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Lydia Fairhall amplifies love
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I'm reading
Lydia Fairhall amplifies love
Pass it on
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I'm reading
Lydia Fairhall amplifies love
Pass it on
Pass it on
10 November 2020

Lydia Fairhall amplifies love

Interview by Berry Liberman
Photography by Tammie Joske

I first met Lydia in Byron Bay, at Folk, a café wedged between wetlands and a caravan park on very sacred Indigenous land. At the time, she was the co-CEO and executive producer of Ilbijerri Theatre Company, one of Australia’s leading companies showcasing the work of First Nations artists, where she has fostered in a new era of maturity for the organisation during a period of growing awareness—maybe even awakening—of the broader Australian culture to the richness of our First Nations people’s traditions and voices. Lydia has lived many lives in this one life. She is a Worimi woman, born on Bundjalung country, now living between the Kulin nations and Gubbi Gubbi country. From experiencing trauma in early life to an art-filled, soulful adult life as a mother, producer, executive, singer/songwriter and custodian of ancient wisdom, Lydia is the embodiment of compassionate resilience.

Amongst the many things that moved me when we first met was her unique capacity to bridge the trauma that the Indigenous community experiences with a hopeful, indeed joyful vision of the future. For me, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in Melbourne, Australia, the ancient culture of this land was invisible in the urban landscape. We were never taught ANYTHING about First Nations people at school. My only connection was at home when my mum read me The Rainbow Serpent, a Dreamtime story about Goorialla, the Rainbow Serpent and the Rainbow Lorikeet brothers. It was one of my favourite books, and somewhere, deep in my psyche, the Indigenous culture of the country I was born on/to, felt strong and vibrant and beautiful. The decimation that I thought was in the past was very much alive and present. It wasn’t until my twenties that I knew about the Songlines, and my thirties that I knew there was an Indigenous map of Australia. When I saw it I cried. Shocked by the lost opportunities for knowledge and connection, I’ve been playing catch-up since with my own inherited cultural biases and the emerging, powerful cultural shift to honouring the Indigenous people of this land, and in so doing, slowly restoring our collective dignity.

Proximity changes everything. That day at Folk, I met a fellow traveller, a cherished friend and a great teacher. Lydia’s vision is one where the elevation of the Indigenous voice informs the broader culture in a mutually-enriching exchange which she tells me some First Peoples refer to as “two-way strong.” In a world swirling with identity politics, this concept is profoundly healing—the idea that maybe we belong to each other. Lydia reminds us that in Indigenous tradition we must care for country, and that we are country. So if we are one with the earth, then we are inextricably bound to a loving interdependence, a dance of wholeness and belonging that we have forgotten but which Indigenous cultures around the world can teach us, remind us and bring us back to. It feels to me that if we are to re-make the world to live within the bounds of the ecology and towards human flourishing, we must cherish ancient wisdom traditions and place them at the heart of our collective story.

This story originally ran in issue #60 of Dumbo Feather

LYDIA FAIRHALL: We did it! It’s an edgy miracle when technology works in my life. I feel it’s that same weird mix of energy. “Wow, a miracle occurred!” But it was tense! [Laughs].

BERRY LIBERMAN: So tense. I’m reading into things, ’cause I tend to do that [laughs]. But just that idea that when you’re trying to have these deep expansive conversations there is a kind of resistance in the eld.

Totally. And in some ways you kind of need it, right? I often think that contrast or variety of suffering, whatever you call it, it’s actually that beautiful old way that the pearl grows out of the oyster. It’s actually a big part of the whole story [laughs]. Even when it manifests as frustrating technology!

Stop being so fucking evolved.


No, it’s an amazing start to this conversation, the grit in the oyster. A kind of a resilience that comes out of the friction and the tension and that somehow we have to muster our maturity to understand that life is not supposed to go in our favour or serve us. We’re meant to serve life.

Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it? Because I think so much of our time, particularly in the western context, is really spent trying to avoid any sense of discomfort. Whether it’s material or emotional or whatever it might be. And there’s a lot of control that has to happen to maintain that. I really believe the older I get and the older my children get in particular, the less I feel I can line up with that anymore. ’Cause I’m too busy to control everything! [Laughs]. So actually acceptance and allowing becomes the norm. And being okay in the contrast and in the suffering is so much more beneficial for me at this stage of my journey.

I want to talk more about this because I am a really big fan of control and comfort. [Laughs]. You’re talking and I’m thinking, Oh yeah, I just want to control so that I can stay comfortable. I really love that paradigm! I don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to surrender. I mean I do in terms of parenting. Surrendering has all this wisdom in it. But it’s fierce how much the mind wants to stay on its train tracks.

I think there’s a bigger focus for me that is around stillness and feeling peaceful and tending to my inner world that has become more important than trying to control everything around. It’s funny because by taking care of the inner world and tending to the emotional and spiritual wellbeing, all of that stuff gets taken care of anyway. I have this beautiful teacher in my life. When I was about 15, it was another edgy miracle, I was able to hold down a job at a time when things were really messy. And I worked at a zoo of all places. In like this little takeaway kiosk. And it’s so funny because the universe brought me a teacher there. It brought me this beautiful man who had lived out in the central desert and was a painter. He was painting the inside of the enclosure either side of me for about six months. So in between serving up really bad cups of tea and sausage rolls, he was my teacher and I was his student. He would talk to me about the fact that there would not be a third world war. He was very sure about that in his wise practice. But that the biggest challenge to us in contemporary times was the war within our own minds. And I absolutely connected to that at that particular stage of my life and still do. I think so much of the work is actually tending to your own fear and vibration of peace and love, and watching how that then takes care of all the bits that I would have otherwise spent hours and hours trying to control on the physical level, if that makes sense.

I’d love at this point for us to start where most normal people start. Which is, to introduce yourself. Who you are, who your people are and where you are from.

Right. So I am Lydia. I am the mum of two beautiful kids. And I have a beautiful husband. I am a Worimi woman. My great grandmother was born in a tent along the Kyogle River. And before that my family were on a mission at a place called Karuah just north of Newcastle. But because of how things were at that particular time, a lot of the way our communities could survive was doing work like hawking, running the market gardens and laying the railway up and down the east coast. So at the point of my grandma’s birth there was a big separation between my family and our homelands because they moved every two weeks. My grandma literally grew up in a tent. And every week or two they were at a new site and the whole family worked laying the railway line that runs up and down the east coast. So there was a generation or two of disconnect and I’m very grateful to my mum and uncle who just felt called home, I guess. And retraced and connected and brought us home to our homelands and our culture. I live today on the Kulin Nations and tomorrow I will be living on Gubbi Gubbi country! So it’s interesting to actually be talking on this day. ’Cause it’s such an end of a chapter of my life. I feel like it’s one of those seven-year cycles. We literally are leaving tomorrow.

So I love being in relationship with you because not only do you carry the wisdom of your Ancestors, you keep reaching back to and more, to be in contact with that ancient wisdom. And you’re also present right here, right now. And you lean lovingly forward into the future. That is the abundant conversation I want to have—right now at this crazy, crazy moment of climate emergency and cultural breakdown—to hear ancient wisdom and try to weave it into our consciousness and let that be some medicine for our very fractured paradigm.

I think that’s the daily challenge for me: how to navigate issues that are very real and present and, you know, there’s clearly a layer for us where there are still people in our community living in third world conditions in a very resource-rich country. That’s very little-known as well. But how do you wrangle all of that and reconcile all of that as well as start to sit in a place where you’re really thinking  and dropping in to how our Old People and our Lore would have dealt with these issues—as well as combining that with futures thinking? So it’s this weird little concoction that takes me on so many amazing journeys into so many beautiful conversations. And there’s been times in my life where I’ve been a staunch activist. I really honour and value that pathway and I certainly understand why people still are on that path. But I think for me now there’s a different world opening up in terms of how we start to move through those struggles. How we really start to tend to our spiritual wellbeing.

This story originally ran in issue #60 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #60 of Dumbo Feather

I really believe that even in a city like Melbourne there is a spiritual landscape that overlays the ve million people and the hundreds of skyscrapers and commerce and economic activity.

And within that landscape there is a Lore. And it is Lore that is just as powerful and intact as it ever was. Sometimes it’s just about awakening that. So I feel like if what we had been doing in terms of our activism had been very successful, I probably would have stayed on that path. But in some ways it hasn’t really paid o ! [Laughs]. In the way that we would like. So I feel like all that is left is to go back to the voices of our Old People and our Ancestors and try to speak from that place.

What I love about it, because I feel the same: activism, pure activism not only steers you in the direction of identity politics, which is dangerous and divisive, it also steers the individual person and the collective activist group into depletion.

Absolutely. I know so many people who are doing such good work in that space but their own spirits and their own bodies and their own families are burning out. Because you just can’t vibrate at that level of tenseness and negativity without having some serious consequences. I guess the interesting bit in all of it is that spiritual bypass conversation. ’Cause actually to be able to get to the point where we can talk about the Lores of our Old People, which really would say that we are one consciousness and that anybody born to the earth belongs to the earth, and that non-Indigenous and Indigenous people actually belong to each other. That’s what I believe the Old People would say. That you can’t have that conversation whilst half of the consciousness is the benefactor of the suffering of the other half. It’s a very fine line to walk. I’m really conscious of that in my own community and not wanting to, you know, alienate people still going through trauma and absolutely on the receiving end of what has been some pretty brutal government policies and actions. But I’m also absolutely refusing to believe anymore that we are just passive victims in all of this. And you can still have the conversation about water sovereignty and birth justice and be empowered. I think a lot of it is about language and vibration and energy and moving away from some of those old realities and old ways of dealing with problems in a way that’s good for your spirit and moves things forward. ’Cause that other energy can give you a real false sense of action. ’Cause it is so forceful. It’s just a hamster-on-a-wheel kind of vibe.

So that leads me to my favourite thing you’ve ever said to me. Like we’ve not known each other very long. But in the time we’ve known each other you bring a lot of medicine with your wisdom. And I was talking to you about how I was in the US and really felt the race politics everywhere. Crushing. People were frightened of each other. My friend who is African American, who’s a spiritual teacher, she was sitting on a plane on her way to a silent retreat and was elbowed by the six-foot-five white man next to her in the middle of the flight. She was fast asleep and he elbowed her and said, “Get your fucking black arm of my armrest.” And I was like, “What? That didn’t happen!” I think that the shadow is at play. And you said something really, really amazing and I’d love you to elaborate. You said the words, “Two-way strong.”

Yeah, I mean I feel like those intersections of oppression play out in all of our lives in different ways. Me and my partner often talk about this ’cause he’s a black man in a patriarchal society and I’m a light-skinned woman in a white society. There’ll be situations where I am disadvantaged and where he’s advantaged and then it’ll completely ip. So it’s interesting to see that all of those divisive identity markers, whatever they might be—disability, perceived disability, gender—how they play out. For me the two-way strong thing, there’s two ways to think about it. Hah hah! There’s a version that’s very different out bush. And I don’t want to speak on behalf of that version because I am a light-skinned urban blackfella who has a lot of privilege in this country compared to my country men and women who are living in remote communities. Their concept of two-way strong is probably a lot deeper and a lot more connected to language and culture and all of the things that have not been taken away as much in that part of the country. But for me it’s about knowing that you can be in the world but not of it. There is never a physical solution to the physical problem. You can’t fight or solve the issue with the same thing that created it. So being two-way strong means knowing the world and getting to learn the western ways of doing things. I work in the arts so a lot of the artists that I work with I say to them, “If you want true self-determination and autonomy in your creative practice, learn the money.” Watch the money, learn the money, know how to get it, know how to look after it, know how to report against it because then you have true freedom in your creative practice. You’re not relying on anybody to do that bit for you. So it’s a bit of that. You’ve got to know your creativity, your spiritual and cultural realm, and watch and observe how it intersects with the physical world and these more western aspects. So to be able to walk with knowledge on both sides is a really good thing for our people. And for the rest of the country. I was at the Indigenous advisory group for impact investment a few weeks ago. And one of the members was talking about growing up in New Zealand. And what a blessing it was as a whitefella to have been immersed in Maori culture and to know the songs and the language and, like, what a terrible thing it is for non-Indigenous people in Australia that they don’t get to feel that and be a part of it.

That’s how I understood two-way strong. I understood when you said it more as belonging to one another, that I can belong to you and you can belong to me and that we do that by staying in conversation with one another in real time. It’s both and. It’s on the everyday plain and then on the spiritual plane. So I’m at the frontline of business and industry. And I actually think even racist people and people in the fossil fuel industry and all kinds of people who are in all kinds of head spaces and heart spaces, if we were to watch the movie of humanity, everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing. But at this time where Mother Nature is calling us hard to not only belong to ourselves, to transform ourselves, but to belong to each other, “two-way strong” just felt like such an abundant, empathic, compassionate idea to hold and live into.


That my privilege or my life of joy would be intertwined with your life of joy. And that we would be two rivers feeding both sides of the abundant land between us. I don’t know. It’s a very profound concept and it’s just one of the ancient concepts that I think, as we metabolise it through me and through you and between us, something new could emerge.

I feel you can feel it. There’s a different energy to the conversation for me in the times that we’ve connected, where I felt like I’m a part of something much bigger than even my own culture. And it’s absolutely embedded in that cultural framework and situated there but it’s even bigger than that. It’s that beautiful moment where different ideologies and backgrounds can come together because ultimately our freedom is all bound up together. I think I’ve been so blessed in Melbourne because when my partner and I moved down here, you know, this state has a particular history that is very hard to come to terms with, even in the context of everything that’s happened in Australia. Because there was a false treaty to begin with. One of the head fellas down here believed he was signing o on something that would bene t his community and it didn’t. And the Indigenous population went from 60,000 to 2000 in a couple of years. So a lot of people call the state of Victoria “the killing fields.” At the same time it’s also the home to so much amazing art and commerce and all of the bits of Western culture that we love and, you know, Melbourne is an amazing city. A lot of people are drawn to it for that reason. When we came down we were here for a purpose and that was to be in the arts industry. But we had a baby pretty much straight away. So it was the opposite experience that we thought we were going to have. We were down here without our families but we still knew that there was a purpose for us to be in this city. We were going through this really tough time. And we sat down and we were like, “We need a grandma. We need a grandma. We don’t have a grandma.” [Laughs]. And so we consciously had a moment of connecting to that wish and desire and within a couple of weeks we met a woman, Antomina Rumwaropen. And I’m actually in her lounge room today. And she became our grandma. She has given us so much. She helped raise my daughter. She’s got five beautiful extraordinary kids of her own. She’s from West Papua. And what’s happening in West Papua right now is what happened on my homelands around 200 years ago. So it’s this really confronting moment in history. But I look at this woman who has all of the consciousness and awareness of what’s going on back home and she does what she can in terms of activism and supporting the struggle and the cause but ultimately she’s just this loving woman who is so generous in her spirit and so giving. And hasn’t let any of that embitter her or change her. All of the Elders that I know who are true Elders, they have that same special quality. Uncle Larry Walsh, Uncle Archie Roach, Uncle Jack Charles, they’ve all been through so much. More than I could have ever imagined experiencing. Yet when they’re together and when they’re with other people, all they do is uplift. It just makes me cry in the most beautiful, expansive, gracious way because it’s so easy to turn your heart cold after those kinds of experiences. And many people do and I understand that as well. But to live through this trauma that these people have lived through and come out the other side and still see the good in people and the wellness of the earth. Even amongst all of this chaos, see the peace in people’s hearts and the beauty and strength of culture, that’s what they focus on and maybe it’s a coping strategy or maybe it’s actually the way that things get better as well.

I love that Lydia. I love it so much. Because I’m hunting around in the dark for restoration.

Yeah. We just did a documentary, my partner did a documentary with Uncle Archie Roach…

You sent me a short clip. And that man has been, like, to hell and back. He is just soulful goodness. And to see him and the three men in the documentary sitting in the studio together crying and singing.

I know. And still just loving each other. That song that goes, “We won’t cry, we’ll hold our heads up high,” it’s so simple. But most of the most amazing things are. I think that’s possibly where I get lost when I’m not in that space. Where I’m focusing on everything that’s going wrong and all the things that need fixing and what should I be doing differently and better, and actually I feel like the climate justice conversation in particular, caring for country is what I would call that. But actually we are country. It’s getting back to how our Old People would have thought about this if such a crisis had happened during their time. We are country. So

the first step is caring for each other. And then watching how that manifests in the way that we treat the land and the way that the land is able to be restored and heal itself.

’Cause it has everything within it that it needs to heal. I think part of our relationships with each other are a big part of the climate justice conversation. And the non-Indigenous and Indigenous relationship is critical in this country when it comes to that.

Could you just try to become Prime Minister? That would be excellent.

[Laughs]. Well you know my teacher I was saying before who was a painter, he also used to say there’s a reason why the wise men don’t stand at the top. And it’s because the strongest have to stand at the bottom. They have to stand at the bottom. ’Cause they hold everything else up. He’s passed away now but he gave me a lot of wisdom at a time I really needed it! Bless him.

I feel like this conversation we’re having is so radical. Because I keep going into boardrooms where everyone’s trying to think and engineer our way forward. Like maybe technology will save us. And I’m like, “What part of us is it going to save?” That’s why I’m leaning into this conversation. I don’t know but I feel like the things you know and are talking about, if we can take them seriously, the medicine that’s in them has to a ect us as a collective.

We are not just one consciousness in terms of being human. It includes all of the creatures and the land. And we’ve got our own ways of doing things and our own business. I guess what I would say to those people in those boardrooms is that we did manage to survive for a very, very, very long time here on our own. And that doesn’t just happen by accident. There was a highly sophisticated kinship and land management system. There was obviously a very strong spiritual and cultural reality. Some of the stories that I feel are so inspiring right now, and these are the things that I try to focus on, and there’s part of me that thinks just a protection thing or a coping mechanism, but I do believe that by focusing on them, they expand. They’re things like the work that’s happening in re management. How we burn o to prevent bush res and the different processes involved with that. It’s so much more than a physical task. It’s a deep connection to the land that you’re on and knowing the boundaries and the proper lines and where one flammable part stops and it’s this big intricate mosaic pattern of networks. There’s also so much amazing work happening in places where fracking has been poisoning the water system. But the community are not going through that in a way that they’re playing a passive victim. Whilst they’re going through it they’re also on the front foot of exploring new technologies and moving through it and within their own sovereignty and autonomy working through that issue rather than that, “Oh my gosh, this has been done to us, we have no power!” There’s examples all over the country where beautiful, beautiful things are happening in terms of land restoration and caring for each other. I think about the old Lore, and what the old Lore would say to us is that we are deliberate and conscious creators. We’re very good manifesters. So whilst you don’t want to ignore the problems and be ignorant and walk all over people and deny the suffering, at the same time you can’t focus so much on that stuff that it’s all you can see. Because then the collective consciousness is starting to create a reality that you just can’t actually get out of.

So how do we get out of it? Because even I am traumatised. Trauma, grief, the climate, the barriers between us, the identity politics, things are just getting super tense. How do we move to live in restoration narratives, to live in belonging narratives where we can lean into a new imagining for how we can be? That supersedes the baby boomer narrative. We have to create a new narrative and it cannot be World War III. It cannot be that eight men own more wealth than the rest of the planet and everyone’s okay with that because that’s commerce. It cannot be that the ecosystems and the species will die and collapse around us and that’s just the way it is and that little old me can’t do nothing about that. So how do we live into restoration narratives? I know you are saying stuff about that but how are you doing that?

I guess for me I could never be poor enough to stop other people from being poor. I could never be sick enough to stop other people from being sick. Or I could never be unwell enough in terms of mental health to stop other people from feeling that unwellness. So tending to my inner world and actually making sure that the real work is being done. And that the real work is making sure that my vibration and my sense of peace and belonging is the first and most important thing to do every day and then everything is an extension of that. And, you know Berry, you are doing it. Your work and everything that comes out underneath your roof is extraordinary. And is so far-reaching. Since meeting you, the way that I’ve been approaching different conversations in my community and the provocations that have come out of that, it’s very powerful stuff. One of my Elders, and this person has been in my life since I was 12 years old, I had a pretty significant breakdown at 12 and tried to take my own life at my school. And my beautiful mother, she is a wild and free spirit, but she knew. Instead of taking me to the mental health clinic, she took me to this person who has been my teacher ever since. He would always say to me, and I really value this so much, that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience. We didn’t come here to talk about the problems, identify them and x them. What if we came here to shine a light on the things that are working? To shine a light on the wellbeing? Because if you go back to energy and how energy and matter works, we know that what you focus on expands. All of these Lores that we live by spiritually and culturally, they’re also the Lores that are just in nature. It’s that very beginning of our conversation. The grit is so important in making that pearl in the oyster. It sounds na and corny but it is the darkest before dawn every single day. So these Lores are present in nature. They’re present in the way that we gather in our societies, culturally and spiritually. And if that other way worked we would just keep doing that. But it hasn’t so far. This is where when I’m tempted to go down that path of, “There’s the problem, I need to x it, this is what we should be doing,” and like, well, you’ve spent so many years doing that and it hasn’t really shifted anything. So the big shifts for me personally have been when I really heavily focused with a great deal of clarity on the things that are strong and beautiful and bright and light. And they have expanded.

So you were saying you wake up in the morning and tend to your inner world and vibration, like, I’m interested in the pragmatics of that, how does Lydia do that? Because I know that music plays a huge part in your life. And I think that I’m even getting to a place where the non-intellectual, the non-verbal, like, we have to weave that in so much more. We’re trying to squish it out and press it out of culture by defunding the arts but I think the arts as vanity doesn’t work. But the deeply soulful is what we need, we were talking about music that metabolises the intangible.

Yeah. [Laughs]. There’s heaps of ways. My family, we move. We pack houses, we work railway lines, we’ve done all that. So we’re walkers. There’s this beautiful thing my uncle always used to say to me: “Walk to know.” And that’s one of the first things that I know each day that I can do to bring myself into alignment with the most highest, positive, strongest part of my own being. And then probably the deeper extension of that, well singing on the top of your lungs with a guitar in your hand isn’t always possible! At eight in the morning! But music is definitely the second option. And any chance that I can get to express that energy creatively brings me back to who I really am. That teacher that I was talking about, the second one that my mum took me to, his main piece of guidance was always, “You have to know who you are.” And I think that we over-identify with the human physical condition and experience too much. Whereas if we are more connected and identified with ourselves as spiritual beings, all of these conversations shift and can happen in a different way. So each of those activities, the walking, the singing, the writing music, playing music, just help me to remember who I really am.

We were talking yesterday about how there’s a lot of work that’s important being called forward right now that we can’t put on a CV or charge hourly for. And we value what we can measure and what we can pay for. That’s our social system at the moment.

Right, and some of the work that people like you and I do isn’t measured and valued in the same way. So how do you make sure that there’s still food on the table in that world, or how do you make sure that your business is being taken care of when you’re doing all this other stuff? I guess this last couple of years has been a rapid period of expansion for me personally and the more I go down the path the less tolerant I am of situations that don’t vibe with it. Even after our conversation yesterday I must have tuned in that little bit more because there’s a piece of work in my life that I’ve been growingly feeling is not happening. And I literally woke up this morning and was like, “I cannot take another step!” [Laughs]. In this context. ’Cause I just can’t find any energy for it, any inspiration. I don’t feel alive when I do it. I have to let it go. I can’t do it because of money, that’s ridiculous. I’m just going to have to trust that this will all be okay. But it’s funny how those tolerance levels shift. Like the more inner work I do and the more I do focus on feeling good, ’cause feeling good is important.

And you’re not talking about feeling good like Instagram and Net ix feeling good.

No. It’s feeling alive and connected. Like you are really in alignment with the absolute most soaring highest part of who you are. And the more that I’ve done that work and there’s a time where I had given up on feeling good. I was reading this thing the other day which is a bit of a tangent but it was about the use of drugs and alcohol. And I’ve had a lot of heartache in my life because of drug use and alcohol, both personally and in my community. It was interesting because this person who does drug repair therapy in a less clinical way was talking about how people who are using drugs and drinking, they haven’t given up on feeling good like the rest of the population has! And there was a time where I had just given up on feeling good. I just accepted that this was how it was and that you just got through your day. And did your best to, you know, not lose it. [Laughs]. I think

the more that I’ve gone, “Actually, we’re here to feel good, we’re here to focus on the things that make us happy and peaceful,” the less tolerance I have for the other stuff.

But how did you get there Lydia? Like how did you get to a whole and wholesome and kind of integrated notion of wellbeing? Because people talk to me about the wellness industry and I want to shoot myself. I’m like what is the wellness industry? Like the commercialised notion of wholeness?

No it can’t be. And I think again this is where the suffering becomes so important because there’s been some key moments in my life where I’ve had these intense experiences of suffering. Where I’m at now, I wouldn’t take them back for anything. They have been the moments that have pushed me into a different way of thinking and being in the world. My beautiful teacher, Curtis Yates is his name. He was helping me work through childhood trauma. And he was really focusing on forgiveness. He would share his own story and how he had come to a place of forgiveness. It’s really heavy stuff. At that time in my life I was full of hatred, I was full of anger. I was actually on a bit of a revenge mission even. Like, “I’m going to hurt this person, they hurt me,” vibe. He said to me, “Think about where you were when this all happened.” And I was about four years old and I was on a very suburban street. He said, “Is there anybody that you think would have gone through it if you didn’t?” And I just remembered this little girl who lived next door. I don’t even know her. But I still feel so much dignity and honour in going through what I had to go through so that she didn’t have to. Each one of those moments of intense suffering has shown two paths that I could have gone down. There was one path that is just full of self destruction and hatred to the world, and I’ve gone down it a good bunch of times! But it didn’t help, it didn’t heal, it didn’t do anything. The other has been really important. Tending to wellness and feeling good has had to be the priority. There’s a lot of honour in what we call suffering. I think the aversion to it is worse than the suffering itself sometimes. It’s very Buddhist. But, you know. I’ve had another beautiful experience when I was at the height of a pretty awful drug addiction. I had a wholly substance problem. So a bit of everything. And this beautiful Buddhist nun came into my life. Again I was just going through the motions of trying to come to terms with the things that had happened to me. And she shared that story of the Dalai Lama’s 2-IC whose greatest fear when he was imprisoned was losing compassion for his perpetrator. There was something so beautiful in that forgiveness that just freed me and I stopped worrying and stopped focusing on the problems and trying to x them.

So what do you focus on instead?

The good stories. I’m still very active and engaged in the so-called problems but it’s how I look at that. That person has been through that struggle and look at how amazing they are doing. Look at this community that has had everything taken away in terms of natural resources and look at what they’re creating now. Just really trying to find those beautiful examples. And amplifying them as big and bright as I possibly can in my own mind and in my conversations. It’s not 100 percent of the time. It’s been a real habit for me to break actually. By shifting the narrative and the framing. But I really believe we are meant to feel loved, we’re meant to feel connected, we’re meant to feel like we belong together. And it’s a big part of that.

What do you do with anger? Because I really relate to the idea of your own vibration, your own field around you. My tolerance for wilfully unconscious people is very low. As my son would say, I’m a rage monster. And I know that I am love. I actually love humanity. I love and I’m a rage monster when there’s all these people walking around going, “I’m not going to be responsible for anything I do. And I don’t want to even have a thought.” And, “Geez you’re really deep. Oh that’s very deep.” I’m like, “What the fuck is everyone talking about? I want to know what you really think. I want to know what you really feel. Show up to yourself. Show up to the world. Show up to this moment.” So I get this rage monster intolerance about it and I feel really juicy in there in that I’m justified, there’s a battle that I’m raging in the moment that I’m feeling the kind of, “fuck you” rage of it. Like, fucking ecosystems are collapsing and species are becoming extinct, like, how loud does the calling have to be for everybody to show the fuck up to what we can do, who we can be collectively? I know it takes work. I know you have to be able to tolerate the pain and the suffering. ’Cause you’re talking about an ability to lean into the pain like in labour, like in birth. My home-birthing midwife was like, “breathe into it,” like, “sit in that pain because if you try and run away you’ll just want drugs.”

It just gets worse. And the fear of it is sometimes worse than it itself.

Yeah. It is an information force that can take us into birthing life. So I’m struggling with my anger, makes me want to stay home and meditate until it goes away.

I was speaking to a beautiful Elder last night who is the epitome of the peacekeeper in this community in Melbourne. He said, “There are meetings where I just don’t show up. Because I’m cranky that day. And I do not go to anything cranky.” [Laughs]. I was like, Oh, that’s so beautiful! And this is a man who grew up in the most notorious boys home as he was stolen from his mum as a baby. Like he’s got every reason to be angry. Far more than what I do. But he’s like, “I will not bring that version of myself to any public conduct.” So he does stay home and meditate that day. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact it’s key for the kind of urgent work that’s needed now. Because it’s not like you can be in a car going 100 kilometres an hour and suddenly turn around and do a U-turn and not crash. So the slowing down and the stillness is needed. I feel the same way as you do, I completely understand those days where it’s all racing in one direction really fast and there’s so much momentum behind those thoughts and feelings. And they’re the days where it’s just like, you have to lay low today, you have to not try to stop this story but just slow it down a little bit. Because to try and stop it, you’d jackknife [laughs].

I really love that. I went to my osteopath yesterday. And I hadn’t seen him in months and he’s a really gifted guy. He’s called Choppy. And he’s divine. I went to him and I was like, “bleh-leh-l-leh-leh-leh-leh! All the things! And I’ve got to do all this stu ! Ah-dit- dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-deh!” And he goes, “You’re very adrenalised.” [Laughs].

Yeah. Because we’re doers. And sometimes the doing undoes us.

Amen sister. And then I got on his table and I was a little bit, “Fuck you,” and mostly going, “You’re right, I’m spinning on my own top.” Then I got o his table what felt like two minutes later. And he had shut my nervous system down—it went to like a reboot place. I slept last night like I haven’t slept in months.

Totally. It’s the most ridiculous thing that we do. Why do we do that?


Because the urgency has its own quality. The urgency rides us. I’m a hobby horse for the urgency.

[Laughs]. My partner and I were talking the other night. We were driving. I think our daughter had fallen asleep and we were like, “let’s just keep driving and let her have a bit of a snooze.” And we are brought up talking about culture in a really contemporary way. His family’s from the Torres Strait but they were the first wave of climate change refugees in the ’50s. And his mum grew up on the mainland up in Bamaga and he grew up in Roma, Western Queensland. As far away from a salt water island as you could possibly be. So there’s a lot of reclaiming and re-finding knowledge and culture that we engage in together and through creative practice. And we were talking about this thing ’cause he’s also spent a lot of time out bush in a remote community. And we’re talking about how out there the Lore and the Dreaming, is actually very focused on the fact that time is not linear. So there isn’t the past, the present and the future in the way that we think about it. Then we got to parallel universes and quantum physics and how does quantum physics and that understanding of the world sit in the context of Aboriginal Lore? ’Cause they’re saying very similar things. And we were having a joke and were like, what if the climate change agenda and the things that are going on at the moment, we’re looking at it like it’s a future problem. What if it’s not? What if it’s something that actually happened in the past? And what if what we call our Old People and our old ways is actually in front of us? And so this is some of the ways that Aboriginal Lore and different concepts of time and space helps me think about the problems that we’re going through. Because I do believe that this is all in the plan. Even the invasion. And I know there are certain parts of the community that could never have that conversation, and it’s a scary thing to say out loud.

For anyone who’s reading this around the world, what do you mean by the invasion?

The British invasion of Australia. The colonisation of Australia. My mum is a very spiritual woman. And she has a good laugh about things too. We’re laughers. But she’s like, “What if we called Cook in?” And I was like, “Mum, what do you mean?” [Laughs]. And she’s like, “Well we’re deliberate creators, we’re conscious beings, we’re the ultimate manifesters of everything. We created the earth. That’s our dreaming, that’s our Lore. What if we called this other energy in ’cause we’ve actually gone as far as we possibly could in terms of our own advancement and we needed this massive intense hit of contrast and suffering to be able to expand even further?” And this period that we think is so permanent and real right now is really only a 250-year period and what we know is, you know, 120,000-plus years, so it’s just a blip. I think having those conversations and leaning into the Lore of it, and how we can think about time and space differently, it really helps me feel less guilty about taking time out when I need to.

I love that. I’ve been talking to some quantum physicists, and that’s deep science that they’re really understanding now that consciousness comes before matter.

Yes. Absolutely. We know that in a cultural Lore sense, so what if we take those two things, those two Dreamings and approach something like climate change with that thought. Then how we think about the earth and its wellness is critically important. Only focusing on the bits that are broken will lead to more broken bits. I know that sounds really, really intense. And radical. But it’s also like, we do have an obligation to shine a light on the things that are working.

I think you’re 100 percent right because if there isn’t a restoration narrative, if we can’t find it now, well there’s nothing but destruction to lean into. There’s nothing but watching the world go down. And that’s not creative. That’s not generative. That’s not what life is.

No. And you know we might be having that conversation as the ship sinks, who knows. But at least in that moment we are giving it everything that we’ve got in terms of belief and hope and positivity.

Berry Liberman

Berry Liberman, Dumbo Feather’s publisher and editor-in-chief, drives our passion and purpose. While she’s not immersed in the heady scent of old fashioned flowers, she’s also the Creative Director of Small Giants and a mum to the three cutest kids in the world.

Photography by Tammie Joske

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