The rain kept coming in thin misty sheets, but the air wasn’t cold. Walking through the woodland of flooded gums along the river a multitude of bird and frog songs came to our ears. The birds were clearly excited at the changing conditions of rain and then sun. A pair of Shelducks with orange-chests and widely spread wings flapped noisily down their flight way of the river’s surface. A mother yonga, or kangaroo, licked her daughter’s wet grey coat affectionately and then stood tall and stared at us, the furless intruders. The earth sprang wet and fresh to my eyes. Angular Babylon was merely a memory.
John Seed is a well known Australian environmentalist and spokesperson for deep ecology. Since the late seventies he has been involved in rainforest activism, most famously for Australians at Terania Creek in north-east New South Wales. He has run many workshops over the years teaching people to move beyond having just ecological ideas, to having an ecological identity. What is more we need to go beyond having merely social self, to having ecological self. John thinks that we have a tendency to forget who we really are and to wander off into socially constructed identities. His group process workshops, known as the ‘council of all beings’, have helped to restore a sense of the human being implicated in the web of life for many people, at places as far away as New England. The other night John Seed spoke at Kulcha, the world music performance venue in the centre of Fremantle. Earlier in the day I had the pleasure of showing him some of the flooded floor of the Avon Valley. Here is the sight that greeted our eyes as we entered the Darling Ranges…
I kept looking around me with a sense of curiousity as I and John walked along a path through Walyunga National Park. I’m used to living in a dry and crackling place, and I couldn’t get used to all this water… I couldn’t get used to this feeling of gurgling surfeit and softness that it gave my home.
In winter the Nyoongar went inland, to places like this sheltered river valley. The rain has been falling frequently over the last few weeks in south-western Australia and the Swan River, called the Avon where we walked along its banks, has swollen and flooded its edges. The water, brown from the soil it flows over through the wheat belt, roared over the rapids, and chuckled in the feet of the melaleucas, and then flowed with a quiet lapping sound in the broader streches of the river’s path. Most of the rivers coming out of the Darling Ranges were dammed for Perth’s water use before I was born. Here it is big winter flow.
And then the flow returns to where I live most of my days, to Fremantle…
John is a stout white-beared elder of deep ecology. Hanging out with him you get a sense that unless you’re tapping into some kind of spirituality in your life then you’re really just mucking around. The sky darkened over Fremantle, and the lights of Kulcha shone from its balcony. Sitting in the crowd and listening to John that evening, it was refreshing to hear from someone who experiences ecology and spirituality as so deeply intertwined. So often you hear environmentalists, or professional ‘natural resource managers’ talking about the ‘environment’ as something out there. For John ecological self is the water that falls from the sky and flows through our veins, it is the plants that come from the earth and then make up our body. Gaia, the mother, exists before us and will exist after us, and this is something to sing praise for. As John spoke, and showed some of his films, his sense of confidence in his view of the universe, and happiness about that view, shone through. After all these years Australia’s premier deep ecologist is still smiling.
These words come from John’ song ‘Water, fire and smoke’:
‘I’ve pondered and worried/ I’ve tightened the rope/ I’ve feasted on sorrow and starved out my hope/ Now I come like a lover/ my heart in my throat/ give me water, fire and smoke.
Water for planting/ my eyes and my ears/ fire the transformer of sorrows and fears/ smoke for the ancestors, drawing them near/ with the water, fire and smoke.
So run from the church yard, the work and the cross/ run to the forest, the rivers and the rocks/ you will find a green alter deep in the moss/ you’ll find water, fire and smoke.’