Thinking-with Waakal Ngarnak

This is the fourth blog in a series of a 10-week inquiry into the Place Stories emerging from Place-children encounters during Bush School. At Bush School, we walk-with Gabbiljee, the watery place at the end of Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) and Djarlgarra (Canning River). We walk on and with Noongar Country in Perth, Western Australia. Today as we walk, we are thinking-with Noongar histories and stories, many of which have been shared during Greg Nannup’s recent visit to the school.

Djarlgarra means place of abundance. Djarlgarra was once abundant with yakkan (turtle), mulloway, marron and Waakal Ngarnak (reeds). Waakal Ngarnak means Waakal beard, with Waakal a Noongar name for Rainbow Serpent. Noongar Dreaming stories tell about reeds being pieces of the Waakal’s beard that fell off as he wound his way through Noongar Country.

Thinking-with Makuru

It is Makuru and we feel the cold air on cheeks and hands and hear the wind mingling with leaves and branches overhead, a steady accompaniment to our voices below. Grey clouds track across the sky in the direction of Djarlgarra. Will it rain? Wind is crisp and slightly wet; this meeting of wind and cheeks tells us that rain is likely to join this wind-cloud-air-child(ren) encounter. We cannot hear Wardong (crow) today. Maybe Wardong has found a mate, this often happens during Makuru.

Before greeting Gabbiljee, we take a moment to think-with Makuru weather and its influence on our relations with Pond Land. We think-with rain and about the impact of boots and bodies on water logged ground and banks. At first, we only notice the change in water level.

There’s lots of water.

It’s filled up with water.

It’s overflowing.

Mr Fletcher explains: When we step on the banks, ground will fall away. Tree roots live in the banks . . . tree roots become exposed. When roots are exposed, the tree will die.

Drawing attention to ground-tree-root-weather-human relations helps us to see how everything in Place is connected. 

Water-child(ren) encounters begin as gentle, hesitant, cautious.

Along the bank we notice green, slender Waakal Ngarnak. Tree roots are forgotten as we remember Noongar stories of green Waakal Ngarnak growing in fresh water, it’s bright colour hiding an assemblage of strong, stringy fibres within.

Thinking-with Makuru

Waakal Ngarnak, fingers and wood come into relation. Twisting, pulling, flattening, rubbing, smoothing, snapping, squeezing, tying. Waakal Ngarnak is strong, resilient, transformative.

Waakal Ngarnak-child(ren) entanglements play; tying, sitting, flicking, swinging.

Sometimes Waakal Ngarnak is returned to water. Are there any mulloway biting today?

Sometimes Waakal Ngarnak is discarded, returned to ground.

It’s getting harder to find Waakal Ngarnak that is dry enough to make string. We wonder if there will be more when we return to next time to Pond Land? 

If we listen, Waakal Ngarnak can teach us about strength, resilience and adaptability. Perhaps Waakal Ngarnak can also teach us about living well with abundance.

To learn from Waakal Ngarnak, we would have to learn to listen differently. This isn’t easy; education teaches children to listen to voices, sounds and human body language.  As educators, we are trained to listen to the voices of children. What might happen if we teach children to listen to Waakal Ngarnak, water and water bank bodies? And what might happen if adults learn to listen to more than just childrens’ voices? What would this listening be like? What might we see or hear differently?

To hear about the significance of the Waugal (or Waakal) to Noongar peoples, you might like to view this video. Narrated by Noongar elder Noel Nannup, the video also talks about ways in which Noongar peoples listen to Country.     

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