The Past Lives in Us

Charlie Perkins, an Aboriginal activist, who was the first indigenous person to study at the University of Sydney in the sixties, believed that “the past lives in us”. Sometimes the past, through the land, sings to us, he’d said.

Aboriginal cultures often speak of the land talking to them. The mineral pool town of Moree, an inland area that is home to many Aboriginal Australians, spoke to me when I was about three. I felt like I’d “come home” while floating with my parents in the warm waters of the pool, which was not open to indigenous people at the time. I’ve always felt an affinity with cultural minorities who are discriminated against.

Song Lines

In his book, Songlines, Bruce Chatwin explored Aboriginal Dreamtime mythology and the idea that the land was sung into existence: trees, rocks, paths and animals becoming one, along with the singers who sang them into being.

Family History Song Lines

Could our urge to seek out past family links produce its own version of song lines? By retracing our ancestors’ steps, are we tapping into their song lines? I’ve explored family members’ journeys, who have actually felt themselves in the places where their ancestors have been. It’s such a strong feeling ,they tell me. They feel themselves there and picture different settings — buildings, men working, women cooking…. Could these be called ‘songlines’?

Is that the way our ancestors are talking to us?

Ayers Rock or Uluru

Songs and Singing

Since responding to these ancestral calls, a strange thing has happened. Lyrics and songs from the past, a past in which I could not keep a tune, have been calling on me. Within my otherwise musical family, Dad and I, out of the seven of us, were both tone deaf.

Now I have started to sing, at first tentatively, and then more confidently. I have been even singing in tune, especially Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell. The words and tune from this song have been singing to me day and night for weeks on end. I cannot even remember learning it in the past. But I can now sing it right through, almost perfectly.

I feel an empathy with this Canadian singer, who is about my age.

I like the sense of irony and paradox in her songs. Especially in Both Sides Now. I feel a connection with her like the connection I feel to country, to mystery and to songlines.

The Power of Place

Do you find certain places call to you? Often this is the places that we were born and raised in. However, other places might also have a special significance for you, as if they are old friends. I found this to be the case when I first went to Paris. It was a little like coming home, but to a new home. It’s akin to a spiritual feeling, which is what the indigenous Dreamtime is all about.