The following is my review of “Treading Lightly”
by Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe.
How to review a book which has so profoundly changed the way I view story, art and knowledge. And their relationship to place.

I am not going to attempt to summarise this book for that you will have to read it yourself. But I will highlight why it has had such an impact on me and what I have taken from it moving forward.

I think the scientific approach that Tex and Karl-Erik have taken and the gaps or conflicts in the understanding presented is striking. The knowledge is accessible and personable. The sustainability of the Australian Indigenous people’s relationship with land is both the overarching context of this book and the concept that most interests me. For anyone searching for ‘the future’ model of our societies we have much to learn from interrelationship between the way the oldest living culture on the planet manage education, knowledge, art, law, entertainment, medicine, spiritual ceremonies, peacekeeping and social welfare. Perhaps most striking is that these concepts do not exist independently but rather are interwoven with one another in a way that the western definitions of the words do not allow.
A modern snip it of this thinking can be heard in Tiddas for Tiddas episode featuring Hannah Bronte
(https://www.mamamia.com.au/podcasts/tiddas-4-tiddas/hannah-bronte/) where Hannah describes how she hopes people will view art as appreciation of the beauty, and an empathy with, all of that which surrounds us; not piece to be hung on a white wall (my words not Hannah’s).
The very design of indigenous society ensured everyone had a role. The role and the knowledge associated with it was valued. Dependencies were designed in to prevent conflict, resolve disputes, protect mutual resources against the Tragedy of the Commons and most fundamentally ensure everyone had equal opportunity. This is in such stark contrast to the way western society reinforces divisions, sets people up to compete and systematically ensures that some groups benefit more than others. I would love to see a translation of Traditional ceremony and the way it supports young people and how these principles can be applied to all Australians in the modern context – anyone have any suggestions? I wonder what the modern version of the development of young people would look like in a world in which I feel our focus needs to become both more connected to the country we come from and simultaneously more connected to the world on which our choices have an impact.

How does a society without a written form or communication build and retain knowledge? After reading this book I believe we give lip service to the art of storytelling. “Australian aboriginal stories have only recently begun to be taken seriously for what they are: The longest continuous record of historic events and spirituality in the world.” The complexity of the stories, the relationship between the physical experience undertaken in the traditional education and the fact that no one was expected (or indeed allowed) to understand all the meanings leaves me in awe. The closest thing we have is the concept of fables where there is at least one meaning or lesson to be learnt from the story. Reflecting on this has changed the way I think about my personal story, that of my family and how I tell that to my children in the context of the world. It also spoke deeply to me about the value of storytelling in all its forms. This is an area I’d like to explore more.

Discussed at length and from multiple angles is the production of intangibles. I am not going to go into depth, as I would do the concept an injustice, except to extract this nugget to prompt you to explore this thinking: “the Australian Aborigines were not ‘underusing’ their resources (by not producing surplus)….(but rather) the economy functioned rationally to cater for a high demand for services rather than material goods”. The numbers are staggering and speak of the opportunity cost lost in the current norm where we produce and consume because we can. “50-80% (8-13 hours per day) of an Aboriginal economy may have been devoted to the production of intangibles”. For those of you wondering what an intangible might be included is information, education, diplomacy, and services such as feuds, entertainment and ceremonies for significant life events.

The depth and breadth of the examples in Treading Lightly is testament to the respect the authors have shown. It was a privilege to reflect on how I can change the way I view the world based on what has been so generously shared through this book. For anyone interested in knowledge, ceremony, law and how we can move forward from the precipice we seem to be on environmentally and socially I strongly recommend reading Treading Lightly.

#yesbuthow #indigenousawareness #bookreview

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