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Connecting Back to Mother Earth



If you are familiar with a particular stretch of coastal land that sits between Dragon's Head and Lizard's Head on the Mornington Peninsula, like a trigger setting off in your mind, you will think about Lionel and 16th Beach. He is iconic.

Lionel has an altruistic soul, like he is one with the Earth, and he wanders this part of the peninsula on a regular, if not daily basis. The day we met him, we had gotten so carried away and lost track of time down on the beach. Then, as if the energy was drawing us back up to the carpark, we trudged through the dunes to find Lionel standing in our path. A wide grin from ear-to-ear — like it was some random, chance encounter — Lionel smirked 'I've been waiting here an hour!' he laughed. But he wasn't bothered by this inconvenience. In fact, I would find it hard to believe Lionel would be bothered by anything out of his control. He gestured to another part of the beach that would be more ideal for us to setup, and without needing to regroup and discuss, we faithfully followed Lionel into the bush to find another spectacular part of the beach.

Lionel's incredible Songline tells of how to observe nature and the Earth for signs of weather and cycles, and we are honoured to share his teachings with you.

I am Lionel Lauch, I am a Gunditjmara Kirrae Wurrung-Bundjalung man. I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, on Bunurong/Boon Wurrung land. I specialise in bush tucker, bush medicines and survival in the bush — I teach people about nature. 

I find the biggest problem with people today is that we think we're above nature. Everybody talks about nature, we look out at nature, but what we've forgotten is that we're a part of nature, we're not above it. When an Aboriginal man goes out to hunt and kill an animal, we say a prayer for the animal we killed. It is completely thanked for its body, for its food, for its feathers, for its bones and its mate.

Because I know that when I die, my body will go back to the Earth. My body will feed the plants. The plants will feed the animals, it's a cycle. So we're not above it. We're equal to it.

I was taught a long time ago by an elder, a beautiful lady, about harvesting a particular plant. Because when I pulled the plant out of the ground, it cut my hand like a razor blade. She taught me how to respect plants. When I go up to a plant, I grab a handful of it; I ask permission; I give it a twist and I pull on the plant. If it comes the first time, the plant is given to me. If it doesn't come the first time, that's the plant telling me to move on. If I disrespect the plant and try to force it out, I'll get cut.

Plants live in family groups, it has all it’s brothers and sisters around it. If one plant doesn't let you take it, you go up to the next one and you ask permission. Again, if it pulls out straight away, the plant has been given it to you. 

We’re disconnected today. We're disconnected from a lot of things, especially from our Mother Earth. I always try to get people to connect back to her. You can do this by just going and sitting in the bush, or sitting at a park, at least once a week. More if you can. But at least once a week, sit down — sometimes with your eyes closed — and just listen. That’s how my people learnt everything. Listening to Mother Earth, listening to the wind, to the ocean, to the creek or the bird, wherever might be around you. Then other times, sit there with your eyes open and observe. Look around you. Look at the wind, look at the ocean, look at the bark; the dirt beneath your feet, the asphalt, the stones, the geology.

One day I was sitting with my son at a beautiful place called a Wonga, it’s up past Arthurs Seat, and an ant walked passed carrying a white pebble. I said to him, “Jarra, can you tell me what that ant is telling us?” He said, “no dad, it’s just carrying a white pebble”. I said, “that ant is telling me that in a couple of days time there is going to be some really hot weather,” he looked at me and said “how do you know that, dad?” and i told him “ you see that white pebble? He’s gonna put that white pebble around his little hole and he’ll gather more white pebbles to put around the hole, and when the hot sun comes, the white pebbles will reflect the heat, so the hole doesn't turn into a sauna. Now, if he was putting black pebbles around his hole, that tells me the cold weather's coming, because black pebbles absorb the heat. If the ants build those walls up high, that tells me big rains are coming." He was shocked and I really enjoy teaching people about these things.

So, you see, if you just sit, and listen, and look — observe nature — you can learn so much. 

Plants can tell me exactly what time of the year it is. I know it's high spring right now because of particular plants; the coastal ti-tree and the coastal beard-heath. These plants tell me when the big fish are coming into the bay, like salmon and snapper. The plants can tell us all that sort of stuff. It's all laid out in front of us.

I like to take people through the Bush and I show everything through my eyes, how I look at the bush and what I see.

Most people walk through their lives with tunnel vision, so on all my walks I always do meditation. I like to do this near middens, which is a place of tens, If not hundreds of thousands of years old. This is where Aboriginal people always got together at the end of the day to eat their food. Then, all the food — the shells, the bones — gets dropped on the ground and they are made into artefacts. After thousands of years, it builds up to a big pile called a midden. 
I liked to do my meditations in those particular spots, because those middens hold a lot of residue of family life. Like, the grandmother, the mother and the granddaughter, for thousands of years, sitting there turning, talking, learning culture, learning women's business. The same for the grandfather, the father and the son. The same line of people, same family line.

The residue of family is so powerful in those spots, the conversations that were had, the lessons that were learnt and the connection to the Earth. 

Lionel is the Founder of a not-for-profit organisation called 'Living Culture' which is based on the Mornington Peninsula. The organisation provides cultural, environmental, educational and holistic healing programs to schools, organisations and the general public.

Living Culture creates unique experiences, exploring the rich indigenous heritage of this beautiful land — and together we can keep culture alive!

Our Dilly Bag is committed to achieving an increase in appreciation and understanding of indigenous culture for all of Australia, and the world. 

The portraiture photography that you find throughout the Our Dilly Bag website is shot on a 120mm medium format film camera, by contemporary artist and photo journalist, Gabeya. Gabeya has spent his career documenting Indigenous cultures around the world and currently resides in Melbourne, where he is testing his storytelling abilities.