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1998

University of Earth

Draft Proposal

- / -


Formulated with the encouragement of the Spirit of the Land Foundation
on whose website an earlier version of this document appeared
[See also various presentations and separate website for University of Earth (2007)]


Introduction
Core principles of University of Earth
Draft proposal (A): Design considerations
Draft Proposal (B): Initiatives
Draft Proposal (C): Image
Draft Proposal (D): Fesibility

Introduction

The long term aim of the Aboriginal elders is to establish a Bush University where their knowledge would be taught on an equal basis with western knowledge.  In October 1997 there were discussions with the Directors of Desert Tracks, Diana James and  Anthony Judge, visiting Director of Research and Communication from the Union of International Associations (UIA) in Brussels.  The urgency felt by the elders to establish such a University was strongly expressed.

A detailed proposal of educational initiatives for a University of Earth has been prepared by Anthony Judge and is currently being developed by Diana James In consultation with the Directors and other consultants.  This will form the basis for seeking funding.

The Current Angatja Bush College Course will form the core programme.  Links with the University of Western Sydney and the Ngarinyin Aboriginal Corporation Kimberley Bush University are being established.  Groups from the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at the University of Western Australia and Kyoto University in Japan already regularly send student groups to Angatja.

A multi campus approach that provides formal academic recognition of bush learning and integrates this into mainstream courses is the long term goal.

The elders wish their knowledge to be given the respect it deserves in our institutes of higher learning.

Core Principles of University of Earth

Ngapartji -ngapartji  / Reciprocity:  The future survival of a biologically and culturally diverse world depends on the mutually enhancing sharing of knowledge between indigenous and western peoples.

Nganyinytja says, "The two laws need to become one to keep the Land"
Walytja / Kinship: Humanity is part of the intricate kinship web that connects  all living things, elements  and the Land. Healing the soul and spirit of individuals and the world requires activating our ability to respond to each other as members of this family. The Land will nurture us if we nurture it.
Nganyinytja says, "Many people are sick and have lost their spirit. But we can  all learn and make our spirit strong by opening our hearts to share the spirit  of the Land"
Inma Way / Songlines Way: Traditional indigenous wisdom teaches that man keeps country, family and Law alive by singing the Songlines . Modern  western scientists acknowledge that human imagination is a powerful creator of the changing ecological and cultural  environment. We need to honour the power of our imaginal world and  participate in the continual recreation of the world - culturally, environmentally , socially and spiritually.
Nganyinytja says, "White people need to understand Aboriginal law and that Tjukurpa  is in the Land"
Kulini / Listen and Understand: The different ways of knowing of all peoples of this Earth must be heard and understood to allow humanity to develop new strategies to ensure the sustainability of it's biological and cultural diversity. We must co-create new methods of joint  custodialship of the Land.
Nganyinytja says, "Kulintja tjuta pakani kuwari - many people who listen  with understanding are rising up now. They want to keep the culture, ours and theirs, keep the two ways strong."

Draft Proposal (A): Design considerations 

Western language (Anthony Judge) Aboriginal language (Diana James)
Pattern of Initiatives 

The purpose of this document is to sketch out some ideas for the design of a pattern of  initiatives. 

These initiatives are to be "positioned" at different "stages" between western economic rationality and a cultural framework more congenial to Aboriginal tribes people. 

Those closest to the economic rationale would naturally be easiest to develop and sustain according to conventional business approaches. Those closest to an Aboriginal cultural framework would require most creativity in ensuring their economic viability. They might however offer the greatest opportunities for challenging new insight to non-Aborigines -- as well as being of most value to Aborigines themselves. 

Campfire Dialogue Circles for the Exchange of Different Ways of Knowing
The purpose of this document is to elaborate on a set of learning situations and teaching 'camps/ campuses' where the exchange of different ways of  cultural knowing can be explored in depth. These have developed primarily in the context of the interchange of knowledge between the Pitjantjatjara people indigenous to Central Australia and Western culture.

The Pitjantjatjara elders of Angatja and Cave Hill  established Desert Tracks as a cross-cultural Bush College in 1988 with the long term aim of  developing a Bush University to teach  their cultural knowledge and the western skills necessary to their communities. Their aim is  to provide cross-cultural learning situations where all traditions of knowledge were honoured and bridges of understanding developed between the different ways of knowing. Indigenous intellectual knowledge is controlled 
by the elders at all times and any material produced appropriately copyrighted.

The type of learning camps or campuses and the subject areas to be studied are in development.. Some will be more geared to economic, environmental,  social and cultural sustainability. While other areas of knowledge exchange will have a more philosophical or spiritual value. 

Interface Contexts 
These initiatives can best be understood as interface contexts, whatever their organizational or material form. They are to be designed to facilitate interaction between cultures or paradigms. 

It is expected that people and processes would transfer with greatest facility between neighbouring initiatives. Cultural acclimatization at any particular "stage" might be required before transferring on to another stage - whether towards western economic rationality or towards an Aboriginal cultural context. 

The pattern of initiatives might therefore be understood metaphorically like a sequence of sub-surface staging posts at which divers can work -- or like a series of camps required in the course of climbing the highest of mountains. They might also be thought of as a paradigm "bridge". 

Moving Between the Camps
 Each camp /campus will have several 'fires' burning within  each of the areas of knowledge being explored. Around each' fire' students will sit in one of the rings at various distances from the central fire, their position dependent on their stage of knowledge. Different skills are required to sit near the inner fire of traditional medicinal herb usage, than near the inner fire of the western economic skills needed to run a store.

To move from one camp to another you travel slowly, walk to the nearest camp, wait like a stranger on the outside to be asked in, do not presume acceptance or recognition of prior learning from the outside it might be meaningless on the inside.

Ngapartji, ngapartji! in return. Those on the inside must walk carefully out, needing to learn new skills. Learn the language .Sit and observe, walk behind with respect and earn your right to be respected. People may alternatively be learners and teachers in their cultural knowledge.

As with all systems of knowledge, people will have to go through several stages of acquiring knowledge and complete these to a satisfactory level of accomplishment to be recognised by the community as one who 'knows' .
Then progress to the next ring around the core fire of one discipline or movement to another fire or camp can be made.

Each culture has a complementary series of social, moral and other codes that protect the individuals, therefore movement of individuals into other cultural norms should be by careful steps with protection.

Design Challenges
More generally, the sequence of initiatives might be seen as a social experiment in providing institutional staging posts between paradigmatic extremes such as economic materialism and psycho-cultural well-being: 
How do we make Camp Together - These camps are designed to foster understanding between these two worlds - the western world and the indigenous way of Land.
Both cultures need to co-create new ways of ensuring economic, cultural and spiritual sustainability. The aim being, as Nganyinytja says, to keep their 'spirit strong'. 
1. Recognising that ultimately one extreme cannot survive without the other, a first challenge to design feasibility is to find ways to step up or down between them, reframing the design criteria at each level.  1. Bridges must be built for people to move between the different ways of knowing. One system is mutually dependent on the other for survival. Sensitive design of 'campsites'/ learning exchange sites, the paths between them and the stages of access necessary for movement between them is crucial. Elders from both cultures in all disciplines will need to work together on these design challenges.We all need to work together, to keep both Laws strong. We need 'separate camps' for people learning at different stages of knowing. We need 'elders' to work with them at each camp, who know how to move and guide others between the camps
2. A second challenge is to describe the stages meaningfully in relationship to one another and as a whole -- for without creative imaging the pattern as a whole will lack credibility. This is probably as important in terms of economic rationalism as it is in terms of any Aboriginal Dreamtime perspective.  2. These teaching 'camps' must be 'dreamed/ designed' by Aborigines and westerners together. The kinship model that links all people to each other and their environment through creation ancestors may form a credible system for patterning the system of 'camps' and 'fire' of these initiatives. The Two Laws need to be able to move together in a 'true' way. For both  groups they must be real and hold the essence of their  Law. 
3. A third challenge is to recognize the constraints on development of projects according to purely economic criteria -- and the corresponding need for resource-light projects capable of responding both to the progressive erosion of social safety nets within any purely economic context as well as to the increasing demand for meaningful lifestyles.  3. Nganana maralpa angkupai! We must travel lightly! 
All initiatives/ campsites must be geared towards sustainability. The emphasis needs to be on resource light development that uses existing facilities, enhances existing community initiatives, links areas  of study and students ,  universities, TAFE structures, formal and non-formal cross-cultural educational institutions. To build strength by creating support systems between isolated and often small centres or courses.
Transitions between Paradigms
This transition between paradigms and logics is far from being abstract or unfamiliar. It is most familiar to everyone in daily life when moving between contexts. In some, such as management of a business, the economic criterion may be fundamental. In others, such as recreation, then interest, relaxation or amusement may be the criteria. And again, in community contexts, the well-being of others may be the prime criterion. Spiritual concerns may determine other criteria. In personal relationships, quite other criteria may apply, notably with respect to children and parents. The criteria of one context may be totally neglected in another. 
Moving between the Worlds 
We know how to be different people in different places. 
Sometimes we are bosses for Inma or business, sometimes we are father  or mother, son or daughter, uncle or aunt, grandfather or grandmother. 

The law is different for each role in society. We are one person but also know how to be many different people. We move between different camps .
 

However, in each of the contexts indicated, economic or other "external" criteria may nevertheless have a strong influence - whether beneficial or not. Similarly, even in a purely economic context, other criteria may exert an influence, whether ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, ecological -- or to give form to a personal dream. Money story or Inma Way may work together or fight each other in some camps. New economic solutions to achieving community goals and continuity of cultural traditions may need to be devised.  The 'camps' - learning stages - will be part of the whole community process the aims of the exchange to contribute in a real way to practical on the ground life issues.
The challenge here is to see the proposed initiatives as stepping stones, allowing people to move one way or another.  People may want to stay in one main camp of learning or they may wish  to move  to closer to the inner fires of the knowing, or change to another camp of learning. Pathways must be created to allow meaningful movement between
fires within camps and between different camps.
Initiatives - and their distinctiveness 
In envisaging how a pattern of initiatives might be designed, several distinct concerns need to be kept in mind: Differences in domain or focus (e.g. health, education, etc.), which could contribute to the complementarity of the initiatives. 
Camp fires with different stories
Some camps might be health business, others might be education business. Some will talk both education and health business. Camps of learning will relate in different ways. Health may be the 'grandparent' camp the oversees 
housing, which is 'parent 'camp to essential services. All these camps may contribute to teaching the grandchildren's camp.
Ways in which each particular initiative could involve more or less resources, whether as initial investment or in its ongoing activities. For example, visitors, participants or residents might be present in a high resource ("first class"), a low resource mode, or somewhere in between.  Some camps will have hostels, showers, and air conditioned buses. Some camps may have tents and wilytjas .Other camps may be bush way, swags and billy cans on the fire. Different facilities for different purposes.
Differences in preoccupation, communication, attitude or expectation of people who might be simultaneously present and involved in any one initiative. Ways in which any pattern of apparently external differences amongst the initiatives is in fact a reflection of a pattern of internal differences within each individual - whether consciously active at any one time or not.  Students and visitors will come with different prior knowledge, different abilities and expectations. Depending on their intended length of study and aptitude they will necessarily achieve different understandings. There will need  to be legally enforceable controls on the use and abuse of shared traditional knowledge. Just as there are legal consequences of misuse of knowledge in both cultures, the cross-cultural interface requires a sensitive and  sophisticated legal control system.
These considerations make it clearer that the notion of "tethering" initiatives at different "levels" (as discussed above) needs to be treated in a more subtle matter. For a start the notion of "level" can be criticized as unnecessarily hierarchical when the complementarity of  the pattern of distinct initiatives offers a more fruitful insight. To the extent that the initiatives can be compared to community energy "chakras", for example, any competitive evaluation could only marginalize vital energy foci. It is not useful to perceive one chakra as "better" than another.  The camps and fires of each initiative or discipline will be positioned in relationship to each other in terms of kinship relationships that acknowledge different levels of knowledge in a subject. Separate camps will be set up for young men and women in the  early adult stages of learning. The 'katja / son' and 'untalpa / daughter' camps will be taught by 'mama / father', 'ngunytju / mother', kulypalpa / uncle or kuntili/aunt  - possibly equivalent to lecturers and tutors. They will also be instructed  by 'tjamu / kami / elders / professors'.

Each camp/campus of each discipline will be related to all other camps, thus ensuring deep interdisciplinary respect and co-operation on all kin levels of  grandparent/ grandchild, parent/ child, sibling, and the new ideas from grandchildren camps being listened to by grandparent camps. [See kinship model of interrelationships between camps/ campuses.]

Access to the teaching fires of the elders or professors will be by acknowledgment of attainment of knowledge and readiness judged so by the elders. Prior knowledge or achievement in other systems of knowledge may or may not be judged sufficient. 

Avoiding any commitment to "better", the general concern is to create environments that allow for initiatives and ways of being that are less governed by economic criteria and their problematic future. This means that whilst each initiative might be said to have a presence at every "level", the main focus or centre of gravity for many of those involved might be at a quite distinct level. It is there that the sustaining processes would be most apparent -- an through them the credibility of that initiative to those participating most actively in it.  Within each camp/ campus will be several 'fires' of learning. Depth of knowing will be acquired by moving gradually in towards the inner ring around each fire, then progressing on to the next fire within the systems of fires inside each camp. The emphasis is not on a set progression, which may not be exactly the same for each student,
but rather on the quality of being, listening and understanding displayed by the student at each fire.

The shortest way between two points is not necessarily a straight line  in the desert. Survival may require knowledge of the longer circuitous route. Knowing the 'songline' allows students to find the waterholes and food along the 
'learning' trail . Those who try to travel too fast ignoring the 'songline' may perish. 

Draft Proposal (B): Initiatives

B. INITIATIVES  B. HOMECAMPS
A preliminary outline
In considering the following pattern of initiatives, it is important to bear in mind the points of the previous paragraphs. 

Whilst an initiative may have an apparent economic dimension, this could be quite secondary to sustaining processes important to key participants - for whom other criteria would apply. 

Whilst even in the least economically focused initiative, some participants may be found who are well-resourced or with strong economic preoccupations, of far greater importance is the level of subtlety at which most participants there choose to operate - or the level at which some there may be able to operate. It is that which ensures the "tethering" at various "levels" of meaning -- or degrees of opening to the unconscious. 

A first overview
 The core principles must be continually returned to 
in designing each camp/ campus of study.
Mutually enchancing ways of cultural knowledge sharing are being sought through:
  • Reciprocity /Ngapartji-ngapartji : deep sharing of knowledge;
  • Kinship / Walytja : kin  relationships between students/ teachers, learning camps, and campfires;
  • Songline Way  / Inma Way:  honouring the power of our imagination to co-create new 'songlines' to maintain cultural and ecological diversity;
  • Listening / Kulini:  - will determine the depth of the exchange.
Economic considerations are only one aspect of the sustainability criteria, cultural and spiritual dimensions light the  fires of deeper intensity. 
1. Lifestyle initiative:
This could be envisaged as a blend of intentional community (semi- permanent residents) and alternative eco-tourism facility (1 to 7 day visitors). Aspects of eco- villages provide models of the first dimension; features of the Club Mediterannée offer models of the second dimension. It could be succinctly described as a spiritual or ecological Club Mediterannée, of which Findhorn is an economically viable example. 

Clearly the purpose would be to attract paying visitors to offer them an experience of an alternative lifestyle in relation to the land and those who choose to live there. It would be an essentially safe environment, although distinctly less commercial than the main tourist complex at Yulara. In contrast to Yulara, for example, special attention would be given to the interface through which visitors and Aborigines interacted. The style might be usefully compared to the complex at Manyallaluk (near Katherine). As with Findhorn, the infrastructure might be initially limited to caravan facilities sensitively designed to blend into the environment. The centre would be used as a base for eco- tourism exploration of the land.

1. Bush Camp: lifestyle experience
Eco-tourism camp with semi-permanent accommodation and facilities for staff and visitors. Some visitors could stay for long periods of study/ alternative lifestyle experience, others could come on tours from 1 to 7 days.

Atal campsite with low key  environmentally suitable accommodation. Angatja Bush College type tours.

  • Reciprocity: working as guides, learning tourism business, economic return.
  • Kinship:  becoming friends, family with people from other cultures.
  • Songline Way: teaching the Songlines, keeping tradition alive.
  • Listening: teaching awareness of Land. Learning western ways of Landcare.
2. Healing initiative:
This would be partially inspired by the  traditional model of the mountain sanatorium for convalescents and  the terminally ill. A relevant economically viable model is Nowo Balance (Kreuth, Tegernsee) which specializes in alternative therapies. There are many other interesting examples of health centres. The purpose here would be to create an environment offering temporary and more permanent residence, at different resource levels. This assumes that a range of patients and illnesses would benefit from desert conditions and the healing properties of the land - on which attention would be focused, if only with respect to psycho-spiritual healing. For the terminally ill, the aim is to offer a hospice environment conducive to death with dignity and meaning, in contrast to death in institutions, however well-resourced. This initiative could also respond to the challenges of substance abuse that affect both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society - if only as a "drying-out" centre. Another possibility is to provide a context for the mentally and physically challenged (as with the Steiner Camphill community model). Special attention would be given to the healing skills of the ngankaris.
 2. Healing camp
A desert healing centre for sick or those with serious illness
to receive healing from ngankaris and dry desert environment. 'Dry out' centre for indigenous and non-indigenous alcoholics and drug addicts. 
A place for people to rest and regain their faith in life / Law.
  • Reciprocity : economic return for traditional medicine knowledge and teaching of western sciences related to plants and healing.
  • Kinship: relationships between western and indigenous knowledge of healing.
  • Songline Way: traditional spiritual healing knowledge kept alive.
  • Links to modern psychology, counselling and therapy taught.
Listening - sickness of spirit as separation from the Land is
indigenous knowing that man's spiritual relationship to Land affects  health.
3. Information initiative:
This initiative is inspired by the manner in which Aboriginal culture uses the land as a mnemonic device to carry large amounts of information. One purpose would be to explore ways of holding and representing Aboriginal songline information, experience and insight using modern multi-media technology. A corresponding purpose would be to explore ways of using insights from songline (and analogous) forms of organization as a means of devising new approaches to organizing knowledge - notably on the Web. This could extend into using virtual landscapes onto which information could be embedded and configuring such landscapes in meaningful ways. This initiative could also offer a context for other new approaches to information inspired by non-western mind-sets -- notably as a means of exploring ways in which Aborigines could be jump started into the information society, using advantages from their own cultural framework not available to those basing themselves on the western model. This work would be designed to anticipate the development of broadcast media facilities accessible to Aborigines into forms integrated with computer-based forms of communication. 
3. Songlines and computers: 
"The Law is written in the Land" says Nganyinytja. The University of Earth could include a research facility that is used by Aboriginal people to put their knowledge of the Land into modern multimedia - CDs, computer games, films and other media.
  • Reciprocity: Western systems of organising knowledge could be changed by learning from indigenous ways - ie. Oral story traditions. Extensive indigenous knowledge of land could be recorded and taught to children in multimedia forms. 
  • Kinship: the world wide web opens great possibilities for indigenous and other peoples from around the world to share systems of knowing. These links can support and enrich ways of knowing of all cultures  especially those not of the dominant western mode.
  • Songline Way: Knowledge encoded in song and dance can be recorded and used in multimedia teaching. Thus  traditions are keep alive and adapted to forms that the next generation will gravitate to.
  • Listening: Indigenous expertise in visual and spatial frameworks of knowledge could develop exciting new ways of  presenting cross cultural knowledge  so new learning contexts could develop and different cultural learning skills be rewarded . Indigenous students thus learn easier and are not discriminated against in teaching methodologies and western students develop an appreciation for a  broader  range of skills. 
4. Arts / Design / Culture initiative
The outback is a major inspiration for art and design in Australia. Sale of art is a major source of income for some Aborigines. This initiative would create an environment to encourage further artistic exploration, both by Aborigines and non-Aborigines. 

There are a number of artist colonies that are worth critical examination as possible models. The envisaged scope would include painting, music, song, dance, theatre, story telling and design (including architecture). 

Special attention would be given to new multi-media possibilities of experiencing the significance of songlines. Emphasis would be placed as much on experience as on production, recognizing that for the Aborigines art has a vital role in relation to celebration of the land -- rather than being a consumer product. 

4. Artists' camp
Art as part of life, process rather than product, is essential to the indigenous celebration of Land.
  • Reciprocity: indigenous and western artists can camp together and share knowledge of their crafts and experience of land, life, community and the arts.
  •  Kinship: all aspects of the arts - music, song, dance, storytelling, theatre, storytelling, painting, architecture and design- are in kinship relationship.
  • Songline Way: continuous recreation through dance, song, story and performance of cultural songlines is essential to all cultures as they seek to keep their spirit and Land alive.
  • Listening: to songs of another culture and learning to dance to it's rhythm is a creative entrance to the heart of another's reality. This enriches knowledge of one's own culture.
5. Adventure initiative
A number of locations in the Northern Territory indicate the potential of adventure initiatives. These include short camping tours into the Kakadu National Park and trekking around Katherine. The challenge is to transform such models into ecologically and culturally sensitive opportunities and to design out their destructive features. 

This initiative could offer numerous possibilities for involvement of Aborigines, especially given the necessity to avoid sacred sites. The purpose would be to present, notably for young people, the kind of existential challenge sought and experienced by climbers. Features of these have been adapted to management education experiences (for example at Pecos River near Santa Fe). As with Outward Bound and white-water rafting, graded experiences could be offered, including survival courses. These could be associated with the developed format of vision quests. Semi-permanent desert bases could be established using features of desert pioneer camps (as in Israel).

5. Adventure camp:
Survival Trails of various difficulty could be designed for youth, women, men, business executives and other special interest groups.
  • Reciprocity: indigenous knowledge and  western knowledge of survival  working together.
  • Kinship:  respect for the sacredness of land, plants, animals and man's place in the eco- kinship system. 
  • Songline Way:  learning to read the land by the information held in Songlines. Adapting this to include scientific knowledge of the land - creating survival songlines.
  • Listening:  learning to listen to the Land and respond appropriately for survival.
6. Retreat initiative: 
The desert retreat formula is one of the oldest known to modern civilization, dating back to Biblical times. There are many contemporary models of retreat centres serving different needs. These range from western models through eastern ashrams, with both contemplative and secular (academic) extremes. 

The purpose of this initiative would be to offer a mix of three kinds of retreat: collective, based on shared facilities and residence; separate, based on units scattered over walking distances with optional shared facilities (notably at Crestone, Colorado); isolated (hermitage), based on units scattered over longer distances. 

People could move between the three experiences according to need and could remain there according to need and resources. The focus would be on experiencing solitude in relation to the land, although it would be for the individual to determine whether this was seen primarily as a spiritual experience or simply as an opportunity for relaxation, writing or the like. Any relationship to Aboriginal ngankaris could develop spontaneously.

 6. Retreat camp: 
Place for peace, quiet and time alone. A residential facility and a linked group of individual huts/ tents where people can spend time alone away from the main camp. Minimal shared facilities. Time for spiritual renewal. Safety and comfort provided by minimal staff. Elders available to talk to if desired.
  • Reciprocity: mutual respect for different spiritual practices, joint honouring of sacredness of Land.
  • Kinship: discovering and celebrating the kinship between all human beings and their common aspirations for strong spiritual expressions in their communities.
  • Songline Way: exploration of sacredness of Land and the traditional sacred mapping in all cultures.
  • Listening: to each other and the Land, "opening our hearts to share the spirit of the Land."
7. Research / Educational initiative
This initiative would provide an environment for research and education inspired by the relationship to the land - especially in the light of Aboriginal understanding of it, but taking account of other traditions (deep ecology, Chinese geomancy, etc.). Steps in this direction already include the establishment of the Angatja Bush College in which visitors (brought by Desert Tracks) learn from Aborigines. The focus could include: ecological and resource management issues; land-harmonious architecture and construction; exploration of Aboriginal cosmology and its relevance to the wider world; strategic issues common to indigenous peoples faced with encroaching cultures; development of human relations skills in working across cultural and economic interfaces; development of low-resource lifestyles. A central concern would be to explore attitudes appropriate to the interaction between western and Aboriginal paradigms as inspired by the encounter with the land. In this respect work would be as much concerned with underlying mytho-poetic and archetypal issues as with more obvious material matters. Whilst some preoccupations might be recognized (and approved) by mainstream educational authorities, and therefore be eligible for funding, every effort would be made to explore issues beyond such boundaries (even to facilitating, to the extent appropriate, the training of ngankaris as cultural exemplars). One interesting model is the ecostery, which is a facility, stewarded land, and nature sanctuary where ecosophy (ecological wisdom and harmony) is learned, practised, and taught. 
7. Research / Educational camp:
A centre for developing deep understanding of the various cultural ways of knowing the Land. 

Reciprocity:

  • Bringing together - western deep ecology, traditional  indigenous knowledge, environmental science, Chinese and European geomancy and other approaches to Land. 
  • Equal balance of courses designed by indigenous people and those from a  western knowledge base. Research priorities to be set by both groups .
  • Ethno-botany studies including setting. Apprentice schools where young Aboriginal people are  taught the traditional and western knowledge of  plant use.
Kinship: bonds between traditional and modern: 
  • landcare and resource management 
  • gura- camp design and architecture of the earth 
  • Aboriginal and western cosmology interrelate
  • cross-cultural human relations skills 
  • cross-cultural economic management skills 
  • development of low- resource lifestyles
Songline Way:  all peoples of the world coming together to create new songlines  for joint custodialship of the Earth.
  • understanding of the deep belief structure of western  indigenous peoples - deep myths, Dreaming, Law and  kinship relationship to land 
  • exploration of the 'imaginal reality' of the Dreaming   honouring this as a powerful dimension of reality that to be recreated in western academic traditions in philosophy of the imagination. 
Listening:  learning to listen to other ways of knowing -
  • explore new learning ways, outside current academic  knowledge-learning from elders in ways they structure -  Inma Way.
  • language teaching and study that honours traditional  languages and their sacred voice. 
  • Language, the study of translation methods that   the beauty and depth of the original, from indigenous languages to English / French/German and back to the  indigenous languages. 

Draft Proposal (C): Image


C. IMAGE  
Initiatives -- an integrating story

 As noted above, it is vital that this pattern of initiatives be presented through an integrating story meaningful in Aboriginal cultural terms. The pattern becomes viable only as an emanation of the story -- as a part of the dreaming. 

One widespread story that might be appropriate for this purpose is that of the Seven Sisters. Briefly, each initiative could be presented as one of the sisters. As sisters they are however naturally related and form a coherent whole. More challenging is that the sisters are pursued by the shape-shifter Wati Nyiru. Learning from this tale requires understanding of the ambiguous status of the pursuer and his uncontrollable desire to have intercourse with the sisters. Vigilance is required by the sisters to forestall him.  It might be possible to configure the role of western economic rationality, and its uncontrollable greed, as Wati Nyiru. The economic rationale constantly pursues initiatives on which it seeks to work its will and from which it hopes to derive selfish benefit. However, more positively, it does evoke a discipline from such initiatives -- hence the necessary vigilance they must practice together if they are to survive. It is the threat of being individually overcome that keeps them together. 

More daringly, it is even possible to consider dramatizing the role of Desert Tracks as Wati Nyiru. The two 4-WD vehicles are already painted appropriately to fit into the Ngintaka story. But, since the above initiatives would presumably be dispersed in a variety of locations, Desert Tracks might develop into the mode of transportation that keeps the initiatives linked both to the outside world and amongst themselves. But at the same time it would be the vehicle through which the dangers of economic greed would become manifest. It would carry people reflecting that preoccupation to some degree and seeking ways to convert the initiatives to economic ends. The ambiguity of the role would also be reflected in the fact that it carried an impulse that was desired. 

Listen to the reciprocal kinship songline of humanity

The journey along the learning trail from camp to camp,
is like the traditional stories of journeying along a songline or the stages on a pilgrimage.  The campfires are the fires left by the ancestors of each culture to light the way for future generations. Though we face new perils and must learn to dream new songs on this journey.

The language and metaphors to express this story need to be grown through the cross cultural dialogue that is taking place. The image will form and reform as the fluid medium of sand captures an  image before it is erased and reforms as the language flows. There are clues however, as all cultures hold their wisdom in stories.

Reciprocity: Traditional law -what you give you will get in return. Law of physics - every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Nganyinytja has likened the Seven Sister's story of lust and greed  leading to destruction of the desired, as similar to the uncontrollable  greed of western economic materialism destroying the Land. To  survive Wati Nyiru  the sisters he pursues must be continually vigilant.  To survive western materialism's assault on the world we must all   become vigilant. What we put out will return to us.

Kinship: the Seven Sisters work together to elude Wati Nyiru and successfully keep their family intact. The threat of being individually overcome as people and cultures by the spread of western materialism  must make us all work together.

Songline Way: to remember your way home you must like Hansel and Gretel or like Wati Ngintaka retrace your tracks, keeping the knowledge of your journey in your story and the song of your land. Be vigilant like the Sister's.

Listening: all traditional stories teach us to stay aware at levels deeper than  the ordinary. The eldest Sister can discriminate between Wati Nyiru and the shapes he assumes. European traditional stories teach us to listen and be aware of shapeshifters in nature - the wolf who tries to become Grandma to deceive little Red Riding Hood.
Listening with awareness and deep knowing is essential to humanity's new Story.

Image Development 
  Whilst a story is vital for credibility within Aboriginal culture, a distinct image is necessary to give credibility to the outside world. Great care is required in articulating such an image. There is merit in making this an ambitious image of which interested parties can be proud.  A clue towards a possible image can be taken from the existing image of the Angatja Bush College, to which Desert Tracks conducts visitors for learning experiences. One way to encompass the variety of initiatives proposed is under the umbrella of a "University of Earth".  This name has several advantages. By using the term "Earth", the obvious link to the Spirit of the Land is stressed. Since it may well start very modestly, using packed earth and mud brick types of construction, use of this term would be doubly appropriate. The name also has merit in honouring indigenous peoples who honour the Earth -- offering the possibility of developing the initiatives to carry the concerns of indigenous peoples from other countries.  It is possible that Australian regulations concerning the names of institutions place restrictions on use of the term "university". This might prove to be an issue -- but possibly less so on Aboriginal Freehold Lands. It could very easily be argued that Aborigines have a right to a university that specifically honours their culture. 
 Image Development 
 The images we use must work at all these levels as traditional stories do. A dynamic image, bold and proud is: 'University of  Earth'.

This name honours indigenous people and their relationship to the  Earth. Aboriginal knowledge deserves to be respected and valued as  high learning. The name links to the work  begun by Desert Tracks and Spirit of the Land.

Draft Proposal (D): Feasibility

D. FEASIBILITY AND PRACTICALITIES  HOW CAN WE BUILD THIS UNIVERSITY OF  EARTH ? 
Clearly the range of initiatives above may be seen as overly ambitious and unrealistic, especially at a time of budgetary constraints and severe economic challenges. However part of the interest of this pattern of initiatives is to seek ways past such constraints through approaches which take advantage of non-economic priorities. It may well be the case that, in the desperate search for a new paradigm to remedy inadequacies in economic rationalism, there are features of the favoured administrative conceptual language which themselves inhibit success. Specifically, there may be something in the way that "proposals", "programmes" and "projects" are envisaged and implemented which is incompatible with the kinds of initiatives which can survive despite economic rationalism. There maybe something wrong with the "pro" mode or at least something incompatible with what is to be learnt from Aboriginal cultural reality.  In considering options, it is useful to reflect on the contrast between top-down implementation of complex projects and means of growing initiatives in a bottom-up mode. Desert Tracks is a concrete  example of this. From the ground up ! 
These aims may seem difficult  in the current economic and political climate.  But there are already existing centres of Aboriginal Studies  at several universities that are including the Angatja Bush College in their programmes. Links can be developed between Angatja ,the Institute for Aboriginal Studies in Alice Springs, the Kimberly's Bush University , Uni of Western Australia and Uni of Western Sydney. A multi campus approach may allow many of these 'initiatives' to be coordinated at little capital cost. 

We may need to envision or 'dream' new ways to allow this concept to grow and form.  It is essential that it be grown from the ground - up if it is to reflect the aims and objectives of the Aboriginal elders inspired to share and teach their way of knowing with the wider community. 

[Note: the need to change the way 'proposals', 'programmes' and 'projects' are envisaged and implemented is agreed . I feel this is a deep issue in the western aid and current government funding models that needs re envisaging  This idea needs more dialogue before I can attempt to 'translate' it]

From this perspective, despite the overall, long-term ambition, each of the above initiatives could start small. Again the Angatja Bush College is an example. The challenge would be to clarify exactly what was the minimum infrastructure required to support semi-permanent and permanent initiatives through different stages of growth. Starting small might also be seen as a way of progressively obtaining approval for further stages from partners such as the interested Aboriginal communities.  The big picture can be built from small pieces gradually. The different 'learning camps' will differ in their infrastructure needs. Some semi permanent some more permanent . All structures must be environmentally low impact designs, appropriate  to the culture of the communities of which they are part.
Another major consideration is the concern for low-impact  environmentally-friendly structures, especially if they have to be  moved during early, more experimental, phases of growth. The  challenge might then be to work in terms of how small such  initiatives could be and still offer possibility of growth.   In reflecting on this, several models could be combined:   In the early phases of Israeli desert community development, volunteer pioneer groups initiated communities that later acquired  more substantive form. This model points to the challenge to some  people to engage in unusual initiatives under arduous conditions for  little economic reward. Such challenges have been virtually designed  out of western societies to the considerable disadvantage of many,  notably young people.  Volunteer groups of people could be coordinated to work on developing these desert camps. This has worked well previously at Angatja where young people  have happily worked for nothing but food and board, and the joy of sharing  with anangu in cultural exchange. Ilyatjari organised a wilytja building team of young anangu men and volunteers to build modern versions of this traditional structure. More experimentation with mixtures of traditional and new techniques could result in some interesting new architectural designs.
Well-established intentional communities, such as the 250 people at  Findhorn (Scotland), were housed for many years in caravans. Based  in a conventional caravan park, the requirement imposed on the  community (before the land was acquired) was that any structure  could be moved within 24 hours.   Major construction projects in isolated areas also make use of  temporary construction, often based on "porta-cabins".   These models all point to the possibility of flexible, tentative  growth using portable units. The Australian national parks  authorities have skilfully demonstrated ways of minimizing impact of  campers needing water, toilet, fire and waste facilities.  Semi-permanent accommodation for visitors could be designed to be removable  in the early trial stages . In fragile environments it may be desirable to remove all structures for several months of each year, or change the camp sites. Examples of minimal impact structures are available in National Parks. 
Whilst an approach along these lines may be feasible, it is far from  clear that it is desirable. What factors would make semi-permanent  habitation in the desert desirable -- especially in the light of the  complaints of permanent residents at Yulara, despite its numerous  facilities and resources? What would make people want to be there  for extended periods of time? The answer to this question clearly  has much to do with the relationship to the land. Structures will need to reflect the type of visitors / learners and their intended  length of stay. Intent is central to design of human habitation. 
The question is how communities can be designed in desert  environments so that people can both survive and thrive. The  material challenges associated with work and accommodation units are  clear. Closely related to these are the aesthetic and environmental  challenges of how such units blend into the land in an attractive  manner. Somehow the clutter of recti-linear porta-cabins and /or  caravans needs to be overcome creatively. (Options for consideration include accommodation) Aesthetics is  culturally defined . The question of ' how it will look ' must be asked in the context of 'for whom is it built'? 

[These are complex issues that require careful research, consultation , and inclusion of community development aims - if there are any. Again - whose aesthetic is to be considered, for what purpose?]

The availability of any resources will above all be determined by  the manner in which the image of this whole initiative is developed.  It will succeed to the extent that it is perceived as a challenging  social project for the daring who are weary of the promises of  economic rationalism, its failing social safety nets and the erosion  in quality of life and sense of well-being. But the special quality  of this challenge lies in the response it evokes to the land and to  the Aboriginal understanding of it  The resources this project will attract depend on whom it inspires  and to what extent existing funding avenues can be used in various  initiatives . A challenge for the brave who believe that the integration of indigenous  knowledge into western society holds the possibility of providing a new  way of living in relationship with the Land and all living beings . A deep knowledge that the Land is alive and we must become active custodians of it. 
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