Dreaming – where ‘things’ fit into life

"Dreamings" can be regarded as forms of representation which have been crafted by life over many generations in ‘Australia’.

What follows is my speculation.

One very real possibility, which may account for the different form Dreaming stories take to more recent Western forms of representation, is that they ‘factor in’ considerations about where things fit into life – for life to be both lived properly in the day to day and for life to able to reproduce itself in an orthodox way.

This ‘contextual’ information is as much a part of the properties of an ‘object’ as those which are isolated out and privileged by modern thinking.

In place of a fetishised ‘object’ (of the modern West) there is respect for the relationships necessary to generate the ‘object’ – and this is inscribed into the object as a result of where it is positioned in the system of signification.

(Marx touched on similar concerns regarding production in the capitalistic system.)

The resulting systems of signification, built up of such contextual generative considerations, allow all those who use them to interpret experience in keeping with long established and well-proven precedents.

Post-Banksian perspective

Modern Australia is a cultural construct, and modern Australians are themselves social constructions – fashioned to specifications which systematically exclude the cosmologies of Australia’s First Peoples.

For many Anglo-Australians, there is a feeling that Australia begins with the arrival of Lt James Cook,  his esteemed guest, Joseph Banks, and crew on the Endeavour.

Cook is regarded, in this popular fantasy as being the ‘discover’ of Australia (ignoring even his European predecessors, not to mention long established First Peoples).

While the East Coast of Australia has been well and truly "Cooked" by the use the master mariners surname, a special role was reserved for Joseph Banks – a Gentleman and Man of Science.

His name is one of the means by which a European false consciousness has been cemented into modern Australian life, with that extra twist of respectability befitting an extremely wealthy and cultured English Gentleman.

banksia flowers small

The flowering plant here is a variety of what we know as a ‘Banksia". A Candle Banksia – it may be " … a hybrid between Banksia ericifolia and Banksia spinulosa var. collina (see http://www.anbg.gov.au/banksia/ ). I don’t know.

But what is really important is that I don’t know the name by which it was/is known by Australia’s First Peoples, and nor do many other modern Australians.

The following account from the main Australian broadcaster ( http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s2079592.htm) provides what is probably a typical ‘modern’ Anglo-Australian ‘take’:

"ABC Gardening Australia
Fact Sheet: Banksias
Presenter: Meredith Kirton, 03/11/2007

"When I think of Banksias, I think of Joseph Banks landing on the shores of Botany Bay and May Gibbs’s drawings of the big bad Banksia men in Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. They love the sand and the surf, they grow all the way out to the desert and they are tremendously hardy and resilient. They’re fantastic plants – give them a go."

Amongst the horticultural set, direct and spiritual heirs of those farming folk who sought to replace First Peoples on the land, such a statement is perfectly normal and respectable. Banks and a children’s fairy story are part of the picture – the age-old Dreaming stories of First Peoples (which would have a place of this plant) are missing – systematically excluded from consideration.

Another cultural script is the one associated with the naming of Banksia:

"Banksias are a unique feature of Australia’s natural environment.

They first became known to Europeans in 1770 when James Cook landed at Botany Bay with Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who were astounded at the very remarkable plants they found.

Four Banksia species were collected there and another at the Endeavour River at Cooktown.

Most of the specimens which Banks and Solander collected are now in the British Museum but a few are held by the herbaria of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Sydney and Melbourne.

Banksia was given its botanical name in 1798 by the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, in honour of Joseph Banks’s discovery of the genus and his great contribution to botanical collection. "

(above from http://www.greengold.com.au/greengold/CARENOTES/CARENOTES/banksias.htm)

Well, what greater honour and sign of respect than to have something new to science named after you? Ask Australia’s First Peoples.

But there are signs of change – as the Banksian perspective from Cook’s elbow on the deck of the Endeavour slowly begins to lose its hold over our intellect.


Archaeological evidence suggests that banksias or Banksia-like plants have existed for over 40 million years. The first humans to discover and make use of Banksia plants were the Australian aborigines who used the nectar from the flowers as part of their diet.

The first Europeans to observe banksias were probably Dutch explorers who made several landfalls along the West Australian coast during the 17th and early 18th centuries. No botanical collections were made, however, until the discovery of the east coast of Australia by Captain James Cook in the Endeavour in April 1770. Accompanying Cook were botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who collected many new species at Botany Bay including four which would later be included in a new genus, Banksia, named in honour of Joseph Banks’ contribution to botany. The four species collected were B.serrata, B.ericifolia, B.integrifolia and B.robur. Later, on the same voyage, Banks and Solander collected a fifth species (B.dentata) on the north Queensland coast. "

(from http://asgap.org.au/banksia1.html)

A degree of recognition but to anonymous peoples – and no original name for the plant.

The Dreaming stories and the cosmologies of First Peoples contain life’s poetry in this country we know as "Australia". These were created overs eons and represent the better part of life’s true inheritance.

Without the long established name of this plant, and the corresponding stories of where it fits into life, we are greatly diminished – and diminished in a way which no amount of science can make good.

The Red List – an acid test of the worth of any cosmology

Unlike the criteria from narrow forms of Western/modern reason, life itself provides an acid test/critique of our cosmologies and associated practices.

I reproduce the following item from ABC news in full due to its fundamental importance.

The next step is to compare the well-being of the rest of life with the situation in Australia under the cosmologies and practices of Australia’s First Peoples.



Quarter of world’s mammals facing extinction

By Stephanie Kennedy

ABC radio http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/10/07/2383652.htm?section=justin

Tasmanian devil … at risk (ABC News: Simon Cullen)

A survey by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has found that a quarter of the world’s mammals are at risk of extinction.

The Red List of Threatened Species is published in the journal Science and it says populations of more than half of world’s mammals are falling, with Asian primates particularly at risk.

The updated ‘Red List’ was released at the World Conservation Congress in Spain, with Australia ranking poorly.

The biggest threat to mammals is loss of habitat, including deforestation.

788 species in Australia have been listed as threatened, including fish, birds and plants.

Of that number, 57 of the country’s native mammals are at risk of extinction.

Zoologist from the University of Adelaide Professor Chris West says Australia’s ranking in the Red List is one of the worst for developed countries

"I’m afraid what it does is point up the fact that Australia has a poor record so far," he said.

Professor West says habitat destruction, conversion to farmland and pollution are root causes and climate change is also a threat.

One of the mammals at serious risk is the Tasmanian devil.

Its population, has declined by 60 per cent in 10 years, due to viral face cancer.

It is now listed as endangered, and its prospects as a species are extremely bleak.

But there is good news for the African elephant, increased numbers have led to its removal from the high-risk list.

The Red List is compiled every four years by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.


A wild ‘pansee’ (or two)


Sept 08 004

The Pansy in the image above is domesticated, but it looks wild!

Note the little clay bird of peace on the window ledge to the left, which unintentionally crept into the picture – looking for a message to carry. See points 1 and 2 below.

Much of the work necessary for understanding how balanced though functions was done by Claude Levi-Strauss.

His book "The Savage Mind" was a bad translation from its French title of "La Pensee Sauvage" – a pun which, in French, provides a clear example of how abstract thought can be embedded at a ‘sensory’ level  to provide a kind of concrete logic.

Apparently the English publishers found allusions to ‘pansies’ a bit risque and opted for something dull in the tradition of "The Sexual life of savages". It is ok to refer to their sexual habits, but not to those which – at that time – were largely denied within modern life. By such respectable considerations – and forms of denial –  we may be denied the rich mind food we require.

While "The Savage Mind" is not an easy read Levi-Strauss provides a convincing demonstration of how, for our form of Being, this level of logic has provided the metaphors we require to connect to our surroundings in a more immediate means than those of abstract grand narratives. And – all things considered – served us well.

The hope for a form of super-rationalism, in which some form of universal reason will be once again integrated with sense experience, may be an illusion belonging to the modern past.

Of equal importance to the conceptual workings of ‘the human mind’ to produce balanced and embedded systems of signification, the work by modern anthropologists such as Levi-Strauss himself (and the lesser known Pierre Clastres) demonstrate the fundamental importance of an insistence to disallow any concentration of power in the hands of a few in one group..

"Moiety" systems can be characterised as having two complementary halves. While some may even be signified in relation to "Upper" and "Lower" they are most often finely balanced pairings.

If one of the sides of the moiety looks like becoming ascendant, trouble is sure to ensure until balanced relations are restored (and this may be a dynamic form of equilibrium, not necessarily a simple-minded form of stasis).

The forms of representation fashioned by these means must be different from those formed by processes which seek to find a universal form of truth (and corresponding control).

And so too are the metaphors by which our Earth-Being is connected with Cosmos.

Two factors are worth following up:

1. Any concentration of power in the hands of a single group can never be considered as ‘well-formed’. There must be more or less equal force between different groups. (Exit the modern nation state.)

2. The ‘moieties’ of modern anthropologists can be considered to be merely local arrangements of a much wider ‘force field’ extending throughout the cosmos of the peoples concerned.

The local arrangements (as artificially carved out by modern anthropologists and/or maybe groups of people themselves) are a fractal image of a complex life system which is both totalising and involves alliances and systems of exchange with the whole of the rest of life.

The ‘stress’ on these arrangements is ‘horizontal’ rather than ‘vertical’. There can be no ‘self- centred knowledge – while what is relevant to our part of life can and must be internalised, the role of significant others must replace the importance placed (in modern times at least) on individual creative genius.

Levi-Strauss’ later work on South and North American myth-narratives went on to show how a kind of global group mind is at work, shaping our mythology.

For that to happen again, all conceptual craftspeople have to free themselves from the constraints of their modern masters and fashion this stuff of dreams into new myths by which the whole of life can enjoy full well-being.

In short, a flowering collective:

fllowering collective crop

Sky high

Recently i returned to Australia across the Tasman Sea flying high in the sky and watching the wonderful world of clouds. The movie inside seemed trivial by comparison.

Seated above the  leading edge of the wing, i had a clear view of the fine work – a marvel itself – of the construction which goes into the wing and the front of the engine.

And the engines themselves – almost defying comprehension, lifting this great weight into the sky, and across vast distances in a few hours.

It is impossible not to be impressed. I pondered my own curious position vis-a-vis modern science and thought how good it would be to be able to simply embrace modern life and modern science on the terms its enthusiasts make for it. How good it would be to be able to simply accept the great adventure and experiment we are part.

But … it is not the marvel of the jet engine as a means of propulsion and the fine metal work and design of the aircraft as an thing in itself which requires critical attention.

What was this aircraft (and any like it bringing a staggering 30 million passengers into Sydney airport alone this year) leaving in its wake? And also, bringing in with it?

Passing through the rituals of customs just so you know who is in control in modern Australia, what wrong attitudes could it bringing in which may not be welcome by the original peoples?

What social and environmental factors  have  been excluded from our considerations when we unreflectively embrace aircraft travel?


Modern forms of abstraction fail to deal with the residue which results from the process of abstraction.

Abstraction is a process which puts an emphasis on some aspect of experience at the expense of the rest of experience.

Generally, in situations which comply with our social norms, we privilege and elevate abstraction.

By comparison, it is possible to imagine an approach which treats the whole as being worthy of respect – and, as a result, insists that any ‘residue’ from a process is accorded its proper treatment and not simply discarded.

This seems to be an approach which is found in non-western societies where it is put into lived practice.

For example, the disposal of afterbirth or the freshly severed foreskin may require careful treatment.  To modernising minds, these may be ‘thrown away’ as being of no significance.

Such practices are often regarded with scorn by modern scientific minds.

But we may be seeing an approach which takes real care to ensure that ‘what is left over’ is assigned to its proper place if we are to lead balanced lives.

Nuclear fuel dumps and other toxic waste matters – and even the enormous ‘rubbish’ dumps of modern life – confirm the graffiti sign  "There is no away to throw."


But abstraction itself is an inherently unstable process.

By ‘factoring out’ part of the whole as being "of no account" we lay unstable foundations for all that will be invested upon them.

The search for meaning ends here …

In the 1990, i was driving through a remote part of Central Australia when we passed a sign, in the middle of a European nowhere, which said "You are now entering Aboriginal land."

There seemed something terribly wrong. The whole broken-range country we had been travelling through was saturated with Dreamings known to the local "indigenous" lawmen.

With all of cosmos subject to Dreaming signification, there could be no false demarcation. What kind of mind-Being-deadedness does it require for such a sign to be taken seriously?

It reminded me of a colour cartoon i once saw (in the 70s) in which two characters are in full flight – cat chases mouse – when a sign whips passed in the background and – suddenly – they are in black and white. They tip-toe back to the sign to read that "Technicolor ends here".

Well, the Age of Reason’s one-sided search for meaning ends here.

If it is accurate to to characterise parts of human life as being shaped by a search for meaning, then we come to a point where we can treat that search – with all its gains and associated costs – as a constricting skin which we must now shed.

Moving from one mode to another —  but what it is next?

Claude Levi-Strauss, the foremost modern anthropologist of our times, summed it up very neatly some years ago during his intellectual debate with Sartre:

"The real question is not whether our endeavour to understand involves a gain or loss of meaning, but whether the meaning we preserve is of more value than that we have been judicious enough to relinquish. In this respect Sartre seems to remember only half of Marx’s and Fried’s combined lesson. They have taught us that man has meaning only on the condition that he view himself as meaningful. So far I agree with Sartre. But it must be added that this meaning is never the right one: superstructures are faulty acts which have made it socially." (Claude Levi-Strauss ‘The Savage Mind’ 1962:253-254)

The search for meaning does not end in a universal meaning, but a realisation that knowledge is always surrounded by a mysterious cosmos.

We can opt to seek finer levels of abstract understanding – a bit like a life style choice – but must also accept that abstract understanding is inherently unstable.

And are there more pressing priorities?

In place of privileged forms of knowledge, an appreciate of allowing coexisting spaces – but never allowing for domination of one by the other.

All the ideologies, the control trips – the vertical metaphors necessary for command structures to operate – an enormous bubble in life’s working through a grand experiment.

Moving right along … and leaving fundamentalists of various trends to conduct their rear guard battles to preserve illusions of privileged  human understanding … we move from a search for meaning to a search for Ways of Being – of getting as right as possible how we relate to our surroundings and to each other.

We can look at the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples with new eyes – there are real lessons to be learnt.