Gulaga Creation Dreaming: Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison
Max Harrison is an Aboriginal Elder of the Yuin People who lived throughout the south coast of New South Wales.
He shared his cultural knowledge and on this weekend organised by The Sutherland Shire Citizens for Native Title Reconciliation. I was very fortunate to be introduced to Gulaga and the Creation Dreaming sacred site by Uncle Max and members of his family at Narooma, New South Wales.
Here is Max’s book cover.
I took very few photographs of the weekend because of the sacred nature of our activities and rely here mostly on reproduced images from Uncle Max’s book that are the sites we visited.
The weekend was a journey that opened the eyes, ears and the ability to feel the spirit of the land.
What is especially important about the approach that Uncle Max takes when he introduces people to his country and its dreaming is the ceremonies.
For me these ceremonies were profound and facilitated access to the land with depth that I have not previously experienced. Essentially, Uncle Max gave us the keys to certain experiences for that weekend. Keys that we keep for when we return to the glorious mother. The place were all things begin, where knowledge is gained and healing found. She is the spiritual mother who demands both fear and respect.
Uncle Max began the weekend on Friday night with an introduction to his country and 27 people introduced themselves to each other, and family members who represented 4 generations. I had the sense that Uncle Max was preparing us for something.
Saturday morning we headed out to the beach for sunrise at 6 am and he asked us not to eat or drink beforehand. You can see from the beginning of the hymn below why it was important not to eat before the ceremony.
The ceremony was greeting and gratitude for Grandfather Sun. The hymn begins:
Thanking Grandfather Sun (1)
Thank you for your light,
thank you for your warmth that
you will give me today,
thank you for the food that you have raised that I will have to eat.
We began our walk up the mountain after breakfast. Over 60 million years ago Gulaga was an active volcano and its peak was some 3 kms high. Now it is less than 1000m high but still dominates the Tilba landscape. It can be seen from almost everywhere in the region. We started at the village of Tilba at the base of the mountain.
We walked in silence and fairly soon we spread out. It was a steady incline. Uncle Max had shown us how to rest on big rocks to draw from the mountain, the mother. After an hour or so I felt that I was walking alone in a tunnel and my world was a bubble that contained the mountain.
The beautiful rain-forest surroundings often formed a canopy that gave the appearance of a tunnel. Closer to the top the mist came down from the clouds, appearing to come from the end of the tunnel.
We arrived at the saddle that was the junction between the 4 x 4 track from the other side of the mountain and the walking trail that we had taken. Uncle Max was bringing the lunch and the rest of our gear in his truck. We soon heard on the walkie talkie that he was blocked by a very large tree trunk lying across the track. By this time the clouds from above had merged with the mist and we waited in light rain. I walked further towards the summit as far as I could with a slippery and rough track and was met by deeper rain-forest. Stunning softness, barely there but nonetheless thick and encapsulating. The softness of the mother was how the mountain could be felt. Find the softness and you are in the space of the mountain.
The tree was eventually removed by a mysterious farmer who came to the rescue not once but twice. His farm was on the mountain and I like to think that the mountain told him where to go to find Uncle Max. After the tree was initially cleared the farmer left and Uncle Max and his crew encountered another very large tree lying all the way across the track nearer the top. After deciding that they should walk the rest of the way, the farmer mysteriously appeared again, to make sure that Uncle Max got to the top without problem. Another tree cleared and this time the farmer drove all the way to the end of the track to be sure that Uncle Max got to his appointment with us.
About 2 hours had passed while the trees were cleared. During that time we all simply let go and I think ultimately we surrendered to the mountain. Perhaps this was the wisdom of the delays. The ceremony to allow us to enter the sacred site in the care of the ancestors was profound. I think we all felt that this was a sacred moment in our journeys. During the walk through the ferns to the sacred site, I felt the importance of surrender, no expectations, and gratitude for all that was given.
From Max Harrison’s book pp. 19-20.
Up on Gulaga there are many rocks and tors that form a straight line and each one tells part of the story of all things. Each tor is a chapter in our Creation Story.
My first vision of the sacred site was a platform floating somewhat above the ground. It was a well defined area containing a series of rock structures and trees. Here I understood something that Uncle Max had said earlier when I mentioned that the trees in the area felt unique to me on the drive through. At times I thought they could speak. Uncle Max added that the trees formed tribes. These trees had something to communicate.
Our first stop was Creation Rock where Uncle Max took us through an unforgettable sacred experience. For me a descent into the depths of the mountain. Deep, black and soft. A sense of return. There are still times when I find myself being drawn back to the spaces of this rock in my meditations. And other times when I am having difficulty finding my equilibrium, I find the space of Creation Rock and the disequilibrium is resolved.
From Max Harrison’s book p. 20:
The story starts with the first rock of connectedness; we call this the Energy Rock of Creation Rock. This rock tells how Daramah, the Great Spirit, created the heavens and the earth and all nature.
So much more took place that words cannot describe. Here is more from Uncle Max’s book. Pregnant woman’s rock below.
From Max Harrison’s book p. 22:
“The three rocks that sit on top of one another. These rocks are one of the most valuable things about Gulaga to me. When I am in trouble in my mind, body or spirit, my mind goes straight to these rocks. They show me where I come from, where I am now and where I am going to in the spirit world”.
From Max Harrison’s book p. 29:
“The Rainbow Serpent, who went underground and created all the rivers. Here he is coming up to look at all his good work. The story of the Rainbow Serpent is common to all Aboriginal Tribes”.
From Max Harrison’s book p. 29:
“The Whale Rock. Can you see him breaching? This rock signifies the whale coming up out of the water to spread his lore so we can understand more about the sea”.
The Whale take me directly to the final ceremony of the weekend. Sunday morning Uncle Max took us to a lagoon inlet to the beach where we participated in the Whale Dreaming Ceremony. Again, we were held in remarkable softness. Here are my snaps of that closing to our time with Gulaga and Uncle Max.
Our Saturday night sharing with Uncle Max revealed that each person had been touched deeply by the sacred site experience. A gift from the Yuin Ancestors of great magnitude.
Quotes from RW Emerson’s essay Nature (2) say more than I ever could about this experience.
“Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us”.
“The best moments of life are these delicious awakenings of the higher powers and the reverential withdrawing of nature before its God.”
Family members taught in the sacred ways by Uncle Max offer cultural tours at this website: http://www.ngaranaboriginalculture.com/
Here is an interview conducted with Uncle Max. I consider him a national treasure.
(1) First verse from the hymn ‘Thanking Grandfather Sun’ pp. 44-45.
(2) Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature. PRS E Book. http://prs.org/wpcms/?page_id=8&category=58