The land near Menindee is a land that moves in secret ways and holds the secret, chambered valleys of Mootwingee.
Here the plains are broken by the soft contour of the Bynguano Range, in which lie hidden and sweet vales and rock art galleries of the Wilyakali tribe.
From the time of Wills, who made note of "a romantic gorge", no visitor has failed to remark on the haunting mood of the Mootwingee. A pebbled ravine leads through the soft light of leathery-leafed beefwood, mulga and massed pine to a dark, wind-riffed water hole held in a chalice of warm rock, where creep the painted dragon and bearded gecko.
There is silence and a sense of great age as the path winds upward toward a high amphitheatre of red rock. Directly ahead rises a huge orange wall, and overhanging it a massive roof of sandstone. On the back wall of this tremendous porch, looking pitifully small, are the ochre-coloured paintings of the Aborigines, made in what deep of time no man knows. A long snake, trimmed in white, wriggles forth from the dreamtime when the ancestors made things.
Rainbow Serpent by Maureen
NPT: The sacred sites of Western Australia...do Nyoongar people visit them generally for spiritual purposes?
RB: Sacred areas and places of strong concern to Aboriginal people still exist...and what we're saying...the Aboriginal people...White Man will never clearly understand what it really means to us. I suppose that he can't because he's a White Man. He can only listen, he can only make judgements of what he thinks is right and what is wrong where our culture is concerned. Nationalities of people, where culture is concerned, should never sit in judgement of one another's cultures.
The spiritual beliefs of us, the Aboriginal people, it's something that is well appreciated by us. It's a beginning for us. It's our life and it's passed on from one generation to another. It lives with a day to day, month to month, year to year basis and it is begun from the beginning of time, not just 200 years back down the track when the European-living lifestyle came up onto the foreshores of this holy and sacred ground of ours and...we could never be shaked out of it, no matter how much laws the White Man makes, how much decisions he makes also and sits down and plans and talks about things...he can never shake us out of the Land. Because we in the Land, we in the running water, we in the air we breathe, we in the day and the night, the wind, the rain, in each blade of grass, each grain of sand and all that represents the history and the chapters if you like, if you want to put it in White Man's terms. But that's our way of looking at it and each Aboriginal person, be they male or female, are the carriers-on of this book that's put together, if we want to put in that way...a natural book, through human feeling, through human brains, human knowledge of how we pass through our generations.
On the other hand the White Man has all his records, his rules and regulations. But ours is a continuation on of the Sacredness that is with us all the time, there's mans, there's womans, there's a Sacredness...areas that are so important to us that if you destroy it all you will be destroying us as human beings. When I say if you destroy it all I mean that if the Government starts to plan and plot...I came from a meeting today in Perth and that meeting was the spiritual old blokes talking about what'll happen in the Kimberleys if the big dam took place and the damming up of the rivers and all that. It was put in a nutshell very strongly by one of the speakers...it's in me too and it's in a lot of other Aboriginal people that if the Land itself could talk it would say "Don't hurt me". If the trees, the running water and all the Sacredness...they would be all saying the same thing. Leave nature as it is...and if you're going to start moving along and progressing and trying to trample on Sacredness here and there...we say now that the waters was once clear and clean and cold and it run freely, we say now the water is mucky...and it's groaning and moaning to run freely because it's been polluted...crying because their mothers and fathers have been cut down, that means the old trees. The roots in the ground are saying "Please don't cut us". The Land itself, where the hills are...the beautifying scenery is saying "Please don't mine here". If you're going to mine, mine properly, if you're going to progress, progress properly but don't become over-greedy. Don't just destroy everything. Just take enough in a balanced way, as we move forth from today onwards into the future, which we say, the Aboriginal people, moving in the hopes of tomorrow. The Sacredness, it can never be divided from us because if you take the Sacredness from us it's like taking the blood from us and if there's no blood your heart will stop, the whole of your body will stop functioning. This is what we mean when we talk about Sacredness.
Where we sit now making this tape (ie, the interview Editor's note) the surrounding walls in this dome...it's got paintings. And the paintings are of hills, trees, valleys and they're done by a young member of this community. To any person that is not of Aboriginality, if there was a white person sitting here, he'd see a lovely picture. But we'd see a picture we'd see behind it.
NPT: It looks alive.
RB: Yeah. We see visions and we read what those markings are and it's the Dreaming stories. Dreaming stories mean that it's a spiritual ghost-like image we can foresee in there and we listen hard and long for the tales and the stories that go with it. And that's what spiritual belief is all about. I can't go any deeper than that. I can go deeper and deeper and seriously down to the real secret Sacredness things but I'm not allowed to say that. There is a lot of spiritual things that Aboriginal people can do. They can still track...on hard ground, soft ground, over rocks and that type of thing still exists further up in the outer areas of each country town. And...it's there forever. It's not going to go away. Most of the old people...they are the real story tellers and the young people are learning, some of them are just turning their backs on it. It's sad in a way. But we hope that it will still be around for a long time yet to come. We don't want to just put it into a framed picture and say "Oh look, isn't that a lovely picture that the Aboriginal person painted. We want scenes to be real. We want places of importance to be left alone...so people can go through and see these things...and read them and sit down in peace and think clearly of the happiness that we had while you're sitting in the surroundings.
No, I can't tell you any more than that because these paintings...even what we've got around the walls here...they all have a meaning, a story to tell...our sacred sites and sacred areas. Everything around where the spiritual Dreamings are and the spirits and so on have got real meanings.
RB: When we have a problem we go and lay near our mother or father who’s dead. We go and lay down for a night or whatever... if it’s serious. We believe that we will come away in the morning a lot wiser and a lot relaxed after laying down and sharing that human concern with the dead spirits of the people who were alive and died.
A lot of things indicate to us...when we feel that someone’s gonna bring bad news...like a dog howling...gumblgari is a type of night owl and it lays in a red gum tree...in the daytime it sleeps and it’s camouflaged ‘cause its colour’s the same as the bark. Then it comes out at night time and then it makes a noise around your camp or where you staying. We had a few back here a couple of months ago and I had to get out and go and chase them away because there was two calling out and I had a torch...so I couldn’t kill ‘em because they was too high up. The Law was we had to kill ‘em and burn ‘em so all I had to do was, being old, I put the torch on ‘em and slung a piece of wood at ‘em, it hit the tree and they flew away. But the gumblgari makes a noise like “Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm”...he goes like that on and off , he has a breathe then he goes “ Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm”. In our time...when it was strong, sun would come up, you could hear him “Hmm, hmm”...then he’d go (Editor’s Note: RB mimics a bird sound which cannot be correctly printed) he’s gone. Then we get up and we say “Oh look...that gumblgari was ‘round here last night...we experienced this. And ...my Father was alive then, we couldn’t kill it so we let it sing its song out and make its noise in the morning. The next day we were sitting around the camp fire and then we see this big, tall person coming. It’s an Aboriginal man...coming down the bloody track towards the camp and my Mum got out ‘cause us kids said “Someone’s coming”...’cause Dad got out and Mum and they knew what was happening. This fella come along and he stood so far from where my Mum and Dad was standing and...they knew. He stopped, he put his head down and then he walked slowly towards ‘em, put his hand out. He shook the hand of my Mum and my Father then he turned ‘round and told them that...told my Mum that her Brother In Law died.
NPT: So White Man hasn’t been able to destroy the life of the Land?
RB: Yeah...and we still talk like that. The Land...we look at the Land... we say “That Land’s human”. And...we feel for it. When we see a hill being cut away we feel sorry for it. And...when we see an old tree going to be chopped down we say “No, no...that’s our Old Man or that’s our Old Woman...we must leave ‘em alone”. Like in Armadale (a suburb of Perth), that big, huge three hundred year old or whatever, two hundred year old tree, I think it was a Jarrah, was in danger of being slaughtered. There was a petition going around for or against. We wrote a letter down this time we signed and said look...”Leave that Old Man alone...can’t you wait a little longer?...he’s gonna die”. And we put into words...to effect in our own way...with our writing with spiritual feelings.
NPT: Did they listen?
RB: A letter came back, a very mild letter but it was a letter showing some concerns of what we said. And I think well after that another letter followed and said “The Old Man’s going to live for a while because the time’s been delayed”. Well...we was glad. We said “Oh look, he’s going to live for a while, a little while longer”. And those are the things that we look at. Now along this road here, not far from here, when you go out this gate and you go out on to the next turning there’s a bus stop there and there’s a Jarrah tree and a Sheoak and a Banji...and those three trees are real important to us because they was there in the Camp days. They was there when Joe Louis was champion of the world in his time. That was going back in the...right back to the Thirties and the Forties. And we’ve come a long way from then ‘til now. Those trees are very very important to us because they sheltered us when there was no road there no houses. We lived just over the road from where the road is now. We had Mimi’s there we had camps there and that sort of thing. Well today we say there’s a Winarj spiritual woman over there, she cries around. We say “O well, she’s not coming to hurt us because we lived there and she’s showing herself now and her crying must be in sadness because the Bush and the trees and we are gone from that area”. We’re not there...but we’re over here. Now this community...from this way onwards right through to Mills Springs, south of Roebourne, we have a spiritual guide, a spiritual Dreaming woman and she’s protecting us I’m told by an Elder from way up in that area and that Elder was related to my father’s sister. She’s dead and my father’s dead and that Elder is still going, he’s real old but he’ll be turning back to his own home town. So all this spiritual Dreaming and spiritual beliefs is...this community’s linked up with Alice Springs, linked up with Umbulgari in the North, that’s way out from Wyndham where the five rivers meet and go out to the sea...that’s my father’s country. We linked up with the Central Reserve, Warburton Range, Jamieson Blackstone, Linton Bore right through to Dock River and right into Alice Springs.
NPT: It doesn’t matter if you speak different languages?
RB: No...we linked up with it.
RB: Yes, spiritually. I can tell you a lot of things from Fremantle mouth of the river right through to the MacDonald Ranges and Alice Springs and coming back down through the Kintail Ranges. I got stories linked up there told to me to be related on but I’ve got to keep them with me ‘cause the old fellas are gone now. And...that sort of thing is a big, wide link-up an like a channel thing d this is the centre core here and now when anything goes on out there and they seeking advice or help this is like a watch house here and it comes back into here. then from here, we send them back , the messages back, say “Okay, we’ll see what we can do about it”. So it’s like a channel of things and in the ground also is what we call a lot of Songlines, same as underground streams. They are like telegraph wires bringing the messages through. This fella up here, when I say “This fella” it means the four winds that blowing in four directions, they are message carriers through spiritual Dreaming. Even the sun when it comes up brings spiritual Dreaming messages and...the night which shades us we call it our mother cradling us and all that sort of thing. Well, that’s what we call spiritual Dreaming.
Extracts from this interview were taken from
Learn more about Aboriginal Spirituality
Connecting the seemingly unconnected
According to Sarah Murgatroyd who wrote 'The Dig Tree' Burke and Wills had no appreciation of the spiritual world they had entered when they stumbled into the haunting spiritual world of Mutawintji. Murgatroyd says that "the plants, the trees, the earth even smell different" and that 'deep inside the network of red gorges the atmosphere of secrecy is overwhelming. The narrow tumbling gullies hide dark silent pools, surrounded by some of the most sacred Aboriginal art in south-east Australia. Mutawintji had been a place of ceremony and celebration for thousands of years before Burke and Wills arrival."
Water reservoir at Mutwanji, undated Ludwig Becker (c1808-1861)
Burke and Wills had a different perspective of Mutawintji and failed to appreciate the subtleties. They certainly did not appreciate that they had just entered a significant place of refuge. They were preoccupied with the race to beat Stuart to the top of Australia.
A wise artist knows knows to stop, look around and view the environment diffently. They appreciate the need to have a relationship with the sacred.
The Aboriginal talks of the Songlines and the Dreaming but Europeans struggle with these concepts. Bruce Chatwin notes that "Trade means friendship and co-operation; and for the Aboriginal the principal object of trade was song. Song therefore, bought peace", but it is indisputable that the lines carry more information than this. It has suited the Aboriginal to maintain the mystery. Law forbids them to share the essential essence of their spirtuality.
Other groups have been more forthcoming about how to contact the sacred. The Spanish, for example, speak of a dark force called Duende. Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca gave a famous lecture on La Teoria y Juego del Duende – The Theory and Function of Duende.
Lorca’s dark creative force has a similar base in the loam of the earth as the sacred that Robert Bropoh speaks of. Duende is there to challenge us to keep our ears open to the ‘dark sounds,’ to keep our touch with the earth and with the ghosts of those who have come before, to never refuse the struggle which is needed to keep the spirits working on the side of truth.
Lorca elaborates! "The dark sounds of duende are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam, known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art."
The duende is the inspired cry of defiance of those on the rack. It is the impatience to have done, to break free from material beginnings which appear never to develop; it is the attempt to transcend those beginnings by abandoning everything to the moment.
The inner self of artists such as Picasso are possessed by duende. They often describe themselves as being guided by an unknown being, who uses them like an instrument. These people do not struggle with their work and their work shows no trace of struggle. They are so in tune with nature that nature appears an extension of themselves.
Find a way to attune to nature. Reach within the deep loam of a powerful creative force known variously as Duende, Pakaramdam, Nommo, Mana, The Dreaming, or the Muse. Abandon yourself to a higher being and allow it to dictate your work. If in doubt visit the House of the Muse and begin by becoming a votary of the muse.
Try using the Holy Well Meditation to help communicate "with the ghosts of those who have come before." Go to the well seeking their advice.
This template has used elements of the famous Burke and Wills painting by Sidney Nolan (1917—1992) Collection Nolan Gallery, Cultural Facilities Corporation Canberra