Wave that flaggy! Great things to do in Melbourne this Australia Day.

We applaud Australian Prime Minister for Standards Scott Morrison this week for his muscular proclamations that in order to best uphold core Australian values of freedom, democracy and a fair go, he intends to enforce participation in certain expressions and ceremonies of national identity and place. It is with some embarrassment that we confess that we did not expect Mr Morrison to have such a nuanced understanding of the historical and legal background to Australia Day. However, Morrison’s unilateral application of government force to ensure acquiescence to sovereign power perhaps comes closer to expressing the true meaning of Australia Day than any number of white girls draping bikini shaped flags over their Map of Tassie and shit-faced boys with Southern Cross tattoos bolted on their neck nuggets ever could. Well done, Sir!

Celebration is likely to become mandatory from 2020 once the LNP pass proposed Freedom of Patriotic Expression legislation so we suggest you start preparing now. There are many excellent ways to spend your Australia Day Long Weekend in Melbourne in 2019. You could head on down to Docklands to try an Aqua Donut BBQ Boat and recreate for yourself the landing of the First Fleet. Or keep an eye out for the United Patriots Front, who have been making noises that their 100 strong rally in St Kilda was just a warm up for a more sustained presence on Australia Day. Those wanting Fraser Anning’s John Hancock should probably show up for this one.

The familial unit at True Places HQ doesn’t normally celebrate Australia Day but there’s a few tempting offers on the table this year so we’ll be heading up to the Big Smoke with the following itinerary:

Narrm Invasion Day Rally

In case you hadn’t heard it, the local Indigenous name for Melbourne is Narrm and it’s a good idea to start practicing it ahead of the Invasion Day Rally. It’s great to see the rally getting bigger, but even better to see  public dialogue around it becoming more complex year by year. Attending the Invasion Day Rally is not only a great way to express solidarity, but also an opportunity to get your head around the many diverse views passionately expressed within the Victorian Indigenous community. These extend far beyond issues of whether we should change the date but into core issues around issues of treaty, constitutional recognition and sovereignty. A top tip for us whiteys is to remember that our personal opinions on these matters are typically both radically uninformed and almost entirely uninteresting so try and remember to keep your ears open and your lips from flapping.

The Narrm Invasion Day Rally is particularly recommended for white people who like to point to Jacinta Price as the model of a sensible Aboriginal person expressing the moderate opinions that most other Aboriginal people (who are actually quite “good”, really) also hold.

When: From about 10.30 am, Jan 26th 2019

Where: Steps of Parliament House, Spring Street, Melbourne

Balit Narrun Festival – Share the Spirit

The Balit Narrun Festival will pick up after the Invasion Day Rally finishes and is held just next door at the Treasury Gardens. The baby of Songlines Aboriginal Music Corporation, this is a feast of music, culture and art. Their line-up for 2019 includes Mojo Juju and on that basis alone we will be there with bells on.

When: 1- 5pm, Jan 26th 2019.

Where: Treasury Gardens, Melbourne

 

Zoo Twilights with Briggs and Archie Roach

Bless the Royal Melbourne Zoo for slipping this surreptitiously in to their 2019 Zoo Twilights Schedule. Programmed for January 26 and with no mention at all of Australia Day in their promotion, the evening showcases two of the Victorian Aboriginal Community’s most powerful wordsmiths. From different sides of the State and with very different musical styles, Briggs and Archie Roach tell the stories that politicians don’t want you to hear. If you’ve put in the hours at the rally and Balit Narrun Festival, you’ll be ready to collapse on your picnic blanket as sun sets over the zoo. Tickets are still available, so get on to it.

We suggest practicing your singalong-with-Briggs beforehand

When: 5.30pm, Jan 26th 2019

Where: Royal Melbourne Zoo

This itinerary should provide excellent practice for when Celebrating Australia Day becomes mandatory under the Freedom of Patriotic Expression Act. We believe it will be simultaneously educationally exhaustive and terribly enjoyable. Hope to see you there.

*The aptly named Australian Flag Dreamlite Sleep Mask (without white border) is guaranteed to keep you blissfully unaware. It can be purchased here.

 

Geosyncline

Location: Ikara – Flinders Ranges National Park

Country: Adnyamathanha

Time of Visit: December

Imagine 1000 million years ago the earth’s crust stretches, smoothing out like a worked hide. Within the heavy centre of this movement a trough, a deep well for collecting water, subsides towards the belly of the planet. An ocean is formed. Bruise purple shale washes down from the mountains that surround it. Imagine 700 million years ago and the planet is cold. Glaciers scour their weight across what is now the Australian desert collecting rocks on their underbellies, massive on a human scale but insignificant to the ice tongues that lick them up. Eventually they will melt and release their treasure into the ocean. The seabed grows. Red mud and sand overlay the purple shale, followed by sands that will eventually become white quartzite.

There is not yet life on the planet’s surface but deep in the liquid womb of this inland sea bacteria and algae practice the alchemy of photosynthesis, releasing oxygen into the ever-thickening atmosphere. Over millennia, this wraps itself like a blanket around the planet and the ozone layer is formed. Three billion nine hundred million years after the earth forms out of the detritus of the sun’s formation it is finally protected from the blast furnace of cosmic radiation. Bacteria and algae evolve into more complex forms, and life emerges from the water onto land.

Shallow now, it’s more a tidal lagoon than an ocean, a graveyard of the weird beings of the Ediacara – the soft bodies of worms, jellies and pens and which will eventually be joined by the more familiar creatures of the Cambrian. Molluscs, coral like creatures and trilobites will all join them in their entombment.

Imagine now the action of a slow and extraordinary power, a build up of tectonic pressure pinching into the side of the seabed. All this rock and sediment, this record of life that helped birth the very atmosphere itself is squeezed in, uplifting all this history into a cup. Layers revealed to the light, a stratigraphy of purple, red, gray and white revealed as mighty, tilted ring on the landscape. Ikara.

Adnyamathanha tell it different.

The Kingfisher Man Yurlu travelled to Ikara to attend an important ceremony, lighting fire to mark his passage. But Yurlu was not the only one travelling. Two giant Akurra (serpents) were also travelling south to Ikara, entering the area through Vira Warldu (Edeowie Gap) and making camp at a waterhole.

The people who had gathered for the ceremony saw bright stars in the night sky and took this as a sign to commence. Yurlu arrived and took a firestick from Walha, the turkey, and threw it into the sky to become Wildu, the red star (Mars). The people who had gathered, however, had not understood that the stars they had seen were the eyes of the massive Akurra who took it on themselves to feast on those who had gathered. Only Yurlu, Walha and 2 initiates escaped.

Bellies full, the Akurra lay down to form the walls of Ikara.

Ikara – Flinders is a dreamscape, a rich quilt of beauty and complexity. The first thing that strikes you is the light. Despite drought and heat pushing up into the high thirties it bathes everything in a delicate haze and the colours shift and dance beneath the movement of the sun and the clouds. It seems ironic that the desert should look so much like a watercolour but then the underwater origins of the landscape are never far away. The spines of crumbling shale that push up through the landscape. The abundant fossil records. The rocks of Sacred Canyon that are soft and wave like, even when the waterholes are all but dried up.

Ikara-Flinders is awash with colour. 1000 million years of geology flows across the ground and climbs up the side of the ranges in a tangle of red, lavender, gold, pink, white, gray and green. Drive to the Bunyeroo Valley Lookout and all this is visible on an epic scale, an unreal cascade of uplift, colour and movement that defies comprehension. But it’s there on a small scale as well, in the extraordinary skins of the river red gums that are stained to match the landscape. Gnarled pelts  of rose and silver and lime that wind up in sheets around lost limbs, burned out bellies and other signs of age and injury. Don’t be seduced only by the grandeur of the ranges, take time to be with the trees, to rest your face against the big old gums and trail your fingers through the sticky, papery delicacy of the White Cypress Pines.

Ikara – Flinders is Adnyamathanha Country. Remember this, because apart from at Ikara itself this history is not easy to find. Adnyamathanha is a name that describes what were many disparate people before invasion. They were the Wailpi, Kuyani, Jadliaura, Piladappa and Pankala peoples. The National Park itself is in the process of recovery from its pastoral history, but outside its boundaries the country is still hurting. Ground is stripped bare and the horizon is punished by dust storms when the wind picks up.  Know that the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association is currently fighting proposals for both Unconventional Gas and a nuclear waste dump on Country.

And remember that the two Akurra, whose bodies create the glorious serpentine geosyncline of Ikara, are always present.

Slipstream

Location: Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

Time of Visit: June

18 hours door to door low cost carrier travel marathon. First trip to Japan. 2 adults, 2 teenagers, luggage, awkward bags of Kendo gear. Shuttle bus. Flight / transfer / flight. Keisei Skyliner to Ueno, load the SUICAs, JR Yamanote to Ikebukuro. Night time, subway, barriers: Tokyo is almost invisible until we barrel out of Ikebukuro East Exit and there it is, the city of the tourist brochures, walls of neon and late night food joints and we drag our bodies and bags to the Air BnB and ignore our exhaustion and hit the streets immediately. It’s about 10pm. We make the first of many trips to the 7/11 around the corner. It takes a couple of cans of “Sake You Can Easily Enjoy” (one in a pink can and one in blue) for me to realise that the roaring wall of noise is inside my head only.

Tokyo is a quiet city.

38 million people, the world’s most populous metropolitan area, a full 13 million more souls than Delhi. If Tokyo were a country it would be the world’s 8th largest economy.  I had expected to be dragged under by a Great Wave of people, pulled into a riptide of human movement that I had prepared myself to drown in. And yes there are a lot of people, although not nearly so many as I imagined. It is a busy city, but neither a noisy nor chaotic one. Tokyo hums and is electric.

Our apartment is right next to the train line, a stone’s throw from Ikebukuro Station, which is said to be the second busiest railway station in the world. A silvery modern concrete bento box, the apartment is tiny but one wall is constructed entirely from opaque glass bricks and so light diffuses throughout to make it seem larger. The sun rises early in June and the wall starts to glow with daylight from around four. Soon the trains will start, and keep going. The last few hours of sleep are delicately disturbed by the ambience of the city waking up.

On our first morning in Ikebukuro I sit on the tiny balcony with a three dollar breakfast, a plate of bean vermicelli noodles dressed with ham, pickles and sesame seeds. The air is starting to thicken ahead of the summer rains. The apartment is tucked away down the end of a small alley and I literally do not hear another human voice. Even when we make it out onto the main street, people slip by in something close to silence. Limited eye contact, quiet conversation, everyone maintaining awareness of the space around them. The triple laser beam call of the pedestrian crossing bounces around us. Pewww ….. pew pew.

There is a ramen joint just near us and there’s always a queue, which we join one morning at 10am before the doors have even opened. We stand politely on the street, huddled hard up against the wall so as not to hinder traffic, conscious of our overall western size, and the staff quietly take our order before we make it through the door. Inside is theatre, call and response between front of house and the chefs churning out bowls in the galley- like kitchen. It’s beautiful black and gold, like a 50s diner reimagined for Bladerunner 2049. Packed shoulder to shoulder on bar stools we make our way through ecstatically delicious bowls of melting pork loin in a deep, rich broth and the toothy bite back of quality noodles. You do not delay, people are waiting, the staff constantly calculating the movement and volume of seats. You finish your bowl and you leave, thrown back into the ambient velocity of the street.

Tokyo is a city of protocols and rules. It is not a place to celebrate your own individuality, but rather to subsume it. Move with the crowd, follow the arrows, be prepared ahead of time, don’t make it hard. The public spaces are not for you, they are for everyone. Do not eat in public. Do not speak loudly in public. Do not touch in public and do not be disorderly. In the public spaces, who you are as an individual is not important. Pay attention, learn the patterns of human interaction, repeat them, and Tokyo will be easy.

Back in the apartment we have the indulgence of a Western-Style bathroom, an absurd glass box that occupies a full quarter of the space. It hosts a full length free standing bath underneath a small window that you can wind right out to let the night in. I run the bath and look out into the summer darkness. The rattle of the trains, passengers in silhouette. Some pedestrian traffic on the other side, a lone skateboarder curling down the middle of the road. A multilevel carpark, where I see more people cleaning than I do cars.

There’s 38 million people out there, where are they hiding?

To visit Tokyo is to ride in the slip stream. You can disappear here.

Crow

Location: Nullabor Roadhouse, Nullabor Plain.

Country: Yalata (Kokata, Antakarinja, Pindiini, and Ngalea)

Time of Visit: February

Crow drops out of the sky like a bullet, featureless black against a flat palette of blasted blues and whites. Crow marks a heavy footed dance on the railing and gestures at the rubbish bins. He is massive and his chin is heavy with angry growths, the gift of a lifetime of roadhouse food. He leaps and hops in strident effort to attract my attention while I sip cool iced tea and stretch my legs. I have nothing to offer.

This is the true Nullabor, a single 200,000 hectare piece of limestone that rolls out as a pastel wash of blue white, gray green and salmon earth. Snarled, low trees stalk through the shimmer of the horizon. Maralinga and Woomera are just a few hundred kilometres to the north. It is as if we have not so much driven here as sailed across a sea of saltbush and bare earth.

Crow begins to talk. Not just the Wah of the crows in my backyard who wait to steal the eggs, the Wah that is the Kulin name given in the east to the other half of Bunjil. He talks with the actual cadence of language but without discernible words, bobbing his head and trying to catch my eye. I crouch down in the dust under the square metres of shade offered by the massive plinth designed for that purpose. I tell him again that I have nothing for him and he launches into the air on noisy wings.

Two men in singlets sit in green plastic chairs in front of the roadhouse watching. In the bathroom, three young women painstakingly attend to their hair and make up, apparently completely oblivious to the environment in which they find themselves. Banks of dirty gray clouds disappear into a long horizon.

Crow’s flight describes a circle and he swoops back. He comes in so close and so fast that I instinctively flinch and cover my face but he skids into the dust at my feet and starts his dance again, that garbled stream of almost words pouring out in crazy half song. I find him unsettling. I think that he may in fact be mad, although what would drive a bird mad out here?

This roadhouse emerges out of the treeless plain, bleached and colourless under the gray sky. Everything is white and it feels like we are standing on the edge of the world. I name the crow Lear.

 

Salt

Location: Wonjarup (Hamersely Inlet), Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia.

Country: Southern Noongar and Wagyl Kaip.

Time of Visit: February.

Wonjarup was formed by the Marchant, a giant serpent who twined his way through the landscape forming the valleys and the gullies. The depressions in the ground are where he rested, and his presence is still felt in the deep, calm pools.

Salt is hidden beneath the surface of Wonjarup where the Marchant slept. Salt is distilled as the water of Wonjarup, which has opened to the ocean only 10 times in the last century, evaporates under the West Australian Sun. You don’t see the salt at first past the sublime beauty of the massive inlet, the water shallow and gold and green, and fringed by low coastal forest. But after a time, the wind blows it onto your skin and makes it shine in the white sunlight. It will not let you sink when you give yourself to the water, lifting your limbs, holding you still. Salt creeps in between your toes and through your hair. It covers your skin and lips, flavouring everything you taste. It stings your eyes when you swim and washes you clean.

The salt is like a drug, slowing down time and movement. It is like the inlet has swallowed us whole. A seagull dances in the shallow water seeking food, bleached dead trees draped in spiders silk line the edge of the water, behind them endless green forest, the UNESCO listed biosphere of the Fitzgerald River National Park, and the twin peaks that break up the horizon beyond the glistening expanse of water. A giant lizard ambles slowly across the path. The sky is blue and as the evening descends turns salt white.

I sit in the late afternoon light with the sound of the wind and the insects. Each time my fingers touch my skin they collect salt.

Perhaps what marks us one from the other is how willing we are to surrender to landscape. We imagined the walk of those schoolgirls into Hanging Rock, lost in the ringing haze of rock, the heat shimmer of eucalyptus, the endless waves of insect noise. We imagined that their loss was terrible and we mourned the violation of the beautiful Miranda.

But what if she was not lost at all? What if she was swallowed up by time and space and simply chose never to return? What if Miranda lay down on those ancient rocks, liquid heat to the core of her being, and gave herself to the bush?

I could float in the salt water of Wonjarup and lie on the beach under the huge blue sky until my skin was covered in a cocoon of white crystals. The spiders would drape their silk over my body and the birds would cry above me and I would lose myself to the salt.