Every Night I Dream of The Sea

Mum had been calling me back home. Even though she kicked me out before time even began, she told me every night since that she missed me.

We are always at the beck and call of our mother’s whims. Her voice is always in our heads – approving of this or disapproving of that – no matter how far away from home we are. This is high magic. Hold a seashell to your ear, and hear the long-distance call of the Ocean from anywhere.

And so one night recently enough, drawn by her insistent siren song, I emerged from the forest and onto the beach. Looking up, I recognised every point of light in the sky as a distant sun, and the galaxies sparkled like fireworks in fierce vibrant rainbows in their orbits. Our world is made up of degrees of darkness and light on an infinite continuum, and I saw the entire spectrum of colours, sounds and shades in deep space.

I walked across the white desert toward Mother Ocean. Thunder roared ever closer from within her womb, a rumbling drama with no cut called. Her voice flew wildly around me, keening, and the fine sand shifted and stung, borne by her grief. Sifted by her sad breath, it settled into new patterns.

When I reached her skirt hem I stopped, then I bowed down and kissed her feet. Her waters broke violently beneath her dress and she baptised me in brine.

I stood up, clean and cleansed, on the now-sodden shore. On each side of me I noticed the bodies of beached jellyfish scattered like the casualties of some oceanic war. The fluctuating territory of the tideline is no-man’s land, marking Mum’s ever-changing boundaries between high claim and low retreat. Across the frontline, and as far as my eyes could see, the abundance of their corpses was evidence of who lost this battle.

I remembered back to a time when I was younger, when I had encountered the exact same carnage on another beach in a similar heightened state. Back then, I had waged a crusade of bleeding-hearted goodwill for the jellyfish; I had worked doggedly for hours up and down that stretch of coastline, gathering them up, armful by stinging armful, and gave them back into Mum’s watery womb for a second chance at life.

Looking upon this new but familiar scene, I wondered if this was a riddle. What are the chances that the same challenge should be put before me, again, in this parallel priestess state of mind? Standing amongst all the death and disembowelment, I meditated on the change of my understanding. Where I would have once attempted to return my sisters and brothers to the water where I had arrogantly assumed they belonged, I now began to think of them as lost causes.

Had Mum aborted and rejected them, kicking them out in an self-righteous assertion of parental control? Or had they run away to escape her oppressive weight and her deep mood swings? Either way, did she miss them? And would I poison her if I gave them back?

Jellyfish are much like us. They are small packets of seawater, with translucent membranes to keep their inner seas separate from the whole, but with tentacles to pull in nourishment from the exterior and to excrete waste into the outside. We too are soft sacks made of Ocean with skin to keep ourselves in and to keep others out. Our appendages are sensual tools used for gathering and for giving. We are land-lubbing seawater satellites; Mother Ocean sent us forth to colonise dry land. Our terrestrial mobility is a means for our aqueous Mother to walk around outside of herself and to experience a reality outside of her domain.

From the moment a mother gives birth, she must be prepared for a precious part of herself to walk around outside of her, growing and hurting. She must relinquish control.

When we do whatever our mother tells us we are still immature and dependent on her instructions. Yet when we don’t comply we are traitors, and we are made to feel the guilt of our freedom songs. Rebellion is the first stage of painful detachment on both sides.

Our mothers give us the gift of free will but then punish us for exercising our birth right. Why then do mothers give birth to sentient beings, knowing full well that we will eventually mature and become autonomous, growing up and away from them?

It has been said that we are killing Mother Ocean, but I laugh at this because nothing that is immortal can die. But we, her wayward strayward children who still rely on our Mum, we are shitting and pissing and bleeding in her, we are pillaging and polluting her, yet we are only hurting ourselves. We would have been better off if she kept us locked inside and thrown away the key. But nothing can stay in the Ocean if Mum doesn’t want it there: it will either sink and become part of the seabed; or it will be eaten by her organs and broken down in her bowels to assimilate into her vast system and nourish her cells; or it will float and be pushed onto terra firma by her constant motion. As were we.

Mum will be fine. She has known grief before. She has grieved each and every day of fathomless ages. Forever before and ever after our reign of terror, she always was and always will be there. She is our holy grail – a true perpetual motion machine, much more complex than the small things made by our clever-enough hands or dreamed up by our clever-enough minds.  She has all the time in the world for us to right our wrongs, and no matter how many of us have to live and die, she will wait until we finally learn how to harvest her sorrow.

Saltwater cures everything, whether in the form of sweat, tears or the Ocean. This is sympathetic magic. We came from the Ocean and we need communion with her to be whole again. Belonging is where the heart is and I taste like home, embodied, when I cry or come or dance; she buoys me afloat even when I’m away from her. But I have never lived too far from my Mum. I miss her lullabies too much when I am away.

Every night I dream of the sea.

– Defender Of The Faith, 31st of December 2014, Minjungbal country

What Fire Has Taught Me About Love And Communion: Part II – Relationships With Others

So! You’ve got your own fire going and you’re open to sharing it with the right people. Just stay open and aware. Observe the fires around you and see if any are inviting. If one is, pursue it gently but never chase it and never deceive yourself. Don’t just start fires willy-nilly out of curiosity or loneliness.

Pyrophobics have exacting requirements for a fire and will wait a very long time for the perfect firemaker to come along; pyromaniacs want a fire with any old person. Try and be somewhere in between. Be honest. If you’re not willing and/or able to build a fire with someone let them know. Maybe it’s them, maybe it’s you. Either way be honest with yourself and with them and follow it through.

Maybe you don’t often meet people who you want to share warmth with and maybe not many people approach your fire. Maybe you like your own fire and you’re picky, just waiting for a true legend to come along who can build a fun, sexy, expansive and caring fire just the way you like. Sharing is nice with the right person but some people are just happy to sit by their own fire alone. That’s okay, nobody has any obligation to share and you shouldn’t push them. So have a yarn, but if it’s still not there, walk away in pride.

Sometimes you will see someone’s fire and want to warm yourself by it. Ask if it’s okay. Make sure you respect their boundaries and make sure you can bring something to the table too. If you have nothing they want or need be honest, don’t lie to them. Maybe they’ll be okay for you to sit awhile before you leave, but maybe they don’t want to be responsible for your warmth as well as their own. That’s okay too. We’ve all had times where we’ve not wanted to do someone’s work for them, or we wanted to be alone. Just accept it and move on.

Maybe one day you’ll be sitting there, warming yourself, and somebody will come by wanting to share fires. How exciting! How heart warming! But you will need to figure out if it’s gonna work before you commit yourself to the flames. This is because regardless of how careful you are, unless you are exactly on the same page you’ll probably both get a bit burnt. It’s the nature of this game, feeling out what is too much and what is not enough. Don’t take every stray ember personally, just yarn it out. That said, if someone stokes you into a wildfire then walks away leaving you to calm it alone and you get burnt there’s no need to burn them back. Take space away to rebuild at a safe distance. But if someone burns you repeatedly, please walk away out of respect for yourself, and don’t go back.


Sustaining fires with others

Starting a fire is easy. Sustaining it takes work, patience, dedication, awareness and adjustments. Everybody has a different idea of what makes a good fire. You need to figure out if you’re on the same page. If you’re not, can you compromise so you are? Maybe their vision is exactly what you need without having realised it. But maybe not. Don’t compromise if you don’t feel both safe and excited.

Maybe their idea of a good fire is boring. See if you can inflame them with your burning vision. Maybe theirs seems dangerous and out of your comfort zone. If you are willing to try new things, be absolutely certain that they will not put your safety at risk for their selfish vision or you will get burnt. If somebody endangers you when you have been clear about your boundaries, they have been selfish and disrespectful. Walk away without regrets.

Sometimes building fires is easy – you both have the same vision and you don’t need to communicate over every nut and bolt. This can be good as long as you don’t let familiarity breed contempt. Keep it fresh and breathe new life into the flames when it burns too low.

You’ll need to start your fire small and then maintain it. To gather wood for fuel, you will both need to go away periodically. If you both just sit there without moving, your stores are going to run out very soon. If you continue to feed it with bits and pieces once it’s blazing it’ll burn out very quickly and you’ll be exhausted. Yet if you try and start it with big logs you’ll smother it. The only fire that can handle big logs is one that has been burning large for a long time. So until it’s solid, break up the big ones into more manageable pieces before tossing them on.


For every problem, a solution

Some people are just bright and warm and attract people like moths to a flame. They welcome people sitting by their fires, but be aware that they may need their own time too. Don’t overstay your welcome and smother their fire. Always stay strong and warm in your own.

Some people just can’t seem to cultivate their own fire and so they seek it outside. These people are lazy and will prance around to others’ camps, taking in warmth and nourishment but not giving anything in return – no fuel, and no work to tend it. Avoid these people. They want to steal your hard work and patience. They’ll need to either give something back or go off and build their own otherwise your energy will be spent before long.

Some people are able to sustain a few fires at once. If you’re okay with that then the only reason for them to only have a fire with you is outdated and irrelevent. Maybe you want to do it too. But if they’re being stingy with fuel for your fire let them know. Never let anyone take you for granted. Even if your fire is not the only priority, you still must be a priority.

Some people will build fires with others without you knowing. Maybe they’re good at hiding it. But maybe after they’ve been away a while they come back looking suspiciously warm with the smell of smoke in their hair, then you know they’ve been getting their warmth in places without your consent. Maybe you can forgive and forget, and maybe you can open your relationship up to suit your desires. But then again, dishonesty can be difficult to purify.

Even if you’re okay with tending multiple fires, do it safely. Never endanger any of your fires with unsafe burning from the others because certain things can pollute and spread like wildfire. If somebody contaminates your fire with shit from their other fires, they have not respected your fire and safety regulations.

Sometimes we start fires with other people without meaning to. Maybe it only warms us for one night, maybe we keep going back. Be honest with everyone. If you deceive one or both of your lovers, whether it be for a day or a year, the guilt will eat at you and your own fire will rage and splutter in turn. Everyone deserves to know, immediately if not sooner. It stopped being about your self-preservation once you did the dirty so you don’t act with integrity, you don’t deserve the warmth you are getting.

Sometimes we might build a fire with somebody, but it’s not a fire we want our friends and family to see, and it might not be a fire we want to burn forever. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but be honest. Really, if you’re not proud of what you have, there’s no point maintaining it. Conversely, if someone promises you the stars, uphold them to it. If they talk about things but don’t ever do them, they’re just blowing hot air into the fire and the scattered ashes will leave scars reminding you that empty words can hurt. Love is not a promise. It is a practise.

Make somebody prove to you that they can in fact keep you warm. Sometimes you might delude yourself that this fire is warming you when it’s not; maybe you’re just fuelling the fantasy and not paying attention to what’s in front of your eyes, dying. Don’t sit there like the little match girl, wasting your precious matches on a flame that will not sustain you. Yes the sparks are pretty, but like her you will soon run out of fuel and you will freeze. Be alert and be aware. If someone’s not pulling their weight, sort it out. When things become dark, cold and foggy, all you need to do is chuck a log on the fire and have a yarn to shed some light on matters.

Sometimes one or both of you must be away for some time, and so maybe one of you can’t give as much as is needed in a certain period. This is fine and necessary and normal, especially if fuel is running low or the fire has burned too intensely for a long time. Just be honest about this process. Take space away if needed, but remember that too much time away, not enough fuel and that fire will die quickly.

Even if you’ve built a nice fire with someone, you’ll still need to keep your own, so stay dedicated to yourself as well as the other person. And both of you will need to give fuel. Sometimes you may not feel like it giving much but relationships need to come before individual egos to be maintained properly. If the other person is not giving enough, and you need them to give because you are spent, because you already gave too much, they are not pulling their weight and they’re having it way too easy while you exhaust yourself. Don’t let this happen. Expect respect.


Putting fires out safely

If you decide you can’t tend to the fire anymore don’t ever piss or shit on it. You’ll burn yourself and it will stink, polluting all the good memories. No matter what hurts and heartaches went down, that fire did nourish you for a while and made you who you are now. And don’t kick the other person out or leave them there. You need to both take what you need, both consciously put the rest of the fire out and both walk away to return to your own fires. Don’t ever sit there alone, waiting for the other person to come back. Go tend to your own neglected fire because that one’s done.

If you decide to abandon the fire, maybe one day you will want to share just a friendly fire. This can be dangerous and painful, but it can also be lovely and healing. If somebody burnt you before, you need to be certain that they understand how their actions hurt you, that they take responsibility for it, and that they never do it again. Without this knowledge, the old fire will continue to burn you inside and you will not be able to trust them with even the friendliest of little fires. Pain needs to be acknowledged before it can heal properly and cleanly.

Sometimes it might hurt you to see somebody you once shared a fire with to build one with somebody else. Don’t be angry and ruin theirs. Don’t hide away either. Face it and be happy that they are at least warm, because everyone deserves warmth, especially those who have hurt you, because people who hurt others are the ones who need the most love. Most importantly, be happy that you are now free to share fires with people who are better for you.


Carrying the fire outwards and onwards

Whoever you are, you’ve got a good fire inside you. You’ve worked long and patiently to build it the way it is. Yes, you’ve been burnt by others, and you’ve been fed hot hair, but you’re learning and you’re grateful for your lessons; the scars have bloomed fresh in flesh and you’re good as new. Yes, you like your own fire, and you’re willing to share it with others. So, stay strong and proud and open and alert, loving, playful, authentic, sincere, hot, warm and gentle, stay open to building new fires with the right people. Strive to be the best version of yourself you can be, and one day you’ll meet someone and like what you see and they’ll like you and you can both give it a red hot go.

Here’s to the fire inside each and every one of us. May we always keep our own flames fed, may we ever enjoy the nourishing fires of each other and may we all be beacons of light and bringers of warmth wherever we go.

 – Defender Of The Faith,  5th of June, 2014

Dharug country

Read Part I: Relationship with Myself, here


Postscript: Timing is no excuse. I found this out some years ago when my ex-boyfriend passed away and I experienced some of the most intense feelings I could never have imagined. In the years after he died I re-lived our entire relationship again, and I shed a million tears for it all. He was the love of my life up until then, and I had lost him again, this time forever.

We had broken up because the timing wasn’t right, and we should never have been together because the timing was wrong, but if we had used that as an excuse I would never have had the honour of him loving me. Although breaking up was the best thing for us, I never forgot how beautiful and loved I felt because he was part of my life. He was a writer, and a dreamer, and gave me letters, and honesty, and poetry, and unlocked things in me that I never knew existed.

With him gone, I felt so alone with those feelings. We had shared something exquisite, and we still carried those memories in our hearts when we parted ways. Now that piece of my heart that was inside his own was cremated with him and scattered in the night wind. What a terrible, overwhelming loneliness that realisation brings! All of his love for me was gone; perhaps not dead, but transformed into something unrecognisable, ungraspable, and blown across the Earth, never to be whole again.

When the last person that loved you is dead timing becomes an inadequate excuse, because life becomes transparent, love is ephemeral and relationships take on a deeper meaning. So if you want to start that fire then do it now, because timing is no excuse.

(Dedicated to our Rome, and his Rachel, who have shown us that timing is no excuse for true love)



In Solidarity, Let Us All Be Outraged

There is a shared history between Australia’s First Nations people and black Americans. From the black dockers in Sydney who shared their knowledge with our early political organisations; to the African-American sailors who joined our struggles at La Perouse; to our Black Panther comrades who inspired and collobarated with our mobs in the Black Power movement in West End and Redfern; to our own Deaths in Custody battles – we always have and we always will stand in solidarity. America’s civil rights struggles have informed our own, and it is apt that Martin Luther King looks out atop our red, black and yellow flag in Newtown, one of the very first crime scenes in this country.

In solidarity at The Block, Redfern  Photo by Barbara McGrady, 13th September 2014

In solidarity at The Block, Redfern
Photo by Barbara McGrady, 13th September 2014

We also have a shared present reality in that our young black people are being murdered by the system at epidemic rates. According to Operation Ghetto Storm, this is at the rate of one every 28 hours in the USA. Here, police custodial deaths for First Peoples, and for all Australians, have gone up instead of down since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADC). First Peoples are less than 3 per cent of Australia’s total population, yet we comprised 29 per cent of the total Australian prison population. Broken down by gender, First Nations women account for more than 33 per cent of all incarcerated women in Australia, while First Nations men account for 28 per cent of all incarcerated men. From 2008-11, 33 of the 159 deaths in prison custody were Indigenous prisoners. The reality here is that it is much more likely that a black person will die in custody than a non-Indigenous person because we are grossly overrepresented by our disproportion inside, in proportion to our small population outside.

Since 1788, with the importation of the English injustice system, our people have been locked up inside white cages. We have been condemned as criminal by an alien legal framework, not judged by our own culturally appropriate frameworks. We never caged our animals, let alone our criminals, and being caged is not in our genetic or cultural memories.  Our people do not belong in cages, and we certainly do not belong in cages because of unpaid fines. Gerry Georgatos states that “Hundreds of Australians endure the ordeal of jail because of unpaid fines, their poverty a burden. Disproportionately First Nations people are incarcerated ‘to pay off’ their fines.” The only people who belong in cages are those who are a real, not perceived, threat to society.

Being caged is traumatic enough; add on the distress of not being believed when you are sick, being humiliated because of stereotypes, being excessively punished, and the crippling impacts of isolation and guilt on a person’s spiritual health. Consider also that many of our people come out of the system in a worse state than they went in. It is indeed true that a significant proportion of our suicides are by people who have been incarcerated, and this does not even count those who have previously been interred by the welfare system.

Yet for every black person who has broken a white law, where is the equality of the converse? How many whitefellas have broken our laws against rape, murder, massacre, child theft, the permanent destruction of our underground water, the theft of land and of resources? Why are they not only not sentenced in our law, but not even in their own? The answer to this lies within the historical and ongoing structures of institutional racism, summarily: Break black law and prosper. Break white law and die.

What message does this institutional racism send to young black people, who are trying to transcend their historical legacies and live lives worthy of the fight our ancestors bled for? To stay down in the gutter where they were born? To become potential target practise if it’s cold outside and they choose to reach for their hoodie? To believe that if they see cops they have to run in fear for their lives? To see unpaid parking fines as a choice between continuing poverty or death in a cage? To see a criminal every time they look in the mirror? To feel guilty for their skin?

For the victims of the state, this is not just a case of wrong place and wrong time, or even wrong skin, wrong side of the system, or wrong luck. It’s too easy to make this circumstantial. It is not a passive act to shoot a child, or leave a young woman dying, so let’s not victim-blame. These are killings. This is active death-dealing. It is not circumstantial that these people are black and it is not circumstantial that the killers are part of a racist system. There is a pattern here, evidence; a tapestry woven of white chains choking frail black threads, winding so tight that it becomes stained red. The system does not just passively not care; more than this, it actively does not care. It actively neglects and brutalises.

It is not enough that grieving families be given an impartial coronial inquest. It is not enough that the murderers in uniform go to trial. It is not enough that Deaths in Custody receive a Royal Commission, or that disempowered communities riot to be heard. None of this, in the statistically improbable chance that they are followed through in a total, unbiased and satisfactory manner, will bring back our dead. No sentence or coronial finding will take away the hurt and anger their system has brought about. The problem cannot be the solution.

These outcomes have never brought about satisfactory justice. What needs to happen is a complete overhaul, not just of the judicial system, but of all systems that feed into it; ergo, an overhaul of social attitudes and policy. The police in the USA are doing a great job, upholding their motto to protect and serve – of protecting the system and serving the state, of continuing the deep-rooted racism from a shameful history by bringing it into modernity. If you have kids, who will one day grow up to be cops, judges, nurses or screws, you must show them that the life of Ms Julieka Dhu is worth just as much as the life of a white girl. You must teach them that their duty is to protect and serve us, the people, not their own skin and system.

The reality is that black deaths, here and there, are not seen as worthy. Black deaths are seen as different, lesser. When a white person is killed by a white person, it is a tragedy. When a black person is killed by a black person, it is expected. When a white person is killed by a black person, it is usually reported as a gang-related crime. And so, when blackfellas are killed by a white system, it must also be understood as gang-related and oppressive, not simply dismissed as all in the line of duty. The organised crime gangs, the boys in blue, are the real thugs. Their hierarchy is as tight as sin, their violence is internally encouraged and their self-interest is preserved.

Another reality is that black deaths here are worth even less than black deaths over there. Where were the twitter storms for Julieka Dhu? Where were the pickets at police stations for Mr Phillips in Kalgoorlie? Where is the nation-wide outrage for Maureen Mandijarra? Where was the global solidarity for Mr Ward in Warburton? What is the difference between a boy being shot point blank by cops in the USA, and a boy in Redfern being chased by gunjis, fearing for his life and left bleeding, based on what the narratives in his history have told him? For these killings to be counted, to be seen as important and worthy of the same coverage and outrage as our American counterparts, we also need to be seen as human, worthy and respected. The evidence shows that we are not.

This is not about left or right wing politics, or about skin-deep, socially constructed differences. This is about humanity, and until every mother and father, sister and brother stops to imagine what it would feel like to lose one of their own to violent police brutality, or inhumane murderous neglect, until everybody is just as outraged that this is happening to somebody else’s young people, not much will change. Even more, everybody needs to stop and ask themselves, “How would I feel if this happened to mine, and nobody cared?” Because not caring is very much part of the problem.

Strip this all away and what we have is that a young boy was shot, and a sick woman was left for dead. If you have the privilege of walking around at night with your hoodie up, if you have the privilege of remaining uncaged and alive despite pissy parking fines, if you have the privilege of telling a cop to not shoot you and having them listen, if you have the privilege of riding your bike through your suburb and not being chased by the gunjis, fearing for and losing your life based on narratives in racist histories, this does not mean you should not care.

If you aren’t outraged, chances are you have that privilege. And if that sounds harsh, consider that we envy your privilege, that we do not have the luxury of not caring, that if we could, we would dedicate our lives to the pursuit of pleasure, not fighting for our basic human rights to be respected by a system that is killing our warriors and leaders of tomorrow.

It is not enough to simply be saddened or discomfited by these deaths, dismissing them as fatalistic, dismissing them as something that happened to other people, to people you have no connection to. It is not enough to feel helpless, you must be outraged. You must find the death of Mulrindji just as tragic as the death of Mike Brown. You must be just as outraged at the death of Julieka Dhu as the death of Trayvon Martin. You must find the police killing of Eddie Murray in Wee Waa just as abhorrent as the police killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham. No human life is worth more than another. No black death in Roeburn is worth less than a black death in Ferguson.

Because this is the heart of the problem with Black Deaths in Custody. It is seen as our problem, not touching wider Australia, let alone the world. Our deaths are not widely known about and are not widely protested. Let us take a cue from the people of Ferguson, from the people from Tottenham, UK. When these killings take place, we need to hold those responsible accountable, all of us, not just the families and communities who have lost.

And so, if you’ve only ever protested things that affect your own demographic – those of your nationality, skin colour, sexuality or gender – then you are part of the problem. The false divides of race, religion, geography and politics are entrenched in historical construction and perpetuated by our politicians and their media mouthpieces. The real divide is class, and the truth is that we are disproportionately overrepresented in the lowest rungs. It is not enough that we stand in solidarity with other black communities. It s not enough that a smattering of staunch and dedicated whitefellas stand as allies. This solidarity is very important, but it is not enough.

We have never had anything handed to us; no human rights legislation, no social justice victory. Every little thing we have ever gained inside of this system has been the result of hard work, constant campaigning with solid, loud and outraged voices. Yet twenty years on, they have still not implemented most of the recommendations from the RCADIC. And twenty years on, the rate of active, neglectful killings are higher and growing.

Doctor Luther King’s dream has turned into a nightmare: his vision for resilient leaders has been shot full of bullet holes; his hope for our daughters has been left for dead in a cage, ridiculed and forgotten; his hope for our sons has been crushed under the weight of police feet and knees, bleeding and broken. In solidarity with the communities who are grieving wrongful losses, and in alliance with those still protesting their injustices, then and now, let us all be outraged.

– Defender Of The Faith, 15th September 2014, Cadigal country

What Fire Has Taught Me About Love And Communion: Part I – Relationship With Myself

I have been out in the mountains for five days, alone

Studying the ways of fire

Alone, but not lonely

The campfires of my ancestors above me kept me in safety and in love


Constellations sharply delineated; hard diamond dust strewn across the satin sky above

A deep black sky that contains the secrets of my being, my past and my future


Each star, a sun

Each sun, a nucleus

Each nucleus, the centre of a slowly unfolding dance

Each dance, dramatic

Each drama, a world

Each world, possibilities so infinite it makes a mockery of probability

Each mockery, chaos

And in chaos, wonder and the potential for new patterns

As without, so within


I and my campfire, a flesh and flame simulacrum of the campfires overhead

A perfect, fleeting expression of the universe’s desire to know itself

As above, so below




Come sit down with me, and I will teach you what I know about fire and love

I love to build a fire, then sit and watch the flames dance around and see the embers in its heart shift and change in the brilliant heat. I love the smell of smoke in the air, it settles deep in my skin and can linger for days in my hair. I love the smell because it is an echo, a ghost of the fire I built, and reminds me of the warmth and beauty I created days before. It reminds me that I am human, that I am doing what humans have done since we first began to be human.

Yes, here is my fire, and I am of the earth, sitting by its warm light, doing what my ancestors did, in this exact place they did it. I am honoured, that what I am doing in the here and now is what the flesh and blood roots of my family tree did for aeons too. Here, too, they did what I am doing right now, in this very place. My fire is connection, and communion. I am communing with them in the earth below me, in the trees around me, in the stars above me, and in my blood inside me, because I am them in their newest, most resilient expression.

I am home here because this is where my ancestors were born, where they made their lives and made love, where they fought and grieved and passed down their ways of making fires down the line to my own keeping. I, the effect of their causes, as I can be a cause of many effects. I am the latest in a long, unbroken line of fire-makers and I won’t be the last. This is a certainty, and this knowledge comes from below me, around me, above me and inside me. I am important, they tell me. Tonight, they say to me:

 “The universe is a cradle, gently rocking life into its own realisations.

You are a living, breathing manifestation of the universe’s longing to experience itself.

A dream within a dream, constantly dreaming yourself into existence.

Your lineage stretches back to the dawn of life, and you have inherited the entire Earth’s history of intelligence, creativity, sensuality and passion.

Your parents, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, forever back, ad infinitum, all the way to us: in familiar and unrecognisable creatures both; we all existed to deliver you into Life’s keeping for this short time.

You are the culmination of aeons of living and loving and dying.

You are our dream come true.”


I feed my campfire, and I am communing with my ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears nourished this country in life, and whose flesh and bones fed this country in death. In this very place, time contracts to a singularity, the way my enormous black pupils dilate when I shift my eyes from the black sky above to look inside the flames before me. I am surrounded by their love and pregnant with their gratitude for me, and I reciprocate by feeding another log into my fire.

Tonight the fire has been speaking to me about life and love. And as I, a tiny insignificant human, built this earthly fire to reflect the star fires in the heavens, not only am I talking to myself, and teaching, but I am also listening to what I have to say, and learning. The lessons my ancestors speak to me, through the flames, on this night, are being taken in and weighed; sifted, sorted, ingested, digested and expressed in a way as to give form to this feeling. Because what I learn I can also teach. And the more I teach, the deeper the lessons settle in, just the way this earthy woodsmoke will do for days onward. A gift from the gods, and from my ancestors. A gift for myself, and therefore a gift to you.


You can’t start a fire without a spark

Some people don’t know how to build a fire. Maybe their culture doesn’t teach it, maybe their society doesn’t need it. That said, what kind of culture or society does not engage in one of the most basic things that essentialises us as humans? Whether you’ve only been lit up through artificial means, with the most recent, coldest evolution of the family hearth – the television, where everybody faces the screen, faces illuminated by the cold blue micro flickers, but not facing each other and not talking, not getting warm. But as part of society and of culture, you are also a contributor. Learn to make a fire. Inject some humanity into where you came from.

Sometimes we become adults and our family has not shown us how to build a good fire. Maybe they forgot how. Maybe their parents never showed them, maybe they were punished for it, maybe their ancestors were burnt at the stake. Maybe their fire-building practises burnt you, or smothered you; maybe you watched them build unhealthy fires with others and thought that’s the way it’s done. But it’s okay. Making fire is easy and anybody can learn to do it themself.

Culture, society and family may be good explanations for our issues with fire, but an explanation does not have to be an excuse. Plenty of people have overcome these excuses and learnt how to build healthy fires. And instead of being angry at your parents for not showing you, have some compassion, learn how to do it yourself and then teach them what you know. Begin the healing by taking it into your own hands. Show your parents how to build a fire. Don’t leave them cold. Be the change.

How do you learn how to build a good fire? You can read books or watch others do it, but the only real way is to just practise, practise, practise. You’ll fuck up here and there but don’t get frustrated. It’s only a fire. Just take note of your mistakes, remember what worked really well and figure out what you can do better next time. And try again. But if, before trying again, you don’t reflect by the flames and assess yourself in its unforgiving light, you will never get any better. You’ll spend more time in the dark than you need to.

Building a fire is a science because it requires a foundation of axiomatic knowledge and the application of observation, patience and dedication. Building a fire is an art, because it requires innovation and intuition for what is required at each phase. It needs an artist who can allow it to fulfil its most burning desire. No two fires are the same, so tried and tested formulas will not always work. Keep your senses open and give what is needed.

Because building a fire is both a science and an art, it is therefore a magical practice. As with all of the most sacred acts it can also be one of the most mundane. We imbue life, and fire-building, with whatever meaning we choose. Fire can be for necessity or luxury, for warmth, light, nourishment or entertainment. Maybe for prayer, as my campfire sends its earthy incense up to the heavens, and I commune with the camps of my ancestors above.

Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice. And when it hits the ground magic happens, but if you rely on lightning to start your fire you’ll be mostly cold and waiting for something that will rarely happen again. Be grateful you had that experience but learn from it, and learn to create your own spark. Don’t rely on fate to recreate it because Chaos doesn’t work that way. You need to learn how to start and maintain one yourself, in all and any conditions. *As you shall see in the postscript, timing is an inadequate excuse.

The thing with fire is that it is a fickle thing. Air temperature and pressure, wind direction and precipitation all connive to create differing environments. In some, fire thrives all too well and needs tempering. In others it requires a lot of effort to maintain. But environment needn’t be an excuse to not try. Just make sure you watch, see and behold; don’t get burnt and don’t burn out trying.

A fiery metaphor

As an embodied metaphor, building a fire is useful to explain and explore the processes of building relationships. All metaphors are useful, not only as a literal or poetic description, but because you can make it as relevant as you want. No matter what I mean to write, you will take away only the meaning that you need to understand, on your own terms, and it will be better and more important than anything I intend.

This fire is an externalised projection, a symbolic transformation, a metaphorical transmutation, and an internalised injection of what I need to know – what I’ve always known, but is only now being revealed to me by the light this fire casts into the depth of my black and innocent heart. As I build this fire tonight, I understand it as a living metaphor for building a relationship with myself, which is the foundation for building relationships with others. Building a fire is a meditation in building warmth and giving nourishment. To build a good fire, you need to be both playful and sincere.

Fire is a tool; a transformative, purifying and clarifying technology. Our environment has been shaped by fire since before forever. Firestick farming has been practiced here for centuries, it has shaped our country so profoundly that many of our native plants can’t release their seeds without fire. Regular and controlled burning ensured no dead wood buildup, no fuel for the blazing bushfires that we’ve seen in recent years. Take heart, and read the lessons in this. Don’t let your own deadshit build up waiting for a tiny spark, or you’re asking for trouble. Burn things off systemically, regularly; renew and replenish, and baptise your seeds by fire.

I am taught to be indebted to Prometheus, but in my creation myth I am both god herself and a mortal woman, and so nothing was stolen from a jealous guarding god, no sneaky thieving human stole my secret. We are one and the same, the fire given freely by god herself in a spirit of gratitude for the woman to take the light back to the earthly realm, to share with all my brothers and sisters. The fire is also received in a spirit of gratitude by the human, for the special gift it is to heal, warm, nourish and teach, to illuminate even this darkest frozen night when the sun and moon have just disappeared behind the mountains together.

Here’s to the fire inside each and every one of us. May we always keep our own flames fed, may we ever enjoy the nourishing fires of each other and may we all be beacons of light and bringers of warmth wherever we go.

 – Defender Of The Faith,  5th of June, 2014

Dharug country

Read Part II: Relationships with Others, here

Pride, Purpose and Perspectives

This time one week ago I got the shits when confronted with the knowledge that my friends’ black babies are dealing with the shit I, my brothers, my Mum and everyone else, have dealt with all our life, by mostly well-meaning but still rude people. I felt it deeply, knowing that these comments were going to make a new generation of black kids question their authenticity as Aboriginal people, and therefore make them feel inadequate in their identities. It was going to cause them distress, it was going to contribute to the divide within and between our communities.

With the young ones in mind, I hand wrote that post in about an hour, then typed it onto my phone and published it immediately. Today, one week later, it’s clocked over 4.4k 4.5k 4.6k likes and shares on Facebook alone. It might be no big deal in the grand scheme of the blogosphere, but for someone who’s last blog post got 40 likes (and yes I thought that was deadly) 4000 is quite an overwhelming number.

I am under no illusion as to why people are interested in listening to my viewpoint this week. The themes of race, categorisation and identity are topical at the moment, with the RDA coming under intense debate, in no small part by the opinions of George ‘Bigot’ Brandis and Andrew ‘Assimilation’ Bolt. My perspective adds to the discourse. It’s a marginalised and mostly ignored perspective, but a valuable perspective, according to the majority of Australians who want to shrug off our country’s racist reputation and use their privilege to do more good than continuing harm. Yes, my perspective does have value.

That said, there have been a few public comments and private messages from people who missed the point. White people, indignant that my perpective should make them look racist and in the wrong. People who felt their freedom of speech to express their institutionalised embedded racism to young, beautiful, innocent black kids to make them feel not good enough. People who demonstrated their privilege and power by whitesplaining to me why our feelings and reactions are wrong; why their intentions take precedence over my affectation. Again I say to those – you missed the point. There is no need to try and exonerate yourself. I know why you say it and I know your intentions are not malicious. I know you are but a drop in the ocean, that you are a product of your socialisation. I know this. But that doesn’t change the fact, the evidence, the actuality that those words hurt. So instead of telling me I’m wrong, why not just believe my [educated and experienced] viewpoint, cop it on the chin, and just vow to not say those words again? Reconciliation should not just be our responsibility.

I reiterate: I addressed my post to the people who tell Aboriginal people that they don’t look Aboriginal. I addressed it to the ones who think it’s okay to say it. I addressed it to them in the hope they could better understand why it’s not okay, and that even if they couldn’t fully empathise or understand the history or frameworks or language of oppression, or to understand why it’s not okay in a practical sense, that they could at least move forward with the theoretical understanding that its not okay. I addressed it to them so they could consider that what they are doing is more harm than good, more problem than solution, more hurt than healing.

I had considered not publishing the ignorant comments but am glad I did because I’ve been heartened by the dismantling and debate put forth by better-educated commenters. And that said, the support for my post has been overwhelmingly positive. Besides people complimenting my style of writing, I have had communications from people of all walks of life telling me that the message was received in the spirit I’d intended it. Such as:

My white friend who printed this out so that she could give it to nosy busybodies who say this about her black babies, making them feel hurt. The many black people, of all skin-tones, who’ve shared my writing and stood in solidarity with me. My other white friend who, after reading this, felt confident enough to sit her black daughter down to talk about this, and told me that the connection they made and the smile on her daughter’s face was worth all the previous heartache. My black Aunties who thanked me for articulating what they had been too shame or too shy to express all their lives. My white friend who supported me and shared this amongst his mostly non-Indigenous network. A black artist overseas who encounters this outside the context of generic Aussie racism, who thanked me because my writing made her feel less alone, overseas and away from mob. The whitefellas who get it and came in to bat when other people tried to whitesplain their entitlement to me. My black friends who thanked me for speaking for them, for sacrificing my private nature for them by putting my emotional history in the public sphere. My white friends, some of whom I’ve heard say this in the past, sharing it around so that healing could begin.

Here I sit, writing this in my break from marking essays that are discussing race and representation. Essays from mostly non-Indigenous students; the social workers, teachers and policy-makers of the future. People who will have the power to make or break Aboriginal people. Thankfully, they mostly get it, and if they don’t yet, well. Instead of getting angry at them I remind myself that it is only Week Four of a twelve week course, that they should not bear the brunt of my frustration that’s better directed at the history, and at the institutions. That despite their cognitive dissonance in the face of learning true Aboriginal (and therefore Australian) history, they are doing the hard work, the necessary work of decolonising their minds, and examining their assumptions and attitudes that will one day hopefully lead to right action.

Once these essays are marked I will then work on my thesis that is exploring the ways in which women from my community (including myself) have experienced transgenerational trauma as a result of past government policies, and how they interrupt these effects and move forward, spreading strength. Real evidence of Aboriginal people transcending our historical legacies, and doing what we’ve always done: resisting assimilation, healing trauma and caring for our kids. The unsung heroes who are having a go, who have been hurt in different ways by the seemingly innocuous but assimilationist comments of non-Indigenous people.

Here I sit writing this, on the bank of the Deerubban, not far from the place my grandmother was born. The very same place that she last saw her mother before welfare took her because to them, she didn’t look Aboriginal enough. Here I sit, reflecting on the week and the impacts of my writing, the power we all hold to heal instead of hurt. And, here I sit, safe in the knowledge that my grandmother would be proud of me.

– Defender Of The Faith, 31st of March 2014