A Fling with Francis Firebrace.
During the ‘summer of love’, I embarked on a love affair with Francis Firebrace. On a lovely sunny day in July, my friend Gwen and I went to a local festival and we pulled into the beautiful ancient woodland that was to be the setting of the three day festival. We couldn’t wait. Neither of us had had a very good year and we viewed it as a bit of a retreat. There was a lovely clearing that a few had erected tipi’s and tents, colourful streamers led the way and a door to walk through made from them. As I drew up to the entrance of the clearing that was going to be home to my tipi for the next three days, a white bearded, white haired man appeared to the left of me. I thought he was one of the organisers and was going to tell me where to park, as he bowed and doffed his imaginary cap. I stopped and wound down my window fully. He leaned in, looked me straight in the eye and said “If everyone in the world could experience what we’re experiencing right now then the world would be a perfect place”. “I agree” I replied. He said “I’m not joking”, “No”, I said, “Neither am I”. He stared at me for a while and then said “A last! Someone who gets “It”.
I knew from this intense exchange, that something important was going to happen and I began to fall in love. My heart chakra was spinning all the time he was in close proximity to me and I remember saying to Gwen that I would have to get to the bottom of this feeling! He was nothing to do with organising the event or directing us to park, he was merely attempting to cross the road at the same time as we arrived! If ever there was an alignment, then that was it! I thought, what an amazing, happy man. He said, when I was standing upright that he intended to give me a hug. Once Gwen and I had parked up I turned round and there he was, arms outstretched, waiting for his hug! We had a full body bear hug. He said “That was amazing”. I touched his heart and said “That’s because you are open here”, patting his chest. (Of course, his aim is to hug everyone he meets!) This was my first encounter with Francis Firebrace, a 74 year old Aboriginal storyteller, who was performing at the festival, telling stories to the background sound of the didgeridoo that was played by his friend; and so began a three month fling...I did not know it at the time, but he was also known as ‘the happiest man in the word’, ‘the master of hugs’ ‘The Wirrigan man’, and originates from the Yorta Yorta people of the Murray River region of New South Wales. In fact, he is rather well known all round, and these days, resides in Surrey. You can check him out here. http://www.newagemultimedia.com/firebrace/
He did not stray far from our camp over the next few days and we gained a fascinating insight to his interesting and unconventional lifestyle. This got me hooked. Anyone who is a bit of a rebel and who does not do the norm has my respect. He seemed to have lived all of his life like that. He has made spaghetti westerns, is a photographer and ran his own newspaper in Australia while living on a boat in the Whitsundays providing tours for tourists. He didn’t wear clothes until he was 7. I was in awe of this amazing life he’d had. He is a fantastic artist and I add some of his pictures here, but you can check out his website too. He taught me a lot of things while we were together, and with his consent, I will share, as when he told me everyone has a story, I asked him what’s mine and he weaved this tale of enchantment that would stop any girl in her tracks. “Why it’s Wonga and the Waratah, of course” he boomed and then began ‘my’ story.
Wonga and the Waratah
As told by Francis Firebrace, July 2010 This is an old story that originates in the Blue Mountains Region of Australia.
A long time ago, Wonga the pigeon lived with her mate in a beautiful forest, they were very much in love as pigeons mate for life. Wonga and her mate were never apart. They played together, ate together and slept together in their magical forest home, such was the power of their love. One day, Wonga awoke and she couldn’t see her mate. He was gone. Wonga panicked and flew high and low through the branches of the trees calling her mate again and again. No answer came. Fear and panic rose in her breast. She had always been taught never to fly above the canopy. Never, ever. The reason for this was Mulyan, the eagle hawk circled above the forest and his favourite prey was pigeon. “Never fly above the safety of the treetops” her ancestors voices echoed around her head. Her heart however, said something else as it increasingly filled with panic. Then, higher and higher on her soft wings she flew, still calling to her mate. Suddenly, from below, she heard his call, her heart gladdened, she turned to go to him but did not notice Mulyan, the eagle hawk, above her. But he didn’t fail to see her. Now, folding his powerful wings, he went into a steep hunting dive. Dropping like a stone at the speed of light. Wonga was halfway back to the safety of the trees when shadow overtook her. She flew as fast as her wings could carry her to her mates’ heartfelt call. She almost made it when the great eagle struck. Sharp talons tore into her breast and held her tightly. She struggled to break loose but his grip was too strong and did not loosen. Hearing her mate call from below, she gave one last, desperate struggle and twisted away to finally break loose. In a shower of her own blood and feathers, she fell to safety through the canopy of trees, landing on the soft white flowers we call the Waratah. She stopped to rest and recover but was unable to take flight again for some time, such were her injuries. The resting place of the white Waratah began to turn red from her blood. She could hear her mate call and she heaved herself skyward to fly to him as best she could with broken skin, and shattered wing, resting on clumps of Waratah, thus staining them red with her blood forever more. When her mate finally flew to her side, she was slumped across the flowers, the last drops of blood staining them red too. Now when aboriginals see the red Waratah, we are reminded of Wonga and the power of her love.
Francis then painted me a picture with my favourite bird, the swan, featuring lovely Waratah flowers, see below.
More art by Francis...