A wild hot wind is rattling my house, here in the centre of Australia. The iron roof of the house is shuddering, so is the metal verandah around the house. More whooping windy music is provided by the shade cloth, which is attached to the roof of the house with metal pins and plastic latches – it fills, blows and tears. At least the body of the house is made of concrete bricks so the walls will stay up if everything else blows off.
I like the sound of the wind. In our part of the desert, we’re surrounded by a thousand miles of sturdy trees. The sound of the wind soughing through their needles is soothing.
When I was younger I cultivated the practice of listening to the wind for the voices of my ancestors or guides. I didn’t know who they were, but if I listened carefully there was a sweet spot where I could hear with my mind. The voices I heard in the wind were always encouraging. They told me I was doing well, advised me to do more of what was good for me. They trained me to quiet my mind and distinguish between my normal (often negative) self-talk and what I heard in the wind.
Right now the wind tells me that being inside is a pleasure when the temperatures outside are above 40 degree celsius. I spent the windy afternoon sorting out my jewellery, which has been scattered in various old jars, boxes and paper packages.
As a teenage university student I read the French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. I was impressed by his description of the Nausea, the sickening dread one feels when faced with the infinite possibilities and ultimate meaninglessness of life. I wore black clothing for a couple of years. If it was faded or dusty that was all the better to help my fresh young face look experienced in the misery of the world. In those days, we lived under the shadow of nuclear war, which sometimes seemed inevitable. There wasn’t much place for jewellery in my serious young life. But I have, from that time, a little brass sheela na gig, that wanton imp, given to me by a dear friend, now dead. The imp symbolises lust, fertility and the pleasures of the body in the face of my friend’s tragic death.
Leaving university after about eighteen months — there is only so much Nausea a person can take — I went to work at the Post Office. I was a clerk in a beautiful old stone building in the centre of Sydney. (It is now a 5-star hotel.) The “General Post Office”, was a Victorian Italian Renaissance style building with large, echoing wooden staircases and thick cool stone walls. There was a spiral staircase up the clock tower where I would meet my beau for kisses at lunchtime. I put a satirical poster of Ronald Reagan (the demented Hollywood actor who threatened to launch the nuclear war) on the wall next to my desk and felt quite at home. Working there, I gained a lifelong respect for the self-discipline of clerical and office workers. Doing boring work is not easy. There was not time or space for jewellery then, although my beau did give me an enamelled brooch after my birthday when I insisted that he buy me a present.
I traveled around Asia for six months with the money I’d made working at the GPO. I was just 20 years old and sometimes I fantasized about becoming a maroon-robed, shaved-headed Tibetan nun. The emblem of that time in my jewel box is a smooth, rounded piece of lapis lazuli with soft silver pressed around its back and edges. It comes from Afghanistan though I bought it in Leh, in northern India. I love the blue of it, loved reciting its name. I didn’t wear my lapis lazuli at the time, but kept it in a tobacco tin with a few other treasures. The Ladakhi women wore impressive turquoise, which they gave away if it became faded. They believed that the power of the stone could become used up.
I did not join a Tibetan nunnery. My parents sponsored a ticket home to Sydney. Through my twenties I wore political badges or an occasional leather or cloth bracelet as jewellery. Until I started belly dancing at 29. Then there was a place in my life for decoration and performance. Jingly silver bracelets and sequins draped womanly curves dressed in bright colours. My sheela na gig must have smiled.
Several years later when I was a medical student I met other Indigenous and Native doctors at the biennial trans-Pacific conferences we created. The Maori, Native American and Hawaiian doctors wore splendid adornments. Large, sometimes colourful, often intricate tattoos and soulful, sparkling jewellery were the norm. I began to see the important role that glitter could play in life. It was around this time that a fellow doctor gave me a pounamu ring as a gift. It was a large one and it reminded me of the fresh water that this New Zealand jade loves. What she gave me was not just a ring, it was the right to speak. To emphasise the message, another Maori doctor gave me a mere pounamu as a sign of respect and honour. I felt from him that my time was coming to speak up, to show leadership.
As the dry winds scoured the desert around me, news trickled in of floods further away, in the south-east corner of Queensland where heavy rains are flooding the monumental waves of sand in the Munga Thirri, filling up the fracking wells and sending water south to Lake Eyre (Kati Tanda), Australia’s biggest salt lake. I sat in my concrete home, sorting through my treasures. The necklace of brightly painted wooden fish Claudia gave me when we met, a gift from her years in the Maldives.
There are pale jade beads and small bright turquoise ones that my mother brought me from her travels. There’s a cool, weighty necklace of big turquoise and red coral beads that I bought myself as a graduation present when I became a doctor. Some of the beads are fading. I suspect that some may be white howlite that’s been dyed green and red. If some of the power of my turquoise has been used up, I feel it’s gone to good use. I am a more powerful woman for my journeys. And my little fish remain as colorful as they were when I wore them at my wedding.