Once again the Roundabout Cafe in Warrandyte has provided an unexpected surprise. In a roundabout way (pardon the pun) it introduced me to Brad Kelly writer and illustrator. I met him over a cup of coffee with another Roundabout Cafe devotee. I discovered that he has written and illustrated a book with the Australian bush and Australian animals at its centre.
He kindly brought out his as yet unpublished book, to Isiiad one evening some days later. So that, as the sun set behind the river, with several friends, we took turns to read out the text and to marvel at his amazing illustrations. What a very special experience it was. It’s easy to see from the illustrations that Brad is a man who has a very deep affinity with the Australian bush.
I can’t tell you how much I love having visitors to Isiiad who love my little piece of heaven as much as I do. Brad is one such visitor. He grew up in a National Park where he developed a powerful relationship with the natural environment. While he never questioned his own love of the bush and the animals who lived there, he sensed that there was something missing in the relationship the community at large experienced of it. He came to realise that their experience was devoid of spiritual or totemic relationships with the animals. In order to make meaning of his own deep and abiding spiritual connection, he sought out ‘earth honouring’ cultures around the world . A guiding tenet of all such cultures is their holistic relationship. Brad commented that,
“In the west if you talk to someone about having an animal totem they will seek to possess it … What’s my animal totem they will invariably ask. When the important question is what is the mutual responsibility. That is what’s learnt in indigenous communities from childhood. Learning about each animal’s needs and their habitat and environment is central to that learning. Ultimately what that leads to is an ongoing model of conservation. The Deep Creek is about that relationship. It’s a tale of ecological wisdom. It poses the idea that animals have characteristics that can teach us about ourselves and our natural place in the environment.”
At the bottom of this illustration (above) is a somewhat abstracted version of a spot on the Mitta Mitta river which Brad remembers with great affection and reverence. He once shared this place with a traditional custodian of the land. As soon as they set foot on the land, his ‘guide’ began asking his ancestor’s permission to allow Brad to be present. He then took his didjeridoo out and began to play. He was a brilliant teacher who demonstrated some of the ways in which the country took care of him. Not least by effortlessly plucking two fresh water crays from the Mitta Mitta with his bare hands, which they enjoyed for their lunch. He told of how singing was a direct communication with the land and animals and the spirit of the place. That singing is used like a mapping device that can describe the water courses, food sources and spiritually important places. Brad’s experience of this sacred place, gifted to him by his wise guide, contributed to bridging his understanding of the indigenous Australian’s connection to the land and the animals. It formed the genesis for The Deep Creek.
All illustrations in this post are published with the permission of the artist Brad Kelly©