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kurina kuwara milaythina -The Place of the Eagle’s Feather


The Place of the Eagle’s Feather

 Take an unexpected event involving eagles in a place where the story of creation can be read in the land, long familiarity with two quite different spiritual traditions, and simmer slowly over two or three years in a mind known for its occasional bursts of imaginative theology and kurina kuwara milaythina emerges. Ever since people first began to talk there have been questions, conversations and stories. Human beings trying to understand themselves and their place in creation. Mostly it works and people find their lives meaningful. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well, unwelcome events demanding a re-evaluation and the search for a new story begins. This little book is offered as a starting point in the search for that new story. 

 Rev Tim Matton-Johnson is a Uniting Church in Australia minister ordained in 1985. He has served in a variety of placements in Tasmania and Victoria. Tim’s Master of Theology degree involved researching and writing about the relationship between the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and the contemporary scientific world view. Some interesting connections were revealed. He is currently the minister at the Bridgewater – Gagebrook Parish Mission in southern Tasmania. Tim is married to Lynne and they have three adult children and at the time of writing are anticipating the arrival of twin grandsons. Tim is proud of his Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage.

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ISBN: 978-1-922229-86-1  Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 124
Genre: Non Fiction


Cover: Clive Dalkins

 

 

 

Author - Tim Matton-Johnson
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published:  2015
Language: English


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Author Bio

 

 

Tim was born in Latrobe, Northwest Tasmania on 2nd April 1957, and is married to Lynne (1983). They have three adult children, Elanor, Ross and Barnaby, and they have recently become the grandparents of twin boys, Harrison and Charlie.They have two pets; a cat, Mika, and a dog, Dusty. He holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of Tasmania (1984) Bachelor of Theology from Melbourne College of Divinity (1986) Masters of Theology from Melbourne College of Divinity. He was ordained as a Minister of the Word by the Uniting Church in Australia, December 1985. Tim has served in a variety of placements in both Victoria and Tasmania, rural, regional and urban placements since ordination and is currently in placement with the Bridgewater – Gagebrook Parish Mission in Tasmania. He enjoys reading, fishing, growing fruit and veg, and bushwalking.

Acknowledgements 

Writing a book is never truly a solo enterprise. The genesis of this book began not long after I had experience with what used to be called a “nervous breakdown”. My doctor had recommended an extended period of leave and professional counselling. One strategy was to write stuff. Twenty something thousand words were inflicted on my wife Lynne and a couple of close friends. While the occasional idea from this preliminary document may have survived into this current book, most of it would be better described as “clearing my mental desk in order to make writing “kurina kuwara milaythina” possible. My thanks go to my wife, family and friends for supporting a half-crazy man during that period.

As the book finally managed to emerge again, the support of family and some friends was significant in getting through the months of writing. Lynne kept getting asked to proof-read drafts and others to simply read and comment as I tested ideas. Just in case elements of the book should prove controversial, I don’t want to name anyone lest someone attempt to hold them responsible for supporting me when all responsibility for my words is my own. They know who they are and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Lastly I must acknowledge Zeus Publications for their work. In particular for the professional editorial work by Julie Winzar. She was very easy to work with.

Foreword  

I have a clear memory of a day when I was four years old. It was a winter’s day with occasional showers and a westerly wind. Dad had my brother and me with him as he was checking the sheep. It was lambing time. I was a bit of a dreamer and was facing the west, my imagination caught by the huge mass of Mount Roland, when Dad called me over to witness the birth of a lamb. As I turned and ran, my eyes caught a sudden streaming of winter sunlight through the clouds, just like in the pictures of my children’s Bible depicting scenes of epiphany. Coming up to view the newborn lamb I explained to my Dad I had seen God creating the new life of the lamb. I had made in my childish way a spiritual connection between mountain, wind, sky and lamb. He did not in any way try to adjust my thinking. He just accepted my statement on face value. 

A few months later my Dad died suddenly in the night. In those days children were kept away from funerals. Yet when my mother collected us children after the funeral she immediately took us out to see the grave. She tells a story of me giving another little sermon on the life hereafter, assuring her that Dad was now with God. The year was 1961 and the place, Sheffield, Tasmania. 

These two little childhood stories already illustrate the emergent spirituality that has now come to a much more mature expression in this little book. The themes of creation and resurrection. 

In 1985 I was ordained as a Uniting Church in Australia Minister of the Word after six years of studying Philosophy and Theology. During this time I participated in the Franklin River blockade, which included several days in a maximum security prison. This was at a time when ecological spirituality was not all that common in mainstream protestant churches. Finding a common language to explain my actions and motivation to staff and other students in theological college was a bit problematic. There was something deeper here than simple green politics. What I would call now a deep need to defend country. 

A few years later I had learnt enough to understand the meaning behind a story my mother often used to tell us when we were young. She would say that when she was born her grandmother said that she must have been swapped in the hospital because she had a darker complexion, darker hair and eyes than other people in the family. Mum was born in 1934. This story was actually about racism and the fear that a family secret would come out. 

The date is significant. Hitler had recently come to power in Germany, racial segregation laws were common throughout much of the world, and in Australia, the White Australia policy was unquestioned, Aboriginal people were not regarded as citizens in their own land and children were commonly stolen from their mothers and raised in institutions far from their home country. Many families tried to resist this pervading racism by hiding any connection to Aboriginal heritage so the children could pass as white and not be disadvantaged. It was to take some years for me to verify that this ‘passing over’ had indeed happened in my family when my grandmother was a small child. It turned out that I am descended from a young Tasmanian Aboriginal girl who had been captured by settlers during the early colonial period in northern Tasmania, baptised and integrated into a colonial household as child labour. 

Aboriginal identity in Australia is often problematic and controversial. In central and northern Australia there are still many communities where Aboriginal people still have an unbroken connection to traditional country, speak their ancient languages and are familiar with a wide variety of cultural traditions. However, this is not true of the majority of Aboriginal people today. Most are urbanised, living within the dominant mainstream culture, and have some degree of non-indigenous background. Connection with ancestral country and local Aboriginal communities varies enormously. Some, like me, could get away with hiding their Aboriginal identity. Yet what does that do to one’s soul? To come out and assert Aboriginal identity has consequences. Aboriginal people are still amongst the most disadvantaged Australians, and racism, while no longer politically correct, still persists. On the other hand a heritage and connection to country that can be measured in terms of tens of thousands of years is a powerful thing that I would never want to deny but prefer to celebrate as defining and grounding who I am. Despite the trouble it sometimes causes I want to affirm that ancient connection to country by openly identifying as Aboriginal. 

Coming to terms with my identity, owning who I am and where I come from, has been the motivating force behind the desire to write this book and begin a conversation that may bring healing to a contemporary nation living on ancient land that is sorely in need of a new way of being.

kurina kuwara milaythina

 

The Place of the Eagle’s Feather 

 

In the summer of 2011–12 I began getting to know the Ben Lomond plateau. By my fourth trip I was becoming more at ease and at home in the landscape. For this visit I started by walking up the track from Carr Villa Scout Camp between the high cliffs. Once up on the plateau at the head of a shallow valley, at a point where the track crossed a field of boulders, I left the track behind and turned to the right to cross the head of the valley. Passing through a broken-boulder-strewn ridge, I entered the upper reaches of the same deep valley that had blocked my path on a previous visit when I had attempted to cross it much lower down. It proved far easier to cross at this higher, shallower point.  

Before long I was winding my way up onto the long ridge that would lead me to Coalmine Crag. As I mounted towards the crest of the ridge I disturbed the rest of a big forester kangaroo who leapt out of his shady spot almost knocking into me, bounded away a short distance, turned and looked back at me; an exchange of greetings, and then he was off about his business. I continued on my business for the day, which was to reach the high crag at the end of the ridge. An hour later I was there admiring the view, taking a few photos, and enjoying a snack. Time for the return journey. 

As I wandered back, feeling relaxed and at home, I was pondering a passage from Isaiah 40 that contains the words ‘they shall mount up with wings like eagles’. Just then, right in front of me, standing up vertically in a small bush was a single eagle’s feather. Was this just some sort of extraordinary coincidence, or a message from the mountain? The feeling was that of welcome and affirmation, of coming home and meeting an old friend. 

I became even more aware of my surroundings, of the place I was in. I was standing on dolerite pavements: rough hexagonal shapes, the tops of closely packed columns of rock, extending vertically deep into the heart of the mountain. Geologists tell us that these were formed from the cooling of the hot rock that was pushed upwards during the creation of this part of the world some 65 million years ago as the Australasian plate finally broke free from the Antarctic plate. This was a creation place. But it was not just about the making of the mountain, or indeed the whole island of Tasmania. 

This whole high plateau was the traditional country of the Plangermairreenner or ‘Ben Lomond mob’. For me there is ancestral connection here. I remembered the story of when the Plangermairreenner, in exile on Flinders Island, had engaged in conversations about creation with the catechist who was trying to teach them about Christian belief. This conversation had led to a translation of Genesis 1 into their language. The Western religious/mythological story telling about creation had found itself in conversation with the, perhaps far older, indigenous one. But more than this, in this creation place, and in my soul, these two conversation partners also find themselves in conversation with the contemporary scientific story. Indeed, it is as if I am being given a new shape in the pondering of these stories, re-created in this extraordinary space. 

Two years later I found myself in the same area. This time, with the prospect of having to move away from Launceston, I was contemplating the possibility that this may be my last visit to this special place. I was leaving the grassy plains, climbing up onto an expanse of dolerite paving in bright sunlight when a shadow passed over me. I looked up. Only a few metres above me were a pair of eagles circling. They had come down to check me out. In sheer joy and exultation I lifted my arms in greeting, blessed by eagles’ wings. It seemed both an affirmation and an encouragement to get to work on creation conversation.

 

Introduction 

This story has been poking and prodding at my life and spirituality for over two years now. It has been pushing me to think more and more deeply about my understanding of the world in which I find myself. It is time to write about this. I will do this by taking the hint that is in the story. In the following pages we will try to engage in a three-part conversation that explores the worldview of the first people of this land, a Christian understanding of creation, and what we might believe, and struggle to believe, about project creation today. 

The first chapter in the conversation will look at some of the story fragments that have come down to us from Woorrady, an elder of the Nuenonne people of Bruny Island, by way of G. A. Robinson’s journals. Perhaps the best collection of these come from Robinson’s journal entries for the 7th to 12th of July 1831 when he, Woorrady, and others were travelling through the hinterland of the northeast of Tasmania in the region of the Ringarooma River. The intention here will be to try and discern something of the worldview and metaphysical landscape of the pre-contact Tasmanians. In doing so we will look for patterns by which their world was understood. In the same section we will also try to discern something of the impact that the colonial invasion had on this worldview. 

The second chapter in the conversation will concern itself with Christian thinking about creation and how this might, or might not, be illuminated by the proceeding chapter. Here we will be less concerned about the Genesis creation stories and more concerned with the Christian doctrine of creation as it emerges out of the New Testament witnesses. As we do so it will become apparent that we can be led into profound misunderstanding as well as into deeper insight.  

Chapter three will take up the third voice in the conversation, which concerns the world as we find it today. Our focus will not be so much on the story of creation that science tells but rather of human ability to find meaning in creation. On the one hand we know far more about the universe today than ever before but on the other we are far less sure of what it all might mean. We can observe a widespread disillusionment and loss of meaning in our contemporary society. Science observes the universe in which we live and attempts to describe it on the basis of rational thought. It seeks to discern the rules or laws by which the universe works. These rules or laws are given mathematical expression. What science can’t tell us is whether or not the universe is purposeful. As soon as we begin to describe the universe as creation we are moving towards the assumption that someone or something is responsible for making it and that this making is in some sense purposeful, that there is a positive goal in mind. Instead of giving a simple description of our universe, we begin to speak of what I would term ‘project creation’. 

In the fourth chapter we will take what we have learnt in the preceding chapters about ‘project creation’ and seek to discern its applicability to our contemporary context. In doing so we may discover new insight and renewed courage in the face of some of the big issues of our day. In part the hope is that this process will begin to restore our confidence and trust in ‘project creation’ as a purposeful, and therefore, meaningful enterprise. 

This process is not intended to be a comprehensive study of all that is known or might be known about these issues. Rather, it is simply a conversation starter around the insight illuminated by the story of ‘The Place of the Eagle’s Feather’.

 

Chapter 1 (part sample)

Woorrady’s World 

 

We are told that, some 65 million years ago, the Australian tectonic plate broke free from the Antarctic plate to form a new continent. At that time in the great cataclysm, in the great upheaval, a whole mass of hot rock thrust itself up from deep within the earth’s crust, pushing older surrounding rock with it. Dolerite they call it. This process led to the shaping of the island we now know as Tasmania on the southernmost extremity of the newly formed continent drifting north. 

We are also told that from about 40,000 years ago, during the ice ages, the first modern humans began to enter the island. Following the ice ages they were cut off some 12,000 years ago. We ask, ‘How might these early people, the first people in this land, have imagined their world, their island world surrounded by sea?’  

To help us answer this question there remain some fragments of stories scattered about in Robinson’s journal entries from the early colonial period. Perhaps the best collection of these story fragments are those that come from Woorrady, a man from the south, reflecting his culture and his people. Woorrady gives us several names for these ‘creation beings’. Of these, three are important for giving us a working landscape for pre-contact Tasmanian spirituality. They are Dromerdeene, Moihernee and Wrageowrapper. We will explore these with what imagination we can, trying to discover what meaning these names had and how they describe the world of the ancient Tasmanians. Then we might be able go on to see the relevance these ‘creation beings’ have for us today. 

The stories tell us that Dromerdeene and Moihernee fought with each other and as a consequence Moihernee fell to the earth. This gives us a location or sphere of activity for these two ‘creation beings’. Woorrady gives two versions of this story. Later we will explore these variations as we seek to understand the sphere of activity for Moihernee. For now we will start with Dromerdeene. 

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