003 Cultivating Good Relations with Derbarl Yerrigan

26 August 2019

We would like to acknowledge that this walk takes place on and with Noongar Country, in what is also now known as Perth, Western Australia, and with Derbarl Yerrigan, in what is also now known as the Swan River. 

Noticing seems to come easy when Derbarl Yerrigan is out of reach, or in the distance. It might be that the familiarity of this place and ritual of being asked to notice makes it seem ‘easy’? On our walks, we tend to notice with our eyes and sometimes with imagination. Today, water gently slurped up towards our feet which hung over the wall and drew our attention downwards to notice crab shells, feathers, jellyfish, and rubbish. We speculated aboutt whose feathers might be bobbing up and down in the water (Silver Gull has white and grey feathers) and how the rubbish arrived (“bad guys” and the wind).  What are all of the other ways that we might pay attention to Derbarl Yerrigan? What if we were to close our eyes? What might we sense? The “Aaark” of Crow? , The gentle Easterly breeze? The salty-sea scent? How might sensing Derbarl Yerrigan help us think-with and be with river? Using our senses helps us to pay attention to how Derbarl Yerrigan is always with us and a part of us, rather than off in the distance for us to ‘know’. What about the far away and distant way of knowing is often unseeable? Speculation and imagination are good partners of noticing. 

Where the wall ends and the path veers away from the water, Derbarl Yerrigan meets the narrow shore and nature reserve. Soon we were walking-with sand, shells, and wading through water. Seagrass started to tangle around gumboots, making it wobbly to walk and helping us to notice her. One of the girls bent over repeatedly grabbing Seagrass and pulling her up out of the river floor, while saying, “I’m gonna take this home”. I asked, “What do you think Seagrass and Derbarl Yerrigan would want?”.  Unsure, she shrugged her shoulders. 

A traditional Noongar practice of throwing sand when at the river was shared as we thought about what Derbarl Yerrigan might want from us as we walk. We learned that gathering sand and rubbing it between our hands and throwing it into Derbarl Yerrigan is a way for ancestors to smell us, and to let Waugul know that we are visiting. Throwing sand into the river is a familiar habit when we walk with Derbarl Yerrigan. How might imagining with Dreaming stories and traditional practices cultivate good relations with Derbarl Yerrigan?

There is one last story about speculation and imagination from today’s walk and it involves Walking Fish. Derbarl Yerrigan had washed up Walking Fish onto the sand where his exposed bones, missing eyes, feathery tail, and slouchy skin drew everyone’s attention. “A fish!”, “It’s a dead fish!”, “Don’t touch it!”.

Walking Fish was looked at closely before quickly being nudged by a stick. No response from him saw the children decide that, “we have to get it water!” The stick was called upon again to help Walking Fish make this move, but he was very floppy and this proved to be quite a challenge as he flopped and dropped off the stick and into the sand. Eventually, the urgency of needing to get Walking Fish to water, saw one of the children pick him up in his hand and carry him into the river. “Throw it!”. We all watched in anticipation.

“He’s not swimming!” told us quickly that Walking Fish was “dead”, yet he was imagined to be alive when he was named Walking Fish and joined us on our walk- hooked on the end of a stick. One child asked if he could put him, “far away to the water” and Walking Fish obliged. He stayed firmly on the end of the stick awaiting the far away water and “home”, though our walk didn’t seem to get to this place. Speculation helped Walking Fish’s walking partner make a decision about what to do with him as we left Derbarl Yerrigan.

“What do you think the fish might like?” 

“Take him not home, take him not (centre)”. “Put it in the water”. 

And so Walking Fish was placed into the river. 

Today’s walking memories and water stories are held in this jar. How might we use the collection of jars as a provocation to imagine and speculate about Derbarl Yerrigan?