May They Have Found Peace

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms
Maya Angelou

 

On a quiet country back road, near the Newstead General Cemetery, lie two burial markers of interest. One is simply called Chinese Ground.

Chinese gold digger starting for work, circa 1860s. Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland: 60526 .

The Chinese were not welcome on the Australian goldfields. They were thorough workers, often picking meticulously through the discarded tailings or abandoned mines of other diggers. They were viewed with suspicion as few spoke English, and they were regarded as idol-worshippers. Chinese mining methods used more water than European methods, and such practices were not appreciated in a country known for its heat and droughts. Furthermore, few of them traded their gold in the towns, preferring to store it up and return to China with their wealth. The colony of Victoria was the first to introduce Anti-Chinese immigration legislation, imposing a poll tax of £10 per head for each Chinese person arriving in Victorian ports in 1855. Within a few years all other colonial governments had enacted similar laws to restrict the number of people from China entering the colonies. This did not stop the Chinese from arriving in droves and spreading out to goldfields in New South Wales and Victoria.

Tensions came to a head on 30 June 1861 in NSW at Lambing Flat. It is estimated that around 3 000 European diggers banded together in a rowdy gang called a “roll up” and, armed with picks, whips, knives, sticks and anything that could be used as a weapon, converged on the Chinese camp. Chinese tents and equipment were destroyed, gold plundered, and dozens of the men themselves had their pigtails, or ‘queues’, cut off – a matter of great dishonour for them – or worse, they were scalped. An unknown number of Chinese were murdered: although the official death toll for Chinese was given as two, eyewitness accounts suggest between 30 and 40 were killed, and several hundred more injured.

Given that an angry group of European and American miners met in Bendigo in 1854 and declared that a “general and unanimous rising should take place… for the purpose of driving the Chinese off the goldfield” it is not hard to imagine that the Chinese here in this region suffered similarly.

The other stone, not far from the isolated Catholic Ground is inscribed with the words “A tribute to those who lay beneath may they have found peace”. After substantial rainfall this part of the world is truly beautiful. With only the sound of nearby grazing sheep I think it is a good place to lie and rest.

Mixing with Trees

“A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes

Clearly Enid Blyton’s ‘Magic Faraway Tree’ changed me forever. I loved the enchantment of it all. When I was teaching I often used the metaphor of tree roots, particularly with younger students, to convey the notion of drawing from deep within. In writing sessions I have people sit outside with a tree for at least half an hour, amble down amongst the roots and write or draw stream of consciousness thoughts.

There is much to learned about creativity, resilience and self healing from trees! Trees are super co-operators! Gather together the art and writing supplies and get out amid a stand of trees. Check out the Golden Seed Grove for some inspiration. View the Tree of Contemplative practice; meditate by sitting in the arms of a tree! Go out and take the time to listen to what the trees have to tell you.

Resolve to take action to protect these special tree people! Draw attention to the need to save old growth forest and promote regeneration.

In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families- tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland. After you have read The Hidden Life of Trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.

Learn about the astonishing way trees communicate.

Nature’s Rock Art

In ancient India lived a sculptor renowned for his life-sized statues of elephants. With trunks curled high, tusks thrust forward, thick legs trampling the earth, these carved beasts seemed to trumpet the sky. One day, a king came to see these magnificent works and to commission statuary for his palace. Struck with wonder, he asked the sculptor, “What is the secret of your artistry?”
Eknath Easwaran

The sculptor upon taking measure of the monarch explained the process. Nature is yet to reveal the secret of its artistry. Perhaps she will reveal it to you if you talk to one of these stone people!

While Waiting for Godot promotes contemplative practices. Take the time to check out Contemplative Practices and the Tree of Contemplative Practices for inspiration.

Leanganook (Mt Alexander) Stone People

Rising 350 metres above the surrounding area, Mount Alexander (Leanganook) Regional Park is a prominent landmark offering magnificent views and a natural forest setting for picnics and bushwalking. It also provides important habitat for several rare or threatened species.

On a bitterly cold winter day the mountain took on a spiritual quality. It was enough to simply check out spots like the camping ground and commune with the stone people. The stone people, as the ancient one’s of this planet have much to teach us.

DawnEagle Summers tells us that “the stone people you find in your travels will tell you about their gifts, if you listen to them. They each bring their own lessons to our lives, whether they are a precious stone, gemstone, or just a piece of tumbled granite out of your driveway.” She says that once you begin to explore their world, you will learn more about them and suggests that we try carrying a few Ancient Ones in our pocket when we go out to face the world, to help your energy, or to learn from them. She says that stones love to talk with us, to help us, and they want others to know that they will share their teachings with us, if we but listen.

I will wait for another day to spend some time at dog rocks listening to those ancient ones and creating art.   The sniffers were not entirely happy to be confined in the car so we did not linger. Happily they did get out briefly, on lead, at the picnic ground.

Try spending meditative time with a stone person and enhance knowledge of indigenous culture by making dreamtime story stones.

As an aside, while googling, I happened upon this wonderful local concept.

Little Habitat Heroes is a group which invites children to become little habitat heroes. The group, based in Castlemaine, aims to plant indigenous species,  reduce erosion and improve biodiversity, encouraging a return of local wildlife. They wish to foster an ongoing stewardship of the site with regular events to maintain and nurture the growing habitat.

I acknowledge the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of this land. Through their cultural traditions and stewardship, Aboriginal people maintain their connection to their ancestral lands and waters. Take the time to check out ‘Set in Stone’ for something about world famous indigenous rock art.

Winter on Mt Franklin (Lalgambook)

Mt Franklin, known as Lalgambook to the Dja Dja Warrung people, is a small volcanic crater that offers ideal place for a picnic set amongst plantings of huge conifers and deciduous trees that create an exotic atmosphere. It offers a fine example of a breached scoria cone. The breach, through which the road now enters the crater, is thought to have been caused by a flow of lava breaking through the crater rim. Lava from Mount Franklin and other volcanoes in the area filled valleys and buried the gold bearing streams that became the renowned ‘deep leads’ of the gold mining era.

 

 

Since I walked away from the city and the life I had known, Mount Franklin has become my point of reference. Up close its size belies its presence on the landscape. It continues to be a marker for me!

Inside the crater of this ancient volcano, once described as a hellish place, it was cold and damp. Other than a solitary camper, huddled for warmth over a fire, we had the place to ourselves. No doubt because pagans have a gathering here, and dare to have a good time, rumours abound about witches inhabiting this place. Bollock to such naysayers! Today I found only welcoming nature spirits, beckoning me to come back, telling me that it is now an idyllic place to retreat to and decompress after a build up of minor annoyances.

Dig out the frisbee, pack a picnic, pile the kids in the car and head out for a nature fix. Allow 30 min max to get to Mt Franklin from Castlemaine. And do pop into the nearby Chocolate Mill for a warm hot chocolate and to replenish the stash you hide from those kids!

The Gower School Ruins

I have no particular talent! I am only passionately curious
Einstein

In 1912 the Gowar township was gazetted, but little came of it.

Gowar is a rural locality 7 km south-east of Maldon. It was known as Muckleford North until 1880, but one hundred years later Muckleford North has probably become the name more often used. It is thought that Gowar derived from an Aboriginal word meaning big hill.

There were minor gold rushes at Muckleford but nothing permanent eventuated. The Muckleford Creek, however, was a source of permanent water for agriculture, the nearest such source for Maldon. A school for Gowar was opened in the early 1870s and closed in 1908. The stone ruin remains.

Gowar was described in the 1903 Australian handbook:

Any evidence of the town has long gone! All that remains are these ruins!

The Potential of Stones and Pebbles

The island where I live is peopled with cranks like myself. In a cedar-shake shack on a cliff – but we all live like this – is a man in his thirties who lives alone with a stone he is trying to teach to talk.
Annie Dillard

 

Annie Dillard’s essay, Teaching a Stone to Talk, is one of her most brilliant. Whereas wisecracks abounded about the young man who tried to teach a stone to talk, for the most part everyone respected what Larry was doing. It is certainly less controversial to sit, partaking of a conversation with a stone that has been carved into the shape of a man.

In creative classes that I have run I have regularly dispensed stones and asked people to spend private time talking to them. Try it out for yourself! Take a walk sometime, watch for a stone that seems to grab your attention… pick it up, turn it over a few times and look for images on it’s surface. Allow those images to relay words to your mind. Let something emerge and grow.

Of course, like me, you may be content to simply photograph the stones you have been inspired to stop to discuss the meaning of life with. The ones here were photographed at the Forest Creek Diggings. After the total upheaval of the 1851 gold rush like me, in the face of compounding losses, they are mute and have little to say about their loss. They cannot find a way to tell me about the utter carnage that took place as every stone was turned over and the landscape ravaged in the mad quest to find gold. As remnants of much bigger stone, I understand and respect their silence. Perhaps if I visit regularly they will find a way to tell me how they have gone on living on this rock we both call home.

Or, like William Steig who created the delightful Sylvester and the Pebble, you may end up writing a story. Sylvester, a young donkey, finds a magic pebble and thanks to some very mixed up communication ends up trapped within it. It is a sobering reminder to be very careful what you wish for.

 

A Nature Fix

Old tree
Giant towering
You
Who saw the rise
Of ancient suns,
Chris Magadaza

I would like to learn or remember how to live. I come to Troll Corner not so much to learn how to live as to learn from this giant yellow box, long separated from any kin. Friends estimate this old man’s age age at around 600 but I am not sure if this is true.

600 years ago the Chachapoyas, a tall, fair-haired, light-skinned race had  one of the more advanced ancient civilisations in the South America. Adept at fighting, they commanded a large kingdom from the year 800 to 1500 that stretched across the Andes.

Joan of Arc was born 600 years ago. Six centuries is a long time to continue to mark the birth of a girl who, according to her family and friends, knew little more than spinning and watching over her father’s flocks.

Everyone in Fiji lived close to the sea from the time of first settlement 3,100 years ago until about 600 years ago —when, suddenly, everything changed profoundly. According to scientists Fiji has experienced climate change at least once. Within a couple of generations, most coastal settlements in Fiji appear to have been abandoned in favor of new ones in upland, inland locations.

Little is written about what was happening here 600 years ago! Many have suggested that this was the ’empty country’ and that the great southern country lay sleeping while the world turned. This is not a very likely scenario! The indigenous people who loved this ancient land have something quite different to say.

It is winter in this quiet corner of the world but the birds still sing and dance here.

Here at troll corner this proud tree stands a silent witness to ancient dawns! If I sit here, Waiting for Godot, gently encouraging this tree to talk, I might learn about who passed by 600 years ago. I don’t expect the tree to speak in the way I speak, or describe its long life in the traditional way. But I know it has stored much knowledge about the past within its bark and roots.

This old yellow box has nothing to say to me about the insanity of the gold fever that bought hoards here and even less about the people who lived in the nearby ruins. But maybe, if I come visiting often enough, he might just reveal something about how to live alone through times of loss and change.

A Golden Forest

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
John Keats To Autumn

Mount Alexander Regional Park sits magnificently above the Harcourt valley. Called “Lanjanuc” by the Jaara Jaara people, this mountain was important as a sacred ceremonial ground. Rising 746 metres above sea level it was also used as a point of orientation for miners heading towards the goldfields of the 1850’s. In the 1860’s the first quarries opened here and provided stone for the Northern Railway. Stone quarried from this area was also used for buildings in Melbourne and monuments such as the base of the Burke and Wills memorial.

At the foothills of Mount Alexander and within the Mount Alexander Park boundary there is an oak forest which was established by the tanning industry for the acorns. It is a great example of biodiversity, with Algerian oaks, bristle-tipped oaks, cork oaks and English oak trees. Seedling oaks will most likely be crossbreeds as a result from fertilisation of the flowers by wind-blown pollen. It is a popular picnicking area especially in summer and autumn and is also used as a venue for jazz concerts.