Hello from Sydney!
It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog — sorry! I’ve been either very busy or crashing. Since my last post I spent five days camping in the outback in Kakadu National Park, went hiking for two days in the Blue Mountains, conducted field work at Smith’s Lake, and am now stationed in Sydney. There is so much to write about I don’t even know where to start.
In Kakadu two beautiful souls guided us around Nourlangie, Mt. Bundy, Guymarr, Anbangbang Billabong, Ubir, East Alligator River, Warradjan, and Mamukala. My time spent in Kakadu was nothing short of phenomenal. There was a palpable sacredness that I sensed everywhere we visited. We slept in tents, so sleeping on the ground I felt so close to my Mother Earth. It shifted something in me. I really felt like Kakadu gave me back to myself, if that makes sense to anyone. There were a lot of things I was lost about before arriving and now I feel like more of a whole person. Although it was a magical trip, there were definitely some challenges for me. First of all, I caught a bad cold in Brisbane, which lasted my entire camping trip. I also fell in Brisbane, so my elbow and ankle were injured during the intense hikes. I embraced the whole experience though and I actually have a lot of gratitude for the challenges, because I realized it was my choice whether or not to enjoy myself during the trip. One of the guides took a liking to me and actually pulled me aside to put Dogwood Eucalypt tree sap on my ankle cut. It is a traditional Aboriginal “second skin” type of natural bandaid. He explained how he was making it and applied it to my foot. The next day he walked me to a tree to show me where he had gotten the sap. Then he looked me in the eyes and said, “you remember what I did? Here. Take this with you.” He handed me a tin Eclipse mint box filled with crushed up Dogwood sap, just like the one he has. It was a simple yet very meaningful moment for me. He had taught me something, passed on his own knowledge to me, and trusted that I was someone who would appreciate it. It meant a lot to me. He was a beautiful man with powerful, disturbing, and enlightening stories. His father was apart of the Stolen Generation, which is a generation of Aboriginal children who were abducted by the European Australians and assimilated by the church. There is a lot more about the Stolen Generation that I could tell you about and it will definitely be an element in my performance project. Anyways, this man told me the story of his father as he was applying the sap. It was a vulnerable interaction that I felt very humbled by and grateful he was willing to share with me.
Something that I found really interesting in our class discussion the other day is that a big way that the west “conserves” nature is through establishment of National Parks. This is effective in some ways, but my professor pointed out this is also a way of separating humans and nature. There is the park, where wild nature is, and then there is the life we humans live, in civilization. I drew a parallel to street art with this same concept two days ago when I was in Bondi Beach. Bondi has street art lined up all over this one street. It’s breathtaking and powerful. I was so excited because it’s art in the street! It’s not just in galleries. It’s not just for people who pay. It’s art for everyone to see and it’s art mostly with messages or with strong images. I realized the significance of street art because it embraces humans and art in the same arena, rather than separating art and humans, much like galleries or theatres may actually do.
Last weekend I saw the Bangarra Dance Theatre do a performance at the Sydney Opera House. Bangarra is an Aboriginal modern dance company and the name literally means “to make fire.” Not only was the show AMAZING, but I had a very interesting experience going because I went with my classmates, who are mostly science majors. It was fascinating to listen to their commentary afterwards. In fact, as soon as the show was over one girl turned to me and said, “I didn’t follow all of it, but it was cool.” Most of the people who I spoke with were more concerned with following the storyline. They kept asking me if I got the whole story. It made me think… There is no objective right or wrong way to experience a piece of art. Some people said they would have liked it more if they knew what was going on or if someone told them the story. I responded to this by saying you can go see a piece of art and have an experience, but not really know what it was about. It’s not about being able to follow a story, it’s about experiencing what the story has to offer you. Personally, I was very affected by the story. It was the telling of first contact with European Australians. I was crying for half the show. There were two very powerful moments that I have to share with you. One of them was when two dancers came on stage, one painted black (almost like blackface) and one painted in white ochre, which Aboriginals use to do sacred paintings on their bodies or to make rock art, etc. Then two other dancers came and washed the paint and ochre off. It was literally like their “blackness” and heritage and sacredness and whatever else you want to associate with the paint was being stripped from them. It was a visual representation of assimilation in a very disturbing way. The other moment I want to share is when a large number of Aboriginal dancers entered the stage with “X”s on their shirts. Someone told me afterwards they didn’t get why that was. I told them I interpreted that as those people being colonized, being assimilated, and literally crossed out. I am a very big fan of this dance company and I hope to see them perform again one day!
I am only in Sydney for two more days before I leave for the Daintree Rainforest and Cairns, where I will get to see the Great Barrier Reef! So much more to share… I will try to update more frequently from here on out!
Here are photos of the Bondi Skatepark street art and Kakadu Rock Art overlayed w/ Nourlangie Rock: