Last week started with a blast of culture in the form of Pascoe & co. The visit of Dr Bruce Pascoe with Liz Warning & Erica Glynn from Blackfella films was a long anticipated delight. Allan Tighe came out of course and the 5 of us had a great day looking at conventionally scarred (garden variety) scartrees – as well as some Ring trees and wood & stone artefacts. Jason Wilson arrived at lunch time & came for dinner as well to spend some quality time with Bruce. It is always good to be around like minded people as farmers and first nations people have much in common. There is a shared desire to protect the land while keeping it productive. It has been a steep learning curve out here the last 180 years or so dealing with whatever the climate and markets send our way. If we had of had a greater recognition of the survivability, longevity and land management skills of Aboriginal people fewer mistakes would have occurred. Anyone interested in the subject of indigenous land management should get a copy of Bill Gammage’s “The biggest estate on earth, how Aborigines made Australia”
I was thinking about the Ring trees & other manipulated saplings and wondered if those in a particular place could have been made by one person? Some scars seem to carry trademark embellishments and may also be the work of a single individual. When searching for traditional reasons in the field of CMTs (culturally modified trees) it’s easy to overlook the influence of outliers in Aboriginal society. Maybe there was a long line of Ringtree makers who knew the best tree species and seasons to work with? Perhaps there were simply single creative types who enjoyed shaping living timber. They could have had exhibition spaces at popular campsites like Sydney’s sculptures by the sea. These living tree sculptures would grow and evolve over time. The trees here that seem to best take to this bending and shaping are Coolabah, Leopardwood, Rosewood, Whitewood, Belar & Wild orange. For all the many talents of the humble Bimblebox, the ability to merge and fuse is not one of them apart from one memorable exception that proves the rule.
I have read accounts of Kamilaroi Bora ceremonies and most of the soil sculptures were of totem animals & Byamee + wives. Some of the pathway trees between the 2 ceremonial rings were specially scarred with various animal & astronomical shapes but many just had bark figures cut from other trees tied to them. Unless rocks were used to mark the Bora rings there is little evidence left to show these old initiation sites here except eucalypts burnt from the inside. Perhaps the people wanted more permanent markers of ceremonial events or places and Ring/plaited trees were created? Hard to know now what was originally intended but I search for them with glee. If we could find a Dendrochronologist ( dendro = trees Chronology=time ) we might be able to get some approximate ages. Apparently eucalypts are very difficult to date but leopardwoods & rose/whitewoods are mostly solid and may be easier.
Finally a belated thanks to Denise Bowden CEO of the Yothu Yindi foundation & the crew who ran the Garma festival at Nhulunbuy NT. What a show they put on with the evening Bungal full of traditional dance & plenty of music & singing. The art show & culture walks by the Yolngu rangers were also fantastic. We generally stayed away from the politicking & public servant talkfests going on down at the auditorium. Given the government types & corporates totally outnumbered the general admission people this sometimes proved difficult. Met some interesting locals & travelers alike and learned much about Arnhem land as well.