The Planet is Us

The only solution is to start the process of healing one job at a time, no matter how big or small."

'Dusk Country' artwork by Elizabeth Close – Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara

Mother Nature has a language. I know this is true because the old people showed me how to listen and read the signs on the land.  They would tell me to take notice of everything around us because she is always trying to teach us.  Guiding us on what to do and what not to do in a way that is good for us and everything we share the planet with.  A special Elder and mentor told me that the land will continue to teach me through life after his time has passed.  As long as I listened to the Country, I would continue to learn from her.  Be guided by the ancient wisdom within our natural world because it holds the answers to who we are and the challenges we face today and into the future.

Putting this into practice over the years has led me to understand that our connection with the planet goes even deeper.  The Country is one of our oldest and greatest Elders of all and that is where our knowledge comes from.  Not only does Mother Earth teach us, but she also feeds us and takes care of us just like we take care of our own children.  If you listen to the Country, you can only find the truth, because you can’t argue with creation.  Mother Earth is who we are and like our Elders, she is always trying to teach us.

It sounds so beautiful and understandable how ancient cultures have had such a close spiritual relationship with our world."

In my early teenage years, I went swimming down the river at a popular spot like most kids from our community did. It was part of the scene to jump off the bridge into the deep speedy rapids and end up downstream to swim back.  One afternoon I noticed an older kid I knew staring across the river. He looked at me and said, “I bet ya I can go under water and cross to the other side exactly opposite to where we are.”

I looked across the deep, speedy rapids to the other side and told him it was impossible. He slowly took in a deep breath and disappeared underwater. He was under for at least a minute and then suddenly, he popped up directly on the other side.  “See I told you, now you try.” Within the first meter I felt the strong current grab hold of me and then flush me violently downstream in an instant.  I recovered and made my way back to my friend, who was chuckling at my terrible attempt.

The secret, he said, was to go right down to the bottom with your belly flat on the river bed.  Right at the bottom there is a thin layer of space where the current is not strong.  “Go down there and crawl along the bottom while grabbing onto whatever you can find to hang onto,” he said. So down I went to try once more, this time with a little more knowledge at hand.  I lay flat on my stomach at the bottom of the river, using any rocks I could find to keep me on track.  As I was crawling, I could feel the raging current above trying to rip me from the bottom to sweep me away.

It was hard work, but laying low and hanging on to solid rocks kept me moving forward. I finally submerged to find myself right on target — straight across on the other side of the river. I had learnt something that day, and it was more than just successfully crossing white water rapids.  That day the river taught me that you could reach your goals in life if you stick to the solid foundations of truth.  Each one of those solid rocks on the bottom represented important things like my mentors, family, knowledge, and Country.

Staying down low, keeping close to the earth where everything is safe and calm.  Staying away from the strong currents constantly trying to wash you away from achieving your dreams.  There is so much to learn from Country no matter what time or dimension we live in.  The teachings from our natural world will never go out of date, the lessons she shares flow on forever, an abundance of intelligence that constantly beams down from our universe. Indigenous people have understood this for thousands of years, resulting in an incredibly intimate relationship with our Mother. 

Aboriginal people have survived long enough to represent one of the oldestknowledge systems known in the world. They didn’t get there by being horrible to the country, but by treating it with respect."

If we look closely enough, we are able to see that humanity is more connected to the earth than we could ever imagine. There are so many similarities between the genetic makeup of ourselves and our natural surroundings. When we look at the land, we are looking at ourselves, almost like gazing at our reflection through a mirror. Even modern inventions like motor cars have the same make up as ourselves and mother nature.  The car engine is similar to our body, it needs to breathe air, have water, and fuel to make it run.   

Like the veins that pump blood around our body, the rivers are the veins of mother earth, pumping water to keep her alive and well.  Just like our blood, the water can be polluted like allowing toxins to be injected into our bodies.  When we eat junk food our veins and arteries begin to clog and affect the natural flow of our blood. So too when the rivers begin to fill with silt and the water begins to dry up, causing complications to everything connected to that place.

The trees are the lungs of the earth, contributing to the clean fresh breath of life.  We are like the trees in many ways and they are more important to us than you may think.  The bronchioles are branches in our lungs that look just like trees and they too play the role of enabling oxygen to support life.  Sometimes our lungs can get damaged by inhaling poisonous smoke or chemicals that cause complications to our body.  We cause complications to the Country when we carelessly cut down the trees, poison the water, or allow wildfires to burn our landscape to a cinder.

When a bulldozer pushes down the trees and scrapes the ground surface to bare dirt, it leaves a scar like gravel rash on our skin. Eventually the wound can heal and it turns back to healthy bushland again. When there are massive holes excavated into the flesh of Mother Earth, it causes a serious deep wound that will never heal back to its fullest.  A scar that will forever be on the land like bad scars remain with us for the rest of our lives.

If we don’t look after ourselves we start to expose ourselves to a large number of sicknesses.  There are more than a few chronic illnesses around today that can be a threat to our lives.  For people, one can have cancer, diabetes, a heart problem and so on.  According to modern medicine, these people will need a different form of treatment to heal.  The same thing applies to Mother Earth when she is suffering from the weeds, the land clearing, the water pollution, the wildfires, and the rest of the culprits that cause her symptoms of illness.

Like most modern diseases, they have been created by the artificial actions of society that seems upside-down to the way Mother Nature operates.  Like replacing water with soft drinks or organics with preservatives, the Country suffers from the contamination of the pure water, clean air, and natural foods. We know that we will live a short life if we fill our bodies with poison this way, and of course the same applies to our Mother.  If we look after ourselves better, then she will be healthier, if we look after her better then we will be healthier.  The sun is our father that shines his love down on her to give birth to life.

It sounds so beautiful and understandable how ancient cultures have had such a close spiritual relationship with our world.  If you measure that against modern society today, we seem more like a spoiled little brat taking the gift of life for granted.  We don’t listen to our Mother and Father, we think we know everything, and we end up getting into trouble all the time. Even when we clearly know that we are doing the wrong thing, we still do it.  Every parent knows what I am talking about there, it is amazing how the same philosophy also applies to young knowledge systems and newborn societies as little children.

"Mother Nature will always talk lovingly and gently to us if we listen properly, but she can also get angry from time to time if we ignore her."

Aboriginal people have survived long enough to represent one of the oldest knowledge systems known in the world.  They didn’t get there by being horrible to the Country, but by treating it with respect.  There is a lot to learn about understanding the Country, especially reading the language that comes from the land.  Like how we talk to each other, the land is always talking to us too, amongst every other living thing with each other.  The language is presented in all forms from the climate to seasons, and gestures shared from every living thing.  Being able to read Country is the key to connecting to the land in a way that can guide our way of life in a positive direction.

With all types of sustainable practices comes the knowledge from the land in respect of the land. The Country will show signs when it needs a fire by presenting certain indicators through vegetation and seasons.  The land shows signs of approval after a traditional fire by presenting indicators like flowering trees, new grass, and animals returning soon after.  The Country assists in the operation by making the diverse landscapes react differently to fire seasonally to make it all possible.  An amazing relationship with Country that can only evolve humanity onto another level of understanding.

Mother Nature will always talk lovingly and gently to us if we listen properly, but she can also get angry from time to time if we ignore her.  When we do the wrong thing she responds in a way like the gods are coming down on you.  Wildfires are one example of an angry expression from treating the land the wrong way, it tells us that we haven’t been doing our job.  All of the gentle indicators ignored for so long results with her raising her voice.  Just like people can raise their voice at others who don’t listen to them.  The first time they yell it is loud, the second time it is a little louder, and then after that it can result in a total flip out.  The 2019 wildfires in Australia was her screaming at us at the top of her voice.  It certainly got everyone’s attention in a way like never before, but have they really listened?

The emission of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere is resulting in rising temperatures.  Raising one’s voice can’t get any louder than that — and that’s when the argument gets serious.  When our Sun gets involved, the creator outside of our own world intervenes on behalf of his beloved creation.  He steps in with fury and rage that causes unbalance to the point that the natural elements start laying their hands on us.  It’s Mother Nature’s turn to protest against humanity, to wake them up to change for a better world. If we don’t listen then she will continue to punish us until we do as we are told.

It is nice to think that the Earth is like one living being just like you and me, but there is one thing we all have to remember. There are billions of us and only one of her."

There are so many people that can see the threat and many are now trying to join her fight for action and change. It is not about black and white, as many cultures including the youth are trying to lead in making change for the future. We have ended up in a situation which is like the good and bad bacteria in our bodies.  The bad bacteria are the people contributing to destroying the land and the good bacteria are trying to defend it.  The good bacteria fight off the bad bacteria to restore balance within the body.  This does not only apply to healing our environment, but also our society, as the good and bad bacteria also attack each other.

Restoring the balance starts with ourselves, by educating each other until we are no longer good and bad bacteria, but red and white blood cells instead.  Two separate cells of different colour that work together to keep the body alive and well.  Black and white, left and right, man and woman, opposites working together like the red and white blood cells for Mother Earth.  Sometimes the answer can be right under our noses, similar situations and solutions are replicated within our own bodies.  The language of Mother Nature is a wonderful thing, and it is something that should never go unnoticed or heard.

There is no doubt that if we are going to improve, then we have to acknowledge and deal with the faults of modern humanity.  It is nice to think that the Earth is like one living being just like you and me, but there is one thing we all have to remember.  There are billions of us and only one of her.  Like the billions of cells that run around inside of us, we expect them to do their job right so we can live a long healthy life.  It is our responsibility to do the same thing for our Mother by keeping the natural balance in the right place.

For most people it is hard to think about where to start. There are so many complicated problems, on a planet that is so big.  The only solution is to start the process of healing one job at a time, no matter how big or small.  Because if we start to care for our Mother, then like us, she will improve her immune system to help heal herself.  When we look at the work in achieving this into the future it all boils down to giving our planet love.  That is also something that people have to give to each other and to themselves, because we will not get there with hate and violence. Things won’t improve if we fear fire, declare war with nature, or think that climate change is doom and gloom.  If you treat any living thing like the enemy, then it will become your enemy.

To restore hope, we need to simply get on with the job of cleaning up the mess — no matter who is responsible.  We have to start now before things get worse and the condition of our world becomes terminal.  Every person alive today, no matter what age, needs to be the turning point in addressing the challenges ahead.  To listen to our Mother and the oldest of her children, and learn the language that she shares with open minds. To activate communities to look after their homelands and each other in a way that empowers the change needed for generations to follow.

The only solution is to start the process of healing one job at a time, no matter how big or small."

It is not going to be easy, but if we work with creation then we will be singing songs as we heal one problem at a time, generation by generation.  In this universe anything is possible if we listen to what has been learnt from the oldest of cultures to the new.  We cannot go wrong if we learn to connect with Country and understand that the planet is us. We can overcome the fires, improve our waters, bring down the greenhouse gasses and bring people together.  No matter how big the challenge may seem, we cannot tell our children that it is too late to act.  We have to hang onto the solid rocks our Mother provides to hold and keep us on track.  Only then, will we make it across to the other side without getting washed downstream, far away from the precious gift of life.

Victor Steffensen is a Tagalaka man, Indigenous Fire Practitioner and author of the ground-breaking book, Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia.

Portrait of Victor Steffensen

Victor Steffensen is a descendant of the Tagalaka people through his mother’s connections from the Gulf Country of north Queensland, the co-founder of the National Indigenous Fire Workshops and the author of Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia.

He’s a writer, filmmaker, musician and consultant applying traditional knowledge values in a contemporary context, through workshops and artistic projects. Much of Steffensen's work over the past 27 years has been based on the arts and reviving traditional knowledge values – particularly traditional burning – through mentoring and leadership, as well as on-ground training with Aboriginal communities and many non-Indigenous Australians.