We Don’t Need a Map

Satellite image of Kumpupirntily (Lake Disappointment) in Western Australia

I read the newspapers and watch the news about bush fires destroying properties in Tasmania. 

I go to the art exhibition at Fremantle Arts Centre called We Don’t Need a Map, which illustrates the indigenous Martu experience of the Western Australian desert. One artwork is about the Martu people, their relation to fire and how they use different words for the stages following fire.

Martu identify five stages of vegetative regrowth in relation to fire. The first of these is nyurnma, which occurs immediately following a burn. This is followed by waru-waru, when new shoots appear, and nyukura, the most intensive growth stage, which produces a diversity of solanum fruits (such as bush tomatoes) and other plants. “In a single large patch of nyukura you can get a good 50 kilograms [110 pounds] of the small solanums,” Doug says. But after a few more years, as the vegetation enters its final two stages, mangul and kunarka, clumps of spinifex dominate and eventually monopolize the terrain. “In the final two stages, you’re really looking at sterile ground,” Doug says. At that point, it’s time for a fresh burn.”
I think about aboriginal wisdom.
“The paintings are the country, the country are the songs, the songs are the dance, it’s not all separate, it’s all the one thing connected.”
This quote is by Martu women painters of Ngayarta Kujarra (Lake Dora) and taken from the brochure for We Don’t Need a Map. In other contexts this might sound like new age hippie bullshit, but not here. Here it represents 40000+ years of collective wisdom.
I think of Jared Diamond’s new book The World Until Yesterday which is about what we can learn from tribal life. From The Guardian:
“The west’s dwindling connection with the natural world puts it in increasing peril, says the distinguished anthropologist in his new book. Many of the practices of tribal cultures can help us to rediscover our way, he argues – from respecting the environment to letting toddlers play with knives”.

I think about my own relation to waru (fire) and the maps I need.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s