The Wild Mountain Collective kicked off on the inspiration of Charles Massey’s Call of the Reed Warbler, the “manifesto for uncivilisation” by the UK Dark Mountain Project, founded by Paul Kingsnorth as a self-confessed recovering environmental activist, and the work of Dave Abram with his US based Alliance for Wild Ethics.
However our deepest roots are right here in Australia, in the work of the Kangaloon Ecologies Group. This group was the brainchild of Deborah Bird Rose, author of Wild Dog Dreaming (2011), who had invited the environmental philosopher James Hatley from America to speak at Macquarie University. A day-long seminar followed in which ideas were explored and Kangaloon was the end result.
While attending the International Society of Ethnobiology’s 14th Congress in Bhutan in 2014, Deborah Bird Rose also encountered my own Buddhist spiritual journey when she decided to visit a rock painting that was said to show Padmasambhava, known in Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche, in the form of Dorje Drolö. He is see here in our feature image riding the flying tigress who brought him to Bhutan to wrestle with ‘demons’ back in the 8th century. The inner meaning of ‘demons’ in the Tantric Buddhist tradition is delusion, which we see playing out in our distorted relationship with the natural world, and which expresses itself in hatred, greed, pride, and jealousy.
Deborah Bird Rose is told by her Bhutanese host, the tigress is Dorje Drolö’s ‘consort’ in a metamorphosed form: the great Yeshe Tsogyal, a Buddhist master in her own right and sometimes known as the mother of Tibetan Buddhism. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche explains in Crazy Wisdom (1991) that Dorje Drolö is an expression of the secret crazy wisdom tradition of the Mahasiddhas of India who sought out wild places to enhance their spiritual practice. By invoking Dorje Drolö, the wisdom guru “rides on dangerous psychic energy, impregnated with all kinds of possibilities,” to help the student practitioner to cut through all forms of enculturation that prevent ‘wakefulness’. It is this cutting through that the Kangaloon Ecologies Group has in common with the Wild Mountain Collective—this challenging of the dominant worldview shaping our culture, and why Dorje Drolö is a potent symbol for our project.
Like the Wild Mountain Collective, the Kangaloon group brings together practising artists, poets, writers, philosophers and thinkers—drawn together by a sense of the need to re-imagine our relationship with the natural world towards an eco-centric worldview—away from the dominant ethos of the utilitarian materialism of ‘economic man’ that has gripped and is shaping what has now become the all-encompassing global economy. This re-imagining is deep soul-work, an engagement that requires us to go beyond the merely practical ideas of sustainability, to a deeper and more profound consideration of the ways of thinking that have led us to where we find ourselves in the 21st century, a mere 230 years since the ‘whitefella’ brought his vision of relentless and ruthless ‘progress’ to a land shaped by more than 50,000 years of continuous Aboriginal culture. As that insightful thinker, Gregory Bateson, pointed out in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind (2000):
In the natural history of the living human being, ontology and epistemology cannot be separated. His [commonly unconscious] beliefs about what sort of world it is [ontology] will determine how he sees it [epistemology] and acts within it, and his ways of perceiving and acting will determine his beliefs about its epistemological and ontological premises which—regardless of ultimate truth or falsity—become partially self-validating for him.
Nowhere is this more evident today than in the rise and rise of ‘fake news’ as the world of algorithms, driven by social media click-bait, digitally herd us into narrow like-minded communities of self-reinforcing realities that are feeding into the growth of ultra-nationalist and racist identity politics—fed by the fear and unconscious realisation of where dreams of endless materialist progress, and the ruthless instrumental logic of profit maximisation, are leading us.
I first found out about the Kangaloon Ecologies Group from the Blue Mountains artist, Roland Hemmert who recently exhibited his wonderful landscape paintings at Gallery One88 in Katoomba. The poet, Mark Tredinnick, author of The Blue Plateau and an associate of the Kangaloon group, came up from his home in the Southern Highlands to introduce Roland to us. Roland, in turn, introduced me to another Kangaloon member, Lorraine Shannon, an academic who lives in Wentworth Falls, and who has become a member of the Wild Mountain Collective. A keen gardener and writer, Lorraine notes that both these activities “resist the tempo imposed by the great god Profit. Both refuse to be hurried and instead enfold me in the earth. Both demand workmanship. Both provide refuge from dark times in which ethics, tenderness and the embrace of earth’s others have been trampled upon. Both provide space for the world to reflourish under carefully husbanded circumstances.” Lorraine has also edited a collection of writings The Eye of the Crocodile (2012) by the late environmental philosopher, Val Plumwood who made a major contribution to the field of environmental philosophy and ecofeminism in her Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (2002).
The Kangaloon group shares many of our aspirations, through their commitment to:
- the beauty and practicality of ecological systems
- a philosophy at one with the environment
- create art, writing and scholarship from the depth of nature
- promote balance and sustainability in design
- rethink economy as ecology
- live simply and poetically in the presence of earth’s creatures
I had already heard about and been inspired by the anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose—her engagement with Aboriginal Australia and her work with rehabilitating our relationship with Australia’s wild dog, the dingoes. She declares: “I am passionately in love with the life of this world. At the same time, I am never far from the consciousness of living in an era of irremediable loss, much of it caused by members of my species. Life is now situated in the midst of accelerating bio-cultural disasters: extinctions, meltdowns, reductions that turn living creatures into resources, wilful human rejection of the biosphere, and much more. The sheer fact of living with all this death and rejection calls forth my passion and desire. ‘Love is as strong as death’, according to one of the great books of the Bible, the Song of Songs, and more than ever I feel challenged to inscribe that wisdom into my writing.”
Another member of the Kangaloon Group is the environmental philosopher, Freya Mathews who runs a small biodiversity reserve in northwest Victoria and holds an adjunct professorship at La Trobe University. Author of The Ecological Self, she is the author of many articles in ecological philosophy. Like me, Freya is interested in the insights of Daoism, and the work of the French sinologist, François Jullien, in interrogating the Western philosophical inheritance through the lens of Daoist philosophy, as a basis for exploring the philosophical foundations for an eco-civilisation.
Based on his 1995 ethnology of our conceptual frameworks, in The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China, Jullien proposes that ancient Daoist Chinese thought is a way out of our ‘rut’ for:
It never constructed a world of ideal forms, archetypes, or pure essences that are separate from reality but inform it. It regards the whole of reality as a regulated and continuous process that stems purely from the interaction of the factors in play (which are at once opposed and complementary: the famous yin and yang)…Therefore such Chinese thought overcame the conflict/separation between theory and practice.
As Freya writes: “I live and write in shocked disbelief at what is currently happening – all around us – to the natural world. I am old enough to have grown up in an era in which ‘nature’ was still regarded as an eternal given, the unquestioned background to human affairs and still, as it had been since time immemorial, the taken-for-granted context of all human meaning-making (poiesis). This larger community of life was my own deepest dwelling-place, my gateway, from earliest childhood, to an enchantment that was more my homeland than ever were the contingencies of social life in a mid-twentieth century Australian household.”
Other members of the Kangaloon Group include James Hatley, who asks: “How does one make sense of having been born into a colonized landscape? What responsibilities might ensue? Taking a wounded land to heart is the work to which, late in my life, I have been drawn.” Other members are Janet Laurence, one of Australia’s most distinguished environmental artists and photographers and Louise Fowler-Smith who asks whether it is possible for the artist to inspire a re-envisioning of the environment through the aesthetic; and whether sacredness can be transferred through artistic vision without transplanting any specific religious ideology. The Kangaloon group also includes other poets, artists, thinkers and writers—many holding academic positions in leading universities—drawn together by a common focus on eco-cultural issues in relation to land, trees, animals and the ocean as they are impacted by human attitudes and activities.
Information about this impressive group of creative eco-thinkers and activists can be found at https://kangaloon.org