edible native plants of Australia. I don’t really want to make another great big memory trail, so I thought a portable memory device might be the way to go. If you can provide any guidance in the construction and use of lukasa-style devices I’d be very grateful.

Other ideas:
major stars by constellation
bones of the human body
muscles of the human body
planets and moons
geological time
history
trees of Australia
birds
fish
Spanish vocabulary
software design patterns (I’m a software developer)
That’ll do. I hope you found my account of adventures in memory land of value!

Thanks again for your magnificent work.
Regards
Barry

______________

Thank you for your magnificent email, Barry!

Aboriginal affirmation at Coolum Beach

I was a guest at the inaugural Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival to talk about The Memory Code. I had no idea it would prove to be such an emotional time. The affirmation of my work by the Traditional Owners proved to be far more powerful than I could have expected.

coolum-welcome1We were welcomed to Gubbi Gubbi Country by Lyndon Davis and the Gubbi Gubbi Dancers. Festivals don’t start any better than this.

My time with Traditional Owner, Bridgette Chilly Davis (Dhdugga Kabi Kabi), was an emotional one for both of us and for the audience.

Bridgette talked about the songlines from the perspective of a Traditional Owner, what it was like to walk Country, to be in Country and to interact with the animals and plants in Country. She talked about the knowledge of the Old Ones and how it came to her so strongly when alone with them in the bush. She talked about the spiritual link, something I would not even pretend to be able to emulate.

I talked about the way that the songs, dances, stories and links to sacred places in Country act as an extraordinary memory aid to all the complex knowledge of the culture: animals, plants, genealogies, navigation, geology, seasonality and something I think I have greatly underestimated – the way it all links together. No animal is known without understanding its relationship to all the other animals and plants which inhabit that ecological niche and the seasonal cycle.

coolum-bridgette1 coolum-bridgette2

We answered a lot of questions from the audience, but throughout it was the connection to Bridgette and the Kabi Kabi knowledge which at times overpowered me. This is not the usual sensation of a science writer talking about a science book!

The most moving moment for me was when Bridgette told the audience “She really gets it! She really gets it!”. Members of the audience afterwards said they had listened to the Aboriginal stories and talk about Country many times but realised that they had not really understood that the connectives to Country was far more than just loving where they lived. My work acts as a segue to hearing what Bridgette was actually saying. How rewarding is that?

coolum-lyndon-davisLyndon Davis ran a session on Dreamtime story-telling talking about the Gubbi Gubbi stories and songs, all of them about Country, animals, plants, seasons and responsibilities for Country. One story tells of the way the pilot fish of the mullet leads the migration and must never be killed. The largest fish are left and the Maroochy River ran think with mullet. Of course, these laws are not respected by fishermen today and there are few mullet left. The timing of the fishing was linked to the behaviour of the sea eagles. The stories Lyndon told and performed all reflected the integrated pragmatic knowledge of our Aboriginal cultures. A second session with Lyndon was about the language and the way words reflect the behaviour of the animals, nature of the plants, calls of the birds and so on. And all is linked to place, song, story and mythology. Lyndon’s paintings also reflect the Gubbi Gubbi stories, in particular his use of the sea eagle and details in the designs.

coolum-daim-axe-helen-herbMy husband, Damian, is an archaeologist, and spent time examining an axe head with archaeologist Helen Coooke and Uncle Herb Wharton (for non-Australian, Uncle is a term of respect for Aboriginal Elders).

 

coolum-linda-kateThank you to the organisers for the invitation, in particular to Wendy O’Hanlon and Eileen Walder. Thank you also to the volunteers, especially Linda Morse and Kate Eagles.