Home' Nova National : NOVA NATIONAL DECEMBER Contents The answer for some is to keep moving.
Be traders across the desert, loading
our camels with wares from some far off
Eastern silk road, discover slaves cast into
dry wells by their hostile brethren, drive
onward to some Near East bazaar to sell
our wares and prisoners and spend some
shekels on a few shiny lamps. The noise
of the marketplace drowns out the
language of the sacred world hidden in the
sand dunes. But the discussions around
the campfire are worth waiting for all
the more. The searching of the skies,
the thin line of a meteor disappearing as
soon as it flares, the rising of the moon,
the setting of the constellations...the
mystery of the universe still speaks to us.
The stories in the embers glow again, as
the still, small voice of the wind whispers
across our landscape.
So into the deserts the prophets
come. Possibly. I have met hard bitten
European materialists who have gone
camping in the bush and retold, much to
their own disbelief, experiences they have
had with the nature spirits. But this is not
something usually shared in polite society,
and certainly not round the barbecue.
AD Hope (1907-2000) suggests in his
famous poem "Australia" that perhaps our
barrenness and remoteness means we can
grow something special here. His love of
the classics may have meant he overlooked
the Aboriginal and Torres Strait legacy. In
more modern times, he may well have
recognised much is sacred across our
continent wherever people can celebrate
a tradition tens of thousands of years old:
aeon-old wisdom about the workings of
nature entwined with an appreciation
of the spiritual realm. He knew the
Aboriginal sense of the sacred has also
changed over time (the Monaro people
spoke of a monotheistic Daramalan,
perhaps a transformation of what they
had heard about the Europeans' beliefs,
and the Arnhem land people incorporated
some of the beliefs of the Macassan
traders from Indonesia). Just as shorelines
and sand dune systems are shaped by
time so, too, the sacred is shaped by the
Away from the usual trade routes, not
guided by commerce, you will sometimes
see pilgrims. They travel many byways of
the world. They are keenly focused until
© NOVA DECEMBER 2011
they achieve their spiritual destination,
still distracted by the petty nuisances
of blistered feet, or petulant beasts of
burden, but put the irritations to one side,
bringing each step to the greater purpose.
We can revel in the beauty of marine and
land life, hear birdsong and enjoy, from
a safe distance, the drama of a summer
storm. But it may be that our civilisation
has much to learn about the sacred when
it draws closer to the terror and fear.
TS Elliot (1888-1965) imagined three
pilgrims, magi, travelling by camel, keen
to travel when it is cool and the way is
clear. Despite the best of astrological
predictions, they were baffled by what
they found. Like the puzzles and struggles
of the journey, the sacred offers and takes
away: a challenge to our survival, and yet
a promise of a better and more worth-
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