Buying Time

I fell into conversation with a native of Sri Lanka, his pseudonym was Sugar. The boys were interested in the herbs he dealt, I tried to hide my disinterest within the haze of smoke that encompassed the table. I watched as small droplets of sweat peeled away from the skin of condensation the glasses of beer wore. A hushed orchestra of bartering played out around me, “how many grams for this many rupees?” Across the courtyard a mural of Shiva stared down upon us.

“She’s angry”, he said. He inhaled deeply, small red ashes ignited in the veil of night's darkness and the sizzle of burning paper ended the passing moment. His brown eyes darted from Shiva’s to my own. His eyes were familiar, but than again, so were his red gums, a commonality of the locals. “In 2055, the world will end.” He’d won my attention, but I didn’t award him with a reaction. “The 29th Buddha will return, bringing forth ferocious winds, rain and tsunamis. Some men living in nature will foresee the end of the world and move to higher ground. They are the good people and will be saved.”

There’s a prophecy that the peoples of the Amazon and Andes hold close to their heart, it’s that of the “The Eagle and the Condor”. The prophecy postulates that the Eagle people, those that live primarily through the mind and are materially rich will reach a peak in their capacity and be forced to come together with the Condor people, those that live from the heart in communion with nature. They will realise they are each other. However, this transition, acknowledged as the change from the ninth pachacuti to the tenth, will bring with it tsunamis, huge climatic changes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In this way, Pachamama (“Mother Earth”) will humble all her creatures.

“The land wants to tell you what’s going on. What’s it trying to tell us, for its sake and for the entire countries sake?” These questions posed by Australian Desert Expeditions lead wanderer Andrew Harper and the man who would later extend a welcome for me to accompany their crew into the Australian Simpson Desert struck a cord close to my heart. If there’s anyone who spends enough time listening to nature so much so that they could predict when to move to higher ground to survive Shiva and Pachamama’s ferocious awakenings, it's Harper. I wandered with him and his twelve camels for ten days from the East border of the Simpson Desert towards the West, following the salute of the sun. I became an amateur, but passionate Cameleer. A student to the 800kg creatures and a student to the land. I allowed wisdom delivered by those who’ve read the country to rest in every crevasse of my skin with the grains of the golden sand that adorns the landscape.

“The Australian Desert represents a huge percentage of the Australian continent in area. Forty-five percent of the Australian continent is estimated to not be surveyed by Australian scientists and ecologists. So it is important to actually find out what’s going on out here. What’s living here, what use to live here, what’s living here now that may be impacted by climate change, by fire, by the impact of man and invasive species. And unless you know what’s going on in the country than you can’t manage it. And the only way to know for this particularly area is to get out here on foot and have a look around," Harper says to the camera as he perches upon one of the one thousand, one hundred sand dunes that sprawl into the red-hued horizon.

I held the cold, grinding stone to my cheek, its smooth surface enforced by those who had come before. It wasn’t the first Aboriginal artifact I’d come across, but I felt a preference for it. “I’m sorry”, I said and gently laid the stone back down in the dry riverbed from which it came. But sorry just doesn’t quite cut it anymore. The phrase is thrown around as readily as a cigarette butt to the gutter. The question is, where to from here?

Should we sentence all Australian citizens out into The Simpson Desert on expeditions to awaken their senses and evoke that connection to land that has surely been severed, just as the convicts were shipped to Australian shores as Britain’s prison system was at the brink of exhaustion? Or do we rely solely on the efforts of a small few to collect the information we need to change our ways, such as those ecologists, scientists, artists and nature enthusiasts that accompany Harper’s annual trips? Religious or not, there’s a force that deserves your devotion and it’s the land from which you were born and land into which you will retire. We’ve wrought her of her possessions to sustain an idealised understanding of what it means to be a productive civilisation for a period with an expiry date that has long been and gone.

And so I ask you, dear reader, would you rip limbs from your own Mother? Starve her of the very nutrients she needs to sustain basic life? Would you plough through her lungs, bulldozing the branches of her ribs? Mine the riches of her heart? Just because there isn’t blood on your hands, it doesn’t mean you’re innocent. The red soil is running through the hourglass quicker then I think we, as a collective society, care to realise. “How many grams for this many rupees?” he asked. “Sorry there’s nothing left”, she said. And with that, Pachamama told the sun and moon to rest, they would not rise again.

For more information on Australian Desert Expeditions click HERE