Tennant Creek to A Remote Indigenous Community

I met with Leonie at the caravan park I was staying at on Wednesday. My first impressions was that she was a light, a person with much positive energy. What I saw in her face was incredible love and compassion. She told me teaching autistic kids requires more visual and emotional stimuli and I suspect very loving teachers. So the teaching techniques are more involved, you can’t force kids into the mould, it is important to observe their behaviour, change the environment where necessary and management of behaviour by staff if required. Force doesn’t work, flexibility works well for these children.

She shared with me her family, she has a son with 4 children. He is a talented musician. She told me she wasn’t creative, yet looking at her house I could see her creativity. I also noted she was a poet and loved paintings. She collected indigenous paintings and had quite a knowledge of aboriginal tradition. She had lived up in Arnhem land and her husband and children used to sail around the islands up there. Her husband made friends with the aboriginals on the stations as he was a contractor. He deeply respected them and learned their language and customs. Those who I have met who got to know the indigenous people also told me they respected them. The problems appear to be tribal rivalries, which is not uncommon in African countries and other indigenous peoples around the world. She felt they were lost at this time as some groups lived in towns and were drinking and others were out of town living traditional life or in remote areas. I found out that there are quite a few living the traditional life.

We watched a DVD I purchased about poetry and it was so inspiring. The poets were early poets, one was called Wordsworth and the other I will have to look at again. They were marvelous poets and they were a channel for describing the depth of life. They were inspiring and insightful and I found myself desiring to write poetry. After the film I went and wrote a poem.

In the morning we got organized and set off. We left at 11.30 and didn’t arrive until 4pm. It was around a 4 hour drive but we stopped and looked at the countryside, had lunch and coffee. It was an incredible drive, one I will never forget. Leonie played me the CD of Yothu Yindi’s (famous indigenous singer) brother who apparently was blind. The music was so peaceful. He was a guitarist, I really enjoyed listening. The countryside was magnificent and I’ve never seen such beautiful greens. The road was straight heading towards Alice Springs then we turned off onto Bins Road. I saw on the sign 165km in my mind I went wow long way. The soil was bright red and the landscape a sea of painted red with spinifex, ghost gums and a array of plants. We didn’t see any animals but maybe on the way back. As we traveled through the countryside you could see the beauty of the red and green painting this landscape and imagine aboriginal artists feeling inspired by their country. The rocks were red and rugged, rounded mountains, some with flat tops. I think that was to do with erosion and an inland sea in this area. There are indigenous people living in remote areas. The community we are heading for is Canteen Creek and it is a dry community (no alcohol). I am very excited to meet the indigenous kids. They haven’t seen a clown. So should be interesting to experience their reaction. Although I know how fantastic every child is.

As we drove we saw a bush fire in the distance, then we could see the flames in the distance, couldn’t be sure if it would spread fast, come towards us or pieta out. Then we came up and saw the flames quite close to the road, it was a small fire, so neither of us were alarmed. I was mesmerized by the flames, the incredible colours. Apparently the fires are lit by the local aborigines to take out the low level grasses, it then regenerates regrowth. Leonie pointed out how quickly the regrowth occurs. The land is created in harmony with fire, the gums are full of flammable resins which ignite readily and the seed pods apparently open up with heat and regerminate. So the country is designed for fire, but not those deliberately lit that destroy 100,000 hectares of forest and grasslands. It is technically the dry season and Leonie pointed out how green it seems and where the rivers would run, we noticed dry creek beds.

We chatted and drove along in this beautiful place and she shared with me her love of her job, which didn’t feel like a job and how she loved going to remote communities. She is a special needs expert so she is in an advisory capacity for Principals on problem behaviors and/or disabilities. She has been a teacher since 18 and is now in her 60’s, so very experienced. She is a very open minded person and as she talks she always put the other viewpoint, she considers other sides and is seeking to be fair. It was very joyful to see such honesty.

We discussed the idea of government funding in growth towns, rather than money into out stations (indigenous communities). So many aboriginal people wondered what the point of education is for their kids. Attendance is low at schools and schools work hard to entice them to come. If the family decides to go to Tennant Creek for 2 months they just go. The kids don’t go to school. You can feel it is a different consciousness. I think we underestimate how deeply embedded our own culture is and then even over a period of 200 years, we don’t really understand how embedded 50,000 years of ancient culture is. They are not going to become model citizens through money spent on education and housing. They have a deep culture passed on for 1,000’s of generations. The thought patterns of Western/Europeans and indigenous are different is my feeling. There are different priorities and goals in life. Different ways of viewing the land, one values ownership and productivity (anglos) and the other sees it as part of them and the connection is emotional and linked strongly to identity. This is a major difference as the economic system is built upon property rights. Whilst the indigenous are viewed as traditional owners, it appears more territorial to me rather than property ownership, such as ‘my land’. They speak more in terms of country and specifically to the country they were raised in and the people and skin name they identify with. My friend Leonie said they went for land rights in respect of the white people’s law to be able to gain their traditional lands, it was not about ownership for them but I sense going home.

My feeling is that they should return to their own culture as I feel it is a healthier life if lived traditionally and fully and may have different values about life rather than getting a job and making money which our European style culture is so fixated on. I don’t think it brings them happiness. It certainly hasn’t brought us happiness. What seems to give them strength is the strong familial bonds, but at the same time there is inter tribal conflict and violence. So breaking the cycle of violence is very important for them to return to harmony. I sense that the payback system is central and in many cultures across the world this operates from tradition. Although if they do not solve the problem but just hate the person/group then they become locked into conflict that may not end or end in tragedy. Violence appears to be the way they settle problems and it is based on winning the battle. Alcohol of course inflames this conflict and makes it much more dangerous as people are not in their right mind when drunk. Moreover, they can be vulnerable when drinking.

We had a discussion about democracy and the issue of the right to drink alcohol and domestic violence. I felt the alcohol issue was a health issue and there should be intervention given it was brought to them by white people. I am not comfortable speaking about white and black as I feel it creates such a divide. I do recognize there are differences, but somehow we have to find the common ground and be here for each other. To empower is what interests me, where people solve their own problems, they become confident that they can really tackle the challenges before them. The wisdom is inherent in all, we all have equal wisdom. This I have learned.

Leonie told me about some aboriginals that were removed to the north of the Northern Territory, they were not allowed to this leave a place, it was similar to a reservation. The government wanted them to stay. Apparently they just did a walk out and walked 1,000 km. Can you imagine walking such long distances and in this place the temperatures rise to over 50 degrees. You cannot imagine that kind of adaptation to the land. We really have no idea just how profound their knowledge is and their feeling for the land. We would be complaining after 5-10km. I feel the central issue there is that we cannot force people to live away from their territory with tribal groups not their own. I kept thinking about the inability of white people to adapt to others, we seem to need people to conform to our worldview. It does reveal ignorance. There can be perceptions of superiority through technology, professional language, education, technology, but for myself, I don’t see that. I see all people as equal but different and I don’t see anyone with the right to force others. That of course goes both ways.

We arrived at Canteen Creek and I loved the sign ‘Look for People’, so gorgeous. Definitely not white people, yet straight to the point. In this part of the world people are rare. We went straight to the school and I met Dean the Principal. He made sure all was organized as he won’t be at the school tomorrow when I teach Conflict Resolution. Leonie will come and take pictures, so it will be very interesting. I am so excited to just be with the kids. It is a very nice school. A few houses around the community and what they call camp dogs running around. Leonie told me the other community she had visited on the way to Alice Springs was far worse with dogs, they were very hungry. This community was very neat and tidy and the dogs looked very friendly and fed.

We went to the office and got the key for the cabin I’d be in. The little room is fine for my needs and I met the ladies here who are government officials and indigenous (one is non indigenous). I really enjoyed talking to them and learning from them.

Mohandas Gandhi

“My life is my message.”