un Projects is based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation; we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
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Returning to Resistance Transmission: a conversation with Eliki Reade


In 2019, Jack Mitchell of Black White and Bluespace and Eliki Reade of New Wayfinders collaborated on Resistance Transmission — ten days of deep listening events on Boon Wurrung Country that aimed to deepen the audience’s relationship with the Maribyrnong river through storytelling, song, poetry and yarning, or talanoa. Held within the Due West Arts Festival, the series was conceived as a form of resistance against the forces of development and gentrification, offering an alternative way of bringing people to climate action. Using story as the vehicle, Resistance Transmission aimed to rekindle the audience’s custodial nature by remembering their connection to water in a deeply embodied way.

Looking back, what are your memories of Resistance Transmission?

My memories are of long chats circulating ideas of life,
meaning, culture, and place, and all of the linkages between
them and us; finding the anchors that grounded us in a
shared understanding. I remember using talanoa, or yarning,
to come up with our ‘four pillars’ of Ceremony, Connection,
Knowledge, Action, which we used to guide the project. I
remember our synchronous meeting near the Maribyrnong,
both waiting to speak with N’Arweet to seek permission
to respond to the river through research and community

What did resistance look like to you then?

I was interested in Indigenous Pacific cultures and how
they relate to local Indigenous cultures through practices
around water. I wanted to draw relevancy in this storytelling
approach or in methods that seem to be practised within
both spaces. What did it mean to resist in an environment
where you are an uninvited guest? What did it mean to take
action as a steward or to build a relationship with a place
and be responsible for it within the greater interconnectivity
that exists?

How did the project help shape your idea of resistance?

What’s that Greek analogy of the dung beetle? I don’t know if
it was a demigod or a human hero but part of their punishment
was being forced to push…

Sisyphus? … What’s the dung beetle link?

I think it’s meant to resemble a dung beetle Sisyphus,
but I could be wrong.

In a course I did recently on mytho-somatics we were exploring the myth of Sisyphus, looking at how essentially Sisyphus is just a story about the breath — you’re forced to push the boulder up the hill every day by breathing. That’s his punishment. It’s just breathing. Even the onomatopoeia of it is about breathing: ssiissssss – aaaaaa – phyyyssss. So Camus’ absurdity, in which he states the only real philosophical question worth asking is whether you should kill yourself, is just a story about the breath. Maybe breathing is the original resistance? His conclusion was basically that you can’t think your way there. It’s not a thought; the meaning of life has to be felt. That’s the role of the artist; to continue to push that boulder and to continue to create in the face of that apparent absurdity.

It’s meaning-making.

Or meaning-finding perhaps? What’s a meaningful experience that you’ve had recently?

I met with a mentor in Fiji recently — someone who I’ve wanted to reach out to for a while to guide my thinking around iTaukei /Indigenous Fijian storytelling and epistemologies. We had a talanoa last week and launched into a stream of consciousness around recording Indigenous knowledge, speaking on the inherent coloniality behind recording and data extraction and what it means to balance the tension between maintaining and disseminating that knowledge to preserving that knowledge in multiple ways. We ruminated over how you combat or resist that tension and my thought was that it’s in practice. You can’t just record the knowledge and then relay it back; you need to practise that knowledge. You need to activate it in some way or another. You need to live it, do the thing, feel it. You can’t just think the meaning into life.

I remember during the pandemic reading that there was someone who set himself on fire in the streets of Melbourne protesting
the vaccine mandates. It made me wonder about whether I have something meaningful enough to give my life for. Maybe resistance is the discovery of the willingness to give your life for something? You find that boundary that is…

The non-negotiable?

Yeah. Is there anything that you feel like you would give your life for?

How am I giving my life? If the question is in war? Would I join the state in a unified and faulted fight against another that is pretty much doing the same? Would I resort to piracy? Fugitivity? Does one always need to default to the state in order to fight a worthy cause or can one form their own allegiances towards a cause that actually feels worth dying for? Because if the conversation is about Country, then there are many reasons why one would organize and resist in that way. Those violences are ongoing.

I guess there is giving your death and giving your life. Maybe they are two sides of the same coin but fighting for something doesn’t always mean fighting something. For me, one of the things we fight is homogenization and sterility; the flattening of culture or the reduction of dynamic, pulsing, spectral realities into reductive binaries that limit movement and fluidity. I think doing that inner work and dissolving those internal boundaries to become a more porous and playfully animate Being, one who is in a deeper relationship with the universe, is a form of resistance. Deep listening is a form of resistance: listening to elders, listening
to Country.

You gotta imagine your own freedom too. There can be joy in
resistance. Or maybe joy is resistance? I wouldn’t necessarily
refer to myself as a pacifist but my fight is angled towards
connection, towards turning the inside out, and softening
oneself to then blossom into a place of understanding. But of
course there’s fire within me. That’s what drives me.

For me it’s the relationality, the connection to family and belonging to Country, that is the real medicine. The recognition that it’s not about you. Uncle Noel Nannup told me a story recently about the moth that flies into the flame, how it appears stupid to us but actually the moth is trying to snuff out the flame before a bigger fire starts. Living by story is a kind of resistance. So what does resistance look like to you now, as opposed to Resistance Transmission days?

I think a lot of the elements still exist. They’re still the same. The draw towards water as a universal necessity, the draw towards storytelling. I don’t know if we’ve shifted so much necessarily. I’ve softened a lot considering the hardened conditions that we faced. I think I had a lot more fire within me during the space of Resistance Transmission and I think now I am more … molten rock. I still think there’s a fire but there’s a slow observance. I appreciate the space for slow time, slowing down and breathing again, finding appreciation for the smaller things, simpler things which were so easily taken for granted before the lockdowns. And that’s not to say I don’t move at a fiery pace either but I’m just drawn towards that, even if at least ideally. You can only resist for so long. Resistance isn’t the whole strategy. You don’t wanna resist for whole generations. You don’t want that to be the core of your being. There has to be something you can return to.

What does that look like for you? What do you return to?

Returning for me is a return to Vanua — or Country, as one would say in some contexts. I dream of sifting my hands through dirt to plant new seedlings. Of ocean voyages. Of raising families and learning languages and further deepening connections.

Returning to the body. Returning to the breath. The original resistance. A return to the culture of my body and participating in the culture of other bodies. The boundaries of where my body begins and ends has changed. Allowing ourselves to break, to release those waters. Grieving tears for Country. Maybe the fight now is actually the reconnection to Country, the return to Country, but when those deeper connections have been remembered, they will need defending.

Jack Mitchell is a Whadjuk Nyungar artist, designer and researcher working and living on unceded Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Country.

Eliki Reade is an interdependent producer and artist of kailoma-Fijian heritage, working with many forms of storytelling and the ways it is creatively embodied, and how it creates critical connection.