Here at UPLIFT, we are celebrating the installation of the UPLIFT Totem at the new Gateway to ‘the biggest little town in Australia’ – Mullumbimby. This township near Byron Bay became the birthplace of the UPLIFT Festivals in 2012. We brought together some of the world’s most inspired artists, activists, indigenous elders and innovative thinkers to discover what can emerge when we unify our gifts and visions for the greater good. Now, so much more than a festival, UPLIFT has evolved into a global movement and an ever-expanding community resonating a unifying field of love and consciousness for the new paradigm that is now emerging.
Serendipitously, the UPLIFT totem is being installed at this transformative time, as part of the Gateway Community Art Project. Created for UPLIFT by visionary Polynesian woodcarver and world-renowned environmental artist Tonu Shane, the totem stands for the prayers and aspirations of thousands of people who are dedicated to the conscious evolution of humanity and the planet.
‘Totem poles are like acupuncture needles,” says Tonu. “Once they go up, they are very sacred. Drawing the energy from the Earth, the totem represents the human pole and it’s a conduit to the spiritual realm – coming from the Earth.’
This fifteen-metre totem, one of the largest in Australia, was carved from a hundred and fifty-year-old Mount Jerusalem Tallowood tree that was felled in a storm. The spirit of the tree and the story of its whirlwind appearance in the valley intrigued Tonu, who has been salvaging trees for sacred healing art for almost four decades.
Tonu met with the local indigenous Arakwal people and carved their sacred totems of the goanna, whale, dolphin and carpet snake (Kabul), which winds its way around the pole from earth to sky. The Arakwal Kabul totem represents the community coming together. The Cavanbah area, where the festivals were held, is an important meeting place for the indigenous clans of the Bundjalung nation. As Australia’s most easterly point, this is the first place to receive the sun each day and is known as the “Land of first light dreaming”.
Throughout the 2013 UPLIFT festival, inspired presenters, local and international elders, youth and the general public came forward to put their hands on the body of Kabul and imbue the totem with their prayers and intentions for living Oneness in Action. Tonu etched the outlines of each unique handprint into the totem, creating a mosaic that honours our diversity and celebrates our fundamental unity with all of life.
These enduring aspirations are also contained in the Time Capsule, which will be cemented at the base of the Totem. The two-foot steel capsule carries messages and prayers for the next seven generations and beyond, from local and international indigenous elders, a medicine bundle from the 13 Indigenous Grandmother Council, a sand mandala offering from the Gyuto Tibetan monks, messages from UPLIFT presenters, a statement from the Byron Shire Council and impressions from children and youth leaders.
Seven years later, exciting progress is underway as the Gateway Committee, and local artists complete the refurbishment of the new Gateway, symbolically and artistically representing ‘the spirit of Mullumbimby.’
The Gateway is a public space of historical and community significance that has been a Mullumbimby icon for 30 years. The original Gateway was established in 1987 as a bicentennial project to showcase the region’s renowned artistic skills, environmental awareness and cultural heritage.
The renewed Gateway site now features symbolic sections of the original Nature and Peace Poles. The restored Gateway Rotunda celebrates the culture of the Arakwal people of this region and welcomes visitors to enter with respect and care for Country. Arakwal artists have created a visual history and landscape panorama sharing their cultural knowledge and ancient pathways the Bundjalung people walked for thousands of years.
Special acknowledgement to Project Director Richard Mordaunt, a filmmaker and coordinator of public art projects, who has been involved since the original Gateway community initiative. “We wanted to bring the entrance to the town back to life in a way that is respectful, symbolic, artistic and honours the spirit and energy of the land,” says Richard.
Richard and Simon Richardson, the Mayor of Byron Shire, approached the founders of UPLIFT in 2018 with the request for the festival totem pole to take its place as an icon for the whole community. After an extensive restoration by Gregg Bowering and Jason Morning, the totem pole has been colourfully painted by renowned Bundjalung artist Digby Moran and his assistant, Richard Clark.
UPLIFT is inspired to join the Gateway project to create a focus where people can engage, not just as spectators, but also as co-creators. The new Gateway speaks to a new era of care and respect, honouring the past, celebrating the present and unifying our aspirations for a more compassionate and sustainable way of living. Everyone who feels called to amplify peace, love and new possibilities in their own lives is already participating now. Each and every one of us is a creator of the new paradigm. All are welcome, all are needed.
Each of us has our own unique gifts to weave into the collective and discover ways to bring love and connectedness in the world as part of the whole, beyond what any of us could imagine or achieve on our own. The core invitation is to open the Gateway to our hearts and access the field that connects us all in creating this new way of being together.
This is the invitation at the Totem for all who pass through, to pause for a moment, and tune in:
As you walk around the pathway, you are invited to be fully present and connect with the innermost longing of your own heart and share your prayer to infuse the collective consciousness with Unity, Peace and Love.
As you place your hands upon the totem, your prayer is included, supported and amplified. Regardless of race, colour, religion, nationality, social standing, or gender, We Are One.
We Are One Heart We are One Light We are One Source One Human Family
Connected with all Life.
The inauguration is envisioned as a ceremonial community circle to co-create this Welcome to Country at the end of September 2020. Local custodians and key contributors to the Project will collectively tell the story of our connection to this place, in prayer, song and dance. As each person shares their offering to strengthen the field we are co-creating together, they are invited to contribute a message or sacred object to the Time Capsule at the centre of the circle, to be opened seven generations hence. The Time Capsule will be embedded on the site, symbolically planting our prayers to nurture the field of unity resonating vibrations of the heart through the totem and the song lines of this sacred site, into the new era we are now entering.
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