Mixed up with Trees: The Gadgur and The Dreaming

Stephen Muecke

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After talking to the Goolarabooloo people for a few years now, and thinking a bit about what they might mean by ‘living country’ in the West Kimberley region of Australia, I want to venture the idea that they understand life as networked and sustained among humans and non-humans. This idea, which is hardly surprising among students of ecology today — who are pushing back against the ancient Judeo-Christian concept of man’s dominion over nature — turns out it may be more than just an idea in Indigenous Australian cosmologies. It may well be structural; built into what we used to call ‘cultural’ practices like ceremonies, but now search for a new name for, because they are more-than-cultural precisely because they mix up ‘cultural’ and ‘natural’ things. While each animal, tree and water source strives to persist in its own way, engendering its filiations, it is also a necessary mutually sustaining part of the heterogeneous network. Humans are not exceptional in this, because, like the others, they are ‘reproductive beings.’1 Living country is a whole network reproducing itself, and when the human communities organise to sing the country, to vitalise it and make it ‘stand up,’ they are performing what anthropologists call ‘increase ceremonies’ for animals or plants. And why not think of initiations of boys also as kinds of ‘increase’?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCovert plants:
Subtitle of host publicationVegetal Consciousness and Agency in an Anthropocentric World
EditorsPrudence Gibson, Baylee Brits
Place of PublicationSanta Barbara
PublisherPunctum Books
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-947447-70-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-947447-69-1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • Goolarabooloo people
  • West Kimberley region of Australia
  • Living Country
  • Increase Ceremonies
  • Anthropology
  • Aboriginal Australians
  • Indigenous Australians
  • relationship to flora
  • Australian flora


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