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Rebekah Copas
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Brisbane, QLD, Australia
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An Essay for Permies in five parts: Part One

Posted by Rebekah Copas almost 13 years ago

It is an essay addressing the need for adequate intercultural communication between indigenous Australians and folk sustaining Permaculture environments.

After I had already written most of this essay, I had a Dream, and in the Dream I had, about my essay, my father points it out to me, that perhaps this essay was too open to the allegation of contributing to worsening the general pre-existing false picture, in which too many people in the world, have regarded indigenous Australians alike to being animals in a Zoo.  Australia being the Zoo, and black skin denoting whether or not a person was an animal or a human being, and various levels of social and physical imprisonment, denoting how dangerous the animal.  I didn’t like that dream Dad!  It was a dumb dream.  Besides, what were us white fellows doing with the animals in the zoo, unless we were worse animals, since we tried to fake being more human!  That was if the dream was true, but in real life, my father always makes sure out white family know that animal mindedness is animals doing, and not human. The real story is, that indigenous Australians don’t want to have to be studied like animals in cages, to be able to get the message of how to balance eco-systems.  I am somebody who didn’t have to study anthropology for long, to know that there was no way on Earth I could put myself into an anthropologists shoes, so as to learn what I wanted to learn about traditional indigenous people.  Neither was I inclined to become qualified in forensic psychology to validate what I know about the psychology of indigenous gaol inmates, although I have studied enough psychology and anthropology to know that these academic disciplines together, are as yet not adequately assessing the problems occurring through having removed indigenous Australians from traditional cultural contexts, and put them into criminal contexts.  Regardless of which, I do know a thing or two about indigenous culture, both within a traditional outlook, and within outlooks of extraordinary exposure to depravation, and the abuse of cultural belief, which every indigenous family with even one relation in gaol, will be feeling.  Once upon a time, I had a Dream, and I had it all by myself, without my father’s generous input.  In my Dream, I am being given lessons in how to regulate traditional indigenous Kinship, and I begin a process of self evaluation and social evaluation, of how well indigenous Kinship systems may work within mainstream Australian social life.


That is my Dream, but it did not ever belong only to me.  It is the Dream of a Nation, of a culture, and a race.  It is an essentially religious, or perhaps rather you prefer to call it a “Spiritual” dream, if you are not a very religious person.  I mean religious in the sense that, within the traditional culture of indigenous Australia the only reality is a sacred reality.  After I began dreaming among traditional indigenous people, or perhaps it is truthfully after I started to sustain conscious memory of having been having such dreams all my life, I thought I best find out how real my own Dreamtime is, and so, I went to the library. No, I could not afford to travel to Peru and drink Ayahausca, or even purchase dimethyltriptamine through the internet, or even swallow a few blue meanies, as I value my body in its motherhood, but I could go to the library, and research the content of my dreams.  In the local public library I found a Dreamtime story, which I recognised myself in, to the extent that when I went back to my home town, it came real on me within all the flora and fauna around me.  Next stop was the Menzies library at the Australian National University, where I read a PhD Thesis, or two, and corroborated information from within my Dreaming.  Then there is also the library of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, also in Canberra, where I used to live.  I corroborated more or less all of my Dreams from within the words written down on paper by anthropologists and linguists, and I could do so because I had been given, by my parents and grandparents, the best of access to a modern mainstream Euro-centric education.  But I didn’t much like being educated, yet right there on the pages on the books in the library, are all the stories I needed to simply walk out of feeling any need to be educated.  This essay is a story about me and my education.  It is also a story about traditional indigenous culture, because I walked on out of the mainstream of Australian social life, into indigenous culture and am still walking, still loving life, and feeling like I have achieved at least as much as my father with his PhD.  My father who also happens to be an indigenous Australia, but did not get given the self regard to let that aspect of his internal self identification, be considered sane.


In our family the possibility and probability of indigenous men and women existing among our ancestry didn’t count for much, and got systematically silenced by the generations of mothers who fought to safeguard their children’s futures within the mainstream of Australian society.  But then again, I have no inclination to publicly identify the fact of my probable indigenous ancestry, only for the sake of what could be gained from Centrelink of government funding for those with official letters of Aboriginal identity, accepted as Aborigines by the Australian government, when that kind of social identification embodied a far greater loss than the potential financial gain.  My probably Aboriginal ancestry is only probably only probable in the paper records of birth death and marriage certificates, but more actively identifiable within indigenous social contexts, in particular, if not by dark skin, as in my pale case, then by the patterns of involuntary contraction of the gracilis muscle of the inner thigh, which may be why early European explorations of Australia, used words like “fecundity” in application to Aboriginal women, as they gave us their STD’s.  Who would we be if we imagined the worth of our indigenous ancestors, was for nothing more than meagre government handouts, amounting to no more than what anybody else can get any way, and that combined with only receiving such when compliant with also accepting the worst of extreme negative racial stereotyping.  Stereotyping such as I have often enough received myself whenever known to have “probable” indigenous ancestry by the police, such as many Aboriginal former gaol inmates readily read in the shapes of my pale freckly face.


Those are the paragraphs I wrote after I thought I had finished writing this essay, and before writing quite a few more paragraphs thereupon at the end, extending the whole work into twice its original size, because I had a Dream from my father, who I like to include as often as I am able to.  That is despite his continuing failure to consciously recognise himself as indigenous, even while, within indigenous culture he can be defined, as owning his own true Dreaming.  His life, and that of my mother, and grandparents, are a testimony to the vast extent of racism in this country, that we ever could have failed to remember who we are.  Within indigenous culture, most often, the worst is presumed of families who intermarried with white people, and whose skin became paler over the generations, but in individual cases, as mine, being white is exonerated, and credited with another status altogether, which recognises the biological interdependence of white skin and black skin, and recognises our fate, in that we are white indigenous men and women, who have not, will not, and cannot, ever have blamed black skin, yet who allow ourselves to be blamed for our whiteness, by anybody who is not sure of who and what we are.  Therefore, you will not be surprised if, and when, this essay I am writing, may be radically discredited by some black folk, not because it is wrong, but because they are allowed to have gripes with me for being so white and simultaneously speaking up. Maybe they believed my father’s lies about himself in the Dreamtime. The voice embodied within works such as this, is  best read as black, and yet, in this instance, today, of this work, it has had to be me who wrote it, a white chick. But perhaps after all, it is not black or white, and not brown or pink, this essay, but grey.  Grey about the shades of grey we all need to face. Shades of grey such as questioning who it is I refer to when I write “we” and “us”, are constantly surfacing, and submerging, and being exposed, and resurfacing in this essay, as my “we” is both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and also folk of other lands.  My “we” is who we are who are motivated by the desire to prevent environmental catastrophe, while simultaneously, being good husbands and wives, parents, and sons and daughters.  Children of our own parents, but also of the soils of the Earth, to who we always will be only children until we prove ourselves capable of reversing global warming.  This is a greyish essay, which already had another beginning, before my dream, which goes as follows.




HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO INTEGRATE OUR WORK IN ALIGNING ECOLOGICAL BALANCES WITH LOCAL INDIGENOUS CULTURE AND ECONOMICS?  Is it important to align work in ecology with indigenous society?  Do I know the answers to these questions, without any social input from indigenous society?  AN ESSAY ABOUT INTERCULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS.


These maybe questions many of us ask of ourselves on a daily basis.  Are we doing the right thing, to be forging ahead in our work in permaculture, without having our work consciously corroborated by the local, often excessively oppressed, indigenous minority?  We can just as easily ask ourselves, what is oppression, and be no more or less capable of delivering our inquiring mind with an answer.  Usually we will find, (us white Australians), that if we get it wrong, indigenous voices are among the first to note that fact, whereas all our best work to advocate for indigenous people, and against racism, seldom gets noticed.  However, in this the reality, it is that sometimes, what may seem like ignorance from local indigenous people, is covert approval.  And yet we still so often wish for, and even yearn for, overt indigenous acceptance.  Why?  Is it a reasonable demand we make of our indigenous neighbours, friends, and in my case, distant relations, that they attend to us approvingly, as babies need?  That they wrap their minds around a predominantly imported ecological balance, because it may supply more food to a settled population, and is what our European ancestry teaches us?  And all the while, a covert approval of permaculture is rampant among indigenous Australians, even among those who might have overtly dumped their load on the heads of “permies”.  Most of my indigenous friends regard the permaculture scene as slightly beneficial, and just slightly dense when it comes to basic indigenous concerns for the value of indigenous flora and fauna.  As though the obvious has yet failed to occur in the minds of most permies.  What obvious you may well ask, and to answer I think I’d have to write a whole essay, which is what this essay is being planned as.  It is like the conversation inside my head, between my indigenous heart, (with a role in the Dreamtime born of remote indigenous Australian ancestry,), and my scientifically trained self regard, (born of my father’s PhD in organic chemistry, and almost as many European ancestors as most white Australians have), in which I need provide, from within my heartfelt understanding of what for me is the real world, words which define in a western European outlook, why indigenous Australian culture is often ill understood, seldom accurately qualitatively assessed in its sciences, and simply a normal state of mind for me to be experiencing.  I write from within an indigenous perspective, and so the rhetoric of the essay’s title, is unlikely to find repetition in many of the following paragraphs.  Indigenous storytelling, is always expected to be at its most accurate, and therefore most scientific, when it follows a pattern of self referential narrative, in which sequences in time have predominant meaning.  Self referential, because, if I cannot reference my meaning, by making strategic links between the story I am telling, and how my own life is being lived, which can enable those who receive the story, to assess its accuracy for themselves, by assessing me myself, then it would be worthless since it might as well be anybody’s story mixed up with anybody else’s.  So here at the beginning, I assert of this, my essay about the relationships between indigenous culture here in Australia, and the theory and practise of permaculture, that I am not just anybody to be able to be telling this story.  I am an indigenous woman whose own life story bears direct relevance to the interrelationships between permaculture and indigenous culture.  Therefore, to introduce my essay properly, I need tell a little of my own life story at the start.  But also, in telling this whole story properly, I need to tell it as it arrives into my mind, in the same sequences.  The same sequences in which the paragraphs first occurred to me to write them, the same sequences in which words come into my brain, as I string sentences together, and the same sequences I lay in bed earlier thinking about using as headings within the body of the essay.  I must not veer from my original thinking, and those exact sequences, if the essay is to sustain real value within indigenous cultural contexts.  So perhaps it will fall into rhetoric again, but for now, I prefer if I resist from rhetoric, as it holds no meaning within indigenous culture.


Why rhetoric is hardly acceptable discourse within indigenous culture, is as good a place as any to follow the thread of my story and keep on writing it down.  Rhetoric is like saying “I don’t know, but I want to be who tells you the answer, so instead, I will ask you to give me the answer before you read it, and before you find out that I didn’t know the answer, without you reading my question in the future”.  So maybe, everybody ought not be expecting me to give any answers to the questions I write, but simply let my questions direct the attention, and line of thought, of you readers for a while. Because while I do not know the answers as often as I wonder what the answers are, and am not ashamed to say so, I do know that the direction of my thought can be accurately assessed as being towards reafforestation.  Instead of using rhetoric to frame up questions I want to write down my own version of the collective human subconscious replies to, my words meander through a range of considerations I have developed in me, in respect of what non-indigenous Australians maybe don’t already know, and maybe need to know, from within the knowledge possibly able to improve viable communication between non-indigenous Australians and indigenous Australians. 


Within indigenous culture, how I may introduce myself, is as brief as by saying, I got born in Armidale NSW, within a Rainbow Serpent story, I have lived in Hobart, Adelaide, Canberra, Oxford, London, Coonabarabran NSW, then back to Canberra, then back to Armidale again, then Kyogle NSW, and now live here in Brisbane, and when I travelled my own Dreaming home to Armidale in 2002, at the age of 34, I saw four black goannas at the bottom of Big Hill, a red bellied black snake at the top, and a few rare wallabies further along.  Then I could also add, that I have been given a Sugar Glider Dreaming.  And these scant facts about me, tell more than the rest of this essay is likely to be capable of.  What this communicates about me, is the exact nature of my character, within all my weaknesses.  I have the weakness of places I have lived in me, and the weaknesses of the animals I dream.  What is left out of the picture of how we introduce ourselves within indigenous culture, is our essential human integrity, not because it is not important, but because human integrity will shine through all the more when it need not be mentioned.  My human integrity is scantily mentioned by me, in that I will assert here also, I belong now also within an Emu clan as well as to my white family.  This combination of facts, communicates something very particular about me, which any indigenous men who know their animal stories, will pick up on, but which, outside of indigenous Australian cultural contexts, might seem only like I wanted to present myself as a bad guy at the outset.


Within mainstream Euro-centric Australian culture, how I may introduce myself is far more complex, yet less communicative.  I might need to assert my birth place, and current residence, and so we find to begin with that common threads run stronger than we tend to openly acknowledge.  I might also want to mention that although I do not have a tertiary qualification, I have studied in tertiary institutions, (courses in anthropology, linguistics, sociology, history, politics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology, bio-chemistry and micro-biology, counselling, community education, psychology, economics, marketing, and alternative medicine), but there is no institution in Australia where I could have learned the knowledge I most value.  I have worked in specific organisations, at specific tasks, and therefore have particular recognisable skills, (for example, as a receptionist, and in fast food production, and as a youth worker, excluding all my voluntary work, which required of me far more skill).  And I find myself wanting to add some anomalous facts about myself, for example, that I, by total accident, “found myself”, at a traditional indigenous Corroboree, held at the site where the first fleet landed and claimed Australian as British, at the eve and dawn of invasion day, (also known as Australia Day), during the bicentenary year of the invasion of Australian by the United Kingdom.  The Corroboree was inclusive of a ceremony known in Yolgnu language as Rom, which is like an ambassadorial introduction into Yolgnu culture, and is essentially the singing and dancing of an entire song cycle, in a way which is inclusive of each of the different natures of patterns of human thought.  That is to say, inclusive of every of the twelve tribes of Israel, and each of the seven Churches of Jesus Christ, and each of the seven ways of pronouncing Qur’an, and each of the twelve major, and twenty seven minor, songlines, as producers of specific known healthy psychological patterns of thought.  To say that I “found myself” is almost an understatement, since my presence at this Corroboree has significantly enabled me to sustain life long good self knowledge.  At least as significantly within me as my mother and father have been in enabling good self knowledge.  In terms of status within indigenous culture, presence at such a Corroboree, is considered by some to be an equivalent status to that of having a University degree, and by others, an equivalent status as having been accepted at birth as having five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot.  Such is the disparity of relative degrees of acculturation within traditional indigenous cultural concepts, among the modern day Australian indigenous population.  So this brings me to the first point I need to make, in order to carry out my intention with this essay, of enabling “permies” to either, more adequately communicate permaculture principals among indigenous Australians, or enable permies to be enablers of indigenous contributions into the body of knowledge and experience which modern permaculture is, whichever way any permie wants to think of this essay being worth reading. Both as learners and teachers I believe that permies successes will prove eventually to be permanently bound together with indigenous successes.


This essay is broken into six subtitled segments of the original draft, and a further series of passages, which added themselves onto the end, after I had dreams of such words being relevant.  You can witness in how my essay reads, that it works that bridge over the gap between mainstream (and alternative) educated Australian culture, and indigenous Australian culture, from the European dominated end, across to the Aboriginal dominated end. Before moving on I ought also add, that there are a few matters about which this essay is going to be repetitive.  However, my style of repetition, very much belongs within indigenous ways of communicating through story telling.  Within the cultures of folk with pale skin, we tend to imagine that having to repeat oneself, (so long as everybody was paying attention the first time around), might denote that the story teller was lying, and wanting to cover up the lies.  However, within the cultures of folk with darker skin, repetitious statements are no more than a way of placing social emphasis.  The reason for this, has a difficult explanation, but I will try to provide it very briefly here.  There is a basic biological difference between black skin and white skin, that can be experienced as negative racial discrimination, or racism, just as readily from being denied, as from being overtly pointed out.  Within that biological different, people with dark skin, have a biological basis for different ways of receiving ideas in their mind.  Their internal witness differs from persons with pale skin, in that they witness more imagery of the shapes of the world, where as pale skin can witness more of what is more repetitive in the world.  Conversely also, darker skin folk tend to be more precisely capable of discerning what needs repeating, while paler skin folk tend to be more careful about how they shape the world of their own dreaming.  This is a simple equation to put together, and within this way of thinking about one aspect of racial difference, (as skin colour really is only one aspect of racial difference), what I ought to disclose, is that I am writing this with an audience of both black and white Australians in mind.  So I am going to be repetitive, whenever I feel like it, not because I am rudely asserting that you white readers didn’t interpret my emphasis accurately the first time, but because the black readers in future, are emphasising within my mind now, that it is a good point to reiterate.  This point here may well be a good point to reiterate itself, however, mainly for white readers rather than for black, to tend to be more likely to already have this concept under their belts.  To emphasise my point, I might only add, that within traditional indigenous older women’s sign language, there is a difference between the sign for boyfriend, and the sign for husband, and in Auslan, the official Australian sign language for deaf people, there is also a difference between the sign for boyfriend and the sign for husband.  However, what means boyfriend, or unmarried love relationship, in Aboriginal sign, is strangely alike to what means marriage in Auslan, while what means boyfriend in Auslan, is strangely alike to what means marriage in Aboriginal sign language.  In Aboriginal sign the left hand touches the back of the right wrist for boyfriend-girlfriend, and in Auslan the left hand touches the back of the right hand for marriage.  In Auslan, the right forefinger touches the chin for boyfriend-girlfriend, and in Aboriginal sign, the right forefinger touches the throat for marriage.  In this we have perhaps the clearest depiction that there is, of what racial difference is, and of why our ignorance can inadvertently cause negative discrimination, if only you comprehend sign languages.


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Mark Brown
Mark Brown : wow rebeka - I read some of it but is is intense for me. I wonder if we need to complicate life that much . I tend to live in the moment where the past and the future are not as important as the now and how we allow ourselves to deal ethically with the challenges we face.
Posted almost 13 years ago

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