Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 7, 2022

Loving Country, a Guide to Sacred Australia, by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou

Cultural warning to Indigenous readers: This post contains the names of people who have passed away.


Loving Country, A Guide to Sacred Australia, by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou joins a small collection of travel books that I have, which are focussed on Aboriginal Australia. Like the best travel books, they’re not just about travel.  These ones are about Australia’s Black history and culture as well. They are:

  • Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia, A Traveller’s Guide (1988).  Burnum Burnum, (1936-1997) was a Woiworrung (Wurundjeri) and Yorta Yorta man at Wallaga Lake in southern New South Wales. My review is included in my review of Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country.
  • Welcome to Country, a Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia, by Marcia Langton, a descendant of the Yiman and Bidjara nations in Queensland. See my ANZ LitLovers review.
  • Melbourne Dreaming, A Guide to Important Places of the Past and Present (2nd edition)by Meyer Eidelson. Eidelson is not Indigenous, but the book is published by the Aboriginal Studies Press. See my review.

Today, as huge swathes of NSW are submerged under floods for the fourth time this year, tens of thousands of people are under evacuation orders and over 7000 rescues have taken place, it is a salutary experience to browse through the beautiful photographs in Loving Country. Our hearts go out to people who have to face the disheartening task of rebuilding their lives yet again.  And at the same we wonder about what we can do.  Donate to the relief appeal, of course.  But there is the damage to the environment and the loss of flora and fauna as well.  There are no easy solutions…

Bruce Pascoe is forthright about the need to take better care of the land. Writing about the mountains Gulaga and Biamanga in the Tilba Tilba area of NSW between Pambula and Narooma, he is scornful about political options:

You don’t have to be Aboriginal to understand Burrup art or listen to the sea wolf shearwaters, but it would serve you well to understand Aboriginal philosophy if you wanted to save them and the land on which they exist.  We cannot leave such momentous decisions to the craven and vindictive legion of red and blue politicians fascinated by the prospect of their own survival.  We are Australians; it is we who have the power.  And the philosophy.  (p.9)

I hear his anger and I don’t have a problem with it.  But I don’t think communities get very far without engaging in politics.  We have just had a change of government in an election that turfed out ‘safe’ candidates who were failing their communities.  IMO it’s smarter to engage in politics more, not less, and be part of the process of choosing candidates who do represent the concerns we have, and then to hold them to account.

But whether I agree with everything he writes or not, I admire Pascoe’s uncompromising stance. Writing about stone structures in Namadji (near Canberra), he warns souvenir hunters not to take specimens because we need our cultural objects in situ, not on your mantelpiece only to be turfed out by your grandkids when you die.  These stone structures were used for directing the travel of kangaroos.

There is evidence of such structures in other ranges close by, but the question is: when will we start to test its worth?  When we’ve replicated every peg and rib in James Cook’s Endeavour? Or when we’ve had one last good look at the pyramids in Egypt because they need another survey like Macbeth needs another review. (p.27)

That sarcasm arises again when Pascoe writes about the lack of archaeological study of the Brewarrina fish traps.

It is not the failure of the archaeologists — it is more complex than that — but it’s worth questioning how funding is assigned for research projects.  The oldest human structure on earth. .. nah, let’s have another look at the foundations of the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne — we’re sure to find pennies and fascinating boot buckles, maybe even an ancient tobacco tin! (p.38)

Vicky Shukuroglou’s tone is not one of justifiable anger, but of shame.  She writes about the shabby memorial on the Hospital Creek Massacre Site with powerful words to evoke it:

A contorted strangling of wire may once have protected an area now barely noticeable to a passer-by.  It is situated sixteen kilometres from Brewarrina along the Goodooga Road, in a vast expanse of barren land so severely abused an occasional fly or vehicle are the only interruptions to the unnerving quiet sitting heavily on the country.  Within the tangle of lines is a broken-down memorial — boomerang-shaped cracked concrete with three rocks standing in its middle.  Nearby, a sign informs us that the vague depression equally marred by recent abuse is Hospital Creek.

[…]

If we witness this site and our hearts do not break, we are in greater trouble than we realise.  A memorial should remind us of what we can learn from the past.  Here, a subtle construction merging with the land would be an honourable approach, but what we see is, perhaps, the ultimate Australian memorial for all it encapsulates today.  (p.49)

At Carnarvon Gorge in the Central Highlands of Queensland, she suggests taking time to marvel:

If you make your way to Carnarvon Creek you may be tempted to go too quickly.  Side tracks are numerous and achievable in a day, but this is a place for softening your breath, calming your stride.  Search for stories in the creeks, in curves of well-trodden paths, and the lean of giant ferns.  You’ll find one in a large, partly submerged rock, close to the beginning of the walking track not far from the visitor centre.  Its shape tells a story of the human body, seated, with water flowing on either side, tools being sharpened in smoothed forms reminiscent of the broad cups above a human collarbone.  Much of this stone is worn — a lot of tools have been sharpened. (p.53)

Our walk is our choice, whether observant, respectful and responsive, an advance in love, or invasive with a steady march.

The old Bidjara and Karingal people made decisions about the way of their walk and its imprint on country.  You can see those decisions in the rich biodiversity and in sites for gathering, honouring and acknowledging transformative stages of every human, including birth and death.  (p.57)

Without this book, many visitors would simply pass by without ever seeing…

Loving Country is a great book for thoughtful grey nomads and post-pandemic travellers holidaying in Australia rather than risking chaotic overseas travel, with special value for learning about familiar places or those we plan to visit.  The contents include chapters about the places listed below, each of which includes suggested places to visit and ‘other things to see and do’ as well as cultural and historical information about the sites.

  • Gulaga & Biamanga (in the Tilba Tilba area of NSW between Pambula and Narooma)
  • Namadji (at the northern end of the Australian Alps, not far from Canberra)
  • Brewarrina, on the banks of the Barwon River in NSW, and the Hospital Creek Massacre Site
  • Carnarvon Gorge (Central Queensland)
  • Marree, (at the junction of the Oodnadatta Track and the Birdsville Track, South Australia)
  • Mparntwe (Alice Springs) (Northern Territory)
  • Birdsville (Northern Territory)
  • Mount Isa & Mitchell Grass Downs (in the Gulf Country region of Queensland)
  • Laura, Cooktown and Wujal Wujal (Cape York Peninsula, Far North Queensland)
  • Katherine region (Northern Territory)
  • Broome (Western Australia)
  • Wiluna & Meekathara region (Western Australia)
  • Margaret River Albany (Western Australia)
  • Kangaroo Island (South Australia)
  • Gariwerd (Grampians National Park in Victoria)
  • Moyjil (Point Ritchie, near Warrnambool in Victoria), and
  • Bruny Island (Tasmania)

Loving Country is revelatory reading for armchairs travellers too.

See also Meredith’s (MsWriter3) review at Down the Wombat Hole

Bruce Pascoe is a Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man.


I read this book for First Nations Reading Week 2022.

This post was written on the traditional land of the Ngaruk-Willam clan, one of the six clans of the Bunerong (Boonwurrung or Boon wurrung) saltwater people of the Kulin nation.

Authors: Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou
Title: Loving Country, a guide to sacred Australia
Design: Pfisterer + Freeman
Publisher: Hardie Grant, 2020
ISBN: 9781741176483, hbk., 315 pages including an Index
Source: personal library.


Responses

  1. “Loving Country is a great book for thoughtful grey nomads and post-pandemic travellers holidaying in Australia rather than risking chaotic overseas travel”. So my first question is, are you now planning to do some grey nomading yourself?

    Kim (Reading Matters) and I were discussing massacre memorials earlier today. I know of one in WA – the Kukenarup memorial. I’m pleased/surprised there is one in northern NSW. I hope it is looked after in the future.

    Like

    • Ah, no.
      Firstly (as you know) I’m not grey.
      Secondly, I’m like Anita Heiss, the only stars I like to sleep under are in 5-star hotels.
      And thirdly, I haven’t recovered from Covid yet. It’s 5 weeks now I can’t yet do a half hour walk to my PO Box to collect the mail without getting breathless and faint. Since apparently there’s no such thing as immunity even if I am 4x vaxxed and I’ve had the ‘Rona already, I’m not going anywhere that doesn’t have ready access to the anti-virals that I need to have if I get it again.
      It’s armchair travel for me for the foreseeable…

      Like

      • Just to let you know, I had my symptoms disappear virtually overnight in the middle of last week. I am in awe of the euphoria I now feel. A couple of months of my life I will not forget in a hurry. May you have the same disappearing event ASAP Lisa. (My doc says that it can recur, but I am not interested in his opinion lol)

        Like

        • Oh envy! I had that happen twice, and then both times there was a relapse.
          Fortunately, I have plenty of books to read!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry to hear that you’re still being affected by COVID. In fact, did I even know that? It seems that so many people are contracting it now. I can’t see us travelling to anywhere very exotic for a long while (if ever)

    Like

    • It’s really disconcerting. I walk almost everywhere in my day-to-day life, and I feel so embarrassed that ATM I have to drive.
      *chuckle* Now I know why people complain about traffic and parking!

      Like

  3. Sorry to hear about the Covid – it seems to be affecting people quite badly again after a lull. And this book sounds marvellous – both valuable and a good read, not always a given.

    Like

    • Thanks, I’ll get there…
      BTW If you get the chance to see this week’s episode of Movin’ to the Country, which for some reason replaced Gardening Australia this week, Bruce Pascoe pops up in a segment about craft beers, providing native grains from his farm to make a beer called Dark Emu.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m in the UK so don’t think I can get those, but I’m sure some other readers will find it!

        Like

        • Ah yes, that happens to us sometimes with the BBC…

          Like


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: