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    I am reading through 'both ways' literature of Yolngu and non-Yolngu working their knowledge systems together. Alongside I am reading Lorraine Code's 2006 book Ecological Thinking. I am also browsing through blogs and discussions on knowledge work and community development.
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    Here I post some of my work and thinking. It is a much harder task than I thought! It is an extension of my research on knowledge and difference connecting my experiences, reflections, formal written pieces, and hopefully friends and colleagues. As work and self cannot be separate this blog is both personal and intellectual. Comments are moderated because, while it is a site for collective work, it is not anonymous.
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  • May 2009
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Burn Out

I have been trying to find a story about the last few months. Lara and I had to leave the community we were living in quite suddenly. We landed back in Victoria and staying in Murrindindi with my parents. Murrindindi is now quite well know as it is the name of one of the dreadful fires that burnt only weeks before we got back.

I was sitting at a folded out trestle in a beautiful house, trying to keep writing. Autumn colors were just beginning. Just beyond view from the house were the burnt bush and houses. At night during the fires, my Dad described the fire as a wild beast, raging in the bush and terrifying in the mind. Always out there. day after day. And they were fortunate.

Burnout. Once the word was in my head it wouldn’t leave. For a time the bush, all brown and black, ash and dust, was the emptiness and wreckage that we felt. Lara and I we in burnout from something quite different to the fires, my parents from ‘the fires’ but not the fire itself. Burnout is what you are left with, and how you are left. It is not only something that slowly mounts, or something you go through only realising afterward, though your understanding maybe grow in time. Burnout, like the emptiness between the black trunks, it is state of being.

And then the bush seemingly betrays you. Green shoots appear on all the trees (and I’m not talking about the ‘yey green shoots capitalism is all okay after all’ green shoots!). There seem to be more than just a few. They seem to be recovering while you are not. I was stuck by the many works in an Art show in the Yarra Valley, produced in only weeks after the fire, depicting the burnt, smoking landscapes. But by this time, the burnout these canvasses conveyed, was disappearing outside. The arresting of time effected by the paintings was strengthening. Green shoots are like the way you say you are okay and keep breathing. They are the brave face of the bush, the bare minimum of living, but they can propel you too fast into being okay.

Copyright © 2009 Sean Miakin flickr.com/photos/seanmakin/

[From Burn Out]


4 Responses

  1. Hi Christian,

    “Burnout” just asks for a continuation !

    What is the significance of the green shoots ? Is it a new beginning, or the last throes of death, with recovery too far ?

    What will happen to the space ? Will it be filled, or remain as a reminder of the fires ?

    What are the consequences of being “propel(led) too fast into being okay” ?

    How can one slow the process so that healing and reconciliation can occur at “proper pace”; while at the same time one “gets on with life”. I’m sure many people, not just from the fires, or faced with the same.

    Always, many questions, with answers not so easy – a situation which does not sit well with our contemporary lifestyle of instant and simple answers to ongoing and complex issues.

    I wonder whether we will ever reach a point where a significant minority contemplates traditional indigenous lifestyle as a possible alternative to our continuous growth model ? And will there be enough carbon credits to go around !


  2. Yes, these are our questions. I recently read this article in Tha Age and I think it speaks to these issues.

    Peter Ellingsen, ‘Haunted by details missing in the struggle for objectivity’, The Age, 3 June 2009


  3. Christian, hello. I’ve been wondering where you were, and how you and Lara are going. Your father’s question of how one “gets on with life” after your NT experience is pertinent, isn’t it? After twenty-five years here I can reflect on many times when the thoughts and feelings you have now have been paramount in my life. The ‘thing” underlying those feelings for me is a great burning shame, a shame at the actions and the ignorance of ‘my own people’, a shame at our seeming inability to have sustained and authentic conversations of respect with Indigenous communities. Therein lies the answer to so much for our “nation” but bayngu, nothing. In fact we seem to be going backwards at the moment.
    Once upon a time, in the mid-90s when Batchelor College was closing its doors to people from remote communities, as I watched student research papers being thrown into boxes, and dumped into an old un-air-conditioned donga (all lost eventually) the feeling of ‘burnout’ for me was overwhelming and really quite dreadful. In my eyes, the participatory research these students had been doing with their communities into how their own knowledge systems could be incorporated into their community schools was a clear way forward for Indigenous Education everywhere. It was rattling the cage, puzzling at the separation of ‘modern’ knowledge and Indigenous knowledge that you are talking about in your piece about Namibia.
    It was at this point I thought I would have to go away, leave what I had learnt, to find some other kind of life. I was living in Batchelor, and could not find the way forward. My yapa sent me a message from home – a message that is part of a dialogue between The Sea, and Mandula, The Rock (a special ancestral rock close to Yirrkala); it is published in a book she worked on in the mid-80s, Ngayi Balngana Mawurrku, The Song Of Yirrkala, with one of our fathers, Mr Dhunggala Marika. Yapa used the idea of the Sea, crashing down upon us, as an analogy for western knowledge and its forces; Mandula (The Rock) replies in dhangu, Rirratjingu of course. Yapa’s English translation is fine here:
    “Even though you crash upon me, and your patterns are left on me, I will stand firm for you as the day draws to an end…You keep crashing upon me, the mighty wave Rulyapa Dhawadalpadal, and keep on breathing against me, but I will stand firm against you”.
    Yapa’s use of a small section of this story has become part of how we Marika women keep on going. It is a really interesting use of text, however, because in its entirety the Sea and Mandula are interacting in a strong co-operative way, not an oppositional one. And that is what we are striving for in interactions at the cultural interface with Indigenous Australians.

  4. Hi Kathy and Christian
    You posted this reply some time ago Kathy but I only read it today. And I was very moved to read it. I got to thinking how we have been sitting in our little cubicles in our office at uni for a few years now, and talking often, but yet holding so much, so many stories and experiences which neither of us knew/know about. It is like that everywhere isn’t it. Your piece has given me a new respect for people in general .. a sudden window opening which reminds me that everyone is a place where countless stories meet. Who knows at what stage of the process of recovery from burnout they may be at .. and how our interaction with them might influence it. I know that last year I was just so appreciative of the atmosphere in our office .. it was a place where we could tell stories, shead tears, get a hug as well as a copy of a good reference! So thank you, and Christian, for this exchange.

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