29 June 2014

Cultural Differences Between the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous People Living on Groote Eylandt

We are all born into an ‘acculturation process’. The moment we open our eyes, images flood our spongy, undeveloped brain, and ‘voila’, life has been pre-written for us in many ways without our choosing, or knowing for that matter. It’s almost inconceivable to weigh up exactly which parts of us have truly stemmed from our own being (or whether that’s even possible), and which parts are hard-wired during the early years of the acculturation process. Now, I’m not just talking about the food we eat or the language we speak; cultural influences go much, much deeper than what is observable by the eye or ear. ‘We are given or acquire invisible cultures- with culturally determined rules, habits and imperatives determining the way we go about things. And we take it for granted that, for each of us, our own belief and action systems are natural and normal.’ (Burgoyne & Lalara, 2007, p.14)

It’s only when we are completely removed from our own culture or see someone breaking the ‘invisible’ rules in own system, that we stop and think ‘that’s different’. We must remind ourselves, ‘if I’m thinking this, they are probably thinking the same about me,’ and that there is no ‘right’ way of doing something. After all, rules and laws are all man-made and therefore have been derived by an individual, or group of individuals who are of a certain opinion or belief. With millions of people following and adopting these man-made rules, who is to say that one makes more ‘sense’ than the other. The one that makes ‘sense’ is the one that you have been conditioned to follow from birth. 
Mainstream Australians often identify themselves as anti-racist and make remarks like “I don’t care if someone’s black or white, I treat everyone the same.” Whilst this sounds great and I hope it to be true, Grant Burgoyne, resident of Angurugu, suggests that in most cases, this common statement should be interpreted as “…I treat everyone the same…as long as they’re like me.” In saying this, most of the people making these declarations do so with good intentions and would be horrified to think that they are judging others for being dissimilar to them. But the sad truth is that most of us are in-fact unfairly, and to some degree, unconsciously judgemental towards the behaviour of other cultures. And I use the word ‘us’ because just like you, I too,  am hard-wired to believe that my way is the ‘right’ way. Please join me in recognising that we all (mainstream Australians and Indigenous Australians) must adopt a bi-cultural outlook in order to respect each other’s differences and let all cultural groups live free from inference and judgement.
For mainstream Australians to begin this process, they need to be aware of the vast differences between their culture and the Indigenous culture. The below table is based on the culture of the Warnindilyakwan people (Groote Eylandt inhabitants of the past 8,000 years) and the Nungubuyyu people (originally from the mainland). The two combined groups are referred to as the Anindilyakwan people.
Please share this table with everyone you know to help make Australia a bi-cultural nation.

Majority of my information has been sourced from 'An Open Mind, Common Decency and Patience: A Handbook of Information for Visitors Living or Working With the Aborigines of Groote Eylandt' written by N.D. Lalara, Grant Burgoyne & Phil Elsegood. 

Grant Burgoyne is a "Mainstream Australian" who is married to Nancy Lalara, a Anindilyakwan woman who was born and raised on the island. Together, they run a cross-cultural course for all GEMCO employees and on a number of occasions have spared their time to answer many of my questions; to which I'm very thankful.

23 June 2014

Turtle Hunting With Our Aboriginal Friends on Groote Eylandt

Days before arriving on island, I found myself endlessly day-dreaming about what my new life in the NT might be like. I’d excitedly dream up scenarios where I’d find myself immersed in Indigenous culture. Most commonly, I’d picture myself sitting cross-legged in the dirt, listening intently, as an Indigenous elder would devotedly tell dreaming stories or teach me interesting things about the land. On other occasions she’d invite me to join her on a bare-foot bush walk to gather various berries and teach me which ones could poison the ignorant white man. We’d head back just before dark and wait for the men to return with speared fish and turtle to accompany our bush tucker and we’d all sit around the camp fire laughing and sharing new and common foods together.
I didn’t share these dreams with anyone, because I knew that that’s exactly what they were…dreams. To soften my impending disappointment, I’d always conclude my conjured up stories by giving a long inaudible sigh, followed by a drawn out ‘if onlyyyyyy’ said to myself with wavering optimism.
During the weekend, these dreams came closer to reality than I realistically thought possible (or dare I say, my dreams were exceeded by what I actually witnessed). Adrian and I were once again invited to go camping with Deb and John* and the Indigenous mob from Umbakumba. This time, the mob of 10 ranged in age from two to 60 odd. As we pulled up behind the convoy of 4x4s, the mob smiled warmly as they waved out the windows of their crowded Troopy. Deb and John had invited a friend called Jen* and we had packed Wilson as croc bait (or at least that’s what I tell Adrian to wind him up). ‘That’s a lot of people around a camp fire,’ I thought, whilst cursing myself for conservatively buying one small pack of marshmallows.
We were headed for a place called Red Sands. Receiving its name for obvious reasons, the coastal area is a spectacular sight to see. Unfortunately for most non-Indigenous island residents, they never will get the chance; as they must be invited onto the land by an Indigenous person or receive written permission from the traditional owner. We are extremely lucky to have bumped into Deb and John that day at Leskie Pools. If we hadn't, we'd probably be spending our weekends swimming at the same water hole along with all the other residents of Alyangula. It’s only through the couples ongoing work with the community that has allowed them to build such strong relationships with the Indigenous folk and giving them privalged access into their world. Sadly, most non-Indigenous people on island have little or no contact with the Indigenous community; despite some of them living here for over a decade. The Indigenous people tend to keep to themselves; which is why we feel so previlaged to not only accompany them on these trips, but for them to share so much of their knowledge and time with us.

Coming into view of the powdery red dunes was a highlight of the trip. For a few minutes we only communicated through sounds of admiration. ‘Wow’ I said. ‘Woah’, Adrian responded. ‘Ooo…’ I cooed, before eventually gushing ‘awe-some!’ emphasising the ‘awe’ with child-like enthusiasm. With that, we stopped the car and took turns to climb the hill and roll down it in an equally child-like fashion.  

From the moment we arrived at Red Sands, the mob were like energetic school kids; keen to show us all ‘the cool stuff they had found’. We were lead this way and that, by adult and child alike, all hands excitedly ushering us to ‘come look’ at various aspects of the land and its animals. Whilst driving along, David spotted some worn out turtle tracks leading up onto the sand. Everyone got out and the men began poking sticks into the ground, searching for soft sand which indicated buried eggs. They’d smell the end of the stick to check whether they’d busted an egg, as they explained that sometimes the sand can become compacted over the 3-month nesting period and it’s difficult to feel whether they’ve hit the right spot. It wasn’t long before the children squealed and David was tossing ping-pong like balls out of a hole by the handful. There had to be roughly 20 or so white, sand-covered balls. As I picked one up, it concaved in my fingertips and I inhaled sharply as I thought I’d busted it. Everyone must have been watching my reaction, as they begun to assure me that I hadn’t and that these eggs weren’t like bird eggs. Later I found out that this was true in every way. After finding two nests worth and boiling them in a giant billy, they offered me one to taste. I took their lead as I watched them bite it open with their teeth and suck out the yolk. I sucked on the opening for no more than a second before I was hit with an overwhelming saltiness. The best way I can describe it is like drinking the raw yolk of a chook’s egg but with the flavour of 10 yolks combined; along with an injection of smoked salmon which has been twice encrusted in sea salt flakes. As the turtle egg is so highly regarded by the Indigenous people, they automatically assume we would love it. After one suck and a drawn out ‘mmmmm’, all eyes were thankfully off me. Although it really wasn’t all that bad, it was far from enjoyable and I needed to rid of it inconspicuously. I threw it to Wilson and he happily destroyed the evidence of wastage-shell and all!

When the sun went down, we went ‘hunting for turtle’. As we walked along the shore with our torches, Anna* assured me that we would find turtle tonight, as they had asked the land to provide it. Whilst she didn’t go into great detail, she said something along the lines of ‘we ask the land for food and promise that in return we will care for it’. The land must have gotten confused with the agreement as it did in-fact provide us with a ginormous turtle, however it was not of the eating variety. David explained that there are three types of turtle on the island; two of which can be hunted by Indigenous people legally. He wasn’t able to tell me the species name, as he only distinguishes them by appearance. When Anna had caught and rope-tied the 50kg turtle by its flipper, she ran to get David to ask him whether it was good for eating. As soon as Anna and I flipped in onto its belly, David ordered Anna to cut it free and said that it’s neck and shell were ‘not right.’ There was much commotion in the darkness as Wilson had come to check out what all the fuss was about. He kept a distance whilst barking at the turtle as it heaved its body through the plastic-littered sand. It was heading away from the shore and David suggested it may be looking for a spot to lay its eggs. It was clearly tired from the struggle as it breathed deeply like a heavy smoker. We walked back to camp as if we hadn’t just witnesses something completely foreign to us. I quizzed David about his knowledge of turtles and Adrian walked ahead with Anna, discussing something unrelated. Back at camp when Adrian and I were alone, Adrian couldn’t help but comment on the whole turtle hunting saga. I guess you could say we are of opposing views. Debating whether or not turtle hunting should be legal, is ethical etc. etc. can be left for another day, but I will say what I said to Adrian in defence of this old Indigenous tradition. We kill a lot of animals (farmed for consumption or otherwise,) and just because non-Indigenous groups may deem turtles to be superior to cows, chickens or fish, for whatever the reason (age, mass, appearance), I don’t believe it’s our right to tell them they cannot hunt it, purely because we don’t wish to eat it ourselves. Especially after watching them release the turtle for being ‘the wrong one’, I feel even more strongly that they are entitled to continue this very old tradition.

Although we walked back to camp turtleless, the mob had brought a bag of turtle meat with them, just in case the land wasn’t willing to share. The next day they cooked it up on a frypan and shared it around. Adrian and I had gone off wandering the beach for shells at this point and missed the opportunity-damn! Wilson apparently ate his fair share which led us to joke on the way home that even our dog was more cultured than us.

Whilst waiting for the mob to haul all their belongings back into the Troopy, I bathed myself in the warm of morning sun. Although a turtle shell may seem like an unlikely pillow, it served as a wind block and I actually fell asleep within minutes. When I awoke, I was told we were off to the shell graveyard. ‘Woohoo! More dead things,’ I said gleefully, thinking of the creative possibilities.

The shell graveyard is an endless pile of shells that has accumulated over hundreds of years. Spanning 10 or so metres along the shore line is a volcanic rock shelf with perfectly circular pits resembling inverted pipe work. As the tide slams against the shelf, the pits spray out water and fling the empty, glossy shells atop the chipped and faded corpses that once looked vibrant and appealing. Nestled amongst the dusty, dry heap are small stones that the Indigenous people refer to as dreaming stones. Not much bigger than a fingernail, these often triangular shaped rocks are embedded with stripes or clustered circles, giving them a mystical quality. The mob spent over an hour seeking one dreaming stone in particular; the dragon stone. White and speckled in appearance, the story associated with the stone involves a mystical sea dragon and her eggs; however Adrian and I only caught the end of David’s explanation and I wouldn’t be doing it justice if I attempted to explain it further. I’ll ask David next time we meet and include it in a future post. I’ll also be editing some video footage taken from the weekend to post on the blog within the week. It includes footage of when we discovered the turtle eggs and I give a short review after tasting the egg. Please check back shortly, or better still, subscribe to have new posts sent directly to your email address (see top, right-hand side of this post).

*Names have been changed for privacy

15 June 2014

Learning to Fish With a Hand Reel on Groote Eylandt

A few weeks ago, a group of Indigenous girls showed me how they catch fish by crushing up small live shells and attaching the gooey flesh to basic hand lines. I was amazed by their success rate in catching decent-sized fish using what seemed like such a simple method, and decided to put my new knowledge into practise over the long weekend while camping at Marble Bay. I can now proudly announce that I am a successful hunter of the deep!

I caught a countless amount of small coral fish; some of which involuntarily became bait, but most returned to the sea after being woman-handled (much worse off than man-handled in this scenario) and sporting a new lip-piercing. After about an hour of playing catch and release, dinner finally attached itself to my line. Before I could even let out a girlish squeal, I had a 20cm bream flapping around my feet and line-burn on my poor little pinkie to prove that I, carer of two hungry boys (one slightly more hairy than the other), could deliver fish straight from the sea to their sandy plates, the way nature had intended.
Upon asking the Indigenous girls who would gut the fish before cooking it, their natural response was to laugh, as if it weren’t a serious question. As I carried my haul back to the camp site, their playful mockery revisited my mind. Surely if I could catch and kill my own dinner by bashing its skull with an axe head (apparently far less inhuman than letting it take its’ last gasp of air), I could cook it guts n’ all? Of course I could! In fact, we picked away at its’ charcoaled carcass like hungry savages, mistaking innards for flesh and pulling pin bones and scales from our teeth. “If only we had packed a lemon!” I sighed, as though I should have pre-empted my fishing success.
The following day we met up with the couple from Umbakumba again, who happened to be camping with our newly acquainted Indigenous friends. Anna* clapped in excitement when I told her about my fishing experience, visibly thrilled that she had imparted her knowledge onto balanda (white person/s). It wasn’t long before her attention switched back to the reason they were stopped by the side of the dirt path; they were collecting sugar-bag honey. They explained with excitement that whilst driving along, they had noticed a small hole produced by bees high up in a eucalypt tree. They chopped it down and split open the branch to drain out a cup-worth of the eucalyptus-infused honey. Adrian and I suck our finger into a hole where the honey pooled. We both commented on how thin the texture was in comparison to the store-bought stuff. Anna pointed out the singless bees which are only 4mm in length and entirely black in colour. We were dumbfounded that they even managed to spot the small hole, as to us balanda, it just looked like any other imperfection seen on every second tree within a 10-kilometre radius. “They’re just amazing, the way they notice things!” exclaimed Deb, who finds herself blown away by their knowledge of the land every time she’s within their company. As Adrian and I headed home, I spent the 120km drive with my head out the window trying to distinguish the difference between a bee hole, a termite hole and a natural burl formed in the tree. Adrian and I joked that until I find my own sugar-bag, I can only consider myself ‘low-level’ in the mastery of hunter gatherer.  

Adrian's Recount of Camping at Jagged Heads on Groote Eylandt

It was 7am Saturday morning and Casey was already in the kitchen preparing hamburger patties for our evening camp-fire-cooked meal. Wary of getting in her way, I decided to head out the front and load the camping essentials into the back of the Troopy.

We started heading for the most northern recreational area of Groote Eylandt called Jagged Head. Once again, we (perhaps stupidly) decided to go the journey alone. Although, as we’ve now learnt how easy it is to find ourselves in a sticky (or in our case, sandy) situation, we teed up a check-in with our neighbour,  just in case we ran into some trouble. ‘So if we’re not back by 3pm on the Sunday, we're probably somewhere we shouldn’t be’ I joking shouted over the fence. Whilst I say ‘joking’, troublingly, the possibility of not making it back in time was a very realistic one.

For me, the exciting part of the weekend began at the turnoff to Jagged Head; 30km of unsealed road with overgrown woodland jam-packed on both sides and muddy swamps still lingering from the wet season. Whilst these features of the bush could effortlessly lead my Troopy to its muddy tomb, there's something quite brilliant about meandering through the dense bush and coastal sand dunes on tracks where many would not dare to go.

For the most part, getting to our destination required first gear and four-wheel-drive due to the steep rocky inclines and soft muddy descents. During the few occasions that we could loosen our tight grips and give our eyes a break from focusing on what was directly in front of us, we’d slow up and admire randomly seeded salmon gums that had popped up amongst the standard, tired-looking eucalypt. Their soft pink colouring looked peculiar amongst the dull grey. Although I enjoy admiring the eucalypts, I can’t help but cringe as their unruly branches scratch along every surface of my car. As it’s freshly painted body squeals with each jab, I reassure myself, ‘it’s ok, that one will buff out’.  I could go on for paragraphs describing an assortment of stressful situations we experienced before reaching our destination, but I'd feel as though I was having déjà vu (see previous post). So I’ll just get straight to the moment we arrived.

We arrived at our campsite around lunch-time. With Casey being organised as she is, she immediately produced a spread of pre-made sandwiches. As we sat propped up on our object of choice, we devoured our lunch whilst deciding which way to venture first. We agreed on a rocky outcrop just metres from where we'd set up camp.

 This rocky island is called Little Jagged and is about the size of a football field. It stands about 15 metres tall and unless you’re willing to risk becoming a croc’s entree, it’s only safely accessible at low tide. We potter around setting up our camp site until the water lowers just below knee height. We wandered over bare foot, not knowing that some of the sharpest rocks known to man are waiting as soon as we reach the other side. It was either turn back or scuttle across the 15m long intrusion.  Before we’d really thought it through, we were both down on all fours trying to evenly distribute our weight to avoid puncture wounds. We shuffled along in a crab-like fashion whilst ‘oh-a-oooing’ in unison right up until we reached the sand on the other side. As we rub our swollen heels and soothed them in the cool sand, Wilson toddled over the rocks with great poise. He strutted straight past us, which lead us to start up our usual Wilson impersonations. ‘What’s wrong with you two, keep up!’ badgered ‘Wilson’. He can be such a jerk sometimes!

We were swallowed by the island as towers of rock shot up around us. We walked through narrow gaps between expansive rock face until we came to water. The ocean entered over some shallow lying rocks, creating a large pool of icy cold water. As I went to dive head first off nature’s version of the perfect diving platform, Casey stopped me. Concerned for my safety as usual, she shouted ‘what if there are crocs in there?’ Damn it, she’s got a good point, I thought quickly. ‘Wilson! In you go,’ I said cheerfully, as if trying to convince him that today was his lucky day. He swam around in a few polar-bear-like circles, oblivious to the potential danger. He risked his life for us and all he received in return was a handful of liver treats later that night. Silly old Willy!

Wilson and I ventured further north towards the open sea; where Casey would not dare. I discovered a large open clam shell (no pearl of course) and immediately after kneeling down to get a better look I heard a sweet little voice say ‘I think you better bring that back with you’. ‘ Casey, it weighs 10kg and I’ll have to clamber over all these rocks… I could hurt myself!’ I called back unconvincingly. ‘But I wants it, it will be my precious,’ she sniggered, emphasising ‘precious’ as if she’d morphed into Gollum from Lord of the Rings within a matter of seconds. ‘Oh, OK!’ I sighed. I was well and truly over carrying it from the moment I pick it up. I knew all too well that I’d mowing around it within a matter of weeks and it would become another of Casey’s ‘one-day I will’ projects. I try to kid myself by thinking ‘who knows, maybe she’ll surprise me and make something amazing out of this’. I carefully lug the clam around whilst Casey and Wilson jump unrestrainedly from rock to rock. I’m all too aware that the ridges along the outside of the clam have the potential to sever a toe. ‘Why did I give in?’ I thought, as I pitied myself  while trying not to think about the glass-like rock ahead.

As the sun started to go down and the stars took centre-stage, I decided it was probably time to start a fire. I brought along my new ‘camp BBQ’ consisting of three star pickets and an old cast iron hot plate borrowed from our neighbour.
The fire was roaring in no time, which meant it was time for Casey's awarding winning burgers (the best I’ve ever tasted anyway, without being too bias). As we ate tea in silence, we found it hard to take our eyes of the glimmering milky way; a site I can say with all honesty, I will never tired of setting eyes upon.

After a cup of billy tea and a few (well, OK, a lot) of marshmallows, it was time to make our way to bed; the roof of the Troopy. I’d laid a piece of ply over my roof cage which was about 2.5 metres long and threw our mattresses up there; ready for a night under the stars. There was a slight breeze coming from the north east, which thankfully kept the mosquitos at bay. Although Wilson’s bark woke us up during various times of the night, we couldn’t get too cross at him, as it gave us the chance to view the Milky Way in its shifted position each time. Every so often I would shine a torch beam down over the ocean near the rocks, in the hope of seeing a pair of red sparkling croc eyes shining back at me.

We woke to see the sun rise over the rocks and I started my day with my usual Weetbix. I do 4 in case you’re wondering. After slurping down a cup of hot coffee, I was fully awake and raring to go exploring again. We planned to continue along the northern road until we reached the much anticipated Jagged Head. We drove onto the first beach which was heavily littered with sea blown rubbish and debris.

This unoriginal landmark is known as ‘The Thong Tree’ to all frequent campers. Although you’d assume the thongs were the contribution of forgetful beach-goers, sadly that’s not the case. They’ve set sail from Indonesia and over many months have settled on our shores, along with tonnes of other crap. To many beach goers, it would be a very disappointing sight, but to an artist, it’s more or less a haven for creativity. To me, what seemed like endless rubbish at first, turned out to be a goldmine after finding something I liked. Casey on the other hand had bright eyes for a particular type of shell and was determined to find the perfect specimen. A chambered nautilus shell; favoured by many-a-tourist for its pearly inner-shell and glorious size.

Casey seemed to be having a little too much fun rummaging through the sand and ston,e and before I knew it, she was out of sight. Wilson and I wandered after her, a little concerned that she was getting too far away from the first aid kit. We eventually coaxed her back into the car and pushed on up through the sand dunes which was probably the most exciting drive of the journey. The sand was reasonably compact which made driving a little quicker. We were going up and down like roller coaster. Wilson was shifting his weight all over the place, trying to anticipate the movements of the car. ‘Who’s the steady one now?’ we smirked as if paying Wilson back for being such a smug jerk earlier. We slowed every now and then at the tops of the dunes to take in the brimming scenery; which included Jagged Head. There is a shallow body of water spanning about 100 metres, making it only just inaccessible by car. I hope to go there one day by boat and see the jagged rock formations up close; for which it gets its name.

We drove another couple of kilometres until the road ended and we were stopped at an unsigned area. It looked like a playground, with rocky sandstone rising up over a few 100 metres with eroded channels going every which way, forcing water into enticing shallow pools. We wandered around and found a small cave with a few scattered Indigenous paintings. They were basic line pictures of dugout canoes and a hand spray; far less spectacular than the cave paintings found in the centre of the island. Whilst I built a small fire to fry up some bacon and eggs, Casey snuck off with her hand reel. She returned soon after, cursing the rocks for snagging her line, so we decided to go find oysters instead. I became so engrossed in knocking oysters off rocks that I completely lost track of time. Even more worryingly, I had gotten so carried away I disregarded the fact that I was waist-deep in croc territory. I was lucky not to be taken for supper whilst greedily scavenging my own.   

On the way home, we decided to stop at one more beach to look for an exquisite nautilus shell. So far, all the shells we have come across have had small clips or imperfections, so we continue our search. During our exploration, we were greeted by an Indigenous man who worked for the land council. He said he was just ‘checking up’ on campers, but it looked to us like he was joining the sun and sea just as much as we were. It wasn’t long before we waved him on that we decided to leave our self. As we got back in the car to leave, I had a brief, but ruinous lapse in judgment whilst manoeuvring my car along the sand. ‘Oh, no, no again!’ I can just imagine you all saying, whilst chuckling to yourself. Oh, yes. Once again I had gotten us bogged. Three times a fool, I had  decided to take a wide U-turn down on to the beach on the high tide. The sand was extremely soft and without letting my tyres down, I’d quickly found myself inside a sandpit once more. With the ocean at my tail, I reversed the back wheels into the shallows. My right foot suddenly became lead, as I drove the entire stretch of the beach with sand spinning up onto my windshield. I could feel the tail of the Troopy slipping further and further toward the cool water whilst my stress levels reached boiling point. Once again I found myself down on hand and knee, digging away at the sand in a desperate attempt to get lucky once more.  Casey decided to wait on the nearby road in case the land council returned. After receiving a number of bites from a persistent sand-fly, she retreated to the sand. In doing so, she spotted the council car parked at the next beach along, about one kilometre away. She began flalling her arms in a desperate attempt to get the man’s attention, whilst attempting to run the stretch of sand between them. She was about 400m away from him by the time he reached his car; she thought she was too late. Of course that wasn’t the case, as any woman in a hot pink bikini flalling her arms wildly would capture anyones attention. The man got in his car and drove to the distressed young lass, before giving her a lift back to me and my woeful Troopy.  Casey hopped out of the car with a big grin.The Indigenous man didn’t say as much as a hello before climbing into the driver’s seat of my Troopy and calmly accessing the situation whilst behind the wheel. His slow movements suggested he had all the time in the world and that he had done this many times before. I admired his patience, as he allowed the car to slowly crawl over the sand, whilst he used little to no acceleration at all. He swayed the car back and forth over the sand, working down the lumps like a massage therapist, until the tires were sitting above the sand again. I thanked him with a handshake and he left as quickly and as silently as he had arrived moments earlier. In the space of about 15 minute, I feel as though I have learnt so much from a man that didn’t have to speak a word.

With it getting close to our 3pm check-in time, we didn’t stop to admire any salmon gums as we snaked our way out of the bush. As soon as we reached the highway we called our neighbour and said that thanks to an Indigenous man (unfortunately name unknown) we don’t require rescuing this time around. What an amazing weekend.

12 June 2014

How to Celebrate NAIDOC Week at School

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. It was created to 'increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians' (cited from the NAIDOC website).

Put more simply, NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society. With frequent negative media attention, it's important that we take time to celebrate all the rich culture and knowledge Indigenous people can share with us if we choose to listen.

During NAIDOC week, all Australians are encouraged to participate in celebrations and activities relating to Indigenous culture. Here are some ideas taken from the NAIDOC website published by the Australian Government. http://www.naidoc.org.au/

  • Invite local Indigenous people to your school or workplace to share their knowledge about the land. They may be able to teach you about the local flora and fauna and even show you some edible plants growing right on your doorstep.

  • Listen to Indigenous music.

  • Research the traditional Indigenous owners of your area.

  •  Learn some Indigenous words

  • Study Aboriginal arts and crafts.

  • Read a Dreamtime story.

  • Visit local Indigenous sites of significance or interest.

  • Learn the meanings of local or national Aboriginal place names.

  • Invite an Indigenous sportsperson or artist to visit your school/community group and get them to teach you new skills

  • One of the suggestions was to research a famous Indigenous person which is what I'll be doing with my Year 3 students tomorrow. I have created a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation that features various Indigenous people who have may significant contributions towards shaping Australia in some way. Slides include 'kid-friendly' descriptions of sports people, artists, role models, inventors and local and national decision makers. Although it is intended for children, if you cannot think of 5 famous Indigenous people off the top of your head, perhaps you could learn a thing or two. After all, it is NAIDOC week!

    8 June 2014

    Camping at Jagged Heads on Groote Eylandt

    Last week Adrian and I ventured out to a spot called Jagged Head. We camped under the stars, literally, as we slept on foam mattresses wedged into the luggage rack atop our Troopy. I woke up several times throughout the night in fear that I’d roll off and break my neck; either that, or survive the fall and be dragged to the shallows of the water by a hungry croc lurking on the sand below. The upside to my disturbed sleep was that every time I opened my eyes, the glowing Milky Way had shifted in the night sky. It was a spectacular sight; one I’d never really stopped to admire before (perhaps due to the lights of the city outshining the stars-both literally and metaphorically).
    The time we spent out at Jagged Head would undoubtable fall into my top three favourite life experiences. Most of my favourite travelling experiences have involved an element of unfamiliarity or surprise e.g. wandering through the elaborate Disneyland-style castle where the queen of Portugal once resided and spending hours getting lost in the enchanted Sintra forest. But my time at Jagged Head was probably so enjoyable for the opposite reason; as I felt so comfortable and at peace listening to the lapping of the water whilst squishing sand between my toes and eating breakfast.
    I’m going to keep this post brief as I think Adrian might be writing his own, more detailed version for me to share in the near future. Here are some photos taken during our over-night stay. I hope you’re enjoying our photos as much as we’ve enjoyed taking them to share with you. Whilst our lives have become simple in many ways, we also feel extremely lucky to be on an island with so many exciting, natural places to explore right at our doorstep. We’d be thrilled to show any visitors these spots we now call home. If the city is dulling your stars, consider venturing a mere 60km from the mainland to join us for a cup of billy tea and an experience that may just make it into your top three.
    When you leave town (Alyangula), you must check the visitor restrictions board. The green areas on the map are the only areas outside the main three towns (Alyangula, Angururu and Umbakumba) that non-Indigenous people can visit without written permission from the traditional land owner. When a red ring is placed around a recreation area, it means the land is closed due to the death of an Indigenous person. Non-Indigenous people must avoid these areas out of respect whilst mourning ceremonies are taking place. These can last for several weeks.
    At Jagged Head the beaches face north-east, causing the prevailing wind to carry rubbish to the shore from Indonesia. The sand is littered with plastic containers, rubber shoes and glass bottles. Scavenging through the rubbish has become one of Casey's favourite weekend activities, bringing home piles of 'useless' items she 'swears' she'll use for something.
    There are many pristine spots along the coast, which is where we chose to set up camp. We decided to take our annual 'family photo' when we arrived, but Wilson was having too much fun bounding through the water; making it impossible for Adrian to keep him in the photo frame long enough for the self-timer to go off.

    Casey, Adrian and Willy go exploring through the rocky outcrop, always bearing in mind they're in croc territory.

    Playing scrabble by the camp fire. Adrian is always so determined to bet Casey and takes the game very seriously.

    Watching the sky as the stars vanish and the sun creates a stunning landscape of colour for us to admire as we eat breakfast.  

    3 June 2014

    A Day at Picnic Beach on Groote Eylandt

    We had long forgotten about our bogging the previous weekend;  and after a tiring working-week (for one of us at least), we were ready to escape town and head back into the unknown.

     This time we had the joy of accompanying some Indigenous folk out to their ‘usual spot’ under the shade of the ginormous banyan tree on Picnic Beach. Before Adrian’s friends had even mentioned cooking lunch over a bonfire or that fishing would be on the agenda, Adrian and I were smiling like Cheshire cats at the thought of such an authentic island experience.
    We decided to meet our convoy at a forked road which would inevitably lead us back along the sandy path that caused us such panic less than a week ago.  David and Nancy, their daughter, Anna, and two teenage girls were piled into a Troopy identical to ours*. They gave us a friendly wave as they sped past us and another 4x4 carrying Deb and John; Adrian’s family friends from back in Bega that coincidently arrived on island only months before us.
    David’s Troopy bucked and kicked back sand as he sped ahead. When an Indigenous person is behind the wheel, they seem to lose their ‘island time’ mentality. They charge along narrow paths with such confidence and determination to arrive at their destination as quick as possible. David and the gang were out of sight within minutes, so we stuck closely behind Deb and John who took us on a slightly different route to the one we had selected at random last week. The new route was only a marginal improvement; still inducing the tight gripping of handles and/or wheel and causing the sweaty palm effect.
    We eventually entered onto the beach at the same spectacular point we’d arrived at last week. We drove alongside the glistening blue water whilst listening to Bob Dylan on cassette.
    We parked under the shade of the banyan tree and jumped out immediately to marvel at its enormity. No photo would do it justice, as its matted limbs could not be contained by the camera frame.
    Throughout the day, our senses were immersed with new information. In fear of missing something, we rarely returned to our bag to grab the camera and therefore, only have a few photos to share with you.

    *Names have been changed for privacy
    The girls showed Casey how to collect live bait and catch fish off the rocks with a hand reel. Casey was amazed by their great patience and the process they used to eventually catch decent-sized fish to cook over the hot coals. All the while, they taught Casey Anindilyakwa words by pointing out objects in view. E.g. sun is Muggua. They found Casey’s pronunciation of these words highly entertaining. Many words contain an ‘ng’ sound at the beginning or in the middle. It sounds very nasally and unfamiliar to the English language.

    Whilst Casey was frolicking in the water, Adrian sat on the shore with Nancy and David. From the moment we had arrived, Nancy was collecting shells and various nuts/fallen bits from trees that she could use to make jewellery or add to her cooking. She taught Adrian how to whittle a tobacco pipe out of a tree branch.

    Adrian was inspired to make his own pipe, despite the fact he doesn’t smoke. He says he’s tempted to begin, seeing he now had such a fancy instrument (not if Casey has anything to do with it!)

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