Filling Your Creative Basket

Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different. -Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Although humans have survived through the ages by developing ways of taking advantage of the environmental resources Burke and Wills set out on a mammoth trek across the most treacherous part of Australia with a staggering lack of knowledge about how to survive in his harsh enviroment. At the end of the day, it was this lack of knowledge and their inability to forage and sustain themselves upon returning to Coopers Creek, which directly led to their death.

Creatives can learn from the folly of Burke and Wills. A creative needs to hone their foraging skills, skills which can be usefully applied when searching for information. The writer and artist needs to dig, forage, glean, manage their resources, seek renewal and, like the tribal gatherers, experiment with what they find.

The wood of Blackwood, for example, being very hard and close-grained, was used in Victoria for spear-throwers and shields; the bark was infused in water to bathe rheumatic joints, and the inner bark was used to make string.

As a writer I am always gathering fragments, creative stimuli, to put in my basket.

While browsing through a charity store here in Melbourne I happened upon a stack of Dragon and Realms of Fantasy magazines that a fan had obviously decided to clear out to make way for something new. Finding these magazines was like finding gold. They are filled with ideas about mythical creatures, dwarves, diminutive dragons, suits of armor, elves and even a subterranean city.

I never expect all my students to pull stories out of thin air. Some are adept at doing this but for most mere mortals it is too daunting a task. To introduce a new fantasy thread I told each of my classes how I happened upon these discarded fantasy magazines in the charity shop and showed them a series of images depicting animal henchmen.

Inspired, they delighted in drawing and writing about fabulous creatures who possessed special powers. We turned to nature books for ideas, adding bat wings to creatures like dolphins and tigers, gave our creatures names and decided who they were guarding. Mimir, I told them, was the name of an ancient and wise giant who guarded a well and who allowed Odin to drink from it to acquire primordial knowledge. We chatted about how Cerebus guarded the gate to Hades and remembered other famous mythical creatures such as the winged Pegasus. Our creative baskets were overflowing with stimuli.

Ultimately however, the real challenge is to knuckle down and get on with the actual writing.


Creative Foraging.

Women Digging Jukurrpa Artists
[The "U" shapes are the women --
notice how rich the land is in hidden varieties of food.

Humans have survived through the ages by developing ways of taking advantage of the environmental resources that surround them. These ways are collectively known as subsistence strategies. They are shaped by, and shape, every culture on the planet. Until c. 8,000 years ago, all peoples were foragers of wild food. The oldest human subsistence strategy is foraging.

People who practice foraging are called foragers, and are sometimes referred to as hunter-gathers. Foragers rely on their environment to provide all of their needs by gathering wild plants and hunting wild animals. Many foraging peoples continued to practice their traditional way of life into the 20th century.

When Burke and Wills set out from Melbourne in 1860 they had scant knowledge of the native inhabitants who still relied on subsistence strategies.

"The Aborigines have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years, and in all those long generations the land provided them with everything they needed for a healthy life. They also learned to manage their country in such ways that its resources renewed themselves and were not used up.

How did they do this? To quote Edward Curr, an early settler, they 'tilled their ground and cultivated their pastures with fire'. By controlled burning, they kept the bush open and allowed the growth of new seedlings in the ash-bed. Aborigines in Arnhem Land still do this. Many Australian plants will re-grow quickly after a fire; indeed some plants such as the grass-tree (Xanthorrhoea spp.) flower more prolifically after fire.

At least half of the food eaten by Aborigines came from plants, and it was the task of the women to collect them. Just as we eat root vegetables, greens, fruits and seeds, so did the Aborigines. Fruits, seeds and greens were only available during their appropriate seasons, but roots could usually be dug up all the year round, because the earth acted as a natural storage cupboard. Important foods were replanted. The regular digging-over of the soil, and the thinning out of clumps by collection of plants, together with burning to provide fertiliser, is not very different from what we do in our own gardens, and the whole country was in a way an Aboriginal garden."

Forage through these links

Franklin C. Baer has a particularly good article which fleshes out the Components of Creativity

Jean Grogberg's door collage reveals creative planting of foraged seed catalogues.

Information Foraging: Searching for information, especially by using strategies analogous to the food foraging techniques employed by animals.

The Wayback internet archive is a forager's treasure trove and provides a fascinating insight into the growing sophistication of web design.


Camps are the center of activity for a forager society. Social bonds are formed and maintained at the camp, food is consumed there, and important ceremonies are carried out there. Food sharing is a common practice, and sets up a social network based on sharing and reciprocity. Food sharing also serves to form close social bonds within a group, ensuring that individuals work together in order to survive.

The Soul Food is very much like a forager's camp. It is based on sharing and reciprocity. Exchange of goods and services of approximately equal value takes place between two or more parties. The exchange doesn't have to take place immediately. Reciprocity is one way a group of people form close relationships to promote the well being of the entire group.

The net provides a real opportunity to establish electronic and virtual communities. Social groups in foraging societies exhibit characteristics similar to those observed in technologically-mediated social groups. Groups which depend on computer mediated communication amongst members can foster sharing and promote cross pollination of stimuli.

This template has used elements of the famous Burke and Wills painting by Sidney Nolan (19171992) Collection Nolan Gallery, Cultural Facilities Corporation Canberra