Missionaries, Monetaries & Misfits Living on Groote Eylandt
“What do you do?” is the standard (almost obligatory) question you ask upon meeting someone in Melbourne, despite whether you’re actually interested in listening to the answer. Often, awkward questions follow such as “What is that exactly?” or “So, do you enjoy it?” until a socially acceptable amount of time has passed and you can move onto trying to determine how you may have mutual friends (discussing ol’ mate Jono will keep the convo rolling).
On Groote Eylandt however, no questions are asked without an amount of intrigue and curiosity by both short and long term residents. “So what brings you to the island?” is always drawn out of the question barrel early in the game. Closely followed by “Are you here alone?”
According to my neighbour, there are only three distinct answers to the first question.
A) Missionary. You want to change the world for greater good & will do anything to see social justice prevail.
B) Monetary. You want to make more money & get free rent by doing the same job you do back home without the perks or wage.
C) Misfit. To put it simply, you are a misfit within mainstream society.
Or alternatively, my neighbour says he resonates with D, all of the above.
As I have only been living on island for a mere 10 days, I can only comment from my experience so far. Many of the residents here are the most energetic, interesting, knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, up-for-a-chat-any-time people I’ve come across in my 25 years of life. Coming from icy Melbourne, it’s a novelty having complete strangers say a warm hello as you pass them in the street. Furthermore, having them offer you a hand or inviting you around for lunch is considered outrageous through the eyes of a can’t-spare-a-moment-to-sms Melbournian. So much knowledge about teaching, living remote, Indigenous culture, politics, life quality and equality has been imparted onto me, I feel like my thoughts are whirling inside my head like an overloaded washing machine; only ceasing after hours to let the operator rest.
In good time I plan to blog as much of this new information as I can without causing offense or sharing confidential information. Please be patient as I research into some aspects of what I’ve been told, as I want to ensure the information I provide is accurate and can be used to educate others. Some of the information I’ve found most interesting relates to the Indigenous peoples’ cultural beliefs and family structure along with how health and educational services are implemented to assist those living in the town of Alyangula and areas that Non-Indigenous people are prohibited to enter.
Indigenous folk that live on Groote Eylandt have a unique living situation due to the mining agreement with BHP Billion. Non-Indigenous residents are of varying opinion as to whether the payout agreement is a help or hindrance towards giving the Indigenous people the greatest opportunity to address their ongoing struggles.
On a lighter note, I’ve had a wonderful four-day working week with my new grade 3 students. The class is comprised of a number of children with an Indigenous background, some of South African decent and many from various nooks within Australia. Together we equal a class of 19, all of which come with very diverse experiences and knowledge. Whilst majority of the students speak English, the Indigenous students speak Anindilyakwa as their first language. Approximately 1200 Aboriginal people speak Anindilyakwa. They are part of the Warnindilyakwa clan. I will talk about the language more in a future post, but for now the purpose in telling you this is to highlight that I have some students with very limited knowledge of the English language, which of course brings great challenges to the classroom.
The four short days I’ve experienced so far have in some ways seemed like the longest school days of my life (that includes being a student myself and boy, didn’t school days seem to go forever!). Having said that, I’ve already had some memorable moments with my Indigenous students as they’ve shown me a different sort of persistence and way of communicating that I’ve never experienced before. Whilst I am there to teach them, I have a feeling they are going to teach me a whole lot too.
Here I am, 10 days in and I feel as though I’ve stumbled across something rather special. I’d of thought it would take much longer to feel settled, but I already feel a bit like the enthusiastic, curly redhead ‘Annie’ when she arrives at Mr. Warbucks’ mansion and belts out “I know I’m gonna’ like it here!”
If you’re still wondering whether I’m here for A,B or C, perhaps like my neighbour, I don’t fit into any of those options. I’m going to ruin the playful alliteration and add ‘People’ to the list of possible answers. As I’ve mentioned to friends back home, so far I haven’t seen much outside the walls of my school. I’ve also said that I’m loving it so far. That must say a lot about the people who work and learn within those walls.