Feet on Country

He said: ‘No feet on Country for decades now’. I hear him, an Elder of one of the Traditional Owner groups connected to Gariwerd, the soaring ranges European explorer Thomas Mitchell called the Grampians after a range in his native Scotland. What it means to have no feet on Country reverberates inside me, a hum of meanings and entanglements.

A desert of sand and dunes rolls out in front of me. The room disappears. We are walking Country: to see it, feel it, nurture it with our presence. We are in the footsteps of Wangkangurru people as they walked their desert, travelling between mikiri – water wells dug deep into the sand.

The desert fades. The room is full of voices, talking about what it means to look after Country. One man says: ‘the bush is a mess … too thick … the trees can’t breathe’, another that looking after Country means being ‘hands on’, caring for it with your own sweat work. It means being there, listen, hearing Country speak.

Mitchell’s wagon tracks cut deep into Country, the first of many shocks. Not feet, nor the caress of hands, of language and song.

That room, those voices seem like a lifetime ago: BC, before COVID, but it’s just a few months. My last desert walking was 2019, September, not quite a year. Afterwards I wrote about that trip into the eastern Simpson Desert, about meeting with Dr Karl Vernes, and about his search for what was once favoured Wangkangurru tucker – the Desert Rat Kangaroo. Now extinct or is it?

Here is a link to what I wrote: Gone to ground, or gone for good?