whale totem

Bunna Lawrie - Aboriginal WhaleDreamer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA For many years it has been my wish to see a whale up close and, if possible, to look into the eye of the whale. On Friday night Tony and I had the honour to sit with Aboriginal elder, Bunna Lawrie, a man who has not only looked into the eye of the whale many times but has had such a deep relationship to the whale that to speak of this creature is like speaking of his family. Because that is what the great white whale is to Bunna, it is his ancestor.

"It’s my duty also my people’s duty to carry out that story and that songline of Jiddara the great white whale which goes for something like 350kms across from the Bight, from one end to the other. The journey is the creation that created man and sea for our people. Our Mirning people and our stories evolved from the creation of this great white whale, which came from the great Milky Way in the stars above them, and the seven sisters. Our responsibility is to share that story and to look after the country.” Bunna Lawrie

Bunna Lawrie is a traditional lawman and medicine man and direct descendant of the Mirning aboriginal Whaledreaming tribe originally from Miranagu, located at the Great Australian Bight in South Australia. I first came to know about Bunna years ago through his music with the band Coloured Stone in the eighties. They had a hit with the song Black Boy in 1984 and I remember watching the video with fascination because unfortunately we had never seen many Aborginal bands on television. The chorus of Black Boy included the line 'Black boy, black boy, the colour of your skin is your pride and joy' the whole song was a really revolutionary statement at that time.


Bunna Lawrie welcoming Nahko at the Bentley Blockade - photo: The Tree Fairy

And so on Friday night I got to hear Bunna sing live in the home of our friend Judy O'Donnell of Traveller's Amulet and this time Bunna sang in his own language about his people, his land and in particular, the whaledreaming creation stories. These stories are ancient and we are all so lucky that leaders and elders such as Bunna are sharing them, opening these mysteries to people outside of his tribe. These stories make up the songlines that are vital to his people and to the preservation of the whaledreaming lands. The Mirning people are unfortunately still fighting for native title to the coastline that is their ancestral homeland. In 2008 an amazing documentary was made called Whaledreamers - I encourage you all to seek it out. It focusses on Bunna's tribe and also whaledreamers from indigenous tribes from all over the world gathering to honour and sing in the whales at the site where Bunna's ancestors had held this ceremony for thousands of years.



Bunna and his people are still fighting to regain full access to these sacred sites and are in the process of readying a Sea Claim that he hopes in the future will allow the ancestral tribe of those lands to gather and hold ceremony and to also open a centre that will help to educate visitors. He spoke of holding journeys where he would lead groups to walk the sacred songlines of the Whaledreamers over a 10 day period, living off the land and walking the creation stories. That would be such an amazing and incredible gift - walking in that ancient, magic story.

Bunna carries the ancestral medicine of storyteller and he shared the ancient creation story of Jiddara, the great white whale and the Seven Sisters. I was taken back to writing this post about meeting these ancient star beings last year. I felt excited. The words that Bunna was sharing seemed to be tapping into something I've been wanting to write about but had been unable to express. In particular there was one word that really stood out to me: 'mirinjirra'. This is the Mirning word for the sound of creation. When the  the land and sea and creatures were being birthed and made and sung into the world. I have found that almost every culture has their own word for this sacred act. In gaelic it is called 'oran mor' - the great song. I have been wanting to talk with artists about how we create a sacred vessel, how we enchant what we create with intention and love. When I spoke to Bunna about this after his storytelling he agreed to sit down and talk with me more about it and I am over the moon about this new weaving.

We are so lucky in Australia to be living in a land with the most ancient and wise culture and we are being given the greatest gift when elders such as Bunna offer to share their dreaming with us. If you ever get a chance to hear Bunna Lawrie speak or sing, please go along, it's time for us to listen and learn. These stories have never been shared like this before and they are being shared now that so that we can build community and come together to honour and protect mother earth and her creatures. Thank you so much Bunna Lawrie for opening your heart and your sacred creation stories to us and thank you Judy for weaving this gathering in your home.

I still hope, one day, that I will receive the gift of being able to look into the eye of that incredible being, the whale. To look into the heart of us all. It is said that to do this, you are forever changed. Photographer, Bryant Austin has based his work on this phenomenon - here is a link to Eye of the Whale. Perhaps in this magic moment of meeting eye to eye we are at once awakened and also invited into the deepest dreaming of all - the dreaming of creation.