"Standing Up Alive" Men's Gathering-
.......The Power Of Spirit.......


To  write  about this week, feels like one of the hardest writing tasks I've embarked upon. I feel adrenalin  pumping and heart beating as I begin to type.  I can't share in detail for many reasons, but by telling my story of it and many parts of the journey I will endeavor to share the spirit  and learning's that came from a powerful week.

Being with a hundred and ten men in  a beautiful bush setting, in sacred space for such a time was bound to make it   an amazing time. Add 9 Yolngu (aboriginal)  men from East Arnhem Land, three  who were elders and custodians of Yidaki (didgeridoo), Bilma (Clapsticks) and dance and the recipe was spiced and bound to be something else.

Before I share more on a week with this special mob , I'll share a bit of background on the Yolngu people.

The Yolngu mob  as a people only became connected with white folk in a substantial way  50 years back. Their language is totally intact and English is their second language. They live in the far far north on the north eastern tip of Arnhem Land. They are surrounded by land that they continue to own and care for as they have for thousands of years.

When we consider what has happened to  most  other tribes across Australia, their country is largely as it always was and they live a very traditional life and  have found and continue to find ways to integrate both worlds. There are nethertheless many challenges to their people that have come out of colonization. Thankfully though  they feel to have the strength to find a way through so  their culture lives on rich and strong.

As you folk know too well, yidaki - didgeridoo and indigenous contempory music  have become popular throughout the world. Interestingly Djalu as elder and custodian of  the yidaki, and Yothu Yindi as a succesful rock  and dance band, are  both Yolngu In their respective ways they lead the aboriginal peoples Australia wide in being examples of aboriginal culture  shared from a place of strength and balance.

Both Djalu and Yothu Yindi  have become  highly respected and loved for the beauty in their  work and music. It carries the spirit of their people. As Mandaway  from Yothu Yindi shared in a speach he once gave, "Our music is all about continuing to sing love songs to the land, and as Djalu so often shares with his hand over his big heart and chest, "Yidaki shares spirit and comes from the heart".

Mandaway went on to encourage us all to find ways to sing love songs to the land. Djalu  encourages us to find ways to sing our own heart song through the didg.

I share what I have so far to give a background to the blessing it was, to have these special men come so far;  interested in us white fellas coming together, to find  sacred ways to live and work together.

I reread what I've written so far and feeling the power behind what they share, my heart pumps fast again.

Back to SUA (Standing Up Alive gathering) and a bit on the history of  it as a gathering. In Northern New South Wales, since the 60's there has been a large influx of people interested and committed to finding alternatives  to our western culture.  From Bellingen in the South where I live to the Melany area in southern Queensland in the north, this area has often been referred to as the Rainbow Triangle. Interestingly I've heard said, that its the positive  pole to the Bermuda Triangle directly opposite on the other side of the globe. Either way it has been the home of multiple  occupancy communities, festivals, gatherings, workshops and sharings as well as businesses and cottage industries, grounding positive alternatives. Many of the folk who were in their 20's and the 30's when they first moved here full of vision have been through much over the years in the natural challenge to bring them down to earth, and  the seeds  planted are now bearing fruit.

After the Womens Liberation movement of the 60's & 70's  and onwards, it wasn't until the 80's and 90's that  the mens movement took foundation out of the gaping need for new role models and forums and circles  to support men healing the  damage done. In  1993 the first SUA gathering   came out of a strong mens movement throughout the region. John Allen , Rob Fleetwood,and others with Rein Van der Ruit who bought David Mowaljarlai from the Kimberlies and Davidsí dream made this gathering to be what it is. Arne and Bere have also for many years been running a  Pathways to Manhood initiation process for teenagers coming into manhood.

Harry who lives in Arnhem land,  and attended SUA a couple of years back shared of his journey with his best mate  a Yolngu teacher Timmy Burarrwanga , who is very passionate about his culture. Timmy saw a few  photos  from the gathering with David and looked at the book Yorro Yorro and said   to Harry that  in the photos  he saw sacred business shared amongst white fellas  and this interested him. He asked  to go down with Harry next time around. The story went around the community and three of the elders also wanted to  be part of the long journey down south .  By the time the 9th gathering came to be,  9 Yolnga  men  had their flights booked. Djalu, Alfred , Samuel  ,Timmy, Wesley Hamish Andrew, Wapit and Nunukwuy

So at this point 110 guys from the far north to the far south   and from overseas, prepared for a journey to Byron Bay to meet  and share in powerful ways.

Hearing that there was to be a  few tipis set up, I packed the tipi and with a few fella's from our mens group in Bellingen  and a couple of other mates we headed north 3 hours. The site  immediately felt to be home. Hearing from a mate who  came up in my car, Jonathon, about " Pathways  to Manhood" and previous " SUA" events that have  been on that land, it  was clear this was  a powerful site and the  land was charged. It is  beautiful coastal dry rainforest, with old   big Squiggly Gum trees many who were hollow  and emanated  strong spirit. A short walk away was  a river who flowed into the sea.  A short walk down the river and over the sand dunes and into the ocean. Soft and naturing land.

The day we arrived, the  clouds were low and soft rain blessed the setting up of camp. It felt perfect. The energy was coming inward and the rain settled the dry bush and land that was in need of  rain so much. Next morning  was to be the beginning of the  journey officially. The day dawned and  the camp grew as folk arrived,  we  helped out,  settled in, and explored the terrain. After a jump in the ocean  and returning to camp I heard that the Yolngu mob had arrived. We were close to our first circle as a mob and the grounding and  anticipation was doing its  work.

When I first decided to come, hearing that the Yolngu mob were coming, did clinch the decision, and wanting  to go to SUA for a  couple of years and Djalu coming , I had to go. Being into Yidaki so much as I am, it would be understandable to be carried away with excitement and expectation,  meeting and being with Djalu. I  have always felt though, that that aboriginal folk carry so much that us western folk now desire to know  or adopt, and at times it must be a pain in the neck being in their shoes having us so needy of them. Especially Djalu. I hear how sought after he is, by travellers going to Arnhem land wanting to be in his presence and learn from him.

If I was to be around the fella  and the mob I didn't want to bring any of my needs with me, I wanted to simply allow  what was to unfold to unfold. Deep down I couldn't ignore the build up  but I did also allow it to be in trust . This felt healthy. I planned to only bring a couple of didgs, but then at the last minute John asked me to bring a mob of didgs in case we needed some for others who didn't have any.  This mirrored the two parts of myself, one  wanting  to blend in and just drink in what flowed,  the other wanting to connect directly  and share  together of Yidaki and culture.

Theres so much that unfolded over the coming days, so much thats  hard to put in words and  so much thats not appropriate to share, but I will try to share glimpses of the essence shared  and journey had,  in ways that we can relate  to, in our  lifes journey and in our interest in playing yidaki.

Yidaki draws so many of us to aboriginal culture and I see it does so for reasons of  its many gifts it has to offer, on our own journey.

Interestingly  though as I've heard it said before, Yidaki is a tool for connecting with or sharing spirit not the focus itself. In our western way its easy to get carried away by all the amazing sounds we can  make and how we can improve our skills in producing  sounds and rhythmic  and intricate playing, but this is the didgeridoo as a musical instrument but as Yolngu folk know, there is more to the yidaki than that. Djalu sais, " it is  the song of Spirit , it is the song of the rainbow serpent and the dreaming."

When I reflect on the most moving and powerful times playing didg it is when there is a purpose or power in the playing. Playing to the dance of stomping feet the didg player is part of a   story being enacted, a celebration, and the player is one  with the story and  is not focused on playing in a technical sense but empowering and supporting the dancers and the purpose of sharing.

With this essence as the truth, any interest in this event being yidaki focused I'd let go of a lot, well before the event unfolded, but within the first day of being together , it was perfectly clear that the  power of the gathering was not about yidaki playing or cultural knowledge, it wasn't about asking questions and satisfying all our wonderings, it was about a journey  that was into the unknown, a journey that perhaps hadn't ever happened before. A white fellas gathering, a mob  who  out of cultural drought had been unfolding and exploring sacred space and ritual together as men. A bunch of black fellas then seeing this and themselves coming from a place of cultural strength, excited by what we were doing and interested to come and share time with us, to see what came of that. The recipe was strong , the result was  in itself the big question.

Now understanding the important juice of the  gathering, it  can be appreciated that in enacting this journey, many forces , feelings and  needs were being unleashed.

Cultural sharing in Australia  has  only in the last few  years in very isolated situations began to embrace  at a depth of truth and reality. This gathering  was part of a shift needed beyond cultural exploitation and consumerism  that has avoided the pain and issues unresolved between white and black.

The gathering had leaders thankfully who knew that despite their picturings and plans as to what would unfold during the week, that the important need was to listen to the moment and the dance symbolically that unfolded and find  a way to support what was truly trying to come through.

This wasn't necessarily easy at times for the leaders or  for  any of us participating,  as  for  Yolngu mob to share their gifts meant hat they had to take us on a journey and that involved  trusting them and respecting them. It involved us letting go as to understanding everything at every point in time. It also challenged us, when stuff came up that looked like being negative and damaging  that it  was a gift to further clear the way, to the power  and the gifts coming through.

Respect was and is such a powerful gift that they offered us. Respect for their culture and what  they wanted us to hold as sacred, respect for  their stories shared , respect for the sacredness of the journey they took us on and that the detail belonged for those on that journey and not for others who weren't there, respect for elders and those holding knowledge, respect or   in their language "rapirri" was the word , gently but very firmly  made clear, important and essential.

Long ago in our western culture, respect and ritual with deep meaning  and relevance has been lost. The spoken word is now used  loosely and sacredness is hard to fine. From this place as a generalization, white culture would like aboriginal or native indian or the like to share its depths, we crave it, we  want it but in the place of need there is little foundation to be able to appreciate it and  respect it. With this understanding indigenous people largely contain their knowledge and hold it close. Aboriginal Australians particularly, by nature,  in reflecting the land are  both open and receptive and  yet centred and contained. Their easygoing nature made them easy to succumb by those who colonised Australia but alternatively it makes them also   contained and  and boundryed to the people and the indifference with  which they have been treated.

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