With his arm elbow deep in muddy water Eddie looks up and winks and mentions that if this mud crab gets a hold of his fingers we had better watch out as we will all know about it! We were out on the Mangrove flats that the people of Ngamagkoon belong to. Eddie is part of the Sampi family, made well known by the Eagles player Ashley Sampi, a Bardi from the mob at Ngamagkoon.
The 5 of us began our journey in Broome 4 days previous. We were on what we called a “listening journey”, as part of a programme I run called OnEARTH for Global Mission Partners. We were there to listen to country, to story, to legend, to the people of the Dampier Peninsula –
Before the arrival of Europeans, the natural environment on the Dampier Peninsula provided plenty of bush tucker for the indigenous people. Creeks, tidal areas and the ocean are full of fish, dugong, mud crab and oysters and the vine thickets provide fruits and berries to make a varied and nourishing local diet.
Dampier Peninsula people still have a strong affinity with the sea and bushland, as we discovered along our journey.
After driving from Broome we arrived in Looma (120km S/E of Derby) with a population of around 400. We stayed with Natasha and Jamie Short, a wonderful couple who pastor the People’s Church as well as look after the community youth centre. They are fantastic people. Jamie is a White fella from Perth and Natasha, an Aboriginal from the Halls Creek area. They have been serving at Looma for about 7 years now and have 2 great kids.
After lunch and a swim down on the stunning Fitzroy River we drove up to Derby to visit the Whites. Paul and Laurel White pastor the Derby Baptist Church among other activities. They have bought the Aboriginal Training Centre just out of town and have big plans for growth and extension. Whilst there we did some manual labor… we raked up truck loads of dry leaves (fire hazard) and were asked to remove the stumps of 2 recently cut down Boab trees- hmmm??!!
Laurel White looked after us while we were there. She is a great lady, she has a wonderful gift of hospitality and generosity! Paul, her husband and pastor at the church is a pilot and was away in Perth during our stay. Outside the life and ministry of the predominantly white church Paul and Laurel have some amazing relationships and ministries in Aboriginal communities.
Kimberly Aid – This business has began as a result of RFDS having bigger planes and not being able to access smaller community airstrips around the Kimberley. Paul and Laurel have got a bunch of medical people and pilots to donate their time to assist in evac when RFDS can’t make it in.
Kingdom Aviation – Paul and Laurel run a 3 plane ministry that flies all over the Kimberley sharing their faith, serving the poor and running programs in schools, parent support group, and other training.
Dentistry – Laurel is a dentist nurse and in her work in Derby has made many an indigenous persons dentistry journey easier as a result of special favours and ‘working the system’ that does not always serve people from remote communities very well at all. Her willingness to make all sorts of tough things just ‘happen’ for people who otherwise couldn’t get there was wonderful! She tells a great story too!
After 2 nights in Derby we drove ‘the back way’ on some very out of the way tracks to get to Cape Leveque up on the top of the Dampier Peninsula. Upon check in at Kooljaman we drove over the hill toward our beach campsite, as we rounded the hill the most amazing view was taken in to gasps from all on board – this place was paradise! Kooljaman is jointly owned by Djarindjin and One Arm Point Aboriginal Communities and sits 220km north of Broome. We visited one of these communities on the road on the drive up the Peninsula –
Some 200 km from Broome, there are two communities very close together with about 60 Aboriginal (Bardi) people in Lombadina (first settled in the late 1890’s by Thomas Puertiollano who sold the land to the Catholic Church) and over 200 in the more traditional Djarindjin. We called in to Djarindjin specifically to catch up with Barry Ennis, the Principal from the Lombidina/Djarindjin School. We had heard through Sabrina Haan/ABC radio National that the EON Foundation from Perth had been helping the school set up a organic community Kitchen Garden. Barry showed us around the garden but was also good enough to spend time sharing with us the history of the the area. This community is not without some of the usual issues we read about in the media in remote Aboriginal regions, but there was something about the place that we all loved. We sensed a slowness and peace about it, a friendliness that drew us in.
On our first night at Cape Leveque (and every subsequent one!) we made our way down to the Western Beach and watched the sunset – undoubtably some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen!
On Friday we went to One Arm Point community (Ardiyooloon). This community is the home of the Bardi and Jawi people who were the traditional inhabitants of the area. These people are still active in hunting around the local area and in most cases still using traditional hunting methods as they hunt for sea turtle or goorlil (we saw the evidence of a fresh catch along the beach!), dugong (odorr), and many many of the amazing fish (aarli) up there. They also collect the trochus shells and make jewellery, oysters, mud crabs and more. These people are proud of their hatchery on the point where they nurture all sorts of creatures in giant tanks.
Here at One Arm Point we stopped and and chatted with a wonderful couple called Brian and Violet Carter. Their son is the Chairman of One Arm Point Aboriginal Community. This lovely old couple can tell some stories! Brian moved to Derby as a pilot in 1956, later married Violet and have lived in One Arm Point community for many many years, to look at Brian you know he is not Aboriginal but to listen to him speak and hear his heart beat, you know he is on the inside! They both sat with us and shared some great insights into the local culture, politics, and … well fishing and tides 🙂 Brian and Violet are both followers of Christ
and asked us excitedly if we had seen their ‘church’. It was a roof and some poles with a piece of shade cloth they were quite happy with – we fell in love with these guys and their beautiful faith and love for life and one another.
Saturday morning saw us pulling into Eddie’s place at Ngamagkoon, just south of Kooljaman. We had asked if Eddie could spend a few hours with us telling us about his people and their culture. He was willing and would even show us the basics of living in a coastal Bardi community. We drove out into the Mangrove Flats and went on foot (with spears) into the thick mud searching (and finding!) some VERY large crabs hiding under trees. After crabbing we headed back to the Melaleuca scrub (not venturing too far in as there were sacred ceremony sites in behind) looking for bush honey and pollen. With our ears against the trunks listening for bees we wandered through the scrub until Eddie found the right spot, cut it open and allowed us to sample the most
beautiful tasting honey and pollen (tastes like sherbet). Interesting, one white person we met, not knowing or respecting much of Aboriginal culture told us with some disdain that “Aboriginal people set fire to everything!”
But Eddie taught us that his people light the bush to thin it, also to make it better for collecting their fire wood, as well as for hunting the stuff in the long grass, such a different window we were now looking through! From there we went out onto one of the most stunning coastal scenes I have seen. The Ngamagkoon people’s land has a creek running out into the ocean where they do much of their spearing and fishing from.
This site was one of untouched bush and mangrove reaching to long white beaches and crystal clear aqua coloured lagoons. After extracting our car from the soft sand we headed back to Eddie’s place to bid him farewell and be told that we were welcome back to his country and community any time.
This time with Eddie was more than we could have hoped for and all voted it as the highlight of our trip that was drawing to a close faster than we wanted. We headed back to camp for one more afternoon sleep (a tradition we embraced…or did we start that one?), a fire with some reflections of our time away, and a dinner of local Barramundi, Kangaroo and … cow! Eddie mentioned that morning that there were a few ‘stray’ cattle around 🙂
Sunday morning, time to make our way back to Broome for a 1pm flight to Perth. On our return down the challenging stretch of unsealed road we took time to visit Beagle Bay Community. It was looking very nice and manicured after a week of political meetings discussing a report written by an old school mate Steve Kinnane. I read Steve’s book Shadow Lines while we travelled this week. The book follows the lives of his Grandmother (a Mirrawong woman stolen from Argyle Station in the early 1900’s) and his grandfather (an Englishman) through to today. What a brilliant read! (See below)
The Beagle Bay community is located 120 kilometres from Broome. In the centre of the community there’s a beautiful church, built of stone from 1914-1918 by German Pallottine monks, who settled here around 1901.
On entering the Sacred Heart Church you can see a stunning pearl shell altar. Coloured windows create a special mood in the building. But, we forgot it was Sunday and church had already started and we had a plane to catch, so we missed the insides 😦
The community’s name was derived from the vessel “Beagle”, which moored at the bay when the priests were looking for a suitable mission place in 1889, ironic really as this was the ship Charles Darwin sailed on. It was much of his work that was used to base most of the atrocities done to our Aboriginal people!
If you are wanting to connect and learn more with the rich lives of the first Aussies, grab a copy of The First Australians (SBS), or Read Steve’s book Shadow Lines (2003, Fremantle Arts Press). One review says that … “Shadow Lines revolves around two people born a world apart, a half caste Aboriginal woman by the name of Jessie Argyle, and an Englishman named Edward Smith. Edward was born in 1891 and emigrated to Australia in 1909 as an eighteen year-old. Jessie was born in the Argyle region in the far north of Western Australia in 1900, and was taken from her family in 1906 under the newly created Aborigines Act of 1905. This book makes the often dry history of Western Australia since white colonisation come alive, and is probably a far better way to learn about the sordid history of this state than by way of the official history textbooks.
What Kinnane has done here is weave together a rich tapestry of historical tales”…read the rest here.
Not everything we saw ‘impressed’ us. Not every road taken in order to work among the people of the Kimberley would be a road I would have taken. This makes neither my road right or the road we observed wrong, just different tracks people take and our reactions to them. We went to look listen and learn from all we encountered, I trust this is what has happened.
Well I have to say that sometimes I love my job – last week was one of those times 🙂
Thanks to The Wembley Downs Church of Christ (where I hung out for the first 18 years of my life! As our new friend Eddie might say “they grew me up”) for making this trip a reality and for those who travelled the journey Dennis R, Steve M, Matt B and Ken V – What a great a bunch of guys to hang out with for a week, Thanks!
I love the video “The Power of Community”. It’s all about how when Cuba lost its source of oil (and money!) when Russia pulled out, it had to ‘go it alone’. And that was particularly in the area of oil driven industry…which ones are not!! But the video focused on the food/farming industry mostly. A great watch.
But I was just reading a blog I look at from time to time called Organictobe.org. They have some good (and obscure) articles on there. I like it. Here are some great thoughts on economics … and horses –
The modern pet craze is not limited to cats and dogs but embraces many animals, especially horses. [ ] Statistics say there are 6.9 million horses in the U.S. involved in various activities from racing, showing, pleasure riding, polo, police work, farming and ranching. The horse business or hobby adds about $112 billion to the GNP. Horses generate more money than the home furniture and fixtures business, and almost as much as the apparel and textile manufacturing industry. In other words, while we generally think of Old Dobbin as a step backward in time in agriculture, horses are very much a part of our modern economic and social lives today.
Why this is pertinent to garden farming becomes apparent from what happened a few months ago. At the time when the national banking fraternity was on its knees in Washington, begging for money, news all over the media reported that Hometown Heritage bank in Lancaster County, Pa., was having its best year ever. Hometown Heritage may be the only bank in the world, surely one of the few, that has drive-by window service designed to accommodate horses and buggies. Some 95% of the bank’s customers are Amish farmers. The banker, Bill O’Brien, says that he has not lost a penny on them in 20 years. They obviously don’t have auto loans to pay off and do not use credit cards. They might not need bank loans at all except to buy farmland, which especially in Lancaster County, has risen almost insanely in price. O’Brien says he is doing about a hundred million dollars worth of business in farm loans. To further make the point, an obscure law does not allow banks to bundle and sell mortgages on farms and homes that are not serviced by public electric utilities.
There is plenty in this situation for economists to contemplate, but what struck me the most was the fact that these farmers are buying farm land that can cost them ten thousand dollars per acre or sometimes more, and paying for it with horse farming. And because of their religion, the Amish do not accept farm subsidies that keep many “modern” farms “profitable.” Facing these facts, it is very difficult to see how economists or agribusiness experts can claim that farms using horses or mules for motive power are any more backward, or any less profitable, than farms using tractors.
If you study the great debate that raged in farm circles from about 1920 to 1950 over the economics of horses and mules vs. tractors, (a good recent book on the subject is Mule South To Tractor South, by George B. Ellenberg, Univ. of Alabama Press, 2007), you will learn that the experts never agreed. Both sides finally admitted that it didn’t matter anyway. There was a rising kind of younger farmer for whom tractors were just too alluring to resist. These farmers were going to use them, no matter how much more they cost than horses. Farmers who loved farming with horses wept while they watched trucks haul their teams off to the the rendering plant. They did not get rid of their horses because of the supposedly harder work involved but because they were afraid that if they did not switch, the farmers who did switch would eventually take all the land.
Full article here
Matty B just emailed some info on this Homeless Connect idea. I had been chatting with someone about it last Sat night when we were in at Perth Church of Christ sharing with them in a meal they provide for the homeless of Perth every Sat night.
Why not jump over there and see if you could volunteer?
See also this video from Homeless Connect Brisbane –
The Fish and the Shadow (as retold by Richard Trudgen in Why warriors lie down and die, 2000, pp. 161-163). This story was originally told by an Yolngu man (Arnhem Land, NT), Tony Binalany Gunbalga, in response to a government worker who was trying to get their community to embrace unemployment benefits in the late 1970’s. The government worker couldn’t understand why the old people were resisting the generous offer…
He told the following story.
A long time ago, somewhere near here, there was a billabong. It was very beautiful, with calm clear water and water lilies growing across the surface. In the water lived some fish families – mother and father fish, old fish, young fish. They were very happy and loved their home.
Every morning the fish woke up and went about their work. The mother and father fish went off hunting for food, working hard all day. The young fish went with them, learning everything they could from their parents: where to find the best food, how to catch it and how to be on guard against sea eagles, ducks and other enemies. Their parents taught them many things about life while they worked together.
In the evening all the fish came together and shared the different types of food they had found during the day. They also told stories about the day’s activities. If any fish had done something funny during the day, other fish acted it out, making everybody laugh. At night the fish went to sleep early, tired from their day’s work.
The old fish taught the younger ones discipline of mind, body and soul, giving them direction and advice on all aspects of life. The young ones listened in awe to their wise counsel, hoping not to miss or forget even one word. The fish all shared responsibility for life in the billabong. They lived well and were very happy. They didn’t depend on anyone else or leave their work to others.
Then one day about four o’clock in the afternoon, the fish saw a shadow fall across the water. Something stood near the billabong. The fish had not seen anything like it before. The shadow threw something white into the water. The fish saw it land on the surface, sending rings out across the billabong. They all shrank back, fearful as the white stuff sank to the bottom.
After a while a couple of brave fish – there are always a couple in any mob – swam up gingerly to the white stuff. They nibbled it, finding the taste funny at first. But they nibbled it again and again until there was none left. When the white stuff and the shadow had gone, all the fish went back to their hunting and other work.
Four o’clock the next day the shadow came again. This time, because all the fish had been talking about the shadow and the white stuff, many more came out of hiding to taste it.
The shadow came again and again at four o’clock every afternoon. Now the fish quickly grabbed at bits of this white stuff, trying to eat as much as they could because it was free for the taking. The fish found the taste bland but it filled them up. As time went on they named the white stuff ‘bread’. The shadow threw bread to the fish every day, giving it freely.
Slowly the life of the fish started to change. They waited for the shadow to come every afternoon. At first they still went out in the morning to gather some tasty food for themselves and returned in the afternoon for the shadow. But when the shadow saw that lots of fish were interested in the bread, it threw more and more into the billabong. Soon the fish were not going out in the morning any more. They just waited around for the shadow to feed them.
For the first time in their existence, the fish found themselves bored at night. There were no more interesting stories to tell about the day’s experiences and they were not tired because they had done no work. Many stayed up most of the night because sleep would not come until the early hours of the morning. They started to find other ways to take up their time, gambling and things like that. This caused many arguments. Soon the fish were getting up late, but this was not a problem because they only had to wait for a while before the shadow came. The bread was still bland, but it was easy food and the fish had grown too lazy to care.
Trouble, however, was brewing. Some fish, completely forgetting their old cooperative ways, raced to get to the bread first. ‘We were the first to taste the bread when you were all scared, so the shadow’s bread belongs to us. You mob go away and find your own shadow,’ they argued. Others said, ‘the shadow comes to our end of the billabong. That means the bread belongs to us.’ They fought and jostled each other out of the way. Fish got hurt, which caused arguments between families. Sometimes these arguments went on for a long time, causing bigger fights. The fish had stopped thinking about each other; they only thought about themselves.
Then the old fish became very sad because the young fish had no respect any more. They did whatever they liked, following their undisciplined desires. It was all too hard to deal with. Many old fish became so sad that they died.
More and more the fish’s life changed. They didn’t teach their young ones the old ways any more. And they took and kept the bread for themselves, wanting it desperately, their hearts held by it. Many fish mistakenly thought the bread must be good for them because it made them all very fat.
Then the shadow began to change. Usually it came right on time and the fish were happy. But sometimes the shadow came a little late. This made the fish angry. ‘Why is it keeping us waiting?’ It knows we’ve been waiting all day,’ they cried. Then the day came when the shadow forgot to bring bread at all. As this became more frequent, the fish got really mad, swearing at the shadow and even threatening to hurt it in some way. But these threats only made the fish feel very weak because they knew their threats were hollow. They could not hurt the shadow; it was too powerful. It lived outside the billabong where no fish had ever lived. And only it knew the source of the bread on which they had come to depend.
There was now a deep feeling of emptiness and shame within the fish. They didn’t value or even think about anything other than bread any more. They lived badly, unhappily, with their hearts and spirits bound. Their lives became powerless and meaningless. They got sick because of their troubled thinking and couldn’t sleep at night. They had no peace of mind and felt deeply insecure, not knowing who they were or where they belonged.
Then came the time when the shadow no longer fell on the water. maybe the source of the bread had dried up. All the fish grew skinny and lamented its passing, because they were too weak to go hunting for themselves or didn’t know how. They had forgotten the way of the ngurrnggitj (black charcoal) – the time-honoured way of their ancestors.
Here is an extract from a great article Harry from Peace Tree put me on to, I loved it.
It dawned on me that what I was witnessing was a near perfect example of a local economy in action. And when Andy started talking specifically about economics, which he will do if pressed although normally he is quiet and reserved, he “brought home” the significance of what I was looking at. He and Jan delight in their frugal life style which is the main reason they can afford to keep on being such small farmers producing such high quality food. Their house, partly underground, is modest and environmentally sane. They heat it with their own wood cut and split from their own woodlot. Parts of the house and of other buildings are made from salvaged materials. They raise most of the food they eat, obviously. They are keen practitioners of home medicine. They are very artful recyclers of material our wasteful society throws away. And they are content with their lives. “We would rather do without many things that modern society strives for,” Andy says, “so as to have the time to grow really good food while enjoying the natural and spiritual world around us. We could expand, work ourselves to distraction and make more money. We choose to avoid that trap.” I have used Andy’s observation about their life style before: “It is rather easy to live comfortably below the so-called cost of living because the government keeps raising the index.” This is something that today’s society needs to hear, especially now that the international economy has come near to collapse because so many people are so unwilling to live sensibly and have therefore borrowed themselves into bankruptcy.
Full article here