It is one of the challenges of choosing this migrant expatriate life to be dependent upon the current job and the willingness of your host country to give you a temporary home. When the job ends and the host country terminates your work visa, it’s time to move on– sometimes without much notice. As our abrupt departure from Australia marches steadily closer, I am reflecting on lessons and experiences my heart carries within me from this place into a new, as yet unknown, chapter of my life.
Over the last three years, our family traveled a great deal all over the eastern half of Australia in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT. But before we left, my husband and I felt we needed to make one last Australian pilgrimage together- just the two of us- to the Red Centre. All I knew was that I felt a powerful pull to visit Uluru before returning to the US. What I experienced became an emotional farewell ritual to this Country that will always have a place in my heart.
When we left Brisbane, the land beneath us was wooded and well-ordered with countless rooftops marking the dimensions of (sub)urban life. Eventually, suburbs began to give way to farm land parceled out at sharp angles– rectilinear industrial-scale food production essential to sustaining all those rooftops. And then, slowly those stark corners began to soften and fade as the land reclaimed its indigenous magic; green transmuted into gold, gold burning into a thousand shades of scarlet and burnt orange.
Watching this transformation from the plane window, I felt how the same shifts have happened within me over the last three years- softening my edges, teaching me to reclaim my true magic. I could see square give way to circle, line yielding to curve. Roads ended and only the paths of the old ways remained. Even as I knew the harsh reality of the hot, arid landscape below me, still from that aerial perspective, I felt that softening spiraling through my bloodstream as I witnessed its passing from above. Spread below me were the curves, the dots, the symbols, the distinctive patches of color found in Indigenous Australian art. Human hands invoked those energies through artistic ritual thousands of years before even the slightest notion of mechanical air travel was born. Those human hands somehow understood the essence of this land so well that they could paint an aerial picture of it thousands of years before our invention of air travel or cameras. The land is the art is the spirit- Country is Law. This is a gift Australia gave me, the ability to see this; to bear witness to the artistry of Land and its Spirits of Place.
Modern tourism at Uluru has a turbulent history. Renamed Ayers Rock in the 19th century by the English-Australian surveyor who sighted it while exploring the area, Uluru became a popular non-indigenous tourist destination from the 1940s. Not surprisingly, damage to local ecology & indigenous culture ensued. When the land was returned to the Traditional Owners in 1985, efforts were finally underway to mitigate that damage and manage the impact of future visitors, but vestiges of colonialist imperialism remain. This was most evident to me in “The Climb”.
Signage at the base of Uluru at the entrance to “The Climb” explains the historical Western perspective of conquering “The Climb,” side by side with the basics of Tjukurpa that govern the Anangu request for visitors to forgo climbing. One portion of the sign reads:
Challenge your perspective
Is it right to continue, knowing what we know today?
Is this a place to conquer – or a place to connect with?
We invite you to open your hearts and minds to the power of this landscape and the mysterious Tjukurpa.
This place has a story…come on a journey.
As I let that message sink in, I acknowledged another lesson I am grateful for from this experience. Needless to say, we did not climb. We chose the ten kilometer Base Walk that circumnavigates the formation and were rewarded with a deep understanding of the detailed essence of Uluru for our efforts. Every fold, every channel, waterhole, cave and crevasse has teachings to share with those who will listen.
Over the last three years, I’ve been privileged enough to visit seven countries, including Australia, and to meet people from every inhabited continent in this world. Like the intimate details of Uluru, each person and place has somehow challenged my perspective and taken me on a journey. Each of them somehow asked me to open myself further. Each exchange asked me how I will continue, knowing what I now know today. My last journey for this chapter of my life, a pilgrimage to Uluru, allowed me the perfect energy of place to express my gratitude for these and many more lessons and to say my farewells to the Country that taught me so much and treated me so well.
One of my favorite moments came just after a brilliant Outback sunset. It is true Uluru glows a stunning shade of red just as the Sun departs the evening sky. But after that, when most folks jump in their cars and head off for a feed, something magical happens. The Earth has turned. The Sun is off to warm the other side of the world for a bit. And the Land here breathes a deep sigh. And everything softens.
Within our first year here, I began to tell people who asked me how this experience was going, that Australia is a place that makes you come face to face with your fear. Now, as I prepare to depart, I would add so much more to that. It is not about conquering that fear. It is about learning to love it. To love a sunburnt country, you must learn to love your Shadow. You must bear witness to and fully inhabit your beauty and your terror. It is a lesson thousands of years in the making. Try as you might, you cannot come here to conquer and consume. If you try, you will never see the wealth of opportunities to yield, and by yielding,-by softening- to know. To know new things and ancient things, other and self, earth and sky. And to leave changed in the best of ways.
All I can say now is palya.
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is an American expat, living in Queensland, Australia and homeschooling her children, with the world as their classroom. Before motherhood, Kate earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University, while studying Economics, International Relations, & Religion. She served four years as a logistics officer in the US Army, after which, Kate became a doula and holistic birth educator. She is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood of Avalon’s online journal, The Tor Stone and is active in the Red Tent Movement. Kate volunteered in Houston as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas. In Australia, she hosts seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitates labyrinth rituals, and is in the process of establishing a Sisterhood of Avalon Novice Hearth.