This is a story of an encounter during a 1991 Queensland, Australia trip into the field with other scientists to examine an aboriginal heritage site and assist with the excavation and recording of an ancient Aboriginal habitation site.
We had arrived a few days earlier and were camping under a rock overhang that entered into a cave within remote rough bush land in a terrain called Karst, a tall sharp cathedral-like limestone erosion feature. Present was myself, a geologist by training, along with two archaeologists and a zoologist. We were there to ready an archaeological excavation site for examination and filming.
Well after dinner on about the third night, we thought we saw a light coming through the bush off in the distance. It slowly came right up to us and we were wondering how anyone could possibly find their way here, at night, over such rough and close terrain. Then a Toyota Land Cruiser troop-carrier rolled up and eight or nine aboriginal men got out and began unloading their gear. They ranged in age from 20 to around 70 with most around the age 25 to 35.
The senior archaeologist informed us these were the people we had been told we should expect to arrive at some point. We were all impressed that they'd managed to drive in during the dark, as we had struggled to make our way in during daylight.
They had brought with them a nylon strung guitar and a Didjeridu (also known as a Didgeridoo). That night I heard the most moving Didje playing I've ever heard. We were all gathered in the mouth of a large open cave with trees nearby and still getting settled in when the sound of the Didje suddenly passed through me like nothing I'd ever heard. I had no idea it was going to happen. I had my back to the player so I never knew who it was, but when it started the effect was beyond description. I stopped moving, what I was doing, whatever that was simply stopped.
I was shocked, but more and more drawn into this incredibly penetrating resonant reverberation which was all of a sudden phase-changing through me in a way only a Didje can. And it was startlingly loud too; there was no warm up and no warning of any kind, the player not needing to do so. Just an out of the blue loud beautiful sound had suddenly started. We all froze in place, not another sound or movement, and not out of respect, nothing contrived like that. It had just made us stop. I think my breathing had even stopped; I knew my eyes had automatically closed due simply to the ecstatic intense beauty of it.
It didn't go on for long, but it was enough. And when it stopped we all began to move once again, like nothing had even happened. But we didn't say a word about it or even talk about it. No one said, "Gee wow, that was really great, do it again". Nothing like that. We had apparently all felt this same thing, or so it seemed, and I didn't even see the Didje at any point. I didn't even know they'd had one there until then, but immediately afterward the Didje was taken away.
Except briefly during the last night we were there, they didn't play the Didje again. That one additional time it went on for about 30 seconds, hard to be sure exactly, but it started without warning and then just ended. Just like the first time they played it, when done it was gone. It was not for entertainment. It was meant to have an effect and each time it sure did.
I'm sure all were just as shocked as I was because it was beyond beautiful. I had heard lots of gimmicky Didjeridu playing, but this was something entirely different. I had no idea they could do that; it could put any orchestra and the greatest composer to shame in seconds. It had done something to us all, conveyed something unsaid, and it was impossible to identify what it was.
I had no doubt they did it for good reason. Apparently it was a sort of, "Honey, I'm Home!" signal to the land, but I didn't realize that until later. It had the effect of bringing everyone to attention, like a bugle call would do for an army, except nothing like that. And they had done it as soon as practicable after arriving and the timing was perfect.
We had been waiting for them within their land, but we had no idea who we were waiting for. We just knew that they had not turned up when we were expecting them. And they had no idea who we were either, only that we would be waiting for them. But after the Didje played the first time we felt instantly at home with each other from that point on. We understood something, something no one had said to each other.
Maybe some are reading this skeptically and think “Oh yes, tell us more”. Well that's OK, but this is what occurred.
It turned out that the cave and all of the surrounding area was a place these men knew extremely well. I was surprised that they really knew this place so well because it was a bit of a maze at first. It was effectively the aboriginal equivalent of a block of apartments. Lots of caves, ledges, clefts, painting galleries, open areas, and some big chambers with collapsed roofs where light streamed in with an Indiana Jones type movie look to it.
It was clear that human beings had lived here for a very, very long time. It wasn't clear how long because the excavations were so limited, shallow and small, and it was a huge area they had been living in. They had been living there until quite recently in fact. The State in the form of the "Crown" had removed them from this place and put them into a Christian mission that controlled the aboriginal community to try to tame, educate and convert these savages.
They were finally freed of all that madness, but that was still before land rights were forced to be taken seriously in law. Finally a land 'Title' passed from the British Royal "Crown" and State Government back to the real owners. This was and is, without any doubt, their land, and was all along.
It never was uninhabited as the Crown's representatives had merely and dishonestly pretended. Meeting them like this on their own land made me realize that it had been a terrible crime to ever have taken it from them, or them off of the land, and then treating them so badly. I am so glad I met these guys.
They really did deserve a belated unreserved apology from the State, but frankly I think the British Royal Family is the next body of the culpable who must without exception apologize properly, directly and humbly to them for such a terrible injustice.
The archaeologists had that day shown me around their small and meticulous excavation. It had taken several years to do not that much really. Time was limited on site and they were so determined to be respectful and to make sure that it was done right, that nothing was missed or not documented, but preserved in the proper way. You get only one shot at seeing everything that is there.
They were both born in Europe, but had lived in Australia for many years. The living-floor deposits they uncovered were very old. They were digging through layers of ancient bushfire ash between the dust storm layers containing animal bones and fresh water crayfish shell parts, and they had come to several clearly old fire places as they had dug down. As I remember, one of the fireplaces had been dated at least 12 thousand years old, and there were many more below as well which still had not been dated.
We saw layers of volcanic dust in the various layers in the opening of the cave. Most people don't know that Australia has many dormant fissures and crater volcanoes. These just don't erupt very often, and have never during European settlement. But from the deposits they leave and the area affected they typically produce epic scale runny basaltic lava flows and region wide ash falls.
I have long suspected that this may be where the myth of the 'Rainbow Serpent' really came from, namely that the aboriginals watched low-viscosity glowing basaltic lava flowing down river bed channels like a colored snake. The snake was said to transform the land wherever it went. Aboriginals had been in these caves long enough to have seen several of these protracted high volume "flood volcanism" eruptions.
There were paintings all around the area within the rock overhangs, and even deep inside some of the caves in places. I won't say where this is, but it is a long way inland and well away from the coastal plain. The men were all from Yarrabah and an Elder named Charlie was with them. The local community will know who this was, that what I'm saying occurred in 1991, and that it is an accurate account.
Earlier in the afternoon of their arrival I had found that many of the upper surfaces of the Karst rocks contained easily visible ~400 million year old primitive Rugosa corals. So the limestone of the caves had been formed from a ~400 million year old coral reef that was then thrust up and welded into the continent, then buried. It was finally uncovered in more recent times by slow weathering from weak acidity in rainfall eating away the limestone to form the many caves and towers above them.
I showed these corals and some other fossils to the aboriginal guys the next day and told them what these were. I showed them the fine details and told them how these corals formed and how old they were. It was now my turn to stun them as they had stunned me with their Didje. You could see it in their faces; they were glad to have learned something new that they'd not known about their country. They had of course seen these patterns in the rocks before, but had no idea what they were. I was honored to be able to tell them what they were.
The Didje had set the tone on that first night, and we got on great after that happened. They were from a small aboriginal settlement called Yarrabah near the city of Cairns and this was their country that we were camping in all that week. We were in their actual homes. They were OK with this though, as they trusted us to do the right thing and we most certainly did.
The next night these men and I made a big fire out in an open area. 'Charlie' was never around; he was off somewhere else and we never saw him until he was actually needed. He would show up, and then once again he would go off by himself. The men sang some aboriginal songs and played the guitar with contemporary songs. It was highly enjoyable. I was in a band at the time and I played a few songs the next night.
But on that night the guys wanted to know more about the coral and the reef and how it had got here. They asked if it meant the ocean had once been all the way inland. I tried to explain some basic tectonics ideas, but they couldn't follow the conceptions. Laymen can’t really grasp how long 400 million years is, but a geologist that has seen a lot of rock outcrops is able to. Even then a geo doesn’t really grasp the true concept for the first two years or so of their training.
Big dark Karst towers were all around us under a clear star-bright night. So I simplified things about how we knew what it was, about how old it is, and when I did it went a lot better. They had many questions, but they listened closely to the answers. Eventually they wanted to know more about the age so I attempted to tell them at some length about how isotopic dating methods worked and they actually listened closely without interrupting or getting distracted all the way to the end. They seemed to understand it a bit and I really did know the details quite well back then and could answer any questions and put it in a way they could follow.
Then the older ones told me how their society had operated before Europeans had showed up. They told me several stories of how they had lived and the laws they had. One of the more significant examples was the following; they pointed out that they had seasons for eating every different type of food and they never ate a food outside of its allowed time. If anyone was caught eating it in secret, say a fish out of season, they would be brought before the elders and a spear would be thrown at them by one of the hunters. This was probably fatal most of the time.
This practice was particularly emphasized by them because food was their primary concern. Food was rarely abundant enough to misuse, waste or overindulge in. If there was not enough for everyone, all of them could starve to death. They were very serious about this. So greed, especially for food, was a deadly sin. Not a salacious mythical one, but literally a real one for which the punishment was the same as for murder or rape.
They did not call it a Deadly-Sin or mention 'Sin' as a word. But it was clear that this was what they were describing, that Deadly-Sins exist and that they are real things. These Deadly-Sins kill people so they must be punished or else they will cause the death and misery of everyone within the tribe. The Sin was in doing things that will destroy or seriously harm the interests of others. There were no exceptions as far as I could tell.
Greed and overindulgence limit the nutrition and life of others. It's unacceptable, and when a thing is unacceptable it's not like our version of 'unacceptable'. I had always basically known this in part, but the way they said it was so personal, so direct, and they wanted to make sure I understood what they were saying. It was perfectly clear. There were no police, but there was well understood law and punishment. A pretty good deterrent too. It was clear no one went against the Elders. Their responsibility was to make sure everyone survived and ate and were safe.
But the main implicit point was this: self-control was what kept everyone alive. Selfish behavior outside this law was destructive and they could not survive it, so self-control was essential and everyone was responsible for maintaining it.
I recount this here because when we look around the world today the Deadly-Sins are not only occasionally occurring, they are in fact widespread. They actually form the underpinnings of the cultural milieu that we currently inhabit. They are the sinew of all Prime-Time TV and Movie 'entertainment'. We are all in some way giving in to these 'Deadly-Sins' all the time.
It is impossible to respond sanely and rationally, nor maintain full mental health, with such a destructive system of greed and multifaceted abuses of the core things that should actually matter to us.
When unacceptable is 'acceptable' we're in for real trouble - even if we don't recognize why we are getting the effects of these Deadly Sins without explicitly realizing they exist. It is important for us not to unrealistically expect good or lasting solutions to emerge from this.
But we must still remain sane within it and understand why we struggle with it, such as the lack of any 'spearing' of 'deadly sinners', and how we'll never manage to self-regulate anything in the way we are going.
There is no surviving this greed and lack of self control, that's the lesson they were showing me. What happened in their country when people broke the food laws and used more than they should, then used deception to cheat others out of what they needed to live, was that everyone started to wither and die.
This experience and story doesn't change anything, but it helps me to remain in touch with this and come to terms with how wayward humanity is and how distasteful it is to see this within my own country and how we have spread this incredible degeneracy everywhere.
We actually cherish and celebrate the very thing that will do the most damage to us. We protect and allow rights and honors plus deference and high status to the deadliest of the sinners. Then we be-grudge and detest the impoverished for not having enough, nor being able to get what they need.
We are breaking this deeper Law and thus we are made subject to it, via not only doing nothing, but by being such weak cowards celebrating the flaunting of that Law as a culture of a proud and great country and heritage. I'm not going to get morose and condemn here, as it's just the case that this is what we have been deluded and lost enough to be doing.
And the greatest sin of all is that we and they cannot even see it. We don't realize there are real rules in life, and that this is what's actually going wrong. 'Sin' always stems from selfishly harming of others. It's not even a particularly religious concept; it's just been progressively turned into one. It's really a general rule of survival in every human life.
This greed and lack of self control is what's driving us to mad reactions and extreme ideals. I don't expect a happy outcome nor for sanity to linger within this state of affairs. But I'm better adjusted, just because I can at least understand it now. I can see what we're doing wrong and are collectively refusing culturally to EVER do it right.
I'm so very glad I met those guys, I'll never forget it. They invited me to come to Yarrabah any time I wanted and said I'd always be welcome, but I've never done so. I'd love to hear what old 'Charlie' makes of what we're doing in the world, though he will be long gone now.
But some of the men I spoke to may become the new Elders one day. I sure hope so because they had it straight. They intend to survive on that land again and they're keeping the knowledge and law ready, as it can save them when that time comes. And it will come.
I wish them all luck for if any humans can survive the present amplifying insanity that we're a part of it will be them. Thank you to the young men and Elders of the Yarrabah community.
Finally I wish to sincerely thank Mr. & Mrs. Cognitive Dissonance for doing me the honor of inviting me to make the first post to "Your Turn" within their shiny new and impressive on-line venture. It looks very promising indeed. All the best to you and your new life adventure on 'The Mountain'.