Adam Ridgeway (Worimi), Tyson Yunkaporta (Bama)
Here now. Two brothers walking, just like in the old stories. Not brothers by blood, but from this business, this yarn about a yarn we carry, from an older story, not of decolonisation but of de-civilisation. There’s a difference.
Crow and Oldman both made us see it, made us live it, so we will put part of it in print, after walking it, yarning it, dancing, singing, imaging and carving it in wood and clay for so long now. One brother Worimi with cultural and ceremonial ties all over NSW, out west and beyond. Other brother Wik by adoption with born-country and mob from the south, and ties all over. Us both-fla have intersecting ties and so we call each other brother from that, as well as from this knowledge, journey, business we share.
So that time, we’re driving, highway, trend analysis sitting heavy on our hearts and big dilemma bubbling up. When the crow and the earthquake happened, just after we finally sat with the reality and let it corner us, damage us, not flinching. Truth didn’t paint a good picture of us, not one bit, because we knew we weren’t prepared to die doing what was right, and that even if we did it wouldn’t change a thing. We knew the limits of the laws of physics and colonial law and old Law, but even worse the limits of our domesticated hearts.
We summarised there on the highway, driving: a civilisation relies on importing resources, because it demands eternal growth using limited resources and space. In a short time, the topsoil and then the water and then the other resources of the civilisation get used up and the local land is permanently destroyed. The civilisation then must go further and further, murdering people and stealing their lands to feed their need for growth. The biggest import is energy, which is provided by slaves. When the resources inevitably run out and the growth-based economy collapses, the slaves kill the masters (or the masters move on) and escape back to whatever is left of the land. Those “decolonised” slaves usually make the mistake of then building their own civilisation, so they can become the new masters.
Western civilisation has long passed the date when it should have collapsed. It has done this by multiplying its slave-energy system to include fossil fuels – the energy of things long dead under the ground – ghost slaves in oil and coal and gas. Those ghosts don’t let the rest of us living slaves off the hook though. We modern slaves have to provide our own upkeep as well as working towards the goals of the civilisation. Poverty, homelessness, sickness, imprisonment and death are the consequences of non-compliance. Indigenous elites are given a small amount of wealth in exchange for keeping their enslaved peers in line, and to provide the “success” stories to keep hope alive, to keep us all working individually, competitively to achieve that same wealth.
But there is not enough to go around as the civilisation slowly collapses. Still, we tell ourselves we work from the inside of illegitimate power to improve things, to use the master’s inequitable tools to somehow build something equal and sustainable. We lie. We take on the civil rights codes of former slaves in distant lands, people who dream of participating equally in the destruction of the earth and theft of Indigenous lands and resources. We take on this “black” politics of death, despite the fact that most of us no longer have dark skin. We dream the dream of civil rights, rights to civilisation, while we forget about our right to land and our real Dreaming. Meanwhile the resources disappear and the poison and the death multiply and what is left of the land dies.
Eight out of ten rivers in the world are now too toxic to support life. Ninety-seven per cent of the topsoil… Ah, forget the stats. Look at the land as we drive on this highway. See the dieback. See the erosion and dust and miles of nothing. Notice the lack of bugs on the windscreen. Everything is dying. In our pain as we drive along, our colonised minds seek refuge in hope. What about solar panels, alternative energy? Recycling? That recycling is toxic and energy intensive and uses millions of litres of water we no longer have. Solar panels require rare earth metals. Rare. Not infinite. Processing those metals is the most toxic and radio-active refining process in existence. The waste stays around for tens of thousands of years. What all “renewable” energies have in common is the need for mining and refining and production of equipment and infrastructures based on materials that are peaking and will run out, such as copper for wire.
In the car, on that highway, we look at our phones. More rare earth metal in there. Phones, so we can be proper blackfullas on Facebook, watch sport, listen to country music. You’re not a proper blackfulla if you don’t love doing those things, right? Country music, the soundtrack of colonialization, arising from the “manifest destiny” myths of the American Wild West and genocide of Indigenous people. So we love it, and sing along in an American accent, participating as equals in this colonial propaganda tradition. Proud! So proud also of our equal participation in sport. The mass “bread and circus” sporting spectacles invented by the Romans to keep domesticated people distracted, stupid, blissfully ignorant and docile, controllable. The sporting culture that is designed to train all people for nationalism – irrational, passionate loyalty to a side and mass uniformity of values, including competitiveness. So we love it, this sport, hook line and sinker. And through it we buy into nationalism, even though the concept of “nation” was only invented about a century ago as an assimilatory tool of mass control, and assert a story of ancient black nations, of future black nationhood. We dream of black passports, black parliaments, black refineries, black mines, black economies, black capital and black empowerment. We organise and mobilise and protest for this, then post it online, even though we know this social media is used for police surveillance and data-mining by massive corporations. We are so used to the extraction of land-based resources that we embrace the extraction of culture and call ourselves proud.
Ah, these phones, here in this car. We know what they are. We should throw them out the window right now – we have a responsibility to act on this knowledge, but here’s where the dilemma kicks in. We need them for work. Without them, we will lose our jobs, and then we will lose our access to food and shelter, for ourselves and the mob who depend on us. We see the phone tower coming up on the highway, same dilemma times a thousand. Knowing what we know, those towers all have to come down, right now. But we won’t do it because we are scared. We can’t do it because we will end up in a coffin or a cell, boxed up either way. We would be ostracised and hated by all, just for thinking this out loud. As slaves we have all been trained to police ourselves and each other with the threat of exclusion if anyone speaks outside of the interests of the civilisation. So dilemma again. We know what is real, but we refuse to step out of the illusion, refuse to act to end the slaying of all life on earth, to disrupt the civilising systems that trap and poison every being. We are too scared of dying to save our own lives.
Crow dives downwards just as we say that, smashes into the windscreen and tumbles away to the side of the road. We skid to a stop and back up. Dirt road, crow there dead, swirling feathers like leaves blackened on a scorching wind. He lies at the entrance to the dirt track, beak pointing straight at the phone tower. We get out of the car and follow.
We see. The tower is on top of a rounded mound, old spring water wells and ochre quarries all around, a raised ring of earth above. We know what that means. That tower must go. Downhill, a standing granite obelisk. Grief. Leaning on the rock we see where the crows have been doing their work, stuffing the cracks with the hair of the domesticated animals and people squatting on this degraded farmland, ceremony area. A “something”, waiting to be activated. We hear Waa calling and know what to do, both at exactly the same time, without words. We sing and dance up earthquake, right there. It’s hard. Afterwards there is no earthquake. But there is a feeling, a current running through that we can’t deny. Something has happened.
Back at the highway, we forget that feeling and recover our fear. A security vehicle has pulled up. A man sits with a large video camera, filming us. We spray dust as we take off and drive past too close for comfort – a petty defiance to ease our fear. Later, we tell maybe a dozen people, including Elders, about what we have experienced, then forget all about it. But a week later when we hear about the earthquakes we are forced to remember. True. There were earthquakes shortly after our dance, in that area and spreading out across Victoria, and the story spread the same way then too.
That’s when the peer-policing came into effect. It was young Aboriginal women who did this. Although Elders and Law men and Law women supported and encouraged us, those younger women condemned and warned us to keep those stories quiet from now on. These young black women asserted the authority for this not through culture, but through the liberal feminism of western civilisation, the feminism that Germaine Greer laments has given up on liberation and settled for equality. With this sitting alongside a similar Indigenous compromise downgrading land rights to civil rights, this generation of young black women had experienced a kind of intersectional collaboration with colonial and patriarchal power. They sought a new Indigeneity, one in which they could be strong and proud about their culture, while simultaneously being protected from it by the civilisation and empowered through the colonial economy. They needed to feel protected by the colony from the abuse and misogyny that they had come to believe was an original part of our culture. At a time when the media was vilifying all Aboriginal men as paedophiles and rapists, it was difficult to assert what we knew to be true about our culture when confronted by these women.
This was because our real culture tells us to respect and support women. So we did. We were proud of the way they tried to recodify rather than challenge colonial reality, subverting their patriarchal and colonial prison cells by utilising them. We changed our behaviour to show our support for them. We changed the stories to align with the ways they were re-codifying their reality. Specifically, we changed our roles in the stories to diminish our cultural agency as men. We emphasised the mistakes and fears, making ourselves into bumbling, laughable characters. It became a black comedy, and our young sisters were happy with it. Our old people, however, were not happy at all.
We were punished, growled terribly for it. We reviewed the big story we had been through together. All the miracles and signs along the way. Our first meeting with Oldman, how he knew all about us before we arrived. How he knew where we would be the next day across the continent, without us telling him, and without him ever having been there. He knew that song line and gave us the clues we needed to follow it down the mountain, along the river and to the sea. Turtle story too. Big signs. Years of journeys and of seeing and doing impossible things. We were joking about it all to make others feel comfortable and empowered. But we were not empowering them at all – we were only disempowering ourselves. And we were doing it out of fear. Fear of exclusion. Fear of outrage. Fear of loss.
No fear! That’s what Oldman kept saying, over and over, and that was the promise he got from us. No fear. So here we are, telling the story. There isn’t word-length space in here to tell our big story with Oldman, but we are putting it here as an image in this article. His painting tells all our story together, and we promise to keep living that story with no fear. He told us that, and Crow showed us that too, dying in the act. We have to remember. Still, we have to keep the laughter as well, and we learned that most important lesson from those strong young women. Warrior laughs because he has to. Otherwise he’ll kill himself and everything around him. Laughter is the highest function of a complete community.
The question now is how to build a complete community, with all these people at different stages of knowledge and integrity. To become sovereign is to see yourself as part of a system, part of a whole, not independent of it or even surviving within it. It is also to be part of a community, not a rogue acting alone or in one special elevated group. So we respect the mastery of those who have levels of integrity and knowledge beyond us, accept what they share in this relationship. We also respect those who are still struggling to begin the path to knowledge and integrity. Many of our people avoid that path, seeking instant gratification as Indigenous elites. We need to lift them up the right way too, and be patient with them, but also resist them to some degree.
To young people who are mobilising with so much amazing energy around the process of decolonisation, we offer you complete support. However, we also offer you a caution, if you want to accept it. Look hard at India, South Africa, Mozambique, Venezuela. Look all around the world and ask yourself if “developing” is really what you want to become. Decolonisation is deeply implicated with the processes and machinations of “development” and we need to unpack it carefully. Decolonisation means replicating the structures of the oppressors by the oppressed. De-civilisation is returning to our own structures and systems as sovereign peoples.
We ask you to listen to Crow and Oldman and consider a path of no fear. Consider the differences that may exist between decolonisation and de-civilisation, because a handful of us owning the machinery of our own destruction and assisting with the ravaging of our lands and communities by corporations may be empowering for some, but it can’t last. Perhaps we can’t go back to exactly what we had before in a material sense, but we certainly can keep the Law, the real Law, and follow a path of integrity leading to genuine stability and abundance. No fear.
Photo Credit: Oldman Juma ‘Star Dreaming’