Season 1
Episode 38: Australia – Part 2: Asteroids and the Outback

Craters and creation myths (and Werner Herzog!)

In our final episode of the season, Passport producers Jennifer Carr and Andrés Bartos go back to the Outback to talk with the world’s original astronomers and explore why the threat of asteroids is the perfect fodder for great storytelling.

For every Celestial Emu there’s a planet-killing space rock on an inevitable path towards earth. In our season 1 finale, Passport producers Jennifer Carr and Andrés Bartos head back Down Under to talk about asteroids, the scars they leave, and the stories they’ve created.

For all of the wonder and the fascination the night sky holds, it’s also filled with warnings, omens and pure chaos. Australia’s First Nations Peoples have been interpreting those signs for longer than any other culture on earth – and their myths and stories are an ecstatic truth used to pass that knowledge down through generations. But can these fables live side by side with science? This week, Jenn and Dre talk with the world’s original astronomers about the scars of the people, and on the land, to find out.  

Plus, a conversation with very special guests Clive Oppenheimer and Werner Herzog – master travellers and directors of the new documentary Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds.

MORE TO EXPLORE

SAVED PINS

Get your didgeridoo, your Infrared binoculars, and your camera ready, we’re about to go walkabout under Australia’s brilliant skies…

  1. WESTERN AUSTRALIA’S WHEATBELT & MID WEST
    It’s only 1-2 hours’ drive from Perth but guarantees deep, dark night stargazing within easy reach from the bright city lights. On a moonless night you can see the Milky Way Galaxy stretch across the night sky.
  2. INSIDE AUSTRALIA: OUTDOOR PERMANENT EXHIBITION AT LAKE BALLARD
    The stars over Turner Prize-winning Antony Gormley’s spindly sculptures on the lake bed will take your breath away. It’s located in the middle of Yilgarn Craton, which is between 2.9 and 3.5 billion years old – basically one of oldest bits of the earth’s surface.
  3. GDC OBSERVATORY, YEAL, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
    The Observatory is situated at Yeal, between Yanchep National Park and the township of Gingin. The GDC Observatory is part of the Gravity Precinct and shares this pristine bushland with the Gravity Discovery Centre, AIGO research centre, and the famous Zadko telescope. Book one of the Aboriginal Astronomy night sessions, where a local elder shares Dreamtime stories that you’ll then see played out in the night sky.
  4. THE PINNACLES, NAMBUNG NATIONAL PARK
    Discover these weird limestone formations along the Indian Ocean Drive on the Coral Coast. If you’re a budding astrophotographer, there’s plenty of scope to take some unique photography. Under moonlight, the shapes of the Pinnacles cast wonderful shadows.
  5. KANDIMALAL: WOLF CREEK CRATER NATIONAL PARK, GREAT SANDY DESERT
    If you’re up in Australia’s North Western Kimberly region, don’t miss a trip to the famed Kandimalal Crater. Located 154 kilometres south of Halls Creek along the Tanami Road, it’s best to come in a 4 Wheel Drive or better still, arrange to do a scenic flyover to get the full perspective of this famous cosmic scar that dates back hundreds of thousands of years. Flights can be booked in the tourism office in Halls Creek.

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Get The Ticket – the Passport newsletter with amazing new stories. 

CONNECT WITH OUR GUESTS!

Werner Herzog: on the web

Clive Oppenhimer: on Twitter

Duane Hamacher: on the web

Carol Redford At Astrotourism WA: on Facebook.

Lloyd Hornsby: on Facebook

This week’s episode of Passport was written and produced by Jennifer Carr, and edited by Neil Innes and Andrés Bartos.

Huge thanks to Duane Hamacher, Carol Redford, Lloyd Hornsby, Marnie Ogg, Jessie Ferrari, Trevor Leaman, Madeline Anderson, Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer and Isaac Davidson from Apple  for all of their kind help and words.

Our theme music is by the incredible Nick Turner. Additional music by The Indiginous Peoples of Australia and from the original soundtrack for Fireball which is available now on Apple TV.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Our production assistant is Eliza Engel.

The Passport Producers are Jennifer Carr, Harriet Davies, Harry Stott, and Billy Craigan Toon with Special Guest Stars Darren Loucaides and Aisha Prigann.

Special thanks to everyone who has supported us through the Acast supporter feature.

Big thanks Meredith, Sam, Laurie Lee, Emerson 23, Owen, Rose and Nelson. Dario, Jen CP, Ring EB, Tom Hestle, Connie, Donna BE, Molly and Teary. And to all of the other anonymous people who have donated. Couldn’t thank you enough. Thanks for listening and for coming with us this season.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari, and Avi Glijansky are all aware that kangaroos have three vaginas, they also executive produce the show…

Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a strangely beautiful monobrowed man who always sings in order to remember where he is going, Andrés Bartos

Happy 2021…

We will see you in the next place, soon.

EPISODE 38 – TRANSCRIPT

JENNIFER: Do we need to acknowledge this?

ANDRÉS: We might need to acknowledge that we’re in a weird room. We’re basically, we broke into a flat in order to do this last episode. Just, that’s what it comes down to.

JENNIFER: It’s the uncomfortable truth. One of many in this episode.

ANDRÉS: We figured

NEIL: Figure out who to thank.

ANDRÉS: if we’re going to do the Australia episode, we should break into a flat and claim it as our own.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Passport gets political. Here we go.

[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]

ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.

NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.

I’m Neil Innes

ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.

NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.

ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.

[END MAIN TITLE]

[Song playing]

NEIL: Australia’s First Nation indigenous people are the oldest living culture on earth. They were also arguably the world’s first astronomers.

ANDRÉS: Their complex knowledge and beliefs about the cosmos evolved over tens of thousands of years. It’s an integral part of their culture. A part that’s been expressed and shared through song, dance and storytelling.

It’s also in constant threat of disappearing.

NEIL: Creation stories about the origins of the universe formed the basis for cosmological knowledge in different cultures all over the globe. Mayan meso mythology in the Mexican Yucatan, the ancient Egyptians and polytheism, taoism in China – all across the planet, different cultures have scribed, etched and spoken about their mythological interpretations on life and how we came to be here.

ANDRÉS: For part two of our deep dive down under, and our season finale, we’re going to explore Australia’s original creation myth – Dreamtime. The embodiment of aboriginal culture.

NEIL: The origins of life, religion, spirituality, and natural law is understood by these people in a very unique way.

But wherever there’s a myth and legend embedded in a tale of creation, chances are it’s going to have some kind of existential slant attached to it.

ANDRÉS: In Western culture, creation stories find their roots in religion and tradition with some serious polarity. Good versus evil, night and day, the big bang and everything that came after. In these stories, you’ll often find a cosmo centric theme that describes the ordering of the universe out of varying degrees of chaos.

NEIL: It’s the same for the Australian indigenous communities. The country’s First Nation people who roamed these lands long before European settlers landed there in 1788, they view the creation myths and interpretations of where life began through a lens known as dreaming. The beginning of knowledge.

ANDRÉS: And in any decent creation story, there’s a destruction story.

And one particularly dramatic phenomena that serves more fear and more questions than most:

[Asteroid sfx]

ANDRÉS: Asteroids.

NEIL: Do these big lumps of nickel and iron really hold the keys to our relationship with the universe? It seems we’re not the only ones keen to find out.

ANDRÉS: Today on Passport for our season finale, we’re returning to Australia, the home of the world’s oldest asteroid crater, the Yarrabubba in Western Australia, for a little Dreamtime.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Asteroids. A problem? Yes or no?

[Laughter]

JENNIFER: Looking into this, there’s just this huge level of awe. You know, it’s the ultimate reminder, isn’t it, of just how quickly we could get wiped out.

Yeah, the fear versus, I don’t know, curious intrigue about that, yeah, there’s a big old lump of nickel and iron that could be coming towards us at any moment.

NEIL: Yeah. And just scars, like all over the planet.

ANDRÉS: The Yucatan one that wiped out the dinosaurs, where if you dig into the ground, you’ll find a layer where that happened. Where you can even see it marked into the earth.

NEIL: That’s insane.

JENNIFER: Yeah. Ciao dino.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

[Laughter]

NEIL: I do think about them a lot up there.

ANDRÉS: It’s in, it’s in the, it’s in the zeitgeists, right?

In terms of films, and always the most ridiculous films.

NEIL: There was a burst of really great asteroid films in the mid nineties.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. What like Deep Impact,

NEIL: Armageddon

ANDRÉS: Armageddon, which has the best worst product placement before he goes to, cause they have to fly onto the asteroid and place a bomb, is that the premise?

NEIL: I think they like drill into the center of it and put a bomb inside.

ANDRÉS: Put a bomb, yeah. But before he leaves, him and his girlfriend are playing with animal crackers and he’s like walking like a tiger on her body or something. It’s supposed to be really sexy, but it’s just not.

[Laughter]

JENNIFER: What’s the product placement for, Lego?

NEIL: Animal crackers.

ANDRÉS: No, for animal crackers. It’s very memorable.

NEIL: Jenn plays a different version of nine and a half weeks.

[Laughter]

NEIL: The entire Lego millennial falcon.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: He’s building a spaceship on her. I think it would have been a better, better scene to be honest.

NEIL: Jenn, have you got any more long flat ones?

ANDRÉS: It’s like… could you move your leg? You’re on the instructions.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

NEIL: Oh God damn. This is going to be the weirdest fucking episode ever.

[Laughter]

JENNIFER: For Australia’s indigenous people, the stars are a map of human existence. They hold many, many different spiritual mythological stories. In Australia, there are around 145 indigenous tribes in both rural and urbanized parts of the country. There was once 500. More than a million people prior to colonization by the British. Today, their language, customs and traditions are still very much under threat.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: The aboriginal people have a complex genetic history and only in the last 200 years has the country’s aboriginal populations started to self identify as a single group. But each tribe are notably distinct with their own languages, their own stories and their own customs. We spoke to Duane Hamacher again.

JENNIFER: Duane works with elders all across Australia and the Torres Strait to record, preserve and amplify the knowledge and science that the indigenous people hold about the Cosmos.

DUANE: There are a lot of ways that the traditions can lead us to areas where there are new impacts that are meteorites or information about tsunamis or volcanic eruptions or supernova or things of that nature. So it’s a great way for those two worlds to kind of come together and help each other out a little bit.  

ANDRÉS: The idea that ancient oral traditions shared by indigenous elders can shine a light on natural phenomena like volcanoes, tsunamis and meteorites, it’s intriguing, but are scientists on board with this?

DUANE: In cases where the indigenous stories are sort of consistent with the Western scientific explanations, some people have been quick to say, oh, well it must have been the influence of Western science on whatever people or cultures have that story. And that’s really problematic because it’s sort of implying that people who witnessed events wouldn’t have been able to pass that down in oral tradition, which isn’t the case because we have a much better understanding of morality because we’ve learned from the elders.

JENNIFER: Australia’s indigenous aboriginals are no strangers to having their understanding of life – and how they live it – repressed, stamped out, forgotten. Researching this episode got us closer to the very real wounds that remain open in a country that refuses to honour its remaining indigenous population.

Duane is one of many determined to blow open the Westernized colonial assumptions about ancient aboriginal wisdom.

DUANE: Indigenous peoples around the world are just as smart as anybody else, of course. They may describe it in different terms. They may have a spiritual element to it, but if you just say, oh, well, okay, you know, but they’re talking about, you know, deities or spirits. We just have to throw the whole thing out. You’re kind of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

ANDRÉS: What gets taught and passed down by elders in each of Australia’s estimated 145 tribes is called Dreaming – a term that describes the aboriginals’ social and physical cosmology.

A big part of dreaming focuses on the night sky, and how life came to be. Duane’s got a great creation story up his sleeve. And weirdly, it involves Morgan Freeman.

DUANE: What I can speak to are the places like Tnorala. It’s known in Western science as Gosse Bluff crater. It’s a giant impact crater in the Central Desert west of Alice Springs.

I went out there a couple of times, and this is in western Aranda country. And one custodian named Warren Williams, he and I filmed part of the segment for the National Geographic documentary series, Story of God with Morgan Freeman. It was on the episode on creation.

JENNIFER: This part of Australia – the Northern Territories – has no shortage of impact sites or impact structures. All of them are considered places of great reverence for the indigenous communities and the elders that live here.

DUANE: The Aranda people have these traditions about how the crater formed, basically a star baby in a cradle fell out the Milky Way, so the mother set it down while she was dancing a corroboree and it fell down to the ground. And when it hit the ground, it drove the rocks upwards and the cradle bed that it was in fell on top of it, obscuring the baby. So the baby’s parents, the morning and evening star, you know, to this day are just taking turns back and forth, trying to find their lost child.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: In this creation story, there’s a blend of science, law and spirituality co-existing side by side.

DUANE: It kind of seemed like one of these stories parents tell their kids not to, you know, don’t go roaming out around the bush at night because it’s dangerous. You know, you find lots of these examples of this is what the elders tell me.

But it wasn’t so much a place to be feared, but it was a place of extreme reverence and a very special sacred sort of place in the landscape. And it was one of the, the great places where the indigenous story and the Western science explanation married very closely.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: You’ll find many asteroid craters and impact sites in this enormous country where meteors smashed into the earth millions of years ago.

Of the 190 craters and impact sites confirmed worldwide, some 30 or more craters are located in Australia, with many more in the process of being studied and confirmed as we speak.

JENNIFER: There’s frequent discoveries of new partially or completely buried craters or impact structures, often found by mining or oil companies who drill in the remote, gold enriched soils of the Western Outback. 

Just last year in 2020, two major craters were discovered. 

ANDRÉS: The Yarrabubba crater, located near Meekatharra in Western Australia’s midwest, was found to be around 2.2 billion years old. The impact may have catapulted our planet out of an Ice Age.

JENNIFER: The second – jaw dropping for its size and the fact it was totally buried from view – was discovered by a gold mining company and the help of electromagnetic surveying near the historic Goldfields mining town of Ora Banda, northwest of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

ANDRÉS: At five kilometres across, it’s believed to be five times bigger than the infamous Wolfe Creek found due northwest in the wild and rugged Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Here, in this area of the country, saltwater crocodiles or salties as they’re known, are the biggest reptiles on the planet. Attacks on unsuspecting tourists or those sleeping in tents near the river bank are on the rise. You’re picturing it right. This is Crocodile Dundee country.

NEIL: Yeah, that’s the Kimberley. It’s lovely.

ANDRÉS: You’ve been there?

NEIL: We parked the car and walked a path to somewhere to swim. I can’t remember the name of the place. And, um, it was kind of like these, they call them woggles in Australia. They’re like,

ANDRÉS: What’s up with the names?

NEIL: I know. They’re, they’re walking direction signs.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

NEIL: So like, you can kind of work out if you’ve gone the wrong way by, well, the wrong way around was a clockwise route because we had to keep looking behind us to see if we were still going in the right direction because the woggles were on the other side of the trees.

We got, half hour walk, we got to this watering hole, went swimming, had a fun time jumping off the waterfall, lay down in the sun for a bit, walked out of this little area from the watering hole, started looking behind us for the woggles.

The first time we looked back there’s just like a huge metal sign with like no swimming, crocodile attacks. It was like absolutely no swimming.

JENNIFER: Yeah. Crocodiles in the Kimberley, yeah.

NEIL: And we’d just been there for like an hour, like just… So always go the right way on the route.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Yup. But isn’t it nice to swim in crocodile infested water when you don’t know that they’re crocodile infested?

JENNIFER: And get away with it.

NEIL: It was nice afterwards.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. We’re heading into the world of like where the intersection of fiction and nonfiction cross, like,

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Where movies and our reality are starting to, you know, jive with each other.

NEIL: Shall we go there?

ANDRÉS: Let’s go there.

[Song playing]

NEIL: We’ll be back after the break with volcanologists Clive Oppenheimer and the one and only Werner Herzog and much, much more.

[Song playing]

JENNIFER: Wolfe Creek, or Kandimalal as it’s known by the Australian aboriginals, is one impact structure that’s received a lot of the world’s attention. And not just for the 2005 horror movie that’s named after it.

Scrawlings of murder-themed graffiti left by movie fans can be found on abandoned buildings in the desert close to the crater. Fortunately, that’s not why we’re here.

The plot concerns three backpackers who find themselves taken captive and hunted by Mick Taylor, a deranged psychopath, in the Australian outback. It’s said to be loosely based on a real life abduction of two backpackers back in 2001.

ANDRÉS: Nor is it the reason German film director and relentless pursuer of ecstatic truth, Werner Herzog came here to direct a film about meteorites. Together with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, they made their second film together late last year, Fireball: Visitors From Dark Worlds.

JENNIFER: Their first filmmaking collaboration was 2016’s Into The Inferno.

ANDRÉS: Both movies delve into a theme that’s a constant in Herzog’s work – man’s relationship to nature and its utter indifference to us. We caught up with Werner and Clive right before the movie’s late 2020 release.

WERNER: Nobody of them ever speaks of dying of cultures, dying of languages. And that’s what I feel is a deep void and that’s a gap and people always stare at me with big eyes and they think, what is he talking about?

ANDRÉS: That laconic and instantly recognizable voice. One of the world’s greatest living film directors, philosophers and a true original.

WERNER: So I’m talking about some, roughly 6,500 languages that are left on this planet. And every 10 days one is dying forever, disappears. Many of them undocumented, and it is, it is a tragedy and a catastrophe.

ANDRÉS: The exploitation of tribes and the death of language came up immediately when we started to chat.

WERNER: No more language, no more culture. The last speaker that dies, no more Tolstoy, no more.  No more, Mandelstam, no more Tchaikovsky. And that’s a magnitude of what is happening. You see it among Aborigines in, in a particular dramatic way because, uh, their languages are disappearing fast. 

We heard about, estimates about 300 aboriginal languages when the Brits settled the continent and today it’s only 40 or 50 left.

[Song playing]

JENNIFER: The question of language and preserving it is central to the conversation about aboriginal creation stories. And vital when it comes to telling the truth about Australia’s colonized version of these stories. Language is rarely lost at random.

ANDRÉS: What’s fascinating about the ondigenous of Australia is their approach to truth. Herzog famously argues that facts do not constitute the truth. So too do the indigenous dance around the edges of how us Westerners measure truth. Data here is not the be all and end all.

JENNIFER: When it comes to meteorites and their symbolism, there are many variations of mythological stories attached to them. And none are more or less true than the next.

They’re an omen for sickness and death for the Tanganekald people of South Australia. They’re portents of war if you speak with the indigenous up in Australia’s eastern Queensland state. And they’re also connected to initiation rituals and medicine men amongst the aboriginal peoples of New South Wales.

ANDRÉS: Different tribes found different meanings from the same cosmological phenomena. 

In Wolfe Creek crater, or Kandimalal as it’s known by the aboriginal Djaru people,  on the edge of Australia’s great sandy desert, has no shortage of mythology attached to it. 

WERNER: I think it was Clive Oppenheimer’s decision, well, a proposal and we discussed various other meteorite impact sites in Australia, but this was obviously the most cinematic one.

JENNIFER: Kandimalal was formed by a giant meteorite that crashed into the earth 300,000 years ago. The 50,000 ton meteorite hit the earth at 15 kilometers a second, leaving behind a huge extraterrestrial dent that’s clearly visible from space.

There’s a watering hole in the middle, which the local Djaru people believe is where a rainbow serpent called Kariputa fell in from the sky, and then came up from the ground, pushing the earth to form the crater rim.

WERNER: We have accept that as an explanation for the Creek crater, is simply it was a rainbow serpent that fell down from the skies and landed there. And of course a totem, a totem mystic kind of creature. And these totems are agents that place man within the dreamtime or within dreaming and that’s providing men with an indestructible identity.

So yes, I can accept that. And there is something which is their truth and I marvel at it and accept it and I feel enriched.

ANDRÉS: Their truth enriches Western understanding of aboriginal culture as much as the place and the event. There is an incredible scene in Werner’s movie when Clive Oppenheimer chats with an indigenous artist that lives in the desert town of Billilula, close to Kandimalal – Wolfe Creek.

Her name is Katie Darkie. She captures the stories of her ancestors with vivid, vibrant images using a signature small dot technique typical to much aboriginal art work. Her paintings criss-cross these stories and songlines, and they all have their own sense of truth to them.

WERNER: I actually bought the image that Katie Darkie, this wonderful woman artist. And I asked her, it was actually in the gallery already exhibited and I asked her when I could buy it from her. And she was very proud and I bought it. I never buy any, I’ve never bought a picture.

I have maps on my, on my wall. I do have a photo sometimes on my wall, but that’s about it. Never a painting in life. That’s the only one that I ever acquired.

JENNIFER: For volcanologist and co-director of Fireball, Clive Oppenheimer, Kandimalal is a confluence of interests and energies that mingle the spiritual, the endangered cultural and of course, the scientific discoveries that deeper explorations of the crater have since provided.

[Song playing]

CLIVE: It’s an intersection of a lot of things, that’s for sure.  I guess, I mean, for the Europeans, it was only, this was cattle country on the, on the beef beef road. And, and the cattle didn’t stray up to these low dry hills that surround the crater.

So nobody, actually, none of the Europeans recognized it. So it was only spotted from the air by some geologist in 1947. And, and then there was an expedition and they found fragments of iron meteorites, so confirmed it’s extraterrestrial origin.

So that, that scientific story is obviously a very recent story in, in comparison with with its significance in the dreaming, its significance spiritually in terms of, of the ancestral and sacred meaning of, of the landscape there.

But then the other side of this story of course, is, is the loss of culture. And not even as recently as a hundred years ago there were still massacres in this area. So, so there’s also that, that kind of tragic aspect to that, that whole situation in that, that region.

NEIL: Two lovely. Very lovely, very different voices. Clive Oppenheimer’s voice should be as famous as Werner Herzog’s.

[Laughter]

JENNIFER: Yeah, it’s soothing, isn’t it?

ANDRÉS: Like you said, he’s very reassuring.

JENNIFER: Yeah.

NEIL: Maybe the guy that you’d want to kind of, go, there’s a rather large asteroid coming.

[Laughter]

NEIL: It’s um, some would say imminent.

JENNIFER: Take some deep breaths. It was really nice to talk to him.

NEIL: I was so, I had serious interview jealousy when I was trapped in the little booth, looking through the glass and just seeing the back of both of your heads and Werner Herzog’s face on the screen.

I was like, what are they talking about?

JENNIFER: Is that a case of FOMO this year? In the year where there’s nothing to FOMO you FOMOed.

ANDRÉS: Pretty surreal experience.

NEIL: Yeah, it must’ve, I mean, he’s one of your

ANDRÉS: Absolutely. But I couldn’t even think about that because it was just like, how do we get this man to talk about Australia?

JENNIFER: Yeah, and keep him on track.

ANDRÉS: The whole time, it was just like, how are we going to, how are we going to drag him back from Chaucer?

The movie Fireball itself has this incredible thing, which is something that was trying to come out in this episode, this, this kind of broader question about how science can benefit from being a little more porous or letting other knowledge into it somehow. Also the danger in that, or how do you manage that?

How, how do you let science live with poetry or literature?

JENNIFER: Yeah, how can spirit and science coexist without that duality?

NEIL: Do both of them decide to make a movie about volcanoes, to make a movie about killer asteroids. It’s that sort of, because no matter how you think of them on scientific terms, they are, you know, world enders. It’s inherent in it that the apocalypse or end of the world is mythic because we’ve never known it.

[Laughter]

JENNIFER: Tapping into the wisdom and the, the, the, the knowledge of the indigenous that that will definitely serve science. And I think that’s opening up. I think that kind of collaboration is definitely from what the guys said is happening, but I think it’s, it requires a huge shift in mindset.

NEIL: Historical stories or tribal stories or oral stories that have been passed down. They should be like anything in science or in art where it’s an opening to think about all of those things.

JENNIFER: Yeah.

NEIL: And then thinking about all of those things in a broader way, then you’ve got more opportunity to measure and to do all of the scientific things. But you know, they’re going to open more doors for you than they are going to close.

So shut the fuck up for a while and listen to what the old guy around the campfire has to say a little bit, you know, it’s good for everybody.

[Song playing]

JESSIE: It always was and always will be aboriginal land and Australia does not exist.

JENNIFER: That is a statement. And this is Jessie Ferrari. An ethno-ecologist and member of the Yorta Yorta tribe in the state of Northern Victoria on the east coast of the country.

JESSIE: I wanted to pay respects to the Adruna people whose lands I live on. I’m a guest on their land.

Their land was stolen and their sovereignty was never, ever seeded and I wish to honor their continual connection to land, sky and seeds and pay respect to the elders past, present, and emerging and to the ancestors who fought and died to protect their people, their land and their way of life.

JENNIFER: She is adamant and right that what the country needs is more than half baked attempts at apologies for what happened before. It needs to be faced. For her, these wounds are ever present and ongoing.

JESSIE: Yeah, like Australia was never built and made for us. It was always made to exclude us. And that’s why it’s really important that we have treaty so that we can actually give ourselves agency and we actually go about determining our own future and what we want, because I think the real problem with white Australia trying to come in and play white savior and trying to come in and fix it not realizing that they, even if they have good intentions, that they’re actually doing more damage.

Because they’re paternalising us. They’re not really having dialogue with us.

ANDRÉS: Australia has many different state treaties under negotiation but nothing has come of it. Nothing has passed in government.

There is a Reconciliation Act that contains initiatives to weave indigenous culture and learnings into the mainstream education system.

 Jessie, like so many other indigenous across the country, rightly believes that there’s a lot more to be done.

JESSIE: It’s definitely important that we have indigenous culture, um, in the curriculum and every facet of it, not just in humanities or not just in history. That we have it in science, we have it in every facet that we, that we expose children to this expert, everyone to it, and gain an appreciation in terms of the reconciliation act.

JENNIFER: Clearly it’s a step in the right direction, but shamefully overdue.

JESSIES: Bringing indigenous culture into schools, but also the close- the medical, close the gap. A lot of schools in states like Victoria, and I think it also, uh, Western Australia and parts of New South Wales, a lot of them are bringing elders into the school, like elders from, that are traditional owners of that land.

Um, bringing them in and having them teach children, whether they’re elementary or tertiary level, about indigenous history and culture and even language and teaching things like dreamtime stories. 

JENNIFER: For Jessie, her learnings about the laws and lessons of Dreaming came from the elders in her Yorta Yorta tribe, which are found in the subtropical climes of Australia’s east coast.

JESSIE: My culture is built upon touch and sight and smell and that’s our classroom. It’s not just the physical thing. It’s also a spiritual and ancestral thing. It’s a sense of belonging. Elders are like the backbone of our community.

They’re the knowledge keepers, the keepers of law, the keepers of the dreaming. And so it’s very important in my culture that you give them the utmost respect and when they speak that we listen. They are very, very important.

[Song playing] 

ANDRÉS: Madeline Anderson is no stranger to the feeling of not belonging in her own country.

MADELINE: I’m a descendant of the Yued people, and my ancestors have traveled through this area for a very long time.

ANDRÉS: She works as a community liaison officer for an aboriginal corporation. One that bridges the world of corporate interests and cultural preservation.

JENNIFER: She is also a descendant of the Yued people and is possibly the only person we’ve ever interviewed that lives in a 75 million year old asteroid structure. The Yallalie Basin crater.

[Song playing]

JENNIFER: Located between Moora and Badgingarra in the world renowned star gazing territory that is the Western Wheatbelt, the impact date of the Yallalie Basin crater is estimated to be somewhere between 83 to 89 million years ago.

MADELINE: We have had conversations. Well, I’ve had conversations with elders and, um, aboriginal representatives across the Nunga nation about significant places for the Nunga people.

And they were elders who were sharing knowledge around, about the songlines.

ANDRÉS: Songlines are very specific creation storylines that cross the country and put all geographical and sacred sites in place in aboriginal culture. They are a map.

MADELINE: One of the songlines that came from the northern part of the, of WA, they traveled through this area, through this crater and out to the coast and in fact, in again.

ANDRÉS: The ancestors journeyed across country learning and using these songs.

[Song playing]

JENNIFER: In aboriginal culture, these ancestral sacred stories are passed on as large song cycles. People would then specialize in chapters or sections of a song line, which tells the entire creation story as it relates to a particular piece of land.

People on the neighboring land would then write the next chapters of what happened to the ancestors. As they crossed over into their own part of the country.

MADELINE: For me, it’s very, um, like empowering and moving to know that this is where my people traveled. And a huge learning journey. But, uh, we are certainly on a very significant sacred place and, um, I’m living on it.

JENNIFER: It makes me think that for today’s Australian aboriginals, returning to these kinds of sites, nevermind living on one of them, must feel like coming home.

MADELINE: For me, it’s encouraged me more to have these conversations and really strengthen the community ties and looking at opportunities on how we can work together and bring people back on country where you can feel that sense of belonging and to come here and heal.

ANDRÉS: The resilience and simple gut intuition that led her right back to her origins is mindblowing.

MADELINE: For me, it was just being who I am and just like how it is in a respectful way where we can build those relationships and share more about our connections to this place. Share more about our pain.

JENNIFER: As a mother in her thirties with kids, Madeline is also keen to share that same sense of reverence and awe with them and to keep these mythologies alive.

Sometimes she and her children go and sit out with the elders underneath the Milky Way.

MADELINE: Being out under the night sky, especially when you’re right away from all the city lights, any light really. And you can just see that wide open sky and you can see the Milky Way.

And it is, it is that time where you’re sitting down with the elders, you’re not only hearing the stories about the night sky, stories of creation, of time, how people traveled using the stars and how we have to care for the land. We don’t own the land. We have to look after the land.

JENNIFER: Madeline inspires me for so many reasons. For trusting her gut and returning to her roots, for the ability to be a conduit for her community to protect the land and for demanding a seat at the table with Australia’s oil and coal corporations.

ANDRÉS: She’s kind of a living example of an aboriginal who embodies the values and laws about community and preserving the land.

The ones written in the country’s indigenous cultural astronomy for tens of thousands of years.

MADELINE: Every time I do the boundary checks on this property, I just attempt to take a very long time to return back to the homestead because I’m always drawn down to that basin. I used to sit hours with my grandmother, just sitting there quietly.

We didn’t have to talk, you’re just being absorbed into the land. But actually with that crater here, there’s something, something completely different. Something magical about it.

JENNIFER: This idea of an unspoken knowing, a feeling deeply felt by the indigenous about what came before and what’s always been, is something that’s been inferred by quite a few of the people who’ve helped us write this episode.

A remembrance of sorts. A been here before type certainty that the indigenous don’t need factual evidence or complex scientific studies to justify. Often, the stars may give clues that the aboriginals accept as a kind of cosmic signaling.

Here’s Duane, the astronomer and professor of cultural astronomy that we heard from before.

DUANE: One experience that I had that will always stay with me was in 2012. I was in Kakadu.

ANDRÉS: Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern territory features the Yellow Water Billabong, it’s most famous wetland. It’s located at the end of Jim Jim Creek, a tributary of the South Alligator River.

DUANE: And my wife at the time and I, both of us astronomers, were working with a touring agency there to develop a night sky tour.

So we went there as consultants and helped them set up this astronomy program, which included a bit of Western astronomy and indigenous astronomy. And most of the tour guides there are local Aboriginal Gaagudju people.

ANDRÉS: The river system, which is the largest in Kakadu, contains extensive wetlands that include river channels, flood plains, and backwater swamps.

DUANE: And one of the last nights that we were there, uh, we had everybody out on one of the boats with the top off, and we were talking about different elements of the sky and, and, and we saw two shooting stars go past. One right after the other. I didn’t say anything cause I remembered, I wrote a few papers on this.

So I had a little bit of an idea that referred to death. I didn’t say anything, but one of the Gaagudju guides, he didn’t, he didn’t make light of it. He said, oh yeah, you know, in our traditions, that means somebody has passed away.

JENNIFER: Seeing a shooting star meant someone’s spirit was passing safely over into the next life.

DUANE: We continued on with the evening. The next day, we had one final sort of session to wrap things up, but nobody was there. We’re like what’s going on? So I went over to the manager’s office. I’m like, where the hell is everybody? Like, we’ve got our, this is our final day, we’ve got some important stuff to talk about.

And he says, oh, all the, all the crew there they’re dealing with sorry, business right now. Two elders passed away last night.

[Song playing]

DUANE: And just remember this, this sinking feeling like, ooh, wow, okay. You know, it was just one of those events that I’ll never, I’ll never forget that.

ANDRÉS: Death, rebirth, rainbow serpents, premonitions, stories. And of course, signposts in the cosmos for climate, ecology, navigation and animal migration patterns.

The skies of Australia hold the keys to so much of what’s been distorted or silenced on the ground. Spirit, culture, science, all polished, cleaned up, colonized.

[Song playing]

JENNIFER: Just like asteroids and the scars they etch on our gutsy little planet, the Australian aboriginals, the oldest continuous culture on earth, are the ultimate testament to resilience.

They’re the humblest of warriors, the real stewards of the land.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Well, dod damn son. What else you gonna say to that?

NEIL: That’s right.

ANDRÉS: It’s come up several times this whole season. For some reason, we have this kind of obsession with the sky. In the end, where I’m kind of landing on it today, is this feeling like, you know, when you lose the connection to the sky or you lose connection to the earth, and then you stop having the sense of where you actually are.

You forget how insignificant you are.

NEIL: Yeah.

JENNIFER: And how, how special you are at the same time.

NEIL: Like, I don’t know. It’s such a crossing of like, the country that I was brought up in and, and the stars and space and things that I like truly love that I learned a lot about growing up. But one thing that I should have been learning about, that I have no idea about, is kind of the thing that like really woke me up.

JENNIFER: Because it is a, is a phenomenally complex ball of, to disentangle and try and make sense of. But at the same time, like is that the, you know, the reason or the excuse to not try?

NEIL: It’s always the same baseline bullshit excuse. It just makes me so sad that I just did not know any of this.

ANDRÉS: The thing is, it’s what you’re saying is like, you’re actually not just denying other people, you’re actually denying yourself.

NEIL & JENNIFER: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: It’s something that has more depth and has, you know, value. Whatever you want to call it.

JENNIFER: Yeah, you can’t sidestep history so comfortably. Whatever side of history you’re on, right?

ANDRÉS: It comes out like the craters get revealed, the marks on the earth get revealed, all that stuff comes out. You can’t, you know, you can pile as much dirt on top of it, but…

JENNIFER: That’s a great metaphor. Yeah, the truth’s, the truth is coming out.

NEIL: I just, I just went, I just said, which is a very Australian thing to say, which is yeah, naw, yeah.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Which means what?

NEIL: Which is like, yes, I agree with what you’re saying. No, I’m not gonna do anything with it and let’s just carry on. That’s the whole Australian ethics for everything.

ANDRÉS: It’s a very much a deflection tool as well.

NEIL: Yeah, absolutely.

JENNIFER: Exactly.

ANDRÉS: It’s to have a certain kind of conversation, you kind of have to put that away and that’s almost the hardest thing.

JENNIFER: Yeah.

NEIL: Yeah, yeah, but no, but yeah.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

NEIL: Okay guys, get your didgeridoo, your infrared binoculars, and your camera ready, we’re about to go walk about under Australia’s brilliant skies. Here are our last saved pins of the year in Australia.

ANDRÉS: Number one is Western Australia’s Wheatbelt and Midwest. Between one and two hours drive from Perth, but guarantees deep dark night star gazing within easy reach from the bright city lights.

On a moonless night, you can see the Milky way galaxy stretch across the night sky. It’s unbelievable.

NEIL: Number two. Inside Australia: Outdoor Permanent Exhibition at Lake Ballard. The stars over Turner prize winning Anthony Gormley’s spindly sculptures on the lake bed will take your breath away. It’s located in the middle of Yilgarn Craton, which is between 2.9 and 3.5 billion years old. Basically one of oldest bits of the earth’s surface.

ANDRÉS: Number three, that’s the GDC observatory in Yeal, Western Australia. The observatory is situated at Yeal, between Yanchep National Park and the township of Gingin.

The GDC Observatory is part of the Gravity Precinct and shares this pristine bushland with the Gravity Discovery Centre, AIGO research centre and the famous Zadko telescope. Book one of the aboriginal astronomy night sessions where a local elder shares Dreamtime stories that you’ll then see played out in the night sky.

NEIL: Number four, The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. Discover these weird limestone formations along the Indian ocean drive on the coral coast. If you’re a budding astrophotographer, there’s plenty of scope to take some unique photography.

Under Moonlight, the shapes of the pinnacles cast incredible shadows.

ANDRÉS: Number five, Kandimalal, Wolfe Creek Crater National Park, Great Sandy Desert.

If you’re up in Australia’s North Western Kimberly region, don’t miss a trip to the famed Kandimalal Crater. Located 154 kilometres south of Halls Creek along the Tanami Road, it’s best to come in a 4 Wheel Drive or better still, arrange to do a scenic fly over to get the full perspective of this famous cosmic scar that dates back hundreds of thousands of years. Flights can be booked in the tourism office in Halls Creek.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: To say something about this crazy year that’s ended in this crazy year that’s started, and now, you know, kind of closing up this flurry of stories that we’ve done. On one hand, I’m kind of nervous that I’m not going to have this, that we’ve had right here. These moments of like, sitting down with people and listening, and then chatting, has kind of, I don’t know, it’s been like a safe space from this pandemic.

NEIL: I know man.

ANDRÉS: Hopefully that’s what we’ve done for people listening as well. I hope so.

NEIL: I hope so, too. Even if we can’t quite find the words to wrap up an episode, which we always, you know, we have, we have kind of trouble finding a place to land with some of these things which are really difficult to kind of, you know, unpick. But that’s kind of what it makes us, that’s what traveling, that’s what traveling is supposed to be.

JENNIFER: Yeah, it’s not neatly tied up bows, is it?

NEIL: Yeah. And it has just been incredible. We got to go to a different place every single week, which is what everybody on earth has wanted to do for this whole last year.

ANDRÉS: And hopefully now in this 2021, that is not on, on the best start necessarily.

It’s kind of testing the waters. But um, hopefully, you know, we’re going to be opening up into a new world.

[Neil’s bluetooth device speaking]

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: So, first episode of season two will be the factory that made Neil’s bluetooth device. I want to find the woman that did the voiceover.

JENNIFER: Yeah, she’s going to be our cold open.

ANDRÉS: We need to find her and we need to be like, okay, I just have a couple of phrases I want you to say. Can you say, a destination isn’t always a place. Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things. It’s been a great year guys.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Take care of yourselves out there. It’s been rough. Try to take any moment you can to look at the sky.

NEIL:

JENNIFER: And dust off your passport cause you will need to use it again at some point.

NEIL: Very soon. Yeah, keep looking up.

[Song playing]

NEIL: That’s it for this week, guys, and for this season.

ANDRÉS: It’s been a total joy taking you along with us in this very strange time for travel. Hopefully, we’ve satisfied a little bit of that craving.

NEIL: As always, head to frequencymachine.com/passport for all news and info and to social media at PassportPodcast and on Instagram at PassportPod. We’ll be back soon with season two of the show. And who knows where we’ll be headed.

ANDRÉS: Well, we do know, but we might save that as a surprise. So keep an eye on the feed in the interim for a season two trailer and more news from us.

NEIL: So thanks to everyone who has made the season possible and thanks for listening and coming with us.

[Song playing]

This week’s episode of Passport was written and produced by Jennifer Carr, and edited by me and Andrés Bartos.

Huge thanks to Duane Hamacher, Carol Redford, Lloyd Hornsby, Marnie Ogg, Jessie Ferrari, Trevor Leaman, Madeline Anderson, Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer and Isaac Davidson from Apple for all of their kind help making these episodes. All info on these amazing people in the show notes.

Our theme music is by the incredible Nick Turner. Additional music by the indiginous peoples of Australia and from the original soundtrack for Fireball which is amazing and available now on Apple.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Our production assistant is Eliza Engel.

Jennifer Carr, Harriet Davies, Harry Stott, Billy Craigan Toon, Darren Loucaides and Aisha Prigann have made this whole year not only possible but impressionable.

It’s a joy to know you all and to hear your stories, always.

Special thanks to everyone who has supported us through the Acast supporter feature.

Big thanks Meredith, Sam, Laurie Lee, Emerson 23, Owen, Rose and Nelson. Dario, Jen CP, Ring EB, Tom Hestle, Connie, Donna BE, Molly and Teary. And to all of the other anonymous people who have donated. Couldn’t thank you enough. You can support us too by clicking on the link in the show notes. Big thanks for listening and for coming with us this season.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari, and Avi Glijansky are all aware that kangaroos have three vaginas, they also executive produce the show.

Which is hosted by me and a strangely beautiful, cuddly, monobrowed man who always sings in order to remember where he is going, Andrés Bartos. Un Abrazo fuerte, pendejo. Much love, man.

And happy 2021. 

We will see you in the next place, soon.

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© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.