Sunday, December 28, 2014

The End of the Known World - Poem by David Whyte

This summer I made a blog for my friend Zoe, who walked the Camino de Santiago at the age of 68. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, pointing the way all along the long pilgrimage route.   After Compostella, many pilgrims continue on to Finisterre, "Lands End", where they truly finish their pilgrimage before the vastness of the Atlantic ocean.   Recently I remembered this beloved poem by David Whyte, and somehow it reminded me of the New Year as well.........."Because now, you would find a different way to tread, and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,  no matter how........."


The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now
but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water,
going where shadows go,

no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags;
to sort this and to leave that;

to promise what you needed to promise all along
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge,

not because you had given up

but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all,
part of you could still walk on,

no matter how, over the waves.”

― David Whyte


**Photos by Zoe D'Ay

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Winter Solstice

When language was young, when even the gods and goddesses had not yet entirely taken human form but still ran with the deer in the forest, or flew with the wings of crows, or were glimpsed in the depths of a numinous pool........even then,  I think this was a holy day.  The Sun was returning to the sleeping world.

Fires were lit to welcome the Shining One returning from the underworld.  Stones aligned with the  Sun's journey made a pathway, and food and drink were left to give the Young God the strength he would need. 

Perhaps  they  danced through the long cold night, lighting   fires for him,  helping him on his way, keeping vigil.

These ancient roots are still found in many traditions, from the Lumaria of the Festival of Lights, to the lighting of the Menorah Candles at Hanukkah.   Planet Earth turns her face toward her star again,  she circles round,  and we turn with her, every  creat(e)ure  within her fragile, azure skin.   The light is returning!   Happy Solstice!

I pledge allegiance
to the soil of Turtle Island,
and to the beings
who thereon dwell
one ecosystem in diversity
under the sun
With joyful
interpenetration for all.

Gary Snyder

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Santa Claus, Father Christmas and.........Odin?

Odin on his 8 legged horse
 (Image source:

My wonderings about the origins of   Santa Claus.  Could Odin be another possibility?
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated since time immemorial, and in the  cold Nordic countries, where the return of the Sun's life giving warmth is of particular concern, there is evidence that it's been celebrated since the time of the Megalith builders and before.  Yule/Jól was was probably connected to the full moon nearest the winter solstice.
Santa with his flying Reindeer

According to Wikipedia:  
Yule or Yuletide ("Yule time") is a religious festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples, later being absorbed into and equated with the Christian festival of Christmas. The earliest references to Yule are by way of indigenous Germanic month names (Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) or Jiuli and Æftera Jéola (After Yule). Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-SaxonModranicht.    Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule or Yuletide("Yule time"). 

Yule is the modern English representative of the Old English words ġéol or ġéohol and ġéola or ġéoli, with the former indicating the 12-day festival of "Yule" (later: "Christmastime") and the latter indicating the month of "Yule", whereby ǽrra ġéola referred to the period before the Yule festival (December) and æftera ġéola referred to the period after Yule (January). Both words are thought to be derived from Common Germanic *jeχʷla-, and are cognate with Gothic (fruma) jiuleis and Old Norse.   The word is attested in an explicitly pre-Christian context primarily in Old Norse.

 Among many others  the long-bearded god Odin bears the names jólfaðr (Old Norse 'Yule father') and jólnir (Old Norse 'the Yule one'). "

 The  Yule Log

The origins of  the Nordic Yule go back to a feast to honor the Norse God Odin, who among other things was the jolly God of Intoxicating Drink. The custom of  the Yule Log or Yule Tree  emerged from this winter festival as well.   

The custom of Yule log varies from region to region.  It's good to remember the primal importance of the gift of warmth and of fire to early people living in the cold North, the "flame at the Hearth" for ancient families.  The Log may have originally been a large tree (Christmas Trees)  brought to the house with great ceremony. 

On Christmas, people light the Yule log placed in the hearth.   The burning of the Yule Log brings good fortune for family and friends.   After Christmas celebrations, a piece of the Yule log is retained to relight next year along with next year's log.
Santa Claus
"The appearance of Santa Claus or Father Christmas, whose day is 25th of December, owes much to Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Gift bringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. … Odin, transformed into Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, prospered with St Nicholas on the Christmas stage."  ......Margaret Baker 
santa claus changing designSt.  Nicholas was a 4th-century Christian bishop from Lycia (now in Turkey), who was  known for his charity, and giving gifts to the poor. In one notable story, he met a pious but impoverished man who had three daughters. He presented them with dowries to save them from a life of prostitution. In most traditional Iconic images,  St. Nicholas is portrayed as a bearded bishop, wearing clerical robes, an important patron saint of  children, the poor, and prostitutes.

So few people know that Santa Claus is a blend of an early Christian saint living in Turkey (Saint Nickolaus)  and the Norse god Odin, with a few other influence thrown in over the ages.   Odin, the ruler of Asgard  was often depicted as leading a hunting party through the skies, during which he rode his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. In the 13th-century Poetic Edda, Sleipnir is described as being able to leap great distances, which some scholars have compared to the legends of Santa's reindeer (and, of course, the Edda are from Finland, which once abounded with reindeer). Odin was portrayed as an old man with a long, white beard. 

Odin (1886) by Georg von Rosen
I read that during the winter, in some pagan folklore, children would place their  boots near the chimney (and in the cold of a Nordic winter, it's a good place to put them), filling them with carrots or straw as a gift for Sleipnir. When Odin flew by, he rewarded the little ones by leaving gifts in their boots. Like traditions of the "Green Man" in England, in rural areas of Germanic countries  this practice survived despite the adoption of Christianity. As a result,  gift-giving became associated with St. Nicholas rather than the earlier Pagan god Odin.  Only now we hang stockings by the chimney, and leave cake and brandy rather than carrots and straw. 

The Roman Saturnalia Solstice Festival

Last, as a contender for the origin of Christmas, we have the Roman Saturnalia Festival, traditionally celebrated around the winter Solstice.  As Rome became Christianized through Constantine, and eventually became the center for European Christianity (Vatican), it is highly likely that their beloved Saturnalia Festival was the forerunner of the later Christmas celebration.  According to Matt Salusbury,   (

"It was a public holiday celebrated around December 25th in the family home. A time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees. But it wasn’t Christmas. This was Saturnalia, the pagan Roman winter solstice festival. But was Christmas, Western Christianity’s most popular festival, derived from the pagan Saturnalia?
The first-century AD poet Gaius Valerius Catullus described Saturnalia as ‘the best of times’: dress codes were relaxed, small gifts such as dolls, candles and caged birds were exchanged.  Saturnalia saw the inversion of social roles. The wealthy were expected to pay the month’s rent for those who couldn’t afford it, masters and slaves to swap clothes. Family households threw dice to determine who would become the temporary Saturnalian monarch. 
Saturnalia originated as a farmer’s festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season in honour of Saturn (satus means sowing). Numerous archaeological sites from the Roman coastal province of Constantine, now in Algeria, demonstrate that the cult of Saturn survived there until the early third century AD.
Saturnalia grew in duration and moved to progressively later dates under the Roman period. During the reign of the Emperor Augustus (63 BC-AD 14), it was a two-day affair starting on December 17th. By the time Lucian described the festivities, it was a seven-day event. Changes to the Roman calendar moved the climax of Saturnalia to December 25th, around the time of the date of the winter solstice.
Emperor Domitian (AD 51-96) may have changed Saturnalia’s date to December 25th in an attempt to assert his authority. He curbed Saturnalia’s subversive tendencies by marking it with public events under his control. The poet Statius (AD 45- 95), in his poem Silvae, describes the lavish banquet and entertainments Domitian presided over, including games which opened with sweets, fruit and nuts showered on the crowd and featuring flights of flamingos released over Rome. Shows with fighting dwarves and female gladiators were illuminated, for the first time, into the night.
The conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in AD 312 ended Roman persecution of Christians and began imperial patronage of the Christian churches. But Christianity did not become the Roman Empire’s official religion overnight. Dr David Gwynn, lecturer in ancient and late antique history at Royal Holloway, University of London, says that, alongside Christian and other pagan festivals, ‘the Saturnalia continued to be celebrated in the century afterward’.
Christmas apparently started – like Saturnalia – in Rome, and spread to the eastern Mediterranean. The earliest known reference to it commemorating the birth of Christ on December 25th is in the Roman Philocalian calendar of AD 354. Provincial schisms soon resulted in different Christian calendars. The Orthodox Church in the Eastern (Byzantine) half of the Roman Empire fixed the date of Christmas at January 6th, commemorating simultaneously Christ’s birth, baptism and first miracle.
Saturnalia has a rival contender as the forerunner of Christmas: the festival of dies natalis solis invicti, ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’. The Philocalian calendar also states that December 25th was a Roman civil holiday honouring the cult of sol invicta. With its origins in Syria and the monotheistic cult of Mithras, sol invicta certainly has similarities to the worship of Jesus. The cult was introduced into the empire in AD 274 by Emperor Aurelian (214-275), who effectively made it a state religion, putting its emblem on Roman coins.
Sol invicta succeeded because of its ability to assimilate aspects of Jupiter and other deities into its figure of the Sun King, reflecting the absolute power of ‘divine’emperors. But despite efforts by later pagan emperors to control Saturnalia and absorb the festival into the official cult, the sol invicta ended up looking very much like the old Saturnalia. Constantine, the first Christian emperor, was brought up in the sol invicta cult, in what was by then already a predominantly monotheist empire: ‘It is therefore possible,’ says Dr Gwynn, ‘that Christmas was intended to replace this festival rather than Saturna

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Spider Woman and the Universe Explained in Under Three Minutes.......

“What might we see, how might we act, if  we saw with a webbed vision? 
The world seen through a web of relationships…as delicate as spider’s silk, 
yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.” 

Catherine Keller, Theologian
 From a Broken Web  (1989)

Love it!

P.S.:  Minutes after posting this video, I went to Facebook, where a friend had sent me a link to an image from "The Dark Goddess Tarot", the card below,  "Spiderwoman - The Star".  Minutes after posting this..........don't tell me the Universe doesn't respond!  
P.P.S.:  Spider Woman has a great sense of humor.

From the "Dark Goddess Tarot" by  Ellen Lorenzi-Prince .
 To learn more and purchase, visit

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The White Reindeer

Photo by Sally Svenningson

The Sami of Finland and Norway are the last surviving traditional shamanic culture in Europe.    Sami legend tells that the world was created by a White Reindeer, whose body became the world, the rivers, the grasses, the mountains.

A few years ago I posted a wonderful article about shamanism and the Samis by Gloria Orenstein.   

It's been noted that reindeer and "magic mushrooms" have been important to the "flights" of Sami shamans as well, so much so that the legend of "Santa and his reindeer" may have originated in their legends as well - the short video below is fascinating to watch for that!

My friend Sally Svenningson  has Sami ancestors, and when she was in Finnmark, Norway  she saw a  rare white reindeer.  She felt as if this magical encounter was a way of being "welcomed  home".   Thanks to Sally for sharing her photos here.

Magic mushrooms & Reindeer - Weird Nature - BBC animals

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Two Women on Walkabout........Zoe's Story

This summer I created a Blog from the remarkable  journal of my  friend Zoe, who walked the Camino in Spain at the age of 68.  Recently she sent me this wonderful story, about a previous pilgrimage she made with a friend in Australia, and I enjoy posting it here.  Her story is full of synchronicities, and a strange kind of magic.

I called this entry "Prelude" to the Camino, although in truth, Zoe's life has been pilgrimage, infused with the wonder of the "Road".  I reprint the article here, but the link is below - and if that story grabs one, read on, because it's the first entry in the Blog.  From there .......... Zoe's Camino.

Two Middle-Aged Women on Walkabout

 Caroline and I first met in 1986.  I had puffed my way up Park Street in Bristol and walked into a slimming centre where Caroline was then working.  We immediately clicked, ignored the slimming, and went to lunch together.  She lives on Gozo now, and my footsteps have once again brought me to Glastonbury from the other side of Earth.  During a conversation at the end of our first connection Caroline confided to me, prompted by my still Australian accent, that she had wanted to come to Australia since she was ten years old.
A decade had passed since that conversation and I was again in Australia.  Emails were new magic, so when Caroline emailed me with the news that she was coming to visit me in October, 2001, just a few months hence,  I was thrilled.  It was in celebration of her 60th birthday.  She wanted to visit sacred sites, to meet an Aboriginal Elder.  She was not coming, she emphasized, to visit white Australia. I could organize her first wish, could certainly steer clear of the last, but could only send out songlines for the second. However with a longing as great as Caroline’s I felt confident we would be guided to exactly where we needed to be. 

I had planned for us to go to Uluru but with the collapse of our major internal airline, Ansett, just days before Caroline’s arrival we couldn’t get there.  I was tempted to wonder (with a smile in the mind’s eye) if the entire world bent itself for 2 women on a spirit journey because, unknown to either of us then, our destiny was plainly written in the stars.

Caroline arrived at the tiny tropical airport of Townsville wearing dark blue woollen trousers and a huge pink polo neck angora jumper in the hottest October for years.  She and her luggage were among the first off the little plane which brought her down from the international airport at Cairns, and we bundled everything into my old Alfasud.  She marvelled at the fact that she simply got off the plane, walked across the tarmac, and found me just inside the door.  And we walked together out of the door on the opposite side of the airport building to my car.  This is worthy of note, for Townsville is the most pleasant airport in Australia.  Alas both it and the centuries old World Heritage bird and wildlife sanctuary known as The Common, adjacent to the airport, have their days numbered.  The airport has been sold privately and the new owners have grandiose plans for its future development. Those plans won’t include bird sanctuaries.  It may not be long before landing in Townsville will be just another homogenous airport experience. 

Caroline was melting like a raspberry sundae but I stopped along the airport drive to show her a Bowerbird nest in the bush beside the road.  Its arching bowers were lined with the bits of blue anythings that so fascinate this bird; plastic, paper, bottles, pieces of glass; even an old blue hairbrush.  Mother Bowerbird uses this bower every nesting season, adding to the blue decor.

She responded with delight at the scenic route as I drove along the newly created Strand with its palms and sea and art work and play areas and shaded sails; the colourful, chattering Lorikeets and elegant high stepping Sacred Ibis enchanted her.  Magnetic Island was a hand length beyond the stretch of sea.  For first impressions, this was pretty impressive.  Southerners sneer at Townsville, never having visited, but as Australia’s best kept secret that’s fine and dandy, and long may it remain so.

Once home Caroline peeled off her woolly winter persona, showered, put on a cool turquoise sarong I had laid out on her bed, ate some fruit and yoghurt, and had a comforting cup of good English tea.  I wouldn’t let her sleep; jetlag is best dealt with by tuning in to local time, I can be cruel!  Distraction is the key and we went straight into town for some suitable tropical retail therapy.

She bought three delicious dresses. Two of which designs were to flavour and favour an Aboriginal spirit journey, plus a filmy layered turquoise and sunshine yellow French number which naturally needed shoes to match. I owned variations on the same themes.  Off then to Papoucci to buy the most enchanting pair of sunshine yellow sandals with clusters of tiny yellow flowers across the toes.  And then a hat.  Back we went to the gals of Townsville Hatters for a wickedly wonderful hat which was to become another part talisman for our pilgrimage.  When one is searching for the Divine my maxim for any pilgrimage is that one must dress divinely.

For the first few days we did low-key tourist things.  Caroline took the obligatory trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, did her first scuba dive, and, water baby that she is, became so enchanted with the wonders under water that the pleasure boat crew had to haul her in mermaid fashion.  Magnetic Island proved itself as magic as always.  Wearing our grand hats to shade us against the searing sun we climbed the high Fort Walk and found koala bears, somniculous in their eucalyptus. Only mad dogs and English women go out in the midday sun and when we reached the summit our legs could barely support us, or our hats.  A gracious brick layer, going home for lunch in the heat of the day, warmed to two elegantly hatted figures tottering down the hills in the noon day heat, took pity on us, and offered us a lift to where ever we wanted to go.  Which by then was Magnetic Mango, en plein air, to sit under the huge mango trees and eat gourmet food and drink delicious mango smoothies.  As we recovered our sang-froid a large camera lens drew our attention.  The man behind the camera asked if he could take our photo – he and his wife were on holiday from New Zealand.  They had come to see the sights, and according to him, our hats were a real sight…

Days drifted by in this idle manner while we discussed and re-discussed our route north. Everyone said we were mad to try and pack in what we intended us to see.  Of course they were right; I knew that.  But Caroline, from Cornwall in the West of England, had little comprehension of distances.  The closest town north to Townsville is 110 kilometres, and we were planning twenty times that distance. A couple more days of hearing this from everyone she met and Caroline extended her stay, altered her flight ticket, prepared herself for flexible possibilities.

There is a special story that Carl Jung used to tell of a shaman, a rainmaker, who was called by the people of a drought stricken village to come and bring rain to save their harvest, their livelihood, their life.  He duly arrived, and requested a hut and solitude for four days.  Food was to be left outside his door for him to take as he needed.  On the fifth day he would begin his work.  On the fifth day the shaman made preparation to come out of his room to begin his rituals and ceremonies for rainmaking. Yet before he could do anything the heavens opened.

The moral of the story, as we know, is that when one is in right accord on the inside powerful forces are drawn together on the outside to stimulate the processes and needs of life itself.  

The rainmaker, after his long journey, was not settled enough to communicate the needs of the villagers to the elemental realms, but because rainmaking was his destiny, his soul’s work, once he was settled in himself, his own songlines of destiny were cleansed and calm and the greater forces naturally came into harmony to respond.  In human experience Jung named this synchronicity.  My spiritual teachers call it by many different names, but I particularly like Mrs. Tweedie’s “eavesdropping on the Heart of hearts”, listening, in other words, to the Hint. 

On our first Saturday morning together I took Caroline to Mass at the House of Prayer.  The priest that day was an especially sensitive man and his homily of the ghastliness of the Australian government’s attitude to the refugees dying on a ship off our shores (they were refused asylum) made her weep.  She had never in her life been to a Catholic Mass, or imagined such a priest.  We all sat in comfortable chairs in a circle, and Dave, the priest, sat in the circle with us.  He wore his usual weekend T-shirt and shorts.  Most of us, including Dave, kick our sandals off at the door.  It is communion at a deep level, where we are indeed all part of the One.  Caroline saw Dave bathed in light, a lilac light, as he spoke, and the light surrounded another special man present, an ornithologist whose support of the House is a gift to us all.  That afternoon we visited World Vision, known as Oxfam in England, where Caroline found an olivewood carving from Palestine of Our Lady and had to buy it.  The Goddess had touched her.

We decided to leave for our pilgrimage on Tuesday at dawn.  We chose to hire a car because my old Alfasud has no air-conditioning and the October days were steaming up considerably.  Should we encounter tropical rain it would be like driving in a sauna with the windows closed in my car, so air-conditioning made common sense.  To make the trip to Split Rock, to the sacred Rock Art of the Quinkan Country near Laura, up in the Gulf, we would need an off road four wheel drive vehicle later on as well.

The rental car company was kind enough to let us take the car early on Monday afternoon as their office was not opening until after we had planned to leave the following day.  This meant we could load up the night before, ready for the dawn departure.  The next morning, after tea and fruit, we left for Ingham, known affectionately as Little Italy.  The most beautiful terrain of tropical North Queensland begins beyond Ingham.  I make a habit of stopping in to see Tony, from Sicily, at the Olive Tree for a cappuccino and Australia’s best bruschetta, made with Tony’s home grown basil and garlic.  Thus fortified I can do justice to the unfolding panoramas of the drive ahead.  We took an Italian opportunity to load up with Italian cheeses and imported olive oil and balsamic vinegar and artichoke heads and delicious Italian breads and olives, as well as other tempting tidbits for the picnic I had planned in the Licuala forest of Tam O’Shanter National Park near Mission Beach.  I sent out songlines for a cassowary, a not too impossible request, as this is their habitual territory.

The day went well.  Caroline agreed Tony’s bruschetta was excellent; that the sight of the Hinchinbrook inlet was awesome; and that the Cardwell National Park Habitat Centre the best she had seen.  We drove on and into the National Park where we set out our picnic under the licuala canopy and Caroline got goosebumps when a cassowary came within coo-ee.  It stayed watching us a long time, bowing its horn-crowned head and its long blue neck.  These huge flightless birds stand a metre and a half tall, five feet tall in oldspeak, and they fertilize the ancient rainforests by travelling great distances and carrying and dropping seed.  The survival of this shy giant bird is in serious question, larger pet dogs being responsible (and their owners irresponsible) for killing as many as are killed by careless drivers as the birds cross the bitumen roads that now divide their ancient forest territory.  Later we stood breathless for long moments at the palm-fringed sweep of Mission Beach where it seemed the world, for that single span of time, had bequeathed to us alone its share of Paradise, its white sand, turquoise seas and tropical islands just a finger touch away.

We skirted the coast road around Bingil Bay to arrive at El Arish back on the highway north, and turned left at Silkwood to climb the Tablelands to Paronella Park.  Silkwood is known for its 3 saintly relics from Italy, for this is the heart of sugarcane country where Italian immigrants came and suffered greatly in the early years of settlement.  From here on I drove, so that Caroline could absorb the extraordinary panorama of green rolling hills, forested or pastured, ringed with range on range of mountains in silhouetted shades of deepening blues and mauves as we drove higher and higher.  

We reached Paronella by 3 o’clock, in time for Mark, the owner, to attach us to a guided tour of this magical place.  Paronella was the vision of one José Paronella, who arrived from Catalonia in 1913.  It has a sad history, and José eventually died of cancer brought on by a broken heart after insensitive neighbours had refused to clear backlogs of fallen timber banked up river, which in the great floods of 1946 created a colossal tidal wave which swept down and devastated his life’s work.  Yet his vision lives on in the astonishing beauty of the parks and grand avenue of kauri trees he first planted, now a towering 30 metres, and the lichen covered ruins of the castle he and his wife laboured over for decades to build by hand. They dreamed of castles for their children, they dreamed of grand staircases and chandelier’d ballrooms for their community, a quixotic blend of old and new world on a miniature, but hugely impressive, scale.  Alas Australians were not ready for such cultural transplants.  José and his wife mixed and processed every ounce of concrete themselves, their handprints plainly visible in the ruined façade.  The website of Paronella gives a glimpse into this magical place. We left on closing time, to begin the still lengthy drive to Atherton where we were to stay the first night with a friend who has an orphanage for spectacled fruit bats.  A photo of her tiny orphans was the London Times Magazine photo of the week a few weeks before Caroline’s arrival, and she wanted to see the orphanage for herself.

Now, the road between Paronella Park (the Catalonian vision), and Pteropus House (the bat orphanage), is through many miles of high rolling grazing land, partly forested, with very little evidence of human habitation.  We had seen virtually no traffic all day. Suddenly, on a high range with spectacular views, two cars seemed to appear from nowhere to close in behind us. We turned a bend and met with two cars coming in the opposite direction.  Because of the two oncoming cars the impatient ones behind could not overtake us.  And just as well, for there in the centre of the road was a tiny, terrified, black kitten.

 I braked, leapt out of the car, ran down the middle of the road frantically flailing my arms to halt the other cars while I let the kitten negotiate his getaway.   But the little soul turned, took one look at me, and ran full pelt to leap into my flailing arms, which naturally closed about him.  But now what?  I could hardly turn the kitten back onto the road, and there were no houses until the next township, 20 kilometres away, he could not have wandered so far. On close examination, back in the safety of the car, s/he (too small to tell) had torn paws and split claws and had scuffed raw the skin and fur over its eyes as if in a tumble.  We backtracked to the sugar mill, but no one wanted to know about a kitten.  One man offered to take it to the animal pound but neither Caroline nor I had the heart to end its life after such a big adventure for such a small kitten. The man there told me that just yesterday he had rounded up a batch of kittens to take to the pound as a sack filled with a litter of kittens was hurled from a passing car. It was likely that this kitten was one that got away and it was now curled up exhausted, and very dehydrated, on Caroline’s neck.  We continued on to Pteropus House, still two hours away.

Having The Birl (we didn’t know if it was a Boy or Girl so we settled on The Birl, rather better than Goy…) completely altered our plans.  Down on the coast and inland at Split Rock the daytime temperature was so fierce we could not leave anything in the car while we were sightseeing.  We were already using the air-conditioning at its highest as we drove.  The immediate challenge ahead of us was finding somewhere to stay with a kitten. Cruelty to cats and kittens (and possums and kangaroos and wild horses and dingoes and just about everything other than expensive dogs) is a sad reflection of the less attractive side of life in Australia - something awry with their connection to the Feminine, and to Mystery, I believe. Would we find a B & B to welcome the three of us?

I was once taught by an Inuit shaman (from north of Nome) with whom I was privileged to work that no spirit journey can commence without a power animal, without a test by Mother Nature herself, and without humility on the part of the seeker.  Now a power animal is not something we choose for ourselves, our mind is too limited, too conditioned by prejudices of received opinions.  We all want elks or mountain lions, kestrels or eagles, when in fact if Spirit is telling us we need to be grounded a carrot vision might be exactly what we are sent. 

Caroline had stated emphatically that she had come to Australia for black Australia, not white Australia, and she also knew that there was no such thing as happenstance when one began a journey with sacred intent.  This kitten was black, coal black, and its arrival would alter all the best-laid plans of mice and men, as well as those of two middle-aged women on walkabout.  I let Caroline determine the kitten’s fate, and in doing so, the direction of our journey, because I left the decision to her as to whether a weak black kitten was a power animal for two middle-aged women on walkabout.  I can be heartless!  At the first night’s destination we both knew all was exactly as Planned.

We arrived late to Pteropus House.  Jenny, the owner, was out collecting her nightly quota of orphan pteropi, spectacled fruit bats.  Claire who greeted us was a guest resident and English. She and I both knew that Jenny would not want cats on the premises – but it was so-o-o late and the kitten was so-o-o tiny, so-o-o tired … and so Claire said, her English compassion coming to the fore, just stay and rest.

We fed The Birl who ate without break like the starved kitten s/he was. I introduced the litter tray.  No way!  Yet s/he was obviously distressed and needed to piddle.  Brainwave – I brought in a scoop of good earth and sprinkled it on top of litter perfumed to appeal to humans and voila!  The Birl jumped in, scratched a wee hole and emptied a bladder so full we turned our heads away and laughed, not wishing to embarrass one so well-mannered kitten.  All sorted, we thankfully showered and went to bed, but not to sleep – The Birl purred the whole night, loud, joyous with lion-sized volume.

The following morning Jenny accepted our night-time stowaway with good grace, fait accompli, and took us round to meet her orphans.  We were charmed by the trembling baby fruitbats, Flying Foxes, that we all helped dropper feed.  Adults fruit bats, huge creatures whose wings can span a metre or more, are very gentle, and feed on fruit and nectar.  The orphans are a nightly collection as parents suffer electrocution on the huge overhead wires.  Flying Foxes do not have the fine radar of their tiny cousins, relying on sight, which fails them on flight.  They also succumb to a deadly tic paralysis.

Our itinerary for the day included lunch with Rose, a German artist, who was horrified when we turned up with a feline on her property!  She refused to let us take The Birl out of the car, fed us rapidly, and equally rapidly gave us the phone number of a group of apartments in Port Douglas, a magical place on the sea’s edge between reef and rainforest, and to where we would now head instead of Cairns and the Tjabuki story.  I phoned and established a wonderful rate for locals, Townsville being considered almost local, and the rate was even more attractive since the collapse of Ansett Airlines a couple of weeks earlier which had ruined the tourist economy. I then confessed about the kitten.  The answer changed to a regretful no.  So I asked the woman I was speaking to if she could give me six other phone numbers of apartments in Port Douglas as I had to find somewhere to actually come to that night.  She went to ask her husband.  He came to the phone.  He was English and the smile in my mind’s eye returned.  I said I was so sorry he couldn’t take us and our kitten as his apartments had been recommended to us, but could he please help us with other local phone numbers as we were some way away and did not have their local phone directory?  He paused, there was a longish silence, then he said, oh, you can come here.

We knew then that the rescuing of The Birl was definitely part of Caroline’s black Australia.  The manager of the apartments was English, and his wife was from New Zealand.  They didn’t mind cats in the slightest, and because of Ansett’s collapse most of their apartments were empty so they gave us a superb cottage all to ourselves, with its own garden, quite separate from any of the other accommodations, all of which were attached to each other. Instead of being the usual $300 or more a night it was only $80.  In fact the whole resort was almost empty.  It was utterly purr-fect and we all settled in for a marvellous week, knowing we could leave The Birl in the safety of a deliciously cool and air-conditioned private cottage while we went where we had to go.

The Birl had taken to the travelling life as to the manner born.  We could now leave her/him with food, water, milk, biscuits and kitty litter while we made ourselves some ginger tea – real root ginger, an amount of, peeled and chopped, steeped in boiling water – and took off to explore the wonders of Port Douglas leaving The Birl to sleep, still purring loudly.

St Mary’s by the Sea, with its huge picture window behind the altar, framing a view of the sea as pristine as on the day of Creation, the little white timber building ringed by foxtail palms, the prettiest of all palms, which stood like prayers around it, enchanted us. Along the bay the shops were magnets for two middle-aged women seduced by must-haves for a walkabout ... but first, food.  Immigrant Italians had long since left the cane fields and were now creating gastronomic history with restaurants of quality and menus of imagination: penne and gorgonzola, spinach and cream sauce served with rocket salad brought forth paeans of praise and in turn, very full tums.  We waddled home to fall into our respective beds and sleep the sleep of the just.  The Birl chose Caroline to sing to, all night.

I was prompted to visit Split Rock on Friday. Split Rock is a marvellous gallery of Aboriginal rock art as old as any similar rock art to be found in France, and Friday sounded in my mind’s ear loud and clear.  We spent the interim days exploring the stunning Mossman Gorge and rainforests, and the rather lush shops in the small, elegant main street of Port Douglas.  No sign of any Aboriginal elder for Caroline to meet there, but we were both finely tuned to timing – and to being awake to the Hint.  Friday, we knew, was part of that Hint.

One morning I woke early and went for a walk.  I walked in a meditative state, inviting the world of Spirit to help.  On my return I passed a car rental office just three doors from our apartment.  It was six o’clock in the morning.  A man was washing a very new off road vehicle.  I stopped and asked if we could hire one from him, and would he mind if we took it to Laura, on the way to the Gulf Country?  The road was a devil of a dust bowl, and dust does dreadful damage to every nut, bolt, vent and seat cover of every car to ever travel it.  He agreed to the journey, with precautions, and thus we had a very grand car for our proposed adventure. I walked in to our apartment to find Caroline giving The Birl its second breakfast and told her of our new car.

This morning we were going to relax and play ornithologists at the Daintree Rainforest Environment Centre, under the spell of the Curator who was passionate about his responsibility.  Hours later we went ‘home’ for lunch, topped up The Birl with food, milk and water, and with a certain impetus took off for Mossman Gorge. 

The rainforest is spectacular, cool mossy gorges and escarpments lined with massive trees, epiphytes and vines; colossal boulders like Narguns ensconced in and along the chilly streams, creating shallow pools of beckoning refreshment from the steamy humidity.  Electric blue Ulysses butterflies darted around us, some as huge as my hand.  We had entered another world.  Disdaining the loud presence of other bathers we walked on as far as a wood and chain suspension bridge, and saw a perfect pool beneath it.  This was meant for us.  Clambering down the rocks we pulled on our togs, rolled up our dresses to place on a rock and laid down our wickedly wondrous hats.  The water made us gasp every body-inch of our slow descent.  Then Caroline could bear it no more and sank in to her neck.  That gasp reverberated over the rocks!  I followed with inching gasps.  The water was sublime, its chilling effect exhilarating.

We felt cleansed throughout; it was a subtle baptism for the journey to Split Rock the following day.  With hours of daylight still left and vivified by the water we considered going on to Daintree River afterwards.  Unsure of how far it was I pulled in to the Kuku Yalandji office for guided walks at the entrance to the Gorge.  We parked the car and walked up to the door.

The office was a smallish room with a few pieces of indigenous art, some posters, and a glass counter behind which stood one of the most beautiful young women I have ever seen.  She was so beautiful in fact that I did a double take as I walked through the doorway.  She was busy fiddling with the till, a computerised piece with a mind of its own apparently. Exasperated sounds were forthcoming at closely spaced intervals.  In the opposite corner a small slim Aboriginal man wearing a baseball cap was showing a couple of tourists a didjeridoo.  We wandered around for a minute or two until the young woman asked if she could help us.  We asked her vaguely about something, everything turned vague, I had forgotten about Cape Tribulation or Daintree or anything else.  Caroline appeared just as vague for some reason, though she focussed on buying a booklet about the Kuku Yalandji.  The tourists went out, the Aboriginal man left too.

Then another Aboriginal man walked in.  He was, as Caroline said afterwards, a most beautiful man.  Small, slightly built, wearing an Akubra style hat over thick grey hair, grey bearded, very softly spoken, an aura of arcane calm surrounding him. The beautiful young Aboriginal woman behind the counter referred our vague questions to him.  We turned, to give him our full attention.  We said we were going to Split Rock on the morrow and I asked if there was anything we could do, or could take as a gift to Spirit that would guide us into walking there in a sacred manner?  When I walked a little of the shaman way down in Grass Valley and Santa Fé many years earlier with the Inuit from north of Nome, I was instructed to leave tobacco for Great Spirit, for tobacco is one of the great healing herbs.  Our abuse of it betrays our ignorance.  The man looked quietly at us, introduced himself as CJ, and gave us his Aboriginal name too.  He said we did not need to take anything, but stepping back lightly he swiftly placed each hand in turn under his armpits and just as swiftly withdrew them to draw them down from Caroline’s head to her toes, as if stroking her aura.  He repeated the process with me.  Now, he said, Spirit will welcome you, you carry our scent.  Caroline then told him she had been waiting to come to Australia since she was ten years old, and she was now sixty.

CJ said softly: that’s a long time to wait to come home.  He began to explain that he was not from that country, Split Rock country, that was Quinkan country, but at that moment Caroline gave a shocking cry, clasped her hands to her head and almost collapsed on to the glass counter.  CJ was unperturbed, so was I apart from the obvious concern that my friend was in quite overwhelming pain.  Sonja, the beautiful young woman, brought a chair.  Caroline sat heavily into it, by now she was sobbing and crying out with the searing pain bounding from side to side of her head as she clutched it.  CJ placed his hands over it, but said I cannot heal her, she is not in my country, and Sonja said she would call Harold, the young man who had been showing the didjeridoos.  He belonged to the country here.

Harold came in, his eyes flooded with compassion when he saw Caroline’s state.  Briefly CJ repeated what had passed between them.  Harold said he was a healer, a shaman in training with his father, who was trained by his father to be a healer for his people.  He had not quite completed his long apprenticeship, but if Caroline would give him permission he would offer his healing power.  He was so humble, almost reticent, but his eyes were deep pools of compassion.  Caroline could barely whimper: yes, please, I understand about healing because I am a healer myself.  Harold placed his hands on her head and I witnessed an astonishing phenomenon.  As I watched Caroline’s face its familiar features underwent a dramatic change, her nose widened, her mouth changed – I took an involuntary intake of breath.  There in front of my eyes was the face of an old Aboriginal woman.  It was still Caroline, but it was as if a face from long long ago had been revealed, had come home.  All the years I have known her I have always described Caroline to other friends as having Aboriginal eyes.  They are the colour of honey, of amber, (which Aboriginal eyes aren’t necessarily); and I always remember them as having no pupils, (which Aboriginal eyes don’t necessarily lack).  In fact Caroline’s eyes aren’t really Aboriginal eyes at all – but they were now as they looked out of an ancient face carved out of time.  Caroline does have pupils, but at times her eyes seem to reflect light from the inside, rather than from the outside.  I have seen this phenomenon in an Afghan, a Kurd, and an exquisite Indian girl, a beggar rag picker whose radiant smile lit up the railway station at Jaipur.

Harold then stood in front of her, his eyes focussed directly to her head, his hands held above.  Long long minutes passed.  At length Caroline relaxed and managed a weak smile.  Her face resumed its more familiar aspects.  Harold then asked if he could look at her aura, he found it in good order, grey, red and blue, quite a different sequence of colours to those popularly seen by western healers. He acknowledged the difference before he told her what he was seeing.  We all relaxed.  In due time Harold left as quietly as he had come.  He said that he thought the pull of Spirit back to Australia was too powerful for Caroline’s body to cope with, which was why it was so painful.  Caroline and CJ continued to speak, and CJ said she should go to his country for healing.  He said again that she had waited such a long time to come home that it seemed she should go to his healing place, many hours from here.  He may be going there himself, and he may not, but up there terrible things had happened. It was a place of terrible massacres 100 years ago – his father was a tiny boy and saw his own father shot under him as he was running with the small boy on his shoulders to escape the ‘bully men’ (whitefella) who came out at weekends to slaughter Aborigines. He had a healing place up there now, it was his country.  He looked at Caroline intently, but softly: and my country, he said, is named Woman’s Dreaming.  The words hung suspended in a cocoon of magic and power.  We both heard them.

CJ turned to Sonja and asked that she give us some leaflets about this place.  It was named Yindili.  On the simple leaflet were the words Healing Sanctuary, Welcome to Buru, Be Part of the Dreamtime Healing.  Caroline started to clasp her head again, crying oh no, not more.  CJ and I glanced at each other and said simultaneously, you must go to Yindili, it will be a healing. I remember that when I stood on Gallipoli, not through any national sentiment, I felt the unquiet spirits of countless men and boys, ANZACS, Turks and Kurds, overwhelm me and I wept when I read the words of Ataturk carved into the opposite hill:

Traveller halt!  The soil you tread
Once witnessed the end of an era.
Listen!  In this quiet mound
There once beat the heart of a nation.

Grey Wolf, the Inuit shaman, told me that in times of terror the earth prays, and those who are sensitive to Mother Earth can feel it through our heart, and through the heartbeat, and through the songlines that link us to every living being.  We are all linked by that same heartbeat, the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Caroline was now weeping quietly.  CJ looked intently at her and said, fifty years is a long time for Spirit to wait to ‘come home’.

My mind raced ahead.  This was obviously going to be Caroline’s vision quest so to speak, not mine. This was a direction that Caroline needed to travel alone this time.  I asked CJ mundane questions like roads? Four-wheel drive vehicle?  Bedding?  Food?  And similar things so that I might be able to offer practical help for Caroline to access the wilderness leading to Wujul Wujul, his country.  After all, Caroline was quintessentially English and I still felt she needed enlightening as to the differences between the country lanes of Cornwall and the slithery unsigned tropical rainforest tracks of Far North Queensland.  I seem to recall he gave the vaguest wave of his hand in reply.   

We said our goodbyes to CJ, he told me to take Caroline home and let her sleep.  As we left he touched my arm and told me to come to his healing place “another time”.  This was Caroline’s time.

Caroline collapsed exhausted on to her bed, The Birl bouncing all over her.  I left her to rest and went down to the town to look for something sweet to bring her for when she awoke, it would replenish the energy that had been drained by pain.  Chance encounters, each revealing another hint that Caroline should make the journey, kept me away for a couple of hours.  I returned with a chocolate mousse from the Coffee Club. Caroline was awake, drained by the pain, but she had rested.  She floored me by quietly saying she had looked into CJ’s pupil-less eyes. I looked at her, recalled how I often saw her eyes, and here she was telling me of her experience of a true Aborigine.  Wonder was present.

I made a grand salad, we ate it quietly, and I think we just showered and called it a day, knowing that Laura and Split Rock was one helluva drive, as they say, the following day.

It certainly was, and unbelievably hot.  We learned later that temperatures had touched 34C in Townsville, 39C in southern Queensland and 43C Out West.  Laura was Out West.  It was like driving in through the doors of hell.  Even with air-conditioning on the coolest possible setting the radiant heat and dryness outside the vehicle parched our throats.  The first part of the journey was very pleasant though, up over the ranges through Julatten to Mount Molloy for tea and toast, yoghurt and bananas.  The mountains looked so cool and green from where we sat.  Once back in the car, however, the road led us to parchment country very quickly.  Hundreds of kilometres from Port Douglas we turned left off the last bitumen at Lakeland Downs to enter the dust bowls of hell.  Well, I have seen worse, going west from Hughenden was pretty desolate.  At least, in answer to my most fervent prayers at dawn, the road was not a stinking charnel house of dead, maimed or dying cattle, kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons, possums, emus, smaller birds, and tiny rodents. Night drivers must have been on holiday.  Miraculously we passed only two road kills the whole day – a dingo and a wallaby.  Both too obviously dead for us to stop and check.

On and on and on we drove, the occasional passing or oncoming car enveloping us in blinding dust storms.  Straying cattle caused us to slow right down to allow their unpredictable nature time to decide whether the brown grass might be a greener shade of burnt on the other side of the road.  Every now and then eagles soared on thermals above us, or swooped low to catch an unsuspecting snake and wheel upwards with it.  The country was vast, dry, and every shade of brown from palest fawn to deepest umber.  Patches of blood red flowering abel moschus, a ground hugging plant with flowers like hibiscus, caught our eyes from time to time.  We drove on and on, eventually the distant escarpments began to close in around us and we passed the campsite of the famous Laura Festival.  Shortly afterwards the road became bitumen up until we reached the rock art galleries.  The short stretch of bitumen was built to protect the ancient sacred painting from the contemporary corrosion that traffic made of swirling dust, and while the art itself may have been re-touched over its 30,000-year existence, preservation in these times has become crucial.

Thankfully we parked, under a shadeless tree.  The few trees in the car park were tall, with slender scorched limbs, twig-like, reaching upwards, sickle-drop leaves in diminishing clusters cast no separation between white-hot sun and searing light.  We opened the car doors and broke into a sweat.  Jamming our hats on our heads and filling our bilums with water bottles and some fruit we began the long ascent to the galleries.

As we climbed Caroline’s face grew pinker and pinker under her recent Spanish tan.  Concerned, we stopped, drank from our water, and continued in this manner all the way to the colossal boulders that make up the first gallery.  The split in the rock for which the galleries are named showed startlingly apparent as we rounded the last mammoth boulder and reached the lee. 

Gratefully we sat on the wooden seats thoughtfully provided by some funding agency or other, and silently drank more water, relishing the shadows and the breeze caused by the height and the funnelling of the air under the rocky overhang.  We remained in silence punctuated by the odd comment about the paintings as their identity clarified: yellow women with grand breasts drawn at right angles to their bodies, echidnas belly revealed, red dingoes, two men carrying a lung fish, huge turtles, short mischievous Quinkans and very tall good Quinkans. Handprints spray-outlined with different ochres could be faintly seen, and the folds and crevices of the boulders themselves lent more than mysterious faces with lopsided grins and winking devilry to the scenes in front of us. 

 Modestly refreshed, though the word says far more than it should in describing two dripping dames, we gathered up all our remaining energy and staggered up to the next two galleries to peer at full length good Quinkans and other animal drawings.  There were no seats there and we staggered back down with decisively mutual swiftness.  There are many more galleries up on the higher escarpments but the suffocating heat already had us staggering.  

After an hour or more of just being there I stood up and walked to a large stone bowl under the main overhang.  It was filled with sand and ash, so it was obviously used.  I lit incense and turned to face East.  I prayed for many things, for Caroline’s sacred journey, for Afghanistan, for the refugees Australians were so churlish about allowing in (in this country everyone has come from somewhere else, some with far less claim to sanctuary or asylum than the poor wretches currently out at sea).  For many things I prayed, and included one for me, that my books may find a publisher and my own destiny unfold. 

We had, Caroline and I, both chosen with care our dress for this special day.  There really was only one option – our almost matching Java Bazaar loose flowing numbers with deep ochre Wandjina type Aboriginal figures on the black or navy background.  Caroline’s was black and mine, one of a number of virtually identical dresses bought over the years for their coolness, their acceptable price, and their elegance, was navy.  We had no hesitation about wearing such similar clothing, and with our splendid hats we knew we cut a dash.  Not that those considerations were the purpose of a pilgrimage.  Our purpose was to honour the tradition we were entering, and to blend, as much as it was possible for two whitefella middle aged matrons, with the environment. Breakfast in Mount Molloy had caused much favourable comment about our mode, and another photo or two.  We now quietly stood and whispered ‘yalana’, thank you, to the ancestors for granting us this blessed time.  

We could hear voices and knew a tour group was about to appear.  As we rounded the first boulder we were met by a breathless group headed by a woman of our own age wearing stiff white shorts, a tucked in shirt, socks and trainers.  Her face was the colour of raspberries and she was awash with sweat. Her jaw dropped when she beheld us, now cool and elegant in sandals, flowing appropriateness and Ascot hats.  She held us in inconsequential conversation, eyeing us all the while.  I laughed.  She then said how marvellous we looked, and we agreed!  I knew that her clothes would not allow her to cool down, but instead would hold the heat.  I said, grinning, we women don’t need to cross-dress, leave that sort of gear to the men!  At that moment their guide appeared, dripping with sweat from his regulation trousers, long sleeved shirt, belt, socks, boots, and stifling felt Akubra.  “Youse look cool,” he said in good vernacular as we sashayed past…

No clothing really combats such temperatures, but it is likely, in my modest view, that Arabs know a darn sight more about cool dressing in the desert than the Aussies who simply carry on the myth of mad dogs and Englishmen…

Looking up at the vast and ancient rocks we said our final ’yalana’ to the Spirits who allowed us such time alone, and drove on into Laura to fill up with petrol and buy more water for the long drive back.  It was dark when we arrived – the total journey was nearly 600 kilometres.  Caroline was wising up about distances in the Big Country.

We showered, filled up The Birl with food and milk and water and lots of cuddles and then dragged ourselves downtown for a slow purchase of an opera length rope of baroque pearls from Wicked Willie’s that Caroline knew she couldn’t live without, and a quick supper that I knew I couldn’t live without.

That night I had an astonishing dream. It wasn’t actually a dream because the shock of it awoke me and I could see the same vision with wide-awake eyes.  A long Quinkan-thin ancient Aboriginal man was hovering above me. It was as if he was searching my soul.

When Caroline woke I told her of the experience.  She had not dreamed but she told me that yesterday from the time of leaving the bitumen at Lakelands she had seen, bounding alongside the vehicle, unnaturally tall and thin Aboriginal men, carrying spears and keeping up with us all the way to the car park at Split Rock.  She said they then left us, and were not with us for our return journey.  We were left wondering.  Were they ancestral spirits of humans, or Quinkans?

We tacitly agreed today would be a day of sloth and recovery.  We had both been affected by yesterday’s excessive heat, so today’s agenda was to do as little as possible.  And I do confess, writing this, that that day remains a complete blank for me.

Sunday was decision time for Caroline.  The hired car from Townsville needed to be returned by Tuesday, which meant leaving on Monday at the latest.  If she was to get to Wujul Wujul Caroline would need to again hire an off road vehicle and contact the ‘old fella’ to let him know she was coming.  After breakfast she phoned the number CJ had given her.  CJ was not there, but she explained her story to the voice on the phone who said, in turn, he was leaving that place and would be in Mossman that evening.  He introduced himself as Sunny and asked if we would like to meet him there?  A place and time was set and Caroline replaced the phone.  Suddenly she gasped, and clamped her hands to her head, crying oh no, not again!  

Speaking to this man had precipitated a recurrence of the shocking pain in her head.  She went to lay down and I spent the next hour wetting and freezing tea towels and applying them to her head.  Eventually she said, I have to go, I simply have to go, tomorrow, and having said it, her headache ceased.  Later she went to book the four-wheel drive, and we spent the day packing our belongings and planning for all contingencies.  I would take everything back with me to leave Caroline with one tiny bag for toiletries, a change of clothes, torch, her journal.  Buses left Port Douglas for Cairns regularly and she could get a coach to Townsville from there, it would take around six hours.  She phoned Darren, she had re-named him Darwin, to tell him I was returning the following day with Black Australia. O no, he said, without a frisson of discouragement, not another cat…

We met Sunny as arranged.  Much of the conversation was desultory, quasi political, speaking again of the terrible massacres that had taken place, filling in details that history will never own.  Details like the ‘bully men’ who slaughtered half-caste children because white men denied any liaison (a euphemism for rape) with Aboriginal girls and women.  After some hours skirting around the real issue that was burning Caroline so much Sunny said that if Caroline was to make the journey north she should go back to the office of Kuku Yalandji and ask CJ’s sister to arrange for someone to accompany her.  He made a couple of lengthy phone calls to someone, and gave us a dire warning that The Wet was imminent and Wujul Wujul would then be inaccessible.  He then said something that turned me into an amalgam of goosebumps. That country, he said, that country is Woman’s Dreaming.  Only a woman can heal that place.  Caroline heard it too.

That night we had eleven inches of rain.  Looking out of our windows the following morning we saw the roads had turned to rivers.  Unperturbed, Caroline planned.  We said our goodbyes to each other.  I knew nothing would stop Caroline now, and equally, in spite of every possible obstacle placed before her, I also knew she would get right to CJ’s father, and in their meeting would be the healing.

As I drove south the rain was so blinding I could only crawl, even with full beam headlights all I could see was a wall of water.  No traffic passed me, neither did I see any coming in the opposite direction.  Anyone else was being as cautious as I.  The Birl was curled up in the big round Burkina Faso basket that I had placed on the passenger seat, as calm and trusting as could be. The rain eased as I entered Cairns, but not before I had taken a wrong turn which made me miss the by-pass road.  Out of the city the wall of rain descended again, deluge after deluge.  I prayed I could get through Tully and Ingham, notorious for flooding and cutting the townships off for days, preventing onward travel to Townsville, which was home.  Rainfall in the Wet Tropics is fabulous in every sense.

Miraculously the rain clouds veered west over El Arish which meant I had a dry run through Tully, and for all the hundreds of kilometres left on the home trip.  I made one stop, to visit friends on Crystal Creek where I knew I would be given a warm welcome and a huge armful of roses to take home.  Every time doctors shake their head over the state of Fred’s heart he just orders another 200 roses to plant and bud and graft and lives on regardless.  Go and enjoy your roses, is now the catch-cry for longevity.  Fred was sleeping when I arrived, and Merle, herself a true old-fashioned rose, took me round their gardens, cutting this bloom and that as she went.

Days passed.  I heard nothing from Caroline. Then she phoned, the Wet had threatened them all and CJ’s father had told her to leave for her own safety.  She had made it back to Port Douglas and would be home the following afternoon.  Meanwhile The Birl proved to be a boy and to complement Darren’s Arthurian contingency of felines he was duly named Merlin.  Arthur loves him, Nimué is keeping her distance - and Merlin’s just happy being Merlin.

Caroline’s Story

After collecting Caroline from Townsville Transit Centre we came home and sat on the large verandah as I listened to Caroline’s story.  After we parted she drove on to the Kuku Yalandji office to find it closed.  She went round the back to where she could hear voices and introduced herself.  The woman smiled a welcome, said she was CJ’s sister and told her to make a cup of tea for everyone.  Gail heard Caroline’s story, but no, there was no one to go with her or guide her through the rainforest.  However a mudmap was quickly scribbled, the directions were, essentially, cross the Daintree on the ferry and keep driving north until the Black Stump (a proverbial bush icon) and turn left.  Keep driving.  That was it.  Easy, thought Caroline.

She set off.  The rain was a blinding wall, driving through it was to challenge all her expertise.  Some time passed and Caroline reached the Daintree ferry.  She was the first on.  She sat in the car thankful for the protection it afforded against the deluge outside.  Musing on the many moments that had led to this moment she was dimly aware of an agitated male voice calling over the loud speaker system for passengers to come and get their tickets, the ferry was shortly due to depart.  More and more insistent came the voice.  Suddenly a good British penny dropped: Good heavens, registered Caroline, he means me!  He wants me to climb out of this car, drown in the deluge to reach him in his dry little space, and buy a ticket!  She battled with this upside down process for a minute, realised she was downunder anyway, and with a certain aplomb, battled her way through a wall of rain to purchase a ticket from a smugly dry man.  A certain lack of gallantry registered, particularly as she had travelled on many such ferries in her time around this planet and not once had any ferryman ever expected drivers to step down from their cars to come to them!

Across the other side she had far more pressing concerns.  The rain continued like a blinding silver sheet to diffuse her visibility to a matter of feet ahead of her.  Dimly she was aware of slithering escarpments either side from time to time and of waterfalls bouncing across the road threatened to careen the car over the track at every turn.  Hours past.  From time to time the rain eased and Caroline was able to thrill to the sheer beauty of the glistening forest around her.  Then the bitumen road ran out.  She was on mud.  And slippery mud at that.  The rain increased, driving on the track took every ounce of concentration, waterfalls were now flooding the road, which was still ascending, trees were blown down, huge vines weighed down by water draped across the track.  Eventually she saw the equivalent of the proverbial black stump, and turned left.  The road didn’t look much like a road, just a river of slithering red mud spewing onto the Wujul track.  Water gushed down it, and creeks either side of it were rising in front of her eyes, threatening to engulf any suggestion of passable track.

On and on she struggled to keep the car to the tracks which she was not even sure were under her.  As she told me the story I did not think I knew of many people who would attempt such a perilous undertaking alone, without telling rangers and without a mobile phone.  Innocence commands the protection of angels.  She drove on this terrible terrain for nearly an hour.  She held the slithering vehicle as straight as she could, and saw all around her the creeks rising and fallen trees building up to roadblocks.  Through a second gate she went, and finally admitted she could go no further.  There was no indication she was even on the right road, though she knew the directions of drive north towards Cape York and turn left were about as accurate as she could expect – there was, after all, only one road from which to turn.

Gathering all her strength Caroline managed to turn her vehicle around without canyoning into outer space on either side of the track and reluctantly set to return the way she had come.  She prayed, and prayed.  If I am meant to do this, she prayed, I need help, I need a guide.

A long half-hour further on and the rain eased again.  She knew she was nearly at the original turnoff.  Suddenly, to her left, she saw an Aboriginal sitting in a clearing with his swag and esky.  Stopping, she called out to him and asked him where was PJ’s place?  You just come from his place, he said, bit further on.  Oh please, she pleaded, can you come back with me?  Well it just so happened he was waiting for his mates to come down from near that place to pick him up.  He had driven his girlfriend’s car down this far as she was too frightened to drive alone, she had gone on and he was waiting to go back up.  If she didn’t mind his muddy boots then he’d come with her.  They would pass his mates on the track.  Which they did, the sight of which made Caroline chuckle.  Driving an open top Jeep both men wore swimming goggles against the sheeting rain, and one had a woolly snood tucking all his hair back.  The Red Baron’s brother was alive and well.

The men took it in turns to get out and drag fallen trees from the track, open and close gates, warn her when they were approaching the treacherous red mud which drew the car down into its sticky substrata and threatened its progress.  As they climbed higher the rain eased again, and quite suddenly the men halted, told Caroline the place she was looking for was over the next ridge, and said goodbye.  She cruised into China Camp and pulled up next to a man painting a corrugated iron construction sky blue.  It was CJ’s father’s new shower room, and he wanted to bring the sky in.

She was given a bed, and her pillow had clean T-shirts over it as a cover.  All had been prepared as the men sensed someone was coming, they sensed it was a woman, but in such intimidating weather they did not for a moment think that the English lady Sunny phoned them about would make it. How she went, alone, in a hired four-wheel drive, in the most ghastly weather conditions, is a remarkable story. Once we had made the connection with CJ he did not accompany her or guide her, he only told her to go to his country to meet his 84 year old father, Chala.  That first night a grand stew of vegetables, chilli and fish was prepared, washed down with copious amounts of black smokey ‘billy’ tea, and followed by doorstops of white bread and thick butter.

CJ’s father told Caroline a story from his younger days of when he used to cut sugar cane all the way from Daintree down to Ingham.  On one of those days he was so exhausted that he collapsed and died.  He was declared dead, but during his ‘death’ Jesus came to him and told Chala his time wasn’t up yet, he had to go back.  But before he ‘left’ to return to his body Jesus asked the Angels to show Chala a Spirit place, and the beauty of that place was beyond compare.  Chala did not want to return to earth, but such was the force that he sprung back to “into his body” (and the man holding him had a coronary – but that’s another story) and lived on.  For the last few years he has wanted to go back to the Paradise he had glimpsed, but he knew it was still not his time.  Caroline gave him her olive-wood carving of Our Lady that she had bought from World Vision.  Chala’s eyes filled with tears.  He told her that many people came to this place and they cried.  It was now his turn to cry.  This was a healing.  A woman had come all the way from the Queen, his way of saying whitefella’s country, to be with him and understand his story, to walk on a land of painful memories, a land known as Woman’s Dreaming.  Faith and love, answering a call of half a century and how many lifetimes, had brought healing full circle.

Yundu Ngulkurr Baja Ku – Yundu nguli jawan ngulkurr bajaku
Yundu binil bajaku
Yundu kuku manu baja
Ngali wawu jiday jundu!

Wawu Baja, Jinkalmu.
We love you very much for coming to see us.

Jinkalmu, wrote these farewell words in Caroline’s journal, thanking her Aboriginal guide for bringing her to them.  She cried.  Chala cried.  Jinkalmu cried.

Afterword – Twelve Years Later

Some months after Caroline had returned to England I too left Australia, having lived there more decades than I care to recall, to settle in Glastonbury.  I was, and am, passionate about Australia, the country, the wildlife, its beauty.  Yet it was when I returned to the landscape of my birth (and even more so, France, the landscape of my ancestors) that I discovered the land speaks to us. Its voice is the language the ancients knew, soil resonates with soul.  The soil, Jung wrote, is in the soul; soul is in the soil.  Aborigines know this, Bushmen know this, Native Americans know this, the desert Arabs know this, Bedouin know this and, actually, the English know this too.  Not all of them it’s true, but with their passion for nature and animals and gardens this ancient knowledge is subliminally recognised.  Ancient churchyard yews speak when we listen; ancient stones sing when we open ourselves to hear, the older pagan ways are clear to us; in the West Country we wassail and sing to the apple orchards; put milk out for the hedgehogs; walk the old straight track ways; marvel at sheela-na-gigs as church corbels more than a thousand years old, affectionately refer to cracks in the plaster of our old homes as leylines

Nature is fecund here, fecundity is feminine.  The womb of life is landscape, replete with legend and myth and a sure sense of its ancient sacred access ways to the Great Goddess who gives life to all.

In May 2013 Caroline and I spent two blessed weeks together on Gozo. It was the first time since our Walkabout that we had such a gift of time to ourselves. After some days busying ourselves with social commitments and sightseeing our conversations drifted to reminiscences and the deep connections Caroline had made with Chala and Jinkalmu. They had kept in touch for a while, though were no longer. Caroline shared their letters with me and when I returned home I re-read her Walkabout story and was brought up short by our mutual experience of eyes.

At once I sent her an email:

 Zoé d'Ay (
16 June 2013 06:10:21
CarolineVasey (

Caroline dearest 

I have re-read your Walkabout story.  On page 13 I nearly fell off my perch.  You wrote of our first meeting with CJ: He looked at me with deep brown velvet eyes, pupil-less eyes ... did you really mean pupil-less? Did CJ really have pupil-less eyes?

If so then I suspect that is why I always saw yours like that (even though it's perfectly obvious your eyes are normal). I was seeing your spiritual lineage of healers.  Mrs Tweedie said that we always have a recognizable face, incarnation after incarnation.  She said, firmly, we have never been grasshoppers and neither do we alternate sexes; what we do, regardless of popular assumptions, is remain our singular sex until we have developed perfectly the balance within us of opposite qualities.  Then we can function as a whole - holy - human being.  Makes perfect sense to me, especially when she pointed out with photos I had given her that when the bodies of many holy men, including Father Bede, reach an earthly perfection of male/female qualities their body will assume 'breasts' and lose its bodily hair. 

Women who have reached that level of unity, which Jung named the hieros gamos, develop a stronger voice (enlightment for women comes through the awakening of Vishuddhi chakra, the throat, re-awakening our lost voices) and are noted for their facility for clarity and a singular focus. Hieros gamos is the inner marriage, the Sacred Marriage and is always symbolic (two butterflies; Father Bede and the Black Madonna; Godwin and his Divine Feminine).   It is the harmonization of opposites within.

Summed up: Hieros gamos - Greek ἱερὸς γάμος, ἱερογαμία, meaning "holy marriage" - refers to a ritual that plays out a marriage between a god and a goddess.  In some societies human participants represent the deities.  Think Arthur and Morgana le Feé; Egyptian pharaohs, brother and sister.  Hieros gamos is used in its symbolic of alchemical context as Jung, the wise old man of the West, understood.

Why am I saying this?  Because of the pupil-less eyes.  Symbolically the Mimis and all the other rock art of Aboriginal Spirit Beings have no pupils to their eyes; and those very spiritual men we met on our pilgrimage were all soft-bodied, feminine without the trace of effeminacy.  Well, well, well!

You would have seen the pupil-less eyes of CJ, you would have seen them with your spirit eyes.  In the context of CJ, at that moment I wouldn't, it not being my lineage, even though I clearly saw it in you.

Aren’t we are blessed to know these things, and to know each other,

Love you!

Caroline replied, Yes, she had indeed seen CJ’s eyes on their first encounter exactly as she described. These are mysteries; we are blessed to know them.

In August 2013 I re-traced my own steps, returning to FNQ after twelve years absence. A friend surprised me by driving me north from Cairns on a memory lane moment. I visited Karnak to say my goodbyes to Diane Cilento; she had been my guest in Glastonbury, we shared mutual spiritual affinities, cats.  On that day a very unfriendly vigilant chased me away, but not until I had said my farewells to Diane’s memory.  The coffee lounge in Mossman where Caroline and I met Sunny was unchanged, I sat in the same seat I had sat in before, by the huge picture window, an amalgam of goosebumps. An old Aborigine walked past the window and the whole Walkabout of 2001 passed in front of me as a vision, paralysing speech as an upwelling of tears flooded my eyes, bathed my face. I had come full circle, given credence to my own pilgrimage.

The landscape of the far Tropics is a woman’s landscape – fertile, soft, majestic, lush and the humid air lies like silk on the forearm – a part of me flies there in dreams. 

Zoé d’Ay
2001 - 2013