I AM slouched in the shadow of the world’s largest rock – Uluru – grappling to come to grips with how I capture its spiritual significance in words. I could pepper my story with adjectives dipped in red ochre, toss in the smoky scent of campfire, conjure up the drum of a didgeridoo, and talk in hushed tones about the sounds of silence. I could deploy all of this writing trickery, but still not do justice to this Australian icon. Even the cliché “icon” makes my palms sweat.
Instead, I relinquish my role as writer for this one afternoon, and take a cycling tour around the rock. It’s my first visit to this ancient landmark and instead of clumsily grasping for the toolkit of adjectives and mixed metaphors upon which I usually rely, I empty my head, open my heart and clutch the handlebars. It’s early spring and a cool breeze gives me permission to smile.
Relax, the rock assures me, there’s plenty of time to get the story. And it should know. For this is one of Australia’s oldest homes of storytellers, dating back at least 20,000 years. Even the traditional custodians the Anangu people don’t speak about the Dreamtime out here, which they believe suggests the stories, customs and traditions exist in the mind. For them, it’s Tjukurpa, which is more about a way of life. As for Uluru itself, it is considered just one chapter in Australia’s lengthy songline and to understand the entire story, you’d have to walk the length and breadth of this big sky country. My mind goes walkabout with the possibilities.
The next morning, I find myself standing before the massive monolith in the pre-dawn light, still no wiser about how to approach this story. How on God’s earth can I possibly capture the magic passed down among Australian Aborigines on the soil upon which I stand? I jot down the words “diversity and depth” and “caves and crevices” in my notebook. I could talk about the lilac hues as the first light hits the rock, but suspect that might be purple prose. I feel insignificant and to be honest, that’s humbling. This journey is not about me, or my story. It runs much deeper than that. I dine under the stars, searching for the constellations, but my writing mind is still walkabout.
Then, the next day, something special happens. In this land of ancient scribes and storytellers, I’m listening to journalist and author Margaret Simons speak about the art of modern writing. And I am snapped back into the present with her opening words: “If you choose writing as a profession you are choosing fear and those dark nights of the soul as a daily companion.” Mind reader! I want to shout to the room of fellow writers in which I’d always imagined I was the only scaredy cat.
Margaret believes good writers avoid sheltering readers from the shock of the real and constantly try to see the world fresh. They “think themselves back into the experience” and avoid adjectives and adverbs in favour of nouns and verbs which she describes as the “bone and sinew” of good writing. Luckily, for me, alliteration is allowed.
“Show, don’t tell. Simple to read is not simple to write. You have to take risks in order to achieve that authenticity,” she says.
“First drafts are crap. The only thing you need to know is whether it is alive or dead. You want a nice fertile mess. You just need to work out what it is you are writing about.
“Your second draft is about form and shape. Your third draft is your cut and polish. Take words out to gain power cut out the purple prose to reveal the authenticity.”
And in an era when I wonder whether there is any future for those of us who remain ridiculous romantics of the written word, Margaret says the one thing that makes this journey all come together: “Human beings have always made stories. Consider this rock, there is no human society that has not made and communicated stories.”
And so, I give you my Uluru.
The Global Goddess travelled to Uluru with assistance from Voyages Ayers Rock Resort (www.voyages.com.au); Outback Cycling (www.outbackcycling.com); and AAT Kings (www.aatkings.com)
Happy New You!
OUT on the patio we sit, and the humidity we breathe. 1980s Aussie rock band GANGgajang is on stage, stating the obvious on a scorching summer day, which feels like Satan himself has tossed a hot blanket over the entire Woodford Festival site. There is no respite from this cauldron so I have two choices, to complain (which strangely doesn’t make it any cooler) or, as GANGgajang states, laugh and think…this is Australia.
Under the big canvas of the Blue Lotus tent, Mary-Lou Stephens – author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation – has lured me in with her talk entitled “Change Your Life Without Doing Anything”. It’s an enticing concept, borne from Stephens’ tortured childhood and time spent in silent meditation retreats.
“I changed my life, saved my job and found a husband through meditation,” she tells the sweltering crowd. But, we quickly learn, it’s not as simple as all that.
“I grew up in a charismatic, Christian family. I was told at the age of eight by my mother that I was a prophet, a healer. My mother was desperate for me to be special in some way,” Stephen says.
“I developed a lot of addictions and had a childhood described as being akin to growing up in an alcoholic household. I never knew what to expect when I came home. I knew my family was different to everyone else’s family and I was embarrassed to bring my friends home to this.
“There is an urban myth that the youngest child is spoilt. But by the time your parents get around to you they are tired. They don’t care what you do. I grew up a victim of gross neglect. I grew up wild and feral, stealing money and food.”
So damaging was her childhood, that one of Stephens’ brothers died from alcoholism and two of her sisters nearly died from anorexia. And while she went on to have a successful career with the ABC, even that was not without its anxieties – at one point she was using heroin and speed just to get up in the morning. But through meditation she not only conquered this, but went on to meet the man she would marry.
“I had been very bad at relationships. I had been like a frightened animal. I just felt so trapped and vulnerable,” she says.
“But I discovered there is a thin membrane between the conscious and subconscious. When we meditate we drop into a different place, into that place which really drives us.
“Even the most hideous thing, the most painful thing, will eventually change.”
Change, it emerges, becomes my personal theme for this year’s Woodford Festival. Even Australian musician Gotye has gone back to his roots and is performing as somebody that we used to know, with his original band – The Basics. Later that day I stumble across The Lettering House, Woodford’s first post office. Here you can send real letters, strung on a washing line with pegs, but also leave a random note to a stranger. I find this concept too seductive to resist and hence pen a note which simply says: “To the man of my dreams. Please find me…”
The next day I happen across the postie on her push bike. She looks so cool amid the heat I ask to take her photo. There’s no letter for me, but an unexpected compliment after the final click of my shutter. “You have the cutest smile,” she says, before riding off. That one kind comment from a complete stranger makes me sparkle all day. In return, I attract the most interesting strangers and companions along my Woodford wonderings.
I’m waiting for my breakfast, a tantalising Turkish Gozleme – pastry filled with spinach, cheese and mushrooms – when I encounter a Turkish/Australian woman. Bilge, 34, was born in Istanbul but moved to Australia in 2007 to learn English and is performing in the Fokloricka tent at the festival.
“Have you been to Turkey?” she asks as we wait for the soupy Turkish coffee to boil.
“Yes,” I offer. And in the manner in which many foreigners try to connect to Australians by mentioning a well-known Aussie, I add that I have been to Gallipoli and was deeply touched by former Turkish leader Ataturk.
Quite unexpectedly, fat, salty, serious tears fill Bilge’s eyes.
“I get very emotional about Ataturk,” she smiles through her tears, “he was such a great leader.”
“They say once every 100 years in the world comes along a leader who is a true leader. Ataturk is that man.
“He believed in women and allowed us to work and lose the veil.”
I stay struck by this simple, yet powerful connection I have with Bilge, and memories of this great leader who believed in positive change, for the rest of the day. Down in the Greenhouse, on a subject called Essays From Contemporary Australia, author Ben Law talks about racism, his writer sister Michelle Law about sexism, indigenous curator Bruce McLean about Aboriginality, and feminist Clementine Ford about mental illness. Again big change, it emerges, needs to happen in this country. The issues are sticky, just like the Woodford weather.
Before I depart Woodford, I have one more task I wish to achieve. I visit Woodford’s acclaimed clairvoyant. She’s so popular that I sit outside her tent in the shade for an hour, watching the colourful parade of festival goers saunter past me. Interestingly, at the very moment I’m about to enter her tent, my ex-husband walks past me, looks at me, looks at the tent, pauses as if he’s about to say something, before moving on. I enter the tent feeling sick and rattled. But we read my cards and they are good news and more importantly, accurate. At the end of the reading, the clairvoyant asks me whether I have any questions.
“I have two,” I say, before relaying the ex-husband incident as I entered the tent.
“That’s just your past, walking past you,” she says.
“Is it finally over?” I ask.
“Yes. And now you need to really learn to be comfortable in your own skin, and then you will meet someone. He is out there but you need to change a few things,” she says, answering my predictable second question.
And so, this year, that’s what I aim to do. Simply sit with myself. Out on the patio. Breathe in the humidity. And laugh and think.
The Global Goddess was a guest of the Woodford Festival. For more information on this year’s event, please visit http://www.woodfordfolkfestival.com