12 November, 2017

Holistically Intertwined Stories

One of the members of the board of directors for the Aboriginal Education Consultancy Group recently told me...(and I'm paraphrasing here).

It really doesn't matter whether we wanted our stories connected to those of the white mob who came here. Now those stories are tangled in ways that can never be untangled. The Dreaming still goes on, it always has, it always will. Like it or not, animals introduced to our lands like dogs, cats,rabbits, foxes, they're all a part of the Australian Dreaming now. Like it or not, if you set foot in our land, you become a part of our dreaming too.

Whether you consider them symbolic of mystic insight, or whether you think the dreaming is simply the interconnectedness of personal stories and the relationships between them, those were powerful words.

It's not like when you meet a Christian for the first time, and they say "You aren't a Christian, therefore you're going to hell... Here let me help you see the light". The Australian Aboriginal mythlore is probably more akin to Taoist thinking, where everything has its place, where no-one truly knows the true essence of everything, except possibly as a combination of metaphor, analogy and practical knowledge. In this belief pattern, you don't put something down because you don't understand it, instead you accept that it is what it is, consider that there must be some reason for this, and think about it with respect to it's relationships to the things around it.

It's a harder way to look at the world, to not look at the surface,but to build your own surface based on a deeper understanding on connections and relationships. In pre-colonial times, there were few wars over land between Australian Aboriginal groups because one of the strongest relationships someone could have was to the land of their family. There was no point invading someone else's land, because you had connections here, and they had connections there. You might trade with them or intermarry with them, so that your children then had a connection to both lands... but you didn't fight them for control of something they knew better than you ever could.

The idea of white conquest made no sense. Even now, the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land has lead to ongoing natural problems. With no respect for the cycles of birth and rebirth through fire, woodland builds fuel and erupts into flame once a critical point is reached (this has started to be better understood in the last decade or two), with no respect for water flow, vast regions of arable farmland gradually become desolate as dams restrict the water upstream. Springs delivering both hot and cold water from deep beneath the surface are drying up as mining efforts shatter the underground water tables, all for a few extra dollars in the pockets of shareholders, and often secured in tax free offshore havens where they no longer benefit the community.

When certain links in a relationship web are weakened, and others are strengthened beyond their natural levels, imbalance occurs. When the links are completely broken in a relationship web, things risk falling out of place altogether, adrift they often form new relationship anchors and connections to things that simply should not be. When colonial settlers arrived, many relationships were weakened, some individuals took advantage of the flux to strengthen relationships and gain new power, many found that elements of their relationship webs were completely destroyed. They forged new links in new places, and told new stories to solidify them.

In a similar vein, consider the Barossa Valley in South Australia.

One of Australia's premier winemaking regions.

Relationships existed between plants-and-soil, plants-and-animals, plants-and-people, animals-and-people, families-and-land for as long as there have been people in the region.There are countless other relationships that might be observed, and that might make fodder for a game session or narrative, but the ones described are probably the easiest. Indigenous communities would have had stories explaining some of these relationships, including allegories for how they formed, why they were important to maintain, what might occur if they go out of balance.

Then came the German settlers with their own relationships to new farm animals, new plants, stories from their old world, and then new stories that formed as new relationships to the existing people of the land were forged.  The Dreaming of the region incorporated Shiraz and other grape varietals to the flora stories...sheep, foxes, and rabbits to the fauna stories... tales of the Black Forest and other German folklore into the native narratives. This whole setting is one where words have power, spirits feed on the belief and faith of the mortal world, where relationships have tangible consequences in the Dreaming just as much as they might have social consequences in the mundane world. So stories in this part of the country might have hybrid stories deriving elements from Indigenous and German folklore... in much the same way that stories told in the ruined post-apocalyptic wastelands that were once Western Sydney might be filled with a dangerous mix of stories from all parts of the world, some of which are highly incompatible with one another.

It's the interaction of the echoes of these stories that brings the tension in the setting.

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