In 1990, I was living and working in the north-west of England in the beautiful Lake District, home to Wordsworth and Ruskin. I was a performing musician and High School peripatetic music teacher with two small private schools and lots of gifted pupils. I lived with my partner in a beautiful lakeside setting and could go up on to the Fells quickly for long walks in my spare time. I genuinely thought I had found career satisfaction and emotional contentment, but somehow it was too good to be true. Something was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
So, I decided the only way to find out what this mysterious missing element was, was to give up my comfortable life and go out into the world. I started to make preparations to sell up and hand over my practice to another teacher, put a few valuable things in storage, and set out with a large rucksack in pursuit of what I laughingly called ‘reality!’ In hindsight, this was spectacularly spot-on, but I didn’t know it at the time.
Choosing which direction to start in was challenging. Still, given the date—1990 and the unbelievable things that were happening in Europe—the Berlin Wall was being dismantled, and the Soviet regime finally crumbling—I decided to go east by train from England to see for myself. That was just a small part of what turned out to be a two-year journey literally around the world, and is another story but not relevant to this site—Your Lands, Stories and Songs.
Much, much later, I arrived in Australia and combed the east coast looking for the mystery element but couldn’t find it among the surfers and glorious weather, the fabulous food and national parks filled with exotic wild species. Then, despite warnings from other travellers, I decided to take the one-way trip down into the centre of Australia to Alice Springs, close to Ayers Rock. The long-distance bus driver announced that there was only one road in and one out of Alice Springs unless we wanted to take our lives into our hands and enter the Lands—Arnhem Land, the traditional territory of Aboriginal Australians.
So, I checked into a backpackers’ hotel and did a few local trips—one to the spectacular Ayers Rock which definitely changed my life—thinking I would soon go back up north to fly south down to Melbourne. Then on the bulletin board in the hotel, there was an advertisement inviting applications deep into the Lands with the Rotary Club. The mission of the trip was to help a group of elderly and young tribal members return to ‘traditional life.’ This last phrase was confusing, so I asked and found out that this particular group was tired of living in the settlement provided for them by the government and were going to walk into Arnhem Land to start to live again as aboriginals always had. I was intrigued, so applied, but one of the qualifications to be accepted was that in some way, I would learn from this experience and be able to contribute that knowledge back into society. As a professional musician, I had used music for therapeutic purposes. Hence, I suggested that I would study the Songs that the Desert people were so famous for, record them and try to understand in more depth more about them.
A few days later I was accepted to join the project and told to pack a small rucksack and be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice as sandstorms were brewing on our route and we would have to take an opportunity to depart when it arose. I introduced myself briefly to my fellow team members. In essence, an ecologist, an environmental architect, a landscape artist come to learn about making paint from natural substances, a herbalist interested in making medicines from the outback, and an anthropologist who planned to stay on and accompany the party all the way if they would have him. I must say that I was nervous and yet excited at the prospect as I sat around the hotel foyer and café with my packed bag like a pregnant mother waiting to rush to give birth.
The moment arrived, and a tall man in very short-shorts and heavy boots ran in and called my name. We went out to the vehicle—a massive land cruiser, like a tank, designed specially to drive across several thousand miles of dusty red sand. I slotted my bag in the mass of equipment and supplies and climbed up beside my new colleagues. Then we set off, roaring through the wide streets of Alice until we reached the town border and the open lands.
The journey was almost unbearable for three reasons. First three days of continual driving because if we stopped, it was likely we would never be able to get started again due to deep sand drifts. Second, because we were going several thousand miles into the south-Australian desert which is right in the centre of Australia; and lastly, because we were expected and should be on time and we were already late leaving. And Robin, our leader added cryptically: “and her highness will know exactly when we were meant to arrive.”
I piped up, innocently,
“Oh, glad to hear there’s a telephone or transmitter there then.”
He sniggered and said,
“Only Bush-telegraph, you can be sure.”
My new friends and I were not quite sure what he meant by this remark, and he said no more, so we would have to wait and see.
My memories of our arrival at the settlement are vague and disordered. En route, thrown around, jolted hard against the peaks of sandbanks, violently shaken and covered in hot red dust, something incredible happened to me which I can’t put into any simple terms here on the page. Suffice it to say I could taste the excitement of something I had never felt before, and I became steadily sure as we got closer and closer that this was what I had packed up my ‘civilised’ life to find.
Ninija, the tribal leader of the group we were escorting into the outback, was to turn me 180 degrees from facing outwards, questing madly in different countries and cultures for that missing element, to facing inwards and stepping into the Dreaming Lands. And this site–Your Lands, Stories and Songs—is devoted to everything that happened to me as I stepped into ‘reality.’