Mens songs – in the higher keys of life.


In his book “Dark Emu” Bruce Pascoe says words to the effect  – “we have a chance to catch a glimpse of Australia as Aboriginals saw it.”

I share the spirit of this very important challenge – catching a glimpse or two can serve to restructure entire fields of knowledge by methods which mere data collecting and modern social theorising never will.

Part of the glimpse process is to ‘see’ the western frameworks of interpretation which have to be transcended in order to let some life through. We have to learn to see life in this country on its own terms and not those which systematically privilege modern Western master narratives.

In other words, we have to stop looking at life so hard with our Westernised eyes. These eyes turn dancing forms of energy into inert things.

David Turner has written about his experiences in learning to see with dancing eyes.

Rather than trying to accommodate First Peoples Ways into Neolithic Western categories (farmers, agriculturalists) as Bruce Pascoe does in his book “Dark Emu” I regard First Peoples as being involved in the production of higher level messages of an entirely different type to those which emerged in a Neolithic transformation of part of life.

Life within orthodox First Peoples Ways stands in an entirely different relationship to that necessary for horticulture, agriculture, farming etc. I regard First Peoples as operating on a higher level than agriculture.

The songs and ceremonies of senior men are songs in the key of life – ensuring a finely-tuned cosmos. The songs are higher practices which ensure that the everyday practices which make up our lives are appropriately formed according to an age-old life design. One that has keep this planet of ours in extremely good shape over a vast period of time.

What is striking, in regard to the harvesting of tubers and grains, is that these activities may be predominantly women’s activities. Strehlow Senior noted that the gathering/harvesting of certain roots was the principal food of the women. I am uncertain about the harvesting of grains, but the grinding of grains is certainly something well within women’s domain.

Anthropologists such as Annette Hamilton have written on the existence of these two worlds.

The complementary opposition between men’s and women’s social universes is certainly a highly marked feature of First Peoples Ways in Central Australia. Of course, there is a fully functioning form of co-existence between these two social and cultural universes.

In modern Western Ways, especially at this time, the movement for accepting women into the core of men’s domains, is regarded as the right and proper path for life to take. It is not necessarily how things function in other viable socio-cultural life formations.

I have pondered before – in light of contemporary cross-cultural alliances – if the conceptual distance between the women’s world – a fully cultured world without a shadow of a doubt – is somehow closer to that of the modern secular worldview. And this closeness and system of alliances results in senior men being excluded from their rightful place in life.

As i travel in Central Australia i am struck by how much of what is on public display about traditional Dreaming narratives is from the women’s side of life. This is a very rich tradition and exists on a high existential level as a complement to the secret-sacred law of senior men. But much of the secret-sacred law of senior men remains restricted to initiated men and is not so readily visible.

This is no reason to treat it as non-existent.

Traditionally any male who had not been initiated was, irrespective of his age, still a ‘boy’ in the eyes of the senior men. Much of the present debates about First Peoples rights are conducted by people who are not initiated into the original system of laws carried by senior men.

I also fail detect any substantial respect for senior lawmen on the part of at least some non-indigenous feminists including those who presume to be able to talk about the rights of First Peoples, men included. Much of the modern human rights agenda is based on presumptions about rights which apply only to peoples-without-countries.

While posing as a cross-cultural dialogue, discussions about First Peoples rights far too often conducted in English by people who find no discomfort in the lack of the voices of senior indigenous lawmen in these discussion, but who also feel no compulsion to learn the languages spoken by surviving senior lawmen.

In other words, where we should be hearing the voices of senior indigenous lawmen speaking in their own languages, an entirely Western monologue by privileged people fills the entire space with talk of ‘the nation’ and similar bounded categories entirely alien to the world-views of First Peoples.

The voices of senior men need to be heard in their own right – not as interpreted by others (included me). The task for people like me is to create spaces for their voices to be heard by Western ears.

To hear the voices of senior lawmen we have to leave our modern comfort zones and go the extra mile. I believe the rewards will be well worth the effort for those of us who accept the major life challenge of regaining our singing cosmos.