Yesterday I met Cedric Varcoe, a Ngarrindjeri artist, at the Milang art market. His work is beautiful and personal story is an inspiration for everyone.
When he was young he lost his brothers and he struggled with addiction but with the help of his family and clan elders he broke free and now creates incredible images of Ngarrindjeri life, not of life today though.
When Cedric began painting the elders saw his images and explained they were scenes from generations ago, before white people settled, and the features of his paintings were spirits and sacred places, old stories and journeys. He was painting places and people only the elders could remember stories about but he was painting them without having been told these stories.
If you are ever at a market while on Ngarrindjeri country, Murray Bridge to Nelson to Kangaroo Island and Fleurieu Peninsula, look for Cedric, hear is story and see for yourself how powerfully he is keeping his tradition alive through his art. He also weaves traditional baskets from reeds he collects from the Coorong and paints gift boxes. Make time to ask questions and listen.
Cedric is a modern storyteller and also the traditional kind, a story keeper and sharer. It is his sincere belief that we can increase respect across all cultures through understanding and awareness. We all share this land we call Australia, no matter when or how we arrived here we are a nation of nations. Dreamtime is an integral part of Australian Aboriginal cultures, not all of it is exclusive, we are welcome to learn and experience it for ourselves.
During my 2 year ride around Australia I am hoping to learn more about the human history of this vast continent and First Nations culture today.
Did you know Australia is made up of over 500 aboriginal nations and there is 80,000 years of evidence of human habitation here. Some nations were nomadic, travelling seasonally for food and water. Other nations were permanently based year-round and farmed food. In some places the food and water was in such abundance all year they didn’t need to move or farm.
The Dreamtime is a very simple name for very complex, elaborate and long lines of songs, stories and beliefs about creation, ancestors and animal spirits, songlines spread and criss-crossed over all the land. The origin stories of stars and landscapes are only part of the Dreaming.
I am not an authority on this and certainly do not have enough experience or knowledge of Australia’s First Nations aboriginal heritage. What I share will be from the traditional owners I meet and only what I am authorised to pass on to you. Not everything is for us all, some places, ceremonies and initiations are sacred to clan groups, but greater understanding and sharing stories leads to respect and a desire to protect this knowledge for many future generations.
One of my favourite early memories is making ochre and painting in infants school when I was 5 or 6. Our teacher told us about cave paintings, ochre used in ceremony, corroboree and mourning. Everything I have learned throughout life about First Nations culture and heritage, in school, through work and while walking around Australia, has made me hungry for more.
I am not a “spiritual” person, in fact, I am a bit of an Agent Sully from The X Files, a sceptic of all religions, myths and superstition. Unless I can see it, feel it and find a scientific peer reviewed paper about it then I don’t believe it. BUT sometimes things happen which make us wonder just how much we don’t know about the universe.
During the next 2 years I will seek more experiences to broaden my awareness and understanding of the nations whose countries I ride through. I will also be sharing some of the dreamtime and ancestral experiences I have had over the years which have taught me to respect ancient beliefs and open my mind (or spirit).
Rock art depicting dreamtime stories in Kakadu, Northern Territory