The Rev. Duncan McDiarmid, minister in the Eurobodalla Congregations, recently took part in a retreat led by elders of the Yuin people, the First Peoples of the South Coast region. He writes:
The weekend began with a smoking ceremony of healing and welcome. We were welcomed to a beautiful location at Mystery Bay. Our accommodation was at Mystery Bay Cottages.
After our Welcome we shared a meal together which included local and indigenous produce. The Oysters did not eventuate, but Kingfish and Flathead featured with Warrigal greens and flavoured with pepper-berries. Dinner was followed by a Yarning circle which gave us a brief introduction to indigenous spirituality as locally experienced in terms of sacred places and traditional lore. We spent quite some time introducing ourselves to each other as this experience was going to be shared between us.
The attendees included three couples from Sydney and one couple from Canberra and myself. Two of the couples were under thirty, both of whom were attending the experiences as birthday presents for the two young women who had not experienced connection to their indigenous heritage. The other couples were older than me and included a Catholic and a Buddhist. A mixed bag.
Much energy was engaged in the discussion as to whether we may be able to climb Gulaga (the mother) on Saturday as the persistent rain was likely to make the track hazardous. Decision was uncomfortably deferred to the morning.
The morning began on the beach at 6.30 am, acknowledging the arrival of the light (however diffuse) for the new day. It rained heavily enough for some to realise their brand-new wet weather gear was not fit for purpose. This was the second of 5 religious practices in which we were invited to participate.
After breakfast the decision was made to not climb Gulaga (Mt Dromedary). The continuing rain convinced us of the necessity. At Narooma we were introduced to the story of Barunguba (Montague Island) the Mother’s eldest child taking up a sentinel station at the edge of the sea. A seaside mountain until 20,000 years ago and the end of the last Ice Age.
At Tilba Tilba we were briefed on the significance, without details, of sites of special significance to women on Gulaga, the mother. We also heard the story of Jungagita, the little brother (Little Dromedary). We travelled to the meeting of the waters at ancient fishtraps at Camel Rock with lunch at Akolele and on to the large Shellfish Sites at the south east end of Wallaga Lakes. In ceremony we transitioned from the ocean waters to the fresher waters and the significance of that transition and received an explanation in the origins of national, family, and individual totems.
Back to the cottages to recover for an experience of traditional dance choreographed into a spiritual practice (a la Tai Chi?). The evening finished with several hours of yarning circle as we edged towards an assimilation of the experiences we had had and sharing the variety of our encounters we had experienced differently during the day.
We gathered on the last morning to again join the circle and enjoy the Yidaki. To be debriefed from the experiences and again have the opportunity to verbalise that experience in each of our contexts after a night’s sleep. It may sound like the debriefing was a waste of time. Sitting in the presence of our guides trying to assemble our thoughts and experiences as shared on this short journey together was really valuable in holding the experience and gently transitioning out of it. Several of the attendees have promised to look in on us and join our worship on their next journeys south.