A fierce wind blew the ship off course and set it drifting toward the land of the flesh-eating demons. 
       Entangling Vines, Case 39

       Cultural complexes structure emotional experience and operate in the personal and collective psyche
       in much the same way as individual complexes … [they] tend to be repetitive, autonomous,
       resist consciousness and collect experience that confirms their historical point of view. 
       Thomas Singer

       I have this nagging idea that at each major site something aberrant … happened and
       a cultural liberation converted to a cultural complex. 
       Craig San Roque

       [The etak navigational system is not a birds-eye view, but] occupies a “real point of view
       on the real local space” and envisions everything else – stars, islands, reference objects –
       only as it exists in relation to the viewer. Thus, “the star bearings of the etak island radiate out
       from the navigator himself” and cannot be triangulated to give the location of the island,
       because the only place they ever meet is him.
       Christina Thompson
Four magpies have begun to spend time here. They roost in the windbreak and can be heard before dawn, liquid voices in the half-dark and then at odd times throughout the day, now nearer, now further off. I feel ambivalent about their arrival at first, thinking they’re predators of other birds’ eggs and young but it seems they’re mainly interested in pasture grubs, though they will eat meat if it’s available. But a shrike thrush – a real danger to nestlings – has begun to hang around the pardalote nest. It can’t get in – the entranceway is too narrow – but it knows the babies are in there, and they’ll be very vulnerable if it can scare them into jumping out before they can fly properly. 

Tropical air flows south along the east coast of Australia and pushes inland, bringing thunderstorms across most of the continent and over the island of Tasmania. As I watch the satellite images of weather systems across the Pacific and the Tasman, I’m reading about the skills of Polynesian wayfinders, who learned to sail their outrigger canoes across millions of square kilometres of ocean in the triangle whose points are marked by Hawai’i to the north, Aotearoa New Zealand to the southeast and Rapa Nui / Easter Island to the west. They navigated without charts or instruments by stars, sun and moon, by wind and swell, knowing the sea-marks, interpreting flotsam and movements of birds for land-signs that meant islands were near. Particular shapes and colours of clouds were among the most important signs. Here, thunderheads build out to sea and come onshore; roots of lightning grow down from them to split the air and shake loose rain and hail and touch the ground as fire. They bring both fear and cool relief that puts off the arrival of the fire season.

As the wars in the northern hemisphere burn on, I think about a collection of essays published in 2004 on cultural complexes – Jung’s term for those repetitive patterns of thinking, feeling, action that transfix groups of people from time to time. In one of them, psychotherapist and writer Craig San Roque talks about the understanding among First Nations peoples in Australia that the stories connected with each place continue to be enacted by and through those who live there. He describes how this understanding plays itself out in Mparntwe / Alice Springs where, at the time of writing, he had been living and working for decades. The story in Mparntwe is about “the wild dog that comes in from the south … It attacks the incumbent male dog and ravages the mother and puppies.” Because the story is encoded in the landscape, “a fight is always brewing.”
Joshua Santospirito,  Craig San Roque's The Long Weekend, in Alice Springs
San Roque reflects on “the geography of Europe and the tracks of similar mythic, part animal, part inhuman, part divinized beings” – their stories and repetitive patterns enacted across “a string of sites at key places across the old terrain of Europe and [on to] the Middle East” where “Yahweh, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and company did their cosmic business … and left its effects hanging around.” At the end of the essay, he returns to Australia and his sense of an “insidious cultural complex creeping through … composed of obscurations, emptiness of mind, denial, disavowal.”

Blackbirds, fully fledged but still begging, follow their parents around through days of easterly rain, soft, soaking, hard to distinguish from fog at times as it hangs around the hills. Its touch is like a blessing, like answered prayer on my face and hands. This family hatched from a nest on the ground – common among blackbirds here – and managed to survive the snakes that are everywhere now, some dull and irritable in their old skins, eye-scales clouded, some easy-looking, oiled and shining, newly alert as they hunt. The pardalote chicks are louder and louder in the nest. Parents and helpers bring them food from before daylight until after dark, an endless supply carried one beakful at a time – things with whiskery legs, things that wriggle. 

Ten years after San Roque's essay was written, its text was adapted as a graphic novel by Joshua Santospirito, who had been working as a psychiatric nurse in Mparntwe with San Roque. Both texts convey a feeling of inevitability – that the “aberrant” will always be in the ascendant, the drift always towards the place of disembowelment:

       On the south side of town a dog trots along the bitumen strip
       through the gap in the mountain range. A fight is brewing. It will always be brewing.
       This dog will outlive the generations of humans. … We believe we are individuals,
       but we have already been swallowed by stomachs bigger than ourselves.
       These are the cultural complexes.

But this year – more than twenty years since the essay was written and ten years since the graphic novel came out – a short article appears in the Alice Springs News, in which San Roque offers a different ending to the story. Here it is:

       Another fight is brewing. And I say – is this how the story goes, over and over again?
       What if – the great What If – what if I step out of the cycle … 

       Some people say Alice / Mparntwe is the belly button / the navel of the country.
       And I remember the Mother Dog in the story. I remember the day
       an Arrernte work mate and I went to see old man Rubuntja –
       the man who made the book, The Town Grew Up Dancing.
       We are standing on a corner exchanging news, then Mr Rubuntja says to me: 
             “What do you want to know, sonny boy?” (He always called us “sonny boy”).
             I say: “Is that dog fight all there is – the guts across Larapinta, the death on the hill?”
             He looks northeast – he says: “There are more stories around here.
       Over that way in the Coolabah trees – Ankerre Ankerre –
       the Coolabah women are dancing – they bring out the Caterpillar babies.
       And over that way – the Dog Mothers are dancing. Nobody told you that, boy.
       The women danced that ceremony here in Alice Springs before the white people.
       Why are they dancing, boy? I tell you. They are dancing to bring on more milk.
       They are dancing together to feed the puppies. The women carried that dance
       in the old days. You got to feed the puppies, boy – you and all your families now.
       That’s your job now, boy. Feed the puppies. Feed the puppies.”

Joshua Santospirito. Alice Springs News  23 May 2023
And here’s the thing – there is never only one story. Even as the war goes on, inside the world they’re singing the olive harvest; they’re singing the digging; they’re singing the honey. In the stinking rubble of homes and the bodies they once sheltered, among the smashed trees, they’re singing shade and the smell of rain on the way. 

Two young rosellas, their green breasts and heads still patchy with grey juvenile feathers, comb the garden beds for chickweed flowers. They’re on their own and come back each day – where are the adults? Maybe the young ones are simply enjoying their independence and capacity to choose favourite foods for themselves. A family of these parrots has lived here ever since we first planted shrubs and trees forty years ago in what was bare paddock, and before that, forest in the care of the Melukerdee. 

In his comment on the new ending, San Roque says: 

       So OK, maybe the Dog Fight and the grieving is always part of the life of here,
       under the shadow of the Dog. Maybe the story sites do have a life of their own,
       holding Altjerre always – even if people forget. However, the Dog Story also lives
       in the minds of people. People can change their minds around,
       people can imagine different endings … 

Stories are manifold, multivalent – they bless and burn, go dormant and revivify. We feed them and they fly. Fierce winds and thick fog come; we forget that we carry the sun and moon and stars with us, that birds bring messages, that we know all that is needful about getting somewhere new (getting home).

Erwin Chlanda. “A Long Weekend That Has Lasted 10 Years.” Alice Springs News, 23 May 2023. 
Thomas Yuho Kirchner, trans. Entangling Vines. Wisdom Publications, 2013.
Craig San Roque. “A Long Weekend in Alice Springs.” The Cultural Complex. Ed. Thomas Singer and Samuel L. Kimbles.
       Routledge, 2004, pp. 46–61 (53). 
Joshua Santospirito. Craig San Roque’s The Long Weekend in Alice Springs. San Kessto Books, 2013.
Thomas Singer. “The Cultural Complex and Archetypal Defenses of the Group Spirit.” The Cultural Complex.
       Ed. Thomas Singer and Samuel L. Kimbles. Routledge, 2004, pp. 13-34 (21).
Christina Thompson. Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific. William Collins, 2019, p. 291.


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