I did not bring happy memories with me to my birth city. I died in a Melbourne hospital, aged nine, and had a very hard time living in the world around me when I came back with what seemed to be memories of a whole life lived in another, beautiful world. In those days, growing up in a military family in a conservative environment, it was very hard for me to talk safely to anyone about my deepest experiences. I drew solace from the words of an Aboriginal boy who told me, "When we get sick, we go and live with the spirits. When we get well, we come back, not always as the same person."
In my workshop in Melbourne, I found myself in the company of a vibrant, creative, spiritually questing group of people who were eager to share dreams and to learn the arts of Active Dreaming. I realized that one of the inner guides who helped me to survive my lonely boyhood, when I was so often in the half-light of sickrooms, had kept his promise. He appeared to me as a large man with white hair, looking very much as I do today. He assured me that, despite everything, I would survive. He promised that though it was hard for me to talk about my dreams to anyone in my environment, "The day will come when people all over the world will be eager to hear your dreams." He was right.
I may not fit most stereotypes of an Aussie. I know those stereotypes irritate my thoughtful countrymen. But I must confess that I am willing to reap their benefit upon occasion.
My favorite example is an incident at my local airport not long after 9/11, and the tightening of security checks at American airports.
I had been leading a shamanic gathering up on a very special mountain and had rushed to the airport without considering what tools and toys I had stuffed in my drum-bag. On the other side of the X-ray machine, a security guard asked me, "Is this yours?" To my horror, I saw he was holding up a ceremonial Lakota knife with an elk-bone handle that he had just removed from my drum-bag. He extracted the nine-inch blade from the sheath and held it up. "Wait here. I have to get my supervisor."Wild thoughts are thrashing in my brain. They'll arrest me. They'll grill me. At least they'll give me a tongue-lashing for being such a fool as to leave that knife in my carry-ons.
The supervisor appears. His first words are, "What time is your flight?"
"Good. We've got time to get this in your checked luggage so it can meet you at th other end. I'll walk you back to the ticket desk." With this, he hands me the knife, still out of its sheath.
I wonder if I am dreaming as I accompany him, knife in hand, back through security.
"Go on, do it," he says.
"You're Australian, aren't you? Do the Crocodile Dundee thing."
So I fake a strine accent and snarl, brandishing the knife, "Call that a knife? This is a bloody knife, mate!"
Gales of laughter. All the airport security people within earshot are cracking up.
Down at the airline check-in desk, the ticket agent is delighted to put his long line of passengers on hold when I explain the situation. He dashes to get my knife into my checked suitcase. He returns beaming. "It will be waiting for you at the other end. I know you Aussies can't go anywhere without a bloody knife."
I think the Gatekeeper who opens our doors and gates in life was in laughing mood that day. And that he sometimes makes special rules for people from Down Under.
On the absentee bit: I do plan to return to Australia to teach, and to continue to explore my
Dream people from my native land come after me, across the Pacific Ocean and the continent of North America. I have written of how the sea eagle - a bird I knew in my boyhood - flew me back to Australia to prepare me for a death in the family, and gave me a visa into the Dreaming of an Aboriginal people, the Mununjali.
When I get sick, sometimes the spirits of plants and animals I knew as a boy come, unasked, to help me through. Eucalyptus Man may come to help clear my sinuses. Echidna Woman may come, with her family, to suck bugs out of my body. The results are always healing, sometimes to an astonishing degree.
I have written about my Australian boyhood and its challenges in my new book, The Boy Who Died and Came Back.