Desert Feet Tour – April 2011
Friday 15th April – 1 Day before Desert Feet Tour
My house looked like a cross between a mechanics workshop and an extreme camping safari base and I had my arms covered in grease up to my elbows working on the truck when the phone rang. It was Alienor from the project management company RPM, she was in Marble Bar and had just tried to get out to Punmu. She said the whole country was under water. They had crossed one flood way but had turned back at the second, seeing a car stranded part way out with water up to its roof. The rains had persisted well past their usual season and it looked like our road was blocked to the last 3 communities we had planned to visit. The land out there floods as fast as they dry up so in the mean time I had to just keep acting as if, and get this show on the road. My team this year will consist of my veteran performers Brian Lloyd (Bryte MC) our hip hop performer, and his partner and probably the most integral member of our convoy Candice Lorrae (Ulla Shay) our Pop singer/ music teacher and our representative from the music college Abmusic.
This year our tour objectives will be more focused on delivering band equipment to each community we visit and recording and developing songs and music with the kids that they can play and develop in our absence. This new partnership with a registered training organisation means all our workshops will be accredited under a Diploma of Music, and the kids will all receive a certificate of participation.
To make all this happen I have invested in extra crew members for the trip with a broader skill set. Namely Rob Findlay, a muso and recording engineer with multiple instrument skills. Rob recorded our first album Vow of Poverty back in ’08 but also often plays lead guitar for us live. He will accompany us on the guitar and bass during the concerts and record the song writing workshops. Ewen Buckley mixed a set I played live once at the Environmentalist Rally in Cottesloe. He had heard about our workshops and had asked me back then if ever there was a spare spot to give him a call. He is travelling as our sound technician but also plays guitar and bass but has is a recording engineer background too.
Ben Lanzon is a drum teacher here in Perth. He will join us for the first concert in Newman and will visit Jigalong community to run workshops with us before flying home. Tony McDonnell is a bush man, he grew up riding horses and living off the land. I have employed him as our driver for the second vehicle, however he will double as a cook and a roadie. There is of course myself and then I have left Emily Minchin to last because she deserves a special mention.
I would even venture to say that without her, this tour would not be leaving Perth now would it nor the previous 3 have been possible. As a volunteer for the Not-For-profit organisation that coordinates and runs this tour she has basically worked full time along full time Study at WAPA to make this all happen again. She is a treasure.
Saturday 16th April – Departure Day
At 12pm last night I finally had the sea container packed and ready to crane onto the truck. But when I went to lift it on it was too heavy for the crane. Tony and I looked at each other and the idea of unpacking it again in the middle of the night was too much to bear. So our plans to head off at 5am came to an end.
Emily was not even home yet from her Brother’s wedding and so we decided to just get some rest and do what we could in the morning. After repacking and loading the truck we got away about 10am and the Prado caught up to us a Meekatharra where we stopped for a counter meal.
I had beds ready for us at The Newman Hotel and we arrived at 4am about 3 hours after the Prado.
Sunday 17th April – Day 1 – Newman
I got a quick few hours sleep and then jumped up about 6am to get ready for the show tonight. Newman will be our last shopping centre for over 2 weeks so we stocked up on food and gear. Not being sure if we can get out to all the communities I decided to store the last 3 sets of Band equipment in storage with BHP in town as it would lighten our load considerably. As this is our first gig tonight I wanted a good lead in time to make sure everything works. This will be the first time I have run the PA up and done a full set up with the gear and it took us nearly 4 hours. But the end result was a very professional and good looking outfit! The concert went well and the sound was great. In fact we got asked to turn it down twice.
We played at the local aquatic centre this year and the grounds were very comfortable and the location was much better, only thing was that most people are used to us playing at Boomerang oval and as a result I think it cost us a few people. Although the audience wasn’t huge the quality was great and those that came got a great show on the grassy area while the kids played in the pool. The East Pilbara Shire put on a huge BBQ too and the night was, I believe, a resounding success. The main thing is that it all worked and it was a good trial run before we head into the desert.
Monday 18th April – Day 2 – Jigalong
On arriving in Jigalong I headed straight to the local store where the office and community CEO would be. I picked up the keys for the Rabbit Proof Fence, which is the name of the visitors accommodation here, and sent the guys over to bump in. Meanwhile I dropped into the police station to see my old friend Senior Sergeant Brian Dance. Brian was very welcoming and gave me an update on the road conditions. It seemed that the road through to Cotton Creek was now safe, however the way through to Punmu from there was impassable. This meant we might have to drive all the way back from Cotton Creek to the Jigalong road out to the Marble Bar to get out on the Telfer road to get to the last 3 communities Punmu, Kunawarritji and Kiwirrkurra which are all east of there. But as long as we can get there I don’t care which way we have to go.
As I left the police station an old Bushy that had been on the phone in the main office came up to me outside. Kim had an AC (Aboriginal Corporation) shirt on and evidently worked for them. They are one of the main servicing organisations out here, but Kim had driven down from Cotton Creek that morning. He told me that he had got through from Punmu the day previous and knew of a way around the flooded lake. I asked if I could drop in and see him in Parnngurr when we arrived in a few days and grabbed his phone number.
Tuesday 19th April – Day 3 – Workshops in Jigalong
I should be telling you about the success of the workshops today but I just have to write about the trip to the rock pool first. After unloading the gear and grabbing a bite to eat we were visited by 4 little curious faces from our workshop audience. Jerek, Elton, Tristan and Jerome who arrived on a couple of beat up old bikes with huge smiles and happy laughter. Jerek was interested to know if we had fishing gear which I supplied him with on the grounds he showed me where he used them.
Upon discovering that I had a fishing rod he became very excited and within moments we had a Prado packed to bursting point with a team of eager campers made up of 4 little locals, 5 Great White Hunters and our hip hop star, Bryte MC. I’m not sure where they led us or what it was called (other than, Rock Pool) but I know we crossed the Rabbit Proof Fence after about half an hours’ drive. We passed over some flat desert plains without incident and then struck out east for a distant range, barely visible. As we approached the country became green and lush and soon white gums sprang up all around us until we came to a halt at the base of a huge table top ridge. The kids lead us down a track on foot ’til a stunning oasis opened before us. The Rock Pool was evidently the residual catchment from a wet season water fall. Surrounded by 100 foot ridges, the water must burst over this ridge like a veritable Niagra Falls, only to turn off like a tap just as suddenly. That’s the thing about the outback here, dichotomy of extremes, always!
One season you can be stuck here surrounded by water in every direction, the next you can die of thirst in less than a few days. No fish was to be caught here but a whole lot of fun was to be had jumping off rocks into the deep, cool water, and clambering up the rocky ridge to explore and pose for photos in the gorgeous desert sunset. Jerek was absolutely enthralled by my fishing tackle box! For all that was in there, all he would take at the end of the day was a small piece of line and a single hook and small sinker, which he wrapped around his wrist like a utility bracelet. Happy as Larry, he sat up on the arm rest between the two front seats as we drove home in the dark telling Tony when to turn, which track was best and when to slow down, his little voice full of confidence and authority. “Slow” he would say, then once, I heard him lean into Tony’s ear close and whisper “now fast!” Tony hit the accelerator just in time for a small rise in the road and the Prado sailed over, like an elevator falling, everyone in the car laughed as we bounced down on the other side. Our little pilot evidently knows this country like the back of his hand.
For those of you that have read my previous blogs on the tour, you will be familiar with our workshop program, and needless to say that out here nothing ever goes to plan. Jigalong has a large population for a remote community and might have up to 100 kids at the local school on any given day, but that can change radically depending on circumstances . The big one is sorry business. If someone has died in any of the communities, the whole place can become virtually empty in moments, especially if an Elder passes away. Sorry business is very serious business out here and can last for weeks. Local football carnivals can fill or empty a community as everyone out here plays or at least watches footy. But for now it is just the holiday break, a lot of adults had gone into town for the school holidays that will begin tomorrow. In fact, today was the last day of school and just before we set up on the assembly area the teachers had given out the prizes for attendance for the last term.
The principal announced our workshops to the kids but some had to leave to head into town and others having finished school for the day wanted to go home. This in fact was not a bad thing because it left a party of about 20 kids with us that had chosen to stay because of an interest in music. Once we stared to make some noise a few of the older teenage boys walked in too, which was very encouraging. The Jigalong song that the kids wrote was really one of the best so far. We have enough songs now for a small compilation CD. The themes are all common but the kids enthusiasm never fails to be infectious. We try to make it as organic as possible but of course we have a rhythm and chords preselected and a few lines of the chorus made up in case they are not to responsive but most times they will write the words themselves. Jigalong’s song was more of a ballad type arrangement and the kids liked the opportunity to call out their community’s name in the chorus that they chose. The words “this is the Jigalong song, a song for staying strong, the, we’ve been here so lonnnnnnnnnnnng, song. I thought that was pretty creative for a kids song and it received lots of little approving nods when we asked them if they like it during the chorus construction part of the workshop. The main aim is that they receive something they are interned in singing about. All the parts of the song are recorded live, most importantly is that we record them singing on it, if someone can get up and play one of the instruments, that’s even better. They see how each track (instrument) is recorded over the previous until we have a full song, drums, base, acoustic guitar, lead break, vocals and most importantly their harmonies. We then bounce the song down and each of the kids gets a copy of the CD.
But the real highlight of this day for me was our dinner guests. After our little adventure the four kids came back to the Rabbit Proof Fence and had dinner with us. I have never seen a kid eat so much. Jerek ate a bowl of sausage stew with bread and milk then 3 muesli bars. Then a whole steak and two potatoes. I told him that he just ate more food then he weighed, to which he just shrugged and said “got any more cool drink?”.
Wednesday 20th April – Day 4
Ben has taken to joining me for my early morning yoga sessions, him and I seem to be the early birds in the group and he is always up early practicing his drum technique on a practice pad. He is a man of incredible discipline but his back has given him a few troubles with his job and a few simple poses I showed him gave him great relief instantly. This motivated him to add Yoga to his very tightly run schedule. But today was something really special as our little posse of locals showed up bright and early, eager to tuck into the Weet-bix they saw on the shelf last night and the fresh milk that we brought out from Newman. Soon however, we had a hysterical show as the kids, intrigued by our contorted manoeuvres, tried to imitate the Asanas. I don’t suppose they had ever seen anyone doing Yoga before and they thought it was pretty funny, little Tristan’s downward-facing-dog was actually pretty impressive.
Today was a real trial with the workshops as Candice wanted to try out her music reading lessons. Also on the agenda was the first set up with new band equipment. These are both workshops we have not yet tried out. Tony and I made a start on getting the truck ready to head out first thing in the morning and I fuelled up at the one and only pump in Jigalong. We headed over to the school about 10:30am and loaded in the band gear. The commotion attracted most of the kids left here on the community and once a couple of the older kids started to play, the resulting sound brought in the rest.
Some really inspirational stuff happened in the spur of the moment and I think as much learning took place in the fringes during the completely unrehearsed and open format, as did in the workshop. One thing was sure and that is, the desire to get back on those instruments was like a golden carrot and all were eager and focused in Candice’s music reading workshop. The resulting footage was just amazing, even the local dogs and cats joined us and I think they might even be more musical for it. The end result was that the whole school was able to play 5 bars of time, reading from the sheet music, in tempo and in tune and not once but several times through! That included every kid starting from about age 6 right through to teenagers. Everyone had an instrument. We had a huge selection on percussion stuff for the younger kids, like tambourines and bomgos and shakers. And the older kids played on the electric guitars and drum equipment. Everyone had an instrument and everyone played a part.
Unfortunately, this is where Ben and the Desert Feet Tour must part. Tony will take Ben into Newman to fly home, pick up some shopping and the rest of the PA equipment which we stored with BHP. There’s been no more rain so far and the Police seem to think there’s a fair chance we will make it to Punmu so we’ll need the rest of the gear in case we get through from the Parnngurr side. If we do, we won’t be seeing civilisation now till the 2nd May. The road through to Punmu from Cotton Creek will take us out to Kunawarritji and Kiwirrkurra, if we can get through from this side, but the most likely scenario is that we’ll have to go the long way around, through Marble Bar.
Leaving tomorrow means we need to repack the sea container. 2 days of pulling stuff in and out had made a mess of it so Emily and I took the opportunity to strip it right out and start again. We left the guys at the school to jam with the remaining students that just wanted to play free style and as we walked back to the sea container the sounds of desert Reggae filled the hot and dusty afternoon air. It took us over an hour to get ready and when we came back the kids along with Ewan and Candice were still jamming! They even had a few songs down pat! I have never seen kids learn so fast anywhere!
Once loaded and packed away, we stored the band equipment to be left behind in the library of the school and headed home to pick up the fishing gear. The very important task of consoling our long nagging hosts desire to lead us out to the local creek for a fish was becoming unbearable and like any self respecting guest we obliged them. Coincidently we had a fair selection of fishing gear that the kids were very eager to get their hands into (I guess the work had got around since yesterday) and young Jerek and Tristan, being now almost part of our posse, diligently lead us into the desert, south towards a green looking valley where they informed us, “the creek runs”, however the name of this Creek I was unable to discover as all my inquiries were simply answered with “THE creek”. Of course to the kids of Jigalong, this is the whole world so how could there be a need to differentiate it between any other creek? as we walked out into the desert, the kids chased crickets amongst the Spinifex to use as bait. Bare footed and free, I realised that in a lot of ways these kids are luckier than others, for all the things they don’t have or that they seemingly lack by our standards, they have one thing we in the city can never have, they have a connection to their back yard and their back yard is endless, they have a play ground of endless resource. But the kids of Jigalong are not just free with the spirit of childhood, that immaculate ability to be present and fulfilled in every moment, they have something more, like a extra string in the bow of innocence, they are truly free, free from the needs and desires of the modern world. This little dusty village in the desert is their world and it is them that make it shine like a polished mirror, the nature of their freedom, the smiling impunity, the consistent laughter, the language of their actions is a freedom we cannot know. Maybe it because they have a direct and clear linage back to a time immeasurable. Maybe it’s just because they know where they have come from, maybe its because they know they belong, their sense of themselves is as connected to the earth as a tree is strong. Maybe these people are the lucky ones and we are missing out? Maybe we’ve just looked at it the wrong way all this time?! One thing is certain to me and all of the people on this trip will verify it. There is no violence, there is no hostility, there is nothing wrong or shameful about life in a remote Aboriginal community. It is dirty, it is tough and it is very, very hot. But on many levels it is far more sensible then how we live in the city! Could it be that the media are lying to us about what happens out here? Or are they just capitalizing on the worst parts?
Thursday 21st April – Day 5 – Road to Parnngurr (pronounced a bit like Bungor)
I learn a few very valuable lessons today. Out here things can go horribly wrong in seconds and there is nothing worse than that feeling of uncertainly as you drive deeper and deeper up a road that just gets narrower and narrower until you reach a point in which you make a few crossing that you know are so hard that going back becomes an issue. Rule number one: When travelling in a convoy stay together! When we left Jigalong this morning the road to Cotton Creek (Parnngurr) seemed obvious. On the chart there was only two options, one was via the Mine entry about 30km west back towards Newman the other via a old station called Billinooka, had a closer turn off just a few km’s outside Jigalong. The 2 roads met at the Talawana Track and carried on to Cotton Creek. The boys had lost the spare tyre off the trailer coming in from Newman last night, so they headed off to find it first. We left early to get a run up as we are the slower vehicle. Mistake number one!
It soon became obvious to us in the truck that the Billinooka road was not in use, 20km into it we hit wash outs and I had been in 4×4 Low for nearly an hour when we came out of the sandy bog at the station. Seeing the tin roofs glinting in the distance we decided to drive in and make sure the rest of the road was ok for use. Not wanting to leave the road in case the guys came up behind, I pulled the truck up on the side and Brian and I walked in towards the buildings, leaving Em and Candice with the truck.
Mistake number two! Never leave your vehicle. When we got within shout of the station it became clear it was empty. Cars turned rusty sat in driveways with their doors wide open. Front doors on verandas banged in the wind. An old Telstra phone hung limp from the receiver. I tried the line, dead. Stone cold empty like the plague had passed through last week. It was eerie.
Back at the truck we decided that we should wait for the car. Not knowing if the guys had found the spare and with the road under our belt questionable it seemed the right thing to do. After half an hour we got worried and turned back. It took another hour to make the main road to Jigalong again, and still no sign of the guys. Scared that they might come along the turn off while we headed back into Jigalong, Brian and I decided to wait in the bush while the girls took the truck back into town to look for them.
When the girls got to Jigalong they were eventually pointed in the direction of the local Ranger who told them that the first half of the Billinooka road was the worst part of the whole 4 hour trip to Cotton Creek, and we had just done it twice!
Assuming that the guys must have taken the other road, and now aware that it was the better one, we headed off in hot pursuit, only 4 hours behind schedule.
Mistake number three! Never drive into the desert without giving someone at your destination an ETA!
While they were in town, the girls called the Ranger (the only phone number they could get through to) at Cotton Creek, told them we were leaving and would arrive in about 4 hours, and asked them to look out for the guys if they arrived and let them know we were safe. For us though, it was not until we pulled into the community at 630pm that night that we knew where the boys were.
Lesson!! Get a Satellite phone next year!!!
We had been on the road for 9 hours when we arrived at Parngurr (pronounced Bungor.. sort of…). The guys, who had arrived earlier in the afternoon were buzzing from their adventures, they had already been goanna hunting, swimming in the creek and had a scratch match on the local footy field. Dinner was served just as we pulled in and around the dinner table we compared notes. It was all funny now that we were safe, but we made it a rule that we have hourly check points and stay together at all times from now on. Obviously, we had to delay the concert as it was well after dark when we pulled in, however later that night we went over to the basket ball court to meet some of the kids and we were pretty well received. I think this community will be really fun to perform and do the workshops at.
One thing that struck me about the country out here is the incredible diversity and absolute abundance of insects and creatures. The bathroom is full of the cutest little frogs, a python hung off our back fence when we walked out to the veranda and as the sun set, a veritable cascade of many legged things flocked to the lights in our abode. I found one bug a lot like a Rhino beetle, but when I went to pick it up it let off a sound like a boiling kettle. Much to everyone’s delight (but probably not the poor little bugs’) we poked at it for some time, encouraging the intriguing sound. There is a bird here I have no idea what sort, that sounds like a delicate sound on a little plastic recorder that we used to be given in school. There must be 20 or 30 variations of size shape and length of the praying mantis. Some so thin they look praying mantis from a POW camp, one that Ewan found looked like it had an alfoil jacket on and another had eyes that glowed, fluoro!! Then there are the crickets! One that I found looked like he had been on steroids, with big bulging cricket muscles, another looked like the Rambo of the cricket kingdom! Covered in what looked like a camouflage outfit resembling a solider ready for battle and a cross between the alien out of Predator. Maybe the movie director saw this guy when they designed the predator?!
The local coordinator out here is a young bloke called Stretch. He was wearing a Kurrunpa Kunyjunyu shirt, the Healthy Lifestyle program that James Back had set up and we knew a lot of the same people that I had meet through James back in the ’09 tour. It seems he worked for them for while too and so I got an update of where everyone was, especially X-Man, who had taken us up to the Eagle nest flat top in Punmu, one of the most incredible desert camp sites I have ever seen yet. Stretch’s real name was Nyaparu. In the Martu language, Nyaparu means ‘name that cannot be said’. In traditional Law, once someone passes away that name cannot be spoken for one year. This means anyone else with that name become Nyaparu. Not only a person with that name cannot be spoken but anything with that name. for instance, if someone called Bill died you could no longer call the Billy Can a Billy Can, it would now be the Nyaparu Can. So it can get interesting fast, especially as the punishment for speaking the name of the dead is quite harsh. About 4 people I have met so far have introduced themselves as Nyaparu.
Stretch seemed to really have his finger on the pulse. He was the local contact point for just about everything, whether it was fixing a generator, or making a phone call Stretch was the guy you saw, he was the Centrelink rep, the store manager, the weather man, the main roads information line, and the police even used him to issue warrants and fines. He told me point blank that the road to Punmu via Marble Bar was closed to trucks. It had only been open for 2 days to high 4×4 vehicles. He also told me that trucks are fined $1000 a tyre if caught on the roads when closed. Something I didn’t know. It seems that one of the Elders had got through on the road from here last week but I had taken him so long to get through that he came back via the Telfer road and Marble Bar and Nullagine just that day. So at this stage we had two options; wait here till the Telfer road is opened to trucks, or take the short cut from here and use the detour that Kim had spoken about. Stretch seemed to think we would be looking at a good 10 to 12 hours drive that way, if we could make it.
Friday 22nd April – Day 6 – Parnngurr (otherwise known as Cotton Creek)
The guys had made a few friends here prior to our (those in the Truck) arrival so our workshop was well anticipated by the community. Everyone on the tour, now having done a few workshops, were getting the hang of it and we learnt a few tricks that helped us to be more efficient. Most importantly, we decided to use the band equipment we are supplying to the community for the work shop, instead of our own, so the kids got to see it being set up and also, so that we can use it for the recording session. However these guys had never had this sort of program run here before and it was a little daunting for the younger ones to start with. The song writing workshop was received with absolute silence and most of the kids were too shy to suggest any words or lines for the songs at all. Even with bribes of shirts, beanies and snacks they could not be enticed out of their self consciousness’. Luckily we are prepared for that and had most parts of the song prewritten for just this type of situation. Recording the song became difficult too, as no matter what we did, no one would be the first to sing out loud. These kids are extremely isolated from almost every form of extraverted performance. Shame is a big thing for them. What it means is that you cannot be seen to be trying to be better than others. Worse still is the idea that you might try and fail. Then not only would you be ‘Shame’ you would be ridiculed by your peers. This fear is a barrier that is hard to overcome in areas of uncertainty or experimentation. The big break though for us came when one of the older kids, Ryder, a Punmu boy staying with family on their way to the funeral in Meekatharra, got up and offered to play the bass on the recording. The other kids where very impressed by this and we were finally able to get a few takes of the song down. Some of the kids even joined in on the chorus ever so softly but we managed to record them singing and hey presto the Parnngurr Song was born.
The really exciting development happened after the workshop when a little jam session started up on the community’s new band equipment. Ryder asked if we could play a song he had written for a girl he was missing. Brian jumped on the drums and Candice on the bass and he sang and played the electric guitar. Rob asked him if he felt like recording it and Ryder was just over the moon. Soon we had drum track laid for him and then over-dubbed his guitar which he got pretty effortlessly. We had to cut it short because we needed to head over and set up for the gig but we promised him if he came over to our camp the following day we would record the bass, vocals, and some harmonies too. He was super keen and we made it a date.
In the mean time Tony and I took the truck over to the local basketball court and set up for the concert. Emily is a fine crane operator now and I leave all the Hiab driving to her. She is gentle and patient and has never made a mistake yet, so it is better to have someone drive it that is really good at it, than everyone just wanting to have a turn because it’s fun. One wrong move with that sucker and you can be in trouble super fast. 2 and half tonne can render a whole world of damage, fast. The boom, if it’s not lifted out of the cradle in a very specific way, can lock the whole jib in and jam itself shut. Plus, driving with the PTO on or the hydraulic legs still down would render the truck unusable in seconds. One tiny mistake like that out here and the truck is incapacitated and I can tell you there is no heavy duty mechanics around here. I do believe it would be the end of the truck and needless to say the end of the tour. One only needs to look around at the endless graveyards of decommissioned cars tucks and vehicles of all discriptions to see what happens when a car breaks down out here.
Our set-up time is down to about an hour and a half now. Rob stayed at the camp to make a huge curry stew and dhal with rice for dinner. By the time we did sound check it was nearly time to kick off and I had time to fly home stuff some stew in my gob and take a quick shower. Setting up in the heat and dust is really dirty work. I completely destroy a set of clothes every time. The dust out here it gets into everything including your skin, it makes your hands crack and your sinuses bleed. It’s basically like metal filings I guess. There is so much iron ore in the ground, patches of the earth look like metal sheets in places. We had a lot of trouble getting power to the truck. The outlet on the court didn’t work, the next closest one didn’t work either and we ended up having to run three 20 metre cords over from someone’s house. The problem with doing that is all our power comes off one point and our power requirements are just on the border of too much for one outlet.
Next year the first thing on the agenda will be a generator I reckon.
The concert in Parnngurr was a real buzz, the audience was small but very appreciative! All the resident wadjallas (white fellas) came too, which was really nice and we had a massive cook up! (note to diary, include funding for BBQ and food for each community in all budgets from now on.) Having food at the concerts has really made a huge difference, both in attendance numbers and kudos from the locals. In the end the kids danced like crazy in front of the truck. Maybe the darkness loosened the cultural restrictions, maybe we had just formed a better bond now. Maybe Ewan’s attempts at break dancing to Bryte MC’s hip hop beats lowered the bar so far, or maybe they just were having a fat time? Whatever the reason the point of hilarity was Rob on the truck doing a Wiggles impersonation of the B52’s ‘Love Shack’ song, while a crowd of hysterical kids imitated his contorted dance moves till it seemed we could not laugh another second with our sides splitting. At this point the power tripped out and blackness fell across the court. A silence like only the desert can host, rushed in upon our ears and the magnitude of this great land burst out of the sky in a power point display to surpass the greatest of movies ever projected against a screen. But this movie was free and it was called the star show. I heard Tony awwww at them and then as my night vision adjusted I could see Emily gazing upwards. When the lights finally came back on, the place was vacant. Not a kid was left to be seen, and as we packed the truck away we took turns at spotting shooting stars. You know they are huge when you have time to draw someone else’s attention to them and you both see it together.
Going home from these concerts is very satisfying. One can’t help but feel a sense of achievement. Logistically, getting all this equipment out here is no mean task. That is why there’s none out here. The other thing is that bouncing this type of gear around on corrugated roads and subjecting it to all the dust and heat does not make for longevity. So no one wants to bring their equipment out here. I guess if it were easy there would be concerts out here all the time, but some of these communities have never had a live band come to them. Tonight we played without Ben so we had to change the set up a bit. Rob wrote this 12 bar riff that loops around on A minor, E minor, and D minor bar chords in a reggae feel and made it into a little song that we could use to loosen up on and introduce each of the Tour members. Candice told us she could do a good reggae feel on the drums so we kicked it off with her as the drummer. Ewan plugged the bass in and played from where he stands at the mixing desk and Brian got up and freestyle rapped over the top of it. “I’ve been walking all day on my desert feet , trying to get out of this Australian heat”………….. and on and on it goes. What we discovered is that we made a really good band that way! So we played the whole set with Candice and Ewan too. It was a real blast and made for a lot of fun improvising . That is mostly due to the skill of Rob, who can explain any instrument part to the whole band while playing himself. It was really impressive, him calling out chord changes to Ewan over the PA system while I was singing lines. The effect was that the audience thought we were super talented but of course, it was just a bit of mischief really. However the end result was not bad considering we had never played as a band like that before and Candice had only heard some of my songs once or twice. So we decided we would keep it that way and build on it.
All we have to do now is get Tony on the Tambourine.
Saturday 23rd April – Day 7
Bad news hit me cold at the office when Stretch arrived back from town. Punmu had called through to give the road report and two cars had been stuck on the Telfer track that day. John the CEO from out there said the water was over the bonnet and as we don’t have a snorkel on the hire car that is the end of the road for us. The road from Telfer to Punmu is the only way into the desert from here. I would have to drive back to Newman down to Leonora and across to Alice Springs to get in from the other side. A drive of over 3000km. The Rangers had come back in from the Canning Stock Route that night and the road was under water before Punmu and Kunawarritji which means I can’t get out to Kiwirrkurra either. John said it was the worst flood he had seen in 15 years and last time it took nearly 6 weeks to dry up. The words were like a blow to my head. I couldn’t think clearly and felt totally depressed. Less than half way through the tour and only 3 concert and 2 communities into the trip. It was the biggest setback I had copped in four years of doing this. The costs to get out here are high. I was paying over $3 a litre for diesel and it is over $1500 a night to keep all these guys accommodated, that doesn’t include food, and 7 people can eat a lot every day. Getting up here is just as expensive as being here so coming all this way and not being able to complete the tour really sucks. Would my sponsors see this as a waste of money? Would I lose credibility? Have I finally bitten off more than I can chew?! It was 10 days till I was due in Marble Bar and Nullagine. What should I do? Cancel the tour and head home, or try to reschedule the last two concerts and do them now, or wait around for 10 days till the last few concerts?
I think Stretch must have seen my despondent look. “You’re welcome to stay here and keep doing workshops.” he offered.
I didn’t want the guys to see me feeling down and Candice was next door running a workshop with the kid so I went home to be alone for awhile. Staying in Cotton Creek was costing me $120 a night per person and there was seven of us, so staying here was not really an option. As I trotted home I saw Kim from the AAC (Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation) walk out of his front door and as I passed I offered a fleeting comment on the state of the roads. Kim looks a real Crocodile Dundee type, a stocky looking bushman with a Grizzly Adams beard, until he speaks, softly and intelligent without any rough edges, one nearly does a double take. It turns out Kim is an ex-school teacher, I have a warm affinity with teachers, my father being one, and his kind and polite manner has a way of making one feel welcome. I’ve always admired that quality in a person. That feeling you get as you walk away, when you reflect on the fact that you might have known them for 20 years the way they just treated you. I had to ask myself “did I just do something really nice to that guy or was he just really nice?” I guess people in the country are just nicer, they have more time for you and when you talk to someone out here you can feel their attention rest on you like a still moment. It’s the opposite of the city where you always fight for attention over thousands of distractions. Every conversation is a sales pitch for control of the moment. I’ve gotten so used to it that I am almost surprised the way people listen to you out here. I guess they are thinking, “look at this crazy city slicker, cant slow down”, but a few hours in this sun slows down the fastest of men. I am sure this heat thins out your blood like a Beta Blocker. Makes one a bit lethargic.
Kim was to be our guide to Punmu but I knew that he already had the news I had received from Stretch. He invited me in to his house and at the table sat a young fresh faced guy with a Newcrest shirt, I had not seen him before and he had obviously just got in. He introduced himself as the community liaison officer for Newcrest and the coordinator of the famous western desert football carnivals. The hardest and toughest Derbys in the world. He worked directly under Leon Van Erp, the very man that Emily and I had had breakfast with not more than week earlier. Leon was the man that had signed off on Newcrest Platinum sponsorship package for our tour. A very interesting guy, he has served in the remote regions for over 45 years, starting out as a school teacher in Port Hedland. He had spent time with the famous Robert Tomkinson, the number one authority on the Martu People, a anthropologist that lived in the desert with the Martu back in the 60’s for over 10 years, recording the language and traditions. Leon had a vast and profound understating of the Martu. And he spoke to us of his field officer, Steve Anthony. It so happened that right now we sat before that very fellow, Mr Steve Anthony himself. Steve handed us a calendar with a schedule of dates and locations for the upcoming carnivals. The next one was in 10 days right where we were now, at Cotton Creek. Both Stretch and Kim suggested we come back for the carnival. Steve pointed out that Punmu and Kunawarritji mob would be here for the game. Warralong and Jigalong would be in town too, and there would be more people at this community for the football carnival then in any one community we have ever visited. Steven suggested that we could deliver our workshops and concerts to a much wider audience than we could reach even if we could proceed with the tour as planned, and was confident that Newcrest would still have their full support behind the Tour with the suggested revised schedule. Suddenly it seemed as if things had happened for a reason.
It was Saturday night. Tomorrow was Easter Sunday, everything was closed till Wednesday! I would not be able to reach anyone now and I could not wait around for 3 days, I had to make a decision. The path seemed clear, the road to the last three communities was closed, I was obviously not meant to go there. Another road was opened and it was evident. Come back to Cotton Creek for the footy carnival. The table nodded in approval, the jury was in, the case was closed. Stretch would provide us with accommodation, Kim would take us hunting for much needed meat, and Steve would pull the strings at the top to assure we stayed inside the bounds of our sponsorship agreement.
This left me with one week to kill, if I could reach someone in Nullagine we could head into town and run the concert there Tuesday night and then reschedule the Marble Bar concert for Friday. That would give us a day to get back into Newman for supplies and then head back out to Cotton Creek for a week of football carnival fever. We could run daily workshops for the kids and concerts every night. It sounded like a plan had come together.
Earlier that day the community had taken us out hunting Goanna. 4 Troopy loads of kids, locals and a hand full of wadjallas. We bumped our way over some gravel tracks to a shallow dam used by the graders to fill the water trucks. Lots of creatures came in here to drink and a veritable plethora of tracks littered the banks. The hunting party was lead by women, I watched from one of the dam mounds as two of the more senior women walked off into the desert. Ewan asked if he could follow but was told that they might not be back till tonight. Another party headed inland with a group of kids in tow and this was obviously a less ambitious tour. I followed behind one of the women from a distance for a while trying to work out what signs she was looking for. Once she looked back at me and not knowing whether it was ok to follow a woman into the desert or not, I stopped. She turned back a checked some holes closer to me by a clump of low lying scrub. This time she turned and looked at me again. I called out, asking if it was ok to follow. “What you name” she asked. I offered my name and in return discover that this was Natasha Williams, the daughter of the senior elder here Jimmy Williams. Natasha laughed when I asked again if it was ok to follow. “Why you don’t just come over?” Natasha showed me what to look for, how to find the tracks and then how to follow them. When I ventured to far afield she called me back, pointing out that rocky ground was no good for tracking. At one point we crossed over a washed out clay track which Natasha informed me was the Canning Stock Route. (It looked badly damaged and almost impassable here. Which dampened any ideas I had about a back route to Punmu.) I started to find a few holes after Natasha had pointed some out but my excitement was short-lived when Natasha observed that they were too old to bother digging up. At last I found a fresh one but alas it was too small, much to my guides amusement. One set of tracks that Natasha showed me was like an artist’s impression on canvas! In a area of dirt no more than two foot wide, a Goanna had passed, intersected them at 45 degree angle a set of Bush Turkey tracks, followed by the paw prints of what Natasha informed me was a pursuing Dingo. All conveniently etched onto a red primed canvas. If I could have cut out that bit of earth and glued it into a frame you would have bought it as an Aboriginal painting. After walking around in the scrub out here you can see where the inspiration comes from for the art that we see in galleries now.
We failed to uncover any Goanna, however had we been hungry there would have been much for the banquet of the deserts dinner. Natasha uncovered several small bird nests that she told me are all edible. There was endless amounts of the Spinifex grain that traditionally they ground in carved out basins for the equivalent of the bush bread and a small purple flowered plant offering a yellow fruit that Natasha called a bush tomato. I felt completely safe with Natasha and paid no attention to how far into the desert we had wandered. I knew that she would find her way back out and I knew that we could live out here without needing anything if we were lost. This time I got with Natasha was priceless. She offered up the secrets of her land with pride and authority quite colloquially, being her student for that little moment was a gift, but when it came to being drawn into any pointless conversation or open topic she was silent and stoic. Out here I was her student, but back at camp in front of her peers she gave no encouragement for further discourses nor offered any more information. It is impolite to make eye contact with your elders or women of the camp, and thus the fleeting connection in the desert was only for my education. Maybe because we had contributed something and it was a returned gesture, maybe just because she felt like it. I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that this is a culture I will never understand but will always respect. You can live out here, you can be accepted, you can even learn the language. But to really understand it, you would have to need nothing else, forsaking all. You would also have to be the descendant of 45,000 years of living in the harshest environment on earth. You would have to have survived colonization and spiritual deprivation and then, after all that, still be willing to be kind to your subjugator and offer them your secret knowledge. There are times on these trips into the desert that I have moments when I realise everything else I do was worth it just for that one moment. I am acutely aware of the issues and the chasm that separates our cultures but I am always amazed at the complete lake of any feeling of hostility or mention of the past. I have to ask myself, if the situation was reversed. If I had been living here and Aboriginal people came and changed my world, would I be able to forgive like that? I would have to say, for myself, I doubt that I would have the conviction or humility, I am often reminded in these moments of the Aboriginal elder that said “If you are born in Australia, you are an Aboriginal”. In a sense, we have been given the opportunity to move on without resentment. I can’t help but feel that we, as Australians, have yet to really grasp that opportunity.
Sunday 24th April – Day 8 – Cotton Creek
In the morning I got through to Nullagine caravan park by phone. The owner there was friends with the local Shire rep, Harvey, and they organised our accommodation in the blink of an eye. I also reached BHP’s rep in Port Hedland and they seemed happy with the changes. In fact they could see they were for the better, it meant that kids in Nullagine and Marble Bar would get workshops as well as concerts. Josh (BHP’s Community officer) said he would fly into town for the concert in Marble Bar and was shipping out some merchandise for the workshops that we could put in the show bags for the kids. I fuelled up at the Cotton Creek Bowser, they gave us a discount off the normal $4 a litre for non residents as a token of good will, and we only had to pay the local rate of $3.05 cents instead. On the way out I ran into Pete, a Cotton Creek elder. He had 2 flat tyres and his compressor had exploded. As we fixed him up I got talking. I told him we are back for the carnival and he was very excited. We finished pumping up his tyres with the compressor on the truck, and as we parted ways he said “I’ll put your name down for a Guernsey for the Parnngurr team!”. I’m not sure if that was a good thing but it looks like I’ll be playing in the football derby now!
Monday 25th April – Day 9 – Nullagine
We arrived last night about 8pm in Nullagine. The last 50 kilometres into town was by far the worst I have seen anywhere at all. Many creeks and floodways cross over this undulating land, flowing down the sides of the endless ridges. The resulting washouts in the road are very common. Most of them have etched deep but narrow groves in the road that can not been seen until you’re right upon them. Where the roads have flooded and turned to red clay then been driven over by trucks, ruts and grooves grab the wheels and jerk the truck in alternate directions. By the time we had reached Nullagine it was 8 hours on the road. But the last hour we were down to a snail’s pace, the road was so bad. We were all a bit disappointed to discover that there was no Telstra coverage here and a little bit surprised, considering there was a pub and a post office. I found a old pay phone in a fridge at the side of the dongers and so was able to let a few people know we were safe and make some arrangements for the concert in town. It was ANZAC day and so Tony, Emily, Ewan and I went up to the lookout for the dawn service. That was a good decision and a stroke of luck, because every single person in town was there. The two local policemen, the store owners, the pub manager, and the local Shire representative. I met a couple of the elders from the community and all of the local residents. A grand total of about 15. The pub donated 3 kilo of sausage meat, the store opened up especially for us on Easter Monday and the local police gave us a heap of footballs, t-shirts and other assorted goodies to give out at the concert. I was able to reach Sharon from the East Pilbara shire and they were very happy to support the change of plans, and it looked as if we had a great amount of ground support. Emily made up a black and white flyer which Tracy from the Caravan Park printed, and the police ran off a heap of copies for us. We put them up all over town and then went down to the community to give them out. It turns out there is a heap of Punmu mob here and they told us about the roads. We were very glad we had decided not to attempt it. But other news was, that almost everyone we spoke to was heading out of town for the sorry business at Meekatharra. It seemed that it could be very light on in town! However we made a couple of friends who became dedicated fans. Ethan and Steven, two brothers that took a shine to us. We pumped up one of the footies the police gave us to have a kick with them then offered to let them have the footie and soon we had two very happy little campers. Later that day they took us up to meet their mum and family in the community and we discovered they were all from Marble Bar. They were supposed to head home that day but decided to stay in town for the concert just to see us. Stephen and Ethan had formed a little fan club around us and now we were assured of a at least an audience of two! Well that’s enough for me to set up the truck and do a show.
After we had finished doing what promotion we could, we headed out of town for a swim at Garden pool. Tony and I spent about 3 hours trying to swing from one rope to the next, Tarzan style, across the 2 rope swings hanging over the creek. The best we could do was two in a row but hilarity prevailed and anyone watching would have thought us mad. We lit a huge fire by the river side and cooked a whole mutton, wrapped some spuds in alfoil and threw them in the coals, and boiled a massive amount of tea in the billy. The guitars came out and a sing-song lasted well into the night.
Tuesday 26th April – Day 10 – Nullagine
I woke up on the grass alongside the truck the dawn was heating the land quickly. There was none of last night’s chill in the air and at 6am I was already hot under the swag. As I was rolling it up Ethan and Steven passed by the gate bouncing their new football and came into investigate the life’s of white men. To these kids we are rich. Even with my Spartan attitude and few possessions I am a treasure chest of goods, goods that will mostly remain outside of their material realm in this life. There is nothing like a good reminder of how fortunate I am and it is good to remember when driving through these remote towns that this big white Landcruiser and our shinny white cars are a symbol of the greed that took away their land. Ownership, or the desire there of, is the burden of the westerner, the dubious quality of which will, for the majority of Indigenous Australians, allude them, along with the properties of material collection by which we measure our success. This mysterious white burden, imposed on all in the wake of capitalization, is called desire. It is the advertising campaign of the western idea of happiness, and this type of happiness (our type, the type based on need and material gain) is what we have offered the Indigenous residents of this country in place of what they had, which for 60,000 years, was everything they ever needed. Now that is an irony, is it not! We found a culture living in perfect harmony with the environment and at gun point, offered it material success instead! Material ownership comes low on the list of priorities in the Indigenous culture. Family is first and all others below. Material things, most probably somewhere near last. I am not saying anything should change, or that I know how to fix it, I’m just saying it is good to remember this, with understanding come acceptance. When I go to Bali it is obvious that the Balinese think I am wealthy because I am a westerner. Anyone from the west is assumed to be wealthy in most Asian countries and by their standards even an average wage earner from Australia is rich beyond their comprehension. We accept this concept readily, but there is not much difference between being in Asia and being in a Remote Indigenous Community. When you enter a community you are entering a 3rd world country. You might not like to accept this but it’s the truth. Most people can feel compassion for the poor, for starving children, for Asian and African refuges and victims of genocide and war. But somehow we seem to overlook our own issues. We have all of the above issues here in our own back yard. It’s not about blame or guilt. Just recognising the past and acknowledge it. There is no simple answer but there is a great resource of culture that we have yet to harness. Australians are focused on the resource in the ground. But I believe the real treasure is on the ground. It’s a culture with secrets 60,000 years old. These two kids do not own much, neither of them even has a pair of shoes. They are lucky to get a meal a day and if they do get given something it is usually taken or broken quickly by the demands of a large and under resourced family. The older of the two has some sort of problem with his eyes. But they are the politest of kids.
I walked over to the kitchen to make a coffee and from the veranda I watched Ethan and Steven, unaware that I could see them, they had discovered my toilet bag, Ethan was very impressed with my electric Spiderman Toothbrush. I thought for a minute he might try it but thankfully he put it back in the bag. I had a bunch of gold coins I had dropped in there over the last week and Steven found my electric razor, he had never seen one before and it must have made for a very tempting gadget to them. I could not have cared a less if they had taken the whole bag, but I was impressed when they placed it all back neatly and ran off to the next item of interest. I invited them to come pick up the guys from Garden Pool and they both jumped into the Prado with us and headed down. When we arrived Tony and Ewan had porridge cooked and Tony was swimming. The camp was packed and ready to go. So we swang off the ropes jumping into the water for a while with the kids then headed home after drying off by the fire our bellies full with warm porridge cooked with sultanas.
Wednesday 27th April – Day 11
Last night’s concert at Nullagine was the highlight of the tour for me so far. And as we left Nullagine for Marble Bar today I can reflect on the success of event. It was pretty obvious that the gig went well because the whole tour team was alight with smiles as we packed away the travelling stage and gear last night. The real bonus for me came in the form of an invitation by the elder of Nullagine Community, Walter Delben, to come back and play down on the actual community instead of up in the town. “Next time you come”, he informed me, “you play down there”, (pointing to the community camp) “we have some concrete you can play on”.
“Well that’s about all I need,” I laughed, a bit of level ground and a power point and we can pretty much set up anywhere.
But the real big win was getting the Nullagine and Martu Band up to play some live Country/Christian rock. I think this has been our biggest audience so far and I didn’t get a count but I know that we ate nearly 10 Kilo of Sausage meat and about $100 worth of chicken pieces. Tony was attached to the BBQ for well over 3 hours and smelt like a burnt sausage by the end of the night. The police gave me a huge bag of Footy jumpers, socks, hats and shorts, along with a huge bag of West Coast Eagles and Dockers stickers the kids went ballistic over the prizes and danced relentlessly all night. We received a generous thanks from the caravan park owners and Harvey the shire rep and I am sure we will come back to this town very soon.
We stopped at the local pub, the famous Nullagine Conglomerate Hotel, for a counter meal before making the track to Marble Bar. The old pub is like taking a step back into the previous century. You still expect to see an old prospector walk in any second with his pistol in his belt, horse tied up out the front. None did, however when I went across the road to make a phone call at the local both, who I did meet was Butler, the lead singer from the Nullagine band last night. Butler is a well respecter senior man in these parts. He is actually from Jigalong, though he grew up and went to school in Port Hedland. It turns out that Leon Van Erp (our major sponsor from Newcrest) was his school teacher 45 years ago. We got talking and I discovered that he would also be back in Cotton Creek for the (Football) Carnival because there was a big General Meeting Assembly with one of the mining companies trying to access the Native Title claim there. I asked him if he would be willing to get up and play with his band again and he assured me he would. Among other things, singer, song writer and well educated man, Butler is a one of the Elder for his area. It is up to men like him to make decisions for the future of his people at meetings like the one that is about to occur in Cotton Creek. The community sits on top of one of the largest deposits of raw Uranium in the world. It was at the lookout just south of Cotton Creek that Kim had had pointed out the hill which is basically a chunk of uranium. The Cotton Creek community rests at its base. One of the richest deposits in the world. I was surprised to discover this and was interested to know more, like is the water from the bore contaminated? Are there any risks with living that close to uranium? When Kim had taken me up there last week he had assured me that the uranium content in the water was below the safe contamination level. However there is no real research nor evidence about the safety levels. It is pretty much accepted that uranium, like Asbestos, is safe, if left untouched.
As Butler was on the panel of elders that would consult with CAMECO (the relevant mining company) I thought to inquire as to Butlers opinion of the whole thing. Butler had been over to Canada several times to visit with American Indian Elders that had negotiated Uranium mines in similar circumstances. He had obviously done his research and proudly showed me a tattered and well used Qantas frequent flyers card as proof. When I asked him what he thought about Uranium mining he stopped cold. His eyes seemed to look right through me as he focused on something directly behind me. “Damien,” he said, “Uranium never hurt my people, we been living on that hill for 45,000 years. Nothing has hurt my people more than that door way over there.” When I turned around the bright blue architrave of the open door to the Nullagine Conglomerate Hotel seemed to be rudely obvious. Suddenly, I was embarrassed at my ignorance. The bright sun that beat upon our big hats was lost behind its entrance and like a black hole it seemed the mystery within has sucked away the very light at its entrance. The thought occurred to me that, those doors had sucked the light from many a soul too, like a one way membrane, crossing over that threshold meant loss of whole incomes, violence and incomprehensible and utter moral degradation for some. It was an enigma of unfathomable depth, painted with a innocuous blue frame. That one little step could mean the difference between a life of culture or a life of loss. Once again I was reminded that it is easy to lose focus on the real issues, I can very easily get caught up in issues that are of importance to me or that trigger my own fears but this is never a solution. The real issues are often out of my sight, because I do not live with them or at the effect of them, therefore how can I have a solution to them. These answers can only come from within, by those that are affected. Thinking that I know what is best or even presuming to have a solution is a form of the problem in itself. Butler’s concerns were for the survival of his culture and his people. A culture on the brink of disappearing forever. Over 250 languages existed not more than 200 years ago. A treasure chest of anthological narrative and secrets. Most people of that time could speak at least 3-6 different languages to effect the complex and intricate kinship laws and boundaries. The loss of almost 98% of them in less than 200 years has been the greatest wholesale cultural death of ancient language ever known in the earth’s whole history. All Dreaming and Law was passed by spoken word, most it never shared until initiation or during ceremony. There was no written or recorded dialect. It is all lost forever. Butler sat opposite the pub with his daughter and wife under a huge White Gum. When he had finished speaking he smiled. There was not a trace of hate or pain in his voice. His old cataract eyes were deep and full of wisdom. His bare feet like thick padded rubber. The deep lines of his face full of character. Later I would learn that Butlers real name was Nyaparu, he was given that nick name because he was a house servant and one of the Stolen Wages Generation. Working as a servant basically for free in a homestead, and not all that long ago.
The 100 km’s to Marble Bar was not as bad as coming in to Nullagine from the south but it still took us 2 hours and it was a real luxury to finally see bitumen again on the last 20kms into Marble Bar on the Port Hedland road.
In Marble Bar we arrived to the same pleasant experience as in Nullagine. Warm country welcome, open hospitable courtesy. The East Pilbara Shire accommodated us in a place affectionately called the Green House. It had a huge pool table, BBQ out the back and 3 rooms with 7 beds. The perfect amount for us! I couldn’t wait to get down to the famous Marble Bar Pool and grab a dip in the refreshing water there. The water comes from a spring which means it has water all year round and is usually pretty cool too.
Sue from the East Pilbara Shire made us feel very welcome and sent us down to the police station to meet the local lads. Tom and Andrew were very keen for us to play and also introduced us to the local youth workers. We were invited to do some workshops at the Rec centre starting tomorrow and I offered to do two lots over the following two days culminating in the concert for the town on Friday night. With the plan having fallen into place beautifully, we headed home to get washed and sorted.
I spent most of the night organising all the film and footage I had caught, backing up my media and updating the diary. It is the first night time we have had phone reception since leaving Newman and I had a few missed calls and emails I need to catch up on too. And so I took the opportunity to do some much need administration.
Thursday 28th April – Day 12
Young Steven had asked his mother if he could hitch a ride back to Marble Bar with us so he could ride in the truck. I think the 2011 Desert Feet Tour will be an event that he will never forget the rest of his life. It caused a bit of friction for his poor younger brother Ethan who was too young to come, but as we left his family in Nullagine yesterday he waved proudly out the window as if he was running off to join the circus. Arms all waving from the porch, his many uncles and Aunties that beamed with amusement at Stevens departure on the Desert Feet Tour while his 3 little sibling cried in disappointment.
At the crack of Dawn he was at our door and waiting for the adventure to begin, so Emily and I took him down to Marble Bar pool for a swim. When we had arrived in town yesterday with him hanging out the window you’d have thought a heros welcome was awaiting, news travels fast in little towns and all his little cousins and friends came up to us in the main street to enquire how it was that Stephen had come to arrive in such a splendid and envious fashion. On each occasion he would proudly inform his audience that he had been on the Desert Feet Tour and that he had seen us play in Nullagine and would now get to see us play again in Marble Bar. And so it was that Steven became our promotion manager and tour guide and we all grew quite fond of the little fellow.
Everywhere we went, Steven was known by young and old, he introduced us to the shop owner the school teacher the locals and all his family. He helped us set up for the workshops as if it was him bringing his friends the Desert Feet Tour in Marble Bar and the he participated in them again as well! The workshop in the Rec centre could not have been better timed. I met the local AAC (Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation) officer for the area of Warralong, Yandi, Nullagine and Marble Bar that happened to be in town too, she was very keen after seeing our work to help us get out there again and was very pleased to hear that we have plans to visit both Warralong and Yandi in July. A real stroke of luck was meeting Neville from the DCP (Department of Child Protection) in Port headland. He was so impressed with the workshops he offered to lend us the Youth Hall for our work during NADOC week in Port Hedland in July! So we really hit the jackpot as far as networking with Indigenous field officers go! Who would have thought, I could have never planned it that well if I had tried.
Needless to say, the days events where well received by the kids. The kids wrote a song for Marble Bar that was epic. The chorus included a huge ‘sing off’, girls against boys. one lot singing one line, followed by the others, trying to outdo each other. The result was an amazing choir of voices for the recording and the production for the CD was of the best quality we have managed to deliver so far. Rob and Ewan have got it down to a fine art and we were able to leave all the kids with a fully mixed song by the end of the workshop on a CD.
After our workshop had finished, Bryte ran the mother of all workshops! Graffiti art and the skill of Hip Hop through paint. I filmed him for 3 hours as he completed a huge work on the side of the truck. The kids watched him for every second of it in awe! And the end result was so good the local publican asked him to come back and do the pub. I was a bit worried about what my great benefactor (Mr John McDiven), the owner of the truck and the man that leases it to us for use on the Desert Feet Tour would think. But when I texted him a photo of it he was so thrilled he told me to get Brian to do the other side too.
Ewan, Emily, Tony and I could not wait to get out of town and go camping. So as soon as we were packed and finished for the day, we headed off with our swags and some bully beef and a billy to throw on the fire. The others were too comfortable, so forsaking the luxury of air-conditioning and a hot shower we headed off for the night into the bush. Steven asked his Nan if he could come with us, as was now the tradition, he accompanied us on the camping excursion as our tour guide.
Friday 29th April – Day 13 – Marble Bar Concert
I woke up on the banks of Chinaman’s Pool. A thin remnant of smoke indicated the fire still held warmth. Last night we were so determined to camp out that we refused to pack up in spite of a constant drizzle. I think each of us hoped that it would pass any second, so we waited in silence not wanting to give in but not willing to be the first to suggest we might need to go home. We all ended up a little damp, but in the end, not to be beaten, I drove back to the house, grabbed an awning and we rolled out our swags on the damp grass under it, stoked the fire and made some bully beef. We got plagued by ants and swarmed by bugs but even that could not deter our spirits. My swag had a fly screen zipper but with it closed it was so hot I gave up trying to sleep and in the end I sat on the embankment jumping in an out of the pool till about 1am when the air finally cooled off and a light breeze sprung up. I woke up twice once to find a giant spider running across my chest and the second time to fight of a huge centipede that Emily discovered on her Leg. None of it worried young Stephen who slept through all of it like a Prince on a Pea.
The concert was tonight and we had workshops to run today as well so it was on with business. I realised that even if I bought all the sausages in town I would not have enough food for the BBQ tonight. There are only 2 stores in Marble Bar, one of them is the roadhouse.
When I suggested to Sue that we might benefit from some form of contribution from Marble Bar for meat on the BBQ she gave me the name of the manager of the local station, Kevin out at Limestone. He was happy to oblige and so all that remained was to give the concert a good plug. Steven took me out to the ‘Block’. The name given to the community at Marble Bar. Unfortunately it was mostly empty, the school holidays and sorry business at Meekatharra now a common theme on our adventures, however those we spoke to made promises of coming and all seemed well interested.
I was predicting a big turnout, Emily and I had posted over 50 flyers around town yesterday and handed out another 50 today. The publican promised to come, the Roadhouse owners told us they were shutting the store early to be there, the police promised to keep the peace, and we had had about 15 kids in the workshops that would hopefully bring their parents.
The recreation centre here is well funded and the two youth workers (one of which was the local teacher) ran programs for the kids here during holiday times like this. So when the police introduced us to Mellissa and Lauren and we told them what sort of workshops we could do, they both nearly fell over dead with their leg in the air. Never have we been in such demand before. Once again a little rural town just turned it on, the hospitality was overwhelming and the support for the concerts and workshops was worth every second of the effort to get there. after Candice’s workshop I drove out to Limestone with Tony to pick up the meat for the BBQ. As we arrived Kevin and his Jackaroo informed us that he had just looked in the cold room and that he was out of meat. “Not to worry,” he assured us, “that’s easy fixed.” I left Tony at his services to help cut up a fresh heifer and they headed out bush to bowl one over while I made for town to begin the set up. Looks like we are going to have a little more than just a sausage sizzle tonight! A bit of topside and some porterhouse too!
The venue for the concert in front of the local Civic Centre was very comfortable with a big grassy area and lots of lighting and chairs available. A beautiful old building and full of really great information if your ever passing by. Marble Bar was the host of the Invisible Landing Strip during WW11 that enabled bombing attacks on the enemy that they could not return, the invisible air strip remained undiscovered until the war’s end and was supposedly a large factor in the war effort. The Japanese were reported to have been very frustrated by its secret location.
The night went exceptionally well, of note was the quality of the BBQ and the endless supply of steak sandwiches! The other event that really made the night was playing the Marble Bar song that the kids had written for their song writing workshops. We got them all up on the stage in front of a Microphone and played it with a full band. They were absolutely thrilled and the parents very impressed. I would have to say that the outcomes with regards to the workshops, are the best ever.
Saturday 30th April – Day 14 – Back to Newman
The Truck left early along with Emily, Ewan and I, to make for Newman. The roads would be bad so we allowed 6-7 hours to make the 300 kilometres back to town, our last chance to fuel up, get groceries and have a day off before heading back out into the desert for the last week of the trip. We made it in 5 hours and had time to do some shopping before the close of business.
I decided to celebrate a bit and took every one to dinner at the Newman Hotel Restaurant after which a few of the team went out to experience the Newman night life while the rest of us took the opportunity to get some rest and relax, before we had to make the arduous journey back out to Cotton Creek again.
Tony and I took the opportunity to repack all the food stores, wash out the grimy esky, stock up on ice and make sure we had everything for the next week. After I had backed up all my footage, updated the diary and edited some photos for the web site it was well late. We had talked Candice into coming camping for a night on the grounds that we bought her a tent. So we decided to break up the huge drive to Cotton Creek by camping the night at the renowned Kalgan Pool camp site.
Sunday 1st May – Day 15 – Kalgan Pool
On the map it was only 20 k off the Marble Bar Road just south of the Jigalong turn off but it was by far the worst road yet. In the truck it took over an hour and parts of the road were very close to impassable. I only just managed to get over one section without the truck tipping over and of course I had to get back out yet too. Thankfully that was the worst of it and arriving there was a reward worth the effort. Kalgan’s Pool lies in a small gorge and the track there is basically on the river bed made of flat river stone rocks, so when it is running it would be impassable for most of the year. However, when it dries up, the small gorge holds water all year round and over time has become very deep. This made for some awesome cliff diving action by our commando dare devil unit, Tony. Who challenged us all to vertigos by just watching him! The resulting film was breath taking and of course I had to have a go too, not to be outdone. We camped by the waterside under a huge cliff face 200 foot high. The Southern Cross beamed like a street light between the open gorge walls to the south and the Milky Way flooded the cosmos above us as the camp fire threw a red glow across the face of the cliff. It was a spectacular night the scenery was so amazing that we did not want to sleep. Rob and Ewan busted out camp songs till late and when the embers had died to a dull glow I lay wide eyed in my swag staring at the stars till dreams took me from my bliss like a thief in the night.
Monday 2nd May – Day 16 – Road to Cotton Creek (Again)
I was up at the crack of dawn. I figured that the sun would rise across the far wall of the gorge and I wanted to get a time lapse photo shoot of the sun creeping up the red face. I loaded the fire with wood and woke the others with a brew of coffee and wood fired porridge with banana and pear at about 630am. I knew we had about 8 hours on the road to Cotton Creek and that did not include the hour to get back to the main road. I had left my battery charger in Newman so I sent the fast car back into town while the truck laboured on. We met up at Fortescue River crossing where I stopped and did some running repairs to the truck while waiting for the Prado to catch up. We arrived back at Cotton Creek around 4pm and had time to freshen up before heading off to the creek to camp out. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the freezer at the shop had stopped working and Stretch had had to call in the fridge mechanics. This had left us short on accommodation and only Candice and Brian had a room back at the house. So Tony took the Prado out to the Creek, where the kids had taken them swimming last trip, and set up camp by the river. I know I mentioned the bugs out here last time but one thing I have to tell you about the desert is the flies. If you thought it might be a little uncomfortable with the endless heat, red dust and shortage of water, try adding prolific abundance of little black flies to the equation. They have a clever knack for flying into your mouth as you inhale and thus ones protein intake is inadvertently substituted. They swarm around you like a cloud and the only reprieve is when the sun goes down. At which point they disappear, apparently to go to bed I suppose, but the relief is enormous and extremely noticeable. So at the camp fire that night we sat under the stars listening to the fire crack, celebrating the absence of the constant need to wave ones hands around ones head at the flies. Until the howling of Dingos began. Rob got a little scared, which was funny as Tony assured him they would be too scared to enter the camp, still Rob decided it best to sleep with one of the Kitchen knives just in case. Obviously the Dingos had not listened to the same rules Tony spoke of and the whole pack walked into camp light to investigate us. Wild Dingos are so beautiful, the little light brown patches around there eyes give them a mini Panda bear look that is quite cute. One thing is for sure, there was going to be no cuddling these guys, even in the darkens one could see they are super fit and very agile. Lean and sinewy.
Tuesday 3rd May – Day 17
Although night time is the only reprieve from the flies, it seems they are very anxious not to sleep in and miss any opportunities to gather in your eye pits. I was up before the dawn but the second the slightest hint of light touched the sky, our little friends are out ‘en mass’. It was porridge on the fire again this morning and we are all becoming quite fond of it now. Tony was even talking about it before he went to bed and I dreamt I was in a huge bowl of it, just swimming around. The sultanas make it sweet and we use milk to make it creamy. Porridge is now followed by our traditional morning swim and Cotton Creek was freezing cold. The water was shallow but during the Wet it must flow like thunder. The banks are over 12 foot high and in places logs and grass are bunched into the branches of the riverside trees high above my head, where the creek had flowed at it ebb. So violent must the creek become it had even carried some cars away, as was to be seen by the few old rusty carcases jammed into the crooks of trees like a discarded child’s toy. Always there are similar reminders out here of the extremes of nature in the desert. You could die of thirst in a dry riverbed that 4 months ago was a raging torrent 8 foot deep. Parnngurr community was a hive of activity today. One by one, troopies rolled into town with loads of people, however none of the football teams had arrived yet. Back at the visitors centre it was complete madness. Three fridge mechanics, a team of 16 from Newcrest, umpires, community liaison officers, organisers, a few retired football stars (Peter Matera) and even a face painting angel all crowded into the house. Then just to make it even cosier, two car loads of World Vision workers showed up to run their project with pregnant mothers. The whole back veranda was lined with swags, the lounge had people on the couch and every room was full. The really good news was that someone had driven into the power line last night and taken down the whole community’s power. So Stretch had to fly in an emergency sparky and the result was that there was no space for any of us in the visitor’s house. I didn’t mind too much I was happy to camp out at the creek again but Candice and Brian wanted some amenities and there were a few low rumbling grumbles about my troops. So I seized the moment by proposing a small adventure. The carnival did not officially start till tomorrow, Alienor already had plans for a BBQ and small disco for her Holiday Program kids and we weren’t needed until tomorrow anyway. Kim had told me about a waterhole that I was keen to find and so Em, Tony, Ewan and I went looking for it while the others got some lunch ready.
What we found was not just a water hole, it was more like an Oasis, a little piece of heaven. A little innocuous dirt track leading off the main road that headed out West into the desert. Across the low lying endless scrub a ridge loomed up. As we approached, a slight valley in its centre became obvious and then some small green trees and foliage that betrayed the presence of more water than the surrounding landscape. Even from 100 yards it was still pretty well hidden but a spiral of birds above was a dead give away and as we approached the crevasse from the one accessible side, a small pool opened up to us lying at the foot of a 50-foot cliff face of dark red rock. The pool was surrounded on the open end by a pebble beach where the water must flow on down the valley during the wet Season, and an inactive waterfall at the cliff end where the rock was washed smooth was evidence of large amounts of water moving through here at some time of the year. The resulting pool of trapped water created a absolute furore of activity where native insects, birds and animals gathered, probably being the only perennial fresh water source for hundreds of miles. The ridge required further investigation and divulged amazing views of some spectacular scenery. There were many caves to be explored and creatures to investigate. The ecology of the pool was the most amazing. Massive wasps mined its surface for the water to glue their hives and they floated delicately like brilliantly coloured boats, their little forward appendages busily harvesting. Tadpoles cleaned the walls of the immersed rocks and the most amazing underwater swimming beetles I have ever seen, with arms like oars, darted dexterously like fish to and fro in prolific numbers. When we all gathered back at the car the decision was unanimously voted in silent agreement by smiles all round. As long as this was not a sacred site and we had permission from the elders we would come back and camp out.
Some extravagance was employed to encourage our less adventurous members by taking a double bed frame we found and setting it up. It made a perfect and level platform for the two-man tent and so we set that up for Candice and Brian to use. When they arrived they laughed but were grateful. Tony cooked a massive pot of mince for spaghetti bog that gradually, under the influence of Rob, became a sort of curry until Ewan decided we needed to use up the zucchini before it went off and added a tin of beans too. When I returned, it had morphed into a sort of Mexican bean dish crossed with mince curry. The spaghetti turned to glue on the fire so it was discarded and thus we are it with rice and thus it was no longer even remotely spaghetti bog, but more of a Curried Risotto with beans. Whatever it was, it was delicious and the spirit in which it was cooked nurtured it further, and the company of that night, hosted by the greatness of the desert and its spiritual power, mesmerised our mood, and hypnotised by the dancing flame and absorbed in the song of the desert we died to this world and where reborn under the stars as the children of timeless land. I lay awake to ponder the insignificance of myself under the infinite sky and all my material desires dissolved in its vastness. If I lived off the land and hunted for my food I would want for nothing right now. If I had been an Aboriginal person 10,000 years ago and I had found this watering hole, I would have made it my home and been happy. I would have looked from this ridge and seen the dry landscape, pretty much as it was now, and I would have said, “wow this spot is beautiful, I will stay in this area and start a family. I will have all the food I need and we will live in peace for the rest of my life!” I can see now what they had and I can see now what I will never have. I can see too what was taken away. Anthropologists have now carbon dated the remains of camps and caves in this very area that prove it was successfully and permanently inhabited from 20,000 years ago. Strangely enough there is very few kangaroo in this area. It is too dry and water is too scarce. In fact I have not seen a single Kangaroo since Jigalong. It’s just so barren out here that it would seem impossible to live at all. But live they did.
That night I had a dream. As we slept a man stood on the cliff above us. In the dark night his silhouette was a black shape against the stars. But the white paint on his face, chest and legs reflected the fire. He stood with on one leg on the other, foot resting against his knee. He balanced on a long spear. He looked down on us and I could hear him think. He knew that the white man had now come and that this land would change forever. Then all of the sudden I was in a city and people were running in all directions, screaming with fear because there was someone on the cliff dressed differently and covered in paint. Then there were gunshots and the man fell into the pool. I was now back alone at the pool and I held him in my arms. All of a sudden I realised it was Butler, and I was telling him, “I’m sorry Butler, I’m sorry” but he just looked a me and he said, “tell hose people not to be scared, because I will now join my ancestors and this is ok.” Then I was crying and I said, “but Butler, these men have come to take your land you must get up and fight” but he only smiled and said “this is not my land Damien, it is the Great Spirits land and no man can take it, that is the Law.”
Wednesday 4th May – Day 18 – Football Carnival at Cotton Creek
I woke with a start. It was 530am. I looked up at the cliff then around me, everyone was asleep. Then I noticed the tent flaps were open. When I looked inside it was empty. I scanned the area. Nothing. That is strange, Candice and Brian are usually the last ones up and they never get up before dawn. I slept right next to the tent, and I am a light sleeper but I did not hear them leave. It would not have been easy in the dark, they would have had to have walked over me and through big rocks and long grass to get anywhere, and I didn’t hear a thing. I ran down the track to the cars and from the top of the valley I could see both cars. They hadn’t taken a car. They had vanished into thin air! I ran to the top of the ridge thinking maybe they had gone for a walk along the creek bed to the south. From there I could see forever in every direction. Nothing. When I got back to the camp Tony was up and I was just about to tell him the story when Candice and Brian walked into camp; fly nets over their heads, carrying their blankets and pillows, still in their pyjamas, half asleep and not too happy. They had not been able to sleep in the tent because the bars of the bed frame had been too uncomfortable. So they had got into the car, and of course with the seats back I could not see them in there. However, they had got too hot, and when they opened the window to cool down, got plagued with flies. I offered them some coffee and porridge but Candice just wanted to go back to the community, so I drove them in and came back to the rest of the guys.
The coals had nearly fallen silent. I stoked them with some fresh wood and put on a large billy of coffee. We had run out of coffee powder last night but I had soaked beans in the billy over night and the resulting brew was powerful good. I made a huge pot of porridge as the others gradually awoke and we all took a brisk dip in the magic pool. The carnival would not start till late morning and Kim had told me about some flood plains out here that would have water this time of year especially after all the rain. It was only 7am so we went for a bit of a look around. The spot we where looking for was south east and the trail very bad and unused. At times it had washed out and we had to detour into the grass and try to pick up the dirt track again further down. Somewhere out there we crossed the Canning Stock Route and drove into a huge valley along a vast range. At the end of it the land turned into a White Gum valley that looked like it had been burnt out, till I realised that it was water, not ash, and the track turned into a lake. The land before us was a forest of White Gums soaking in ash coloured brine. The flooded plain was impassable by car or foot. We got out of the car to walk around, but a step in the wrong direction and you sank to your knees in clay. The silence out here combined by the vastness is profound, the landscape is ambivalent; Treacherously dry, or dangerously wet. Hard ground can turn to deep mud over night. Swamps can turn into scorching waterless plains, but the diversity is astounding.
Back at the community, things were really heating up. A huge 4×4 bus had arrived last night bringing the whole Warralong Football team. Another bus had arrived from Telfer via Newman, a massive drive, with the Kiwirrkurra and Punmu Football teams. Nullagine were still on their way, but the Jigalong team (although the closest community) was missing altogether. Steve had arrived during the night then turned the bus round and driven all the way back into Newman to pick up more people (a huge effort). When we went down to the footy oval it looked like tent city. Swags and cars lined the edge of the field along the far side. Little Parnngurr had gone from a sleeping forgotten community next to a uranium rock, to a thriving metropolis of excitement over night!
We sorted the truck out for the concert that night and Stretch put us all in the rec’ hall, where we had done the workshops last time we came. The arrangement was great because it meant we could set up the truck right in front of the veranda, use the shelter of the car ports and the eves in case it rained (which was looking likely) for the punters to gather under and it formed a nice little courtyard that would accommodate at least 200-300 people with ease. There was a good spot in the corner for Tony to set up the BBQ and best of all when we finished each night, all we had to do was wheel the speakers into the rec’ hall along with the sound gear and then throw a tarp over the stage and leave the whole thing set up. It would save us 2 hours a night for the set up and even more when we packed up.
After we got ready we headed for the Footy oval. Now I have to digress momentarily to explain, when I say football oval, I mean a strip of red desert cleared of Spinifex and levelled as best as could be expected with limited resources. Really it would be more adequate to call it a rock field, or a dirt patch. What you have to realize when trying to draw the mental picture of a footy field out here is that there is no grass. None! Even if there was there is no water to grow it, there are lots of little rocks and the ground is not soft. It is hard, hard like a gravel dirt track. I recalled a comment from Brian (policeman) earlier he said to me, “you only bounce up.”
Not only are these guys pretty serious about their football, they are phenomenally good at it, and that is an understatement. The Royal Flying Doctor Service was on standby, an extra nurse was called out, and the police came up all the way from Jigalong. The next three days will be an event, a spectacle of epic proportions, played out in relative obscurity under the harshest conditions on the earth’s surface. A dusty, stony, red field with a huge mountain of uranium as the back drop. The ‘Carnival’ as they call it, is something you have to see before you die. I hope you get the chance, I hope you are as lucky as me.
I have to stop here and give some credit to the Newcrest guys that organised this event, it is a massive effort and they worked hard to make it happen. All the teams here have had coaching instructions from pro footballers and all the players are coached throughout the year for these events. The guys train really hard for their teams and are well inspired by the actions of the Newcrest mob. The logistics of making an event out here happen is incredibly complicated. Not only because of the remoteness of these places and how extreme the conditions get, but you can spend a year organising something then if someone dies, ‘sorry business’ will take priority over everything. Sorry business can last for weeks and is pretty common.
Desert people are incredibly shy, they rarely make eye contact and are very reserved (except for kids that will hug you and cling to you anytime), and so the concert started out pretty mellow with Tony’s magical skills on the BBQ attracting a few people. The remainder of our heifer from Marble Bar was polished off real quick and the mob equalled about a hundred strong as we started the show. As the concert progressed we had the kids dancing, as is the norm’, but we were plagued by a constant drizzle. The set up became difficult because to keep every thing dry with tarps it reduced the visibility of the stage. However Ewan’s enthusiasm was the motivation and he insisted the show must go on. I’m glad we did, because later that night I asked if there were any local bands that wanted to get up and we made the offer public to record any artists or bands that wanted to do some studio time. The offer was met with much interest and after the concert we were approached by several of the mob. Rob and Ewan began recording arrangements with one guy straight away and had 3 songs ready for him before we left!
Thursday 5th May – Day 19 – Football Carnival at Cotton Creek cont.
Having the Rec’ centre to bed down in was a big win for the team. It made the pack up last night super fast as we just dragged the sound equipment, instruments and font-of-house into the room we were staying in. Although the turnout was good, the rain was a real dampener for the gig last night as the equipment was all a bit muddy and damp. Tony and I borrowed a few tarps and strapped them around the stage in case the wind picked up. Luckily though it was just a steady drizzle and in the morning it had cleared. The Nullagine Mob had arrived during the night and a few more cars had pulled in too so the football fever was intensifying. There was still no sign of Jigalong and I think the organisers had given up on them by now. Steve had told me earlier that the last carnival was in Warralong. To get there, the football team had to pass through Nullagine and there is a pub there. The result was that the distraction proved too much and a quick ale on the way turned into a football team scattered to the wind for 3 days. When the dust finally cleared (or maybe the money ran out), a very sorry and sore looking football team arrived in time to just miss the grand final. The verdict, let’s just start the carnival again! I am willing to bet that the guys from Newcrest were hoping that didn’t happen.
The first game kicked off around midday, two 20min halves per game, each side playing several games per day. Each of the communities has an AFL namesake, ie the Irrungadgi (Nullagine) Dockers, the Punmu Bulldogs, the Parnngurr Swans, Kiwirrkurra Lions and the Warralong Bombers etc. However, Jigalong have still not shown up and for some reason Kunawarritji did not have a side in the carnival, nor did the community at Marble Bar.
I was taking photos with my big zoom lens when Ryder appeared on the side line. He had been into Meekatharra on sorry business with his family and had just come back out. He looked a little worse for wear but was glad to see us. He immediately gave Tony, Ewan, Rob and I a Punmu (Boomers) jumper each and then disappeared (I would not see him again now for 2 days). Before I knew it I was called in from the side line to replace an injured man and it was only about 10 minutes into the first game all four of us where on the field together. I took a mark in the rear pocket and a sound like stampeding horses was upon me. I kicked from the spot without thinking and next thing a cloud of dust covered my eyes, loud calls emanated in native language and when the air cleared the play was so far down the field I was all alone, sitting on my butt. The speed at which they move is impressive!
The next time I made a play for the ball I was staying on my man, he made a run, the ball bounced oddly. I picked it up in the clear and started to run, I am sure there was no one beside me but what hit me was like a bull, the red dirt below waiting to flay my carcass like a hot steel plate. When I stood up my knees dripped blood and my hip felt like a battered steak. Once again the play was gone like a cattle stampede in a John Wayne western. All that could be seen was a cloud of dust out of which a yellow ball covered in blood stains occasionally emerged. About 5 minutes before half time, the pack went up for a spectacular mark. When the dust cleared one of the Kiwirrkurra boys was still down and the stretcher was called. It was a broken ankle, and the first call out for the Royal Flying Doctor Service would happen now. While we waited in the backline I had the chance to talk with some of the Kiwirrkurra boys. Roderick informed me in very broken English that they had no reserve. Most of the team was unable to get through the roads to Parnngurr, and so their team was now down a man to 17. Knowing that Punmu had a huge reserve, plus the 4 white fellas now on the field, I offered to turn colours and Milton, the captain, was very keen.
I played the last half of the game with Kiwirrkurra and then another whole game for the Irrungadgi (Nullagine) team. Many of the guys remembered us from the concert we did there and needed men badly. Aside from twisting my knee and bruising my wrist, the rest of the games played out without major incident but with the customary intensity. I have to comment on the fitness of these guys. I am no slouch, I train every day at the gym and run on the beach 3 times a week with my dog. I have a very strict nutrition regime and don’t smoke, drink or take any drugs. Yet on the field I was left behind every time. On the sidelines the guys would smoke, eat chips and coke and then go back out and play the hardest football I have ever seen. AFL games look like kindergarten matches compared to this stuff. The Kiwirrkurra team are straight out of the desert; most of the guys are initiated males and have the customary missing front tooth. They are lean and wiry and they look like real bush men should look. They still preserver their traditional hair styles. The posture and attitudes are still very much reminiscent of traditional ways and the remoteness of their community has nurtured their culture. Being amongst them is an experience. Kiwirrkurra Is the most remote community left on earth. These guys are the closest thing we have left to real desert people. Some of the elders in their camp where still out in the desert as late as the 60’s and have lived in the traditional desert way. Sadly we will lose this generation in the next 10 years. Most are now gone. Milton and Roderick played every game in bare feet. One game I saw Milton’s head meet with another players knee at about 20 kilometres an hour the sound was sickening, and I was sure he would not get up. Not only did he get up, he didn’t even leave the field.
A few times I had to check myself. Was this real? The colours of the desert, the deep reds and the rusty green and browns. A football field made of solid earth and iron ore covering rich mineral deposits of unimaginable value. A football game, funded by a mining company, at the end of the world, played out under a hill of uranium in compete anonymity. I saw marks that Brownlow medallists would be envious of. There were goals that Peter Sumich couldn’t make. There was team work that Worsfold would have copied. But there was no cameras (except mine) no film crew, TV stations and no crowds of screaming fans. There were no trophies to be won, sponsorships to be gained, autographs to be taken, deals to be made or money to win. It was not played for glory or for fame or for ego. Most of the players changed sides at some point or another and all of them had a turn at umpiring, boundary running and goal keeping. There is no desire to be famous or a football star. Most of these guys would not leave here even if there was. When the game is over the payers will return to little derelict homes shared by an abundant amount of relatives. They will not complain about their injuries or how many games they will miss because of them and there will be no story in the press tomorrow. In fact aside from you and me, no one will ever know it even happened.
At the days end I looked around me. I had been apart of something much more than I could comprehend. I had just played football with the native tribesmen of the hardest environment on earth. If traditional activities could correlate into a sport then these guys had made some sort of modern adjustment. There was definitely an element of skin group warfare in their tactics and their all out fearless performance. But that night, when the bands played, all that would be forgotten and harmonious collaboration would prevail.
Dear reader, before I describe for you the concert on the second night of the carnival, I must first inform you of my gratitude. It is you and those like you that have put me here, and I can honestly say to you that I am fulfilled in every measure of my life’s endeavour. Today I would believe to be one of the best day of my life. What I have seen and been an active part of is an honour and a privilege. And I am saddened to tell you that this privilege escapes us all like sand through an hour glass. Soon we will examine our empty hands and cry, “What have we done? What have we lost? These people are the salt of the earth.” No. They are the earth arisen and alive, and their light is fading, their hour is near. No circumstances could recreate the appearance of such a beautiful people without another 45,000 years of sculpting under the chisel of isolation and at the hand of time. One thing is certain; there is no returning to the desert for them now. The question is how will the next generation carry the law and culture into the cauldron of modern pressure? And what role will we play in assisting it? Will we be the concerned friend that, seeing his mistake can apologise and encourage without interfering or will we continue to be the forceful parent that thinks it knows best?
The second night of the concerts was a night that I will have to attempt to give you a written account of with the limitations of words and also the restriction of space here available. It was an event on which I could write a whole book and still not do it justice. It was a transmission of subject matter that could be analysed into scientific data or expounded into a thesis for assessment. It was a phenomenon and all that saw it agreed it was a privilege to have been a part of that night.
Our invitations to the existing bands to perform and our extended participation in the whole carnival, our interaction with the different communities, and the familiarity and friendships that evolved from it, was enough to break the intense reserve and shyness that was a barrier to any live performance previously and finally tonight one by one each of the communities had their representative band get up and play. As I mentioned most communities have a band, some dont but most have at least 4 or 5 guys that can play. Warralong, Kiwirrkurra, Nullagine and Parnngurr all had bands that wanted to get up. The idea of a live recording was also a temptation I guess. But first I have to explain to you what an Indigenous band on a remote community looks like. They are not defined or quantifiable in the commercial sense. They are fluid and interchangeable. There is only one band for each communty but there might be 10 or 15 members. They will rotate through the instruments for various arrangements but all seem to be able to play the same songs and the same music. During the course of the night the drummer might change after each song, 3 or 5 guys might sing at any one time. The guitar player might swap over in the middle of a song and a second or extra guitarist might just start to play at any time. But no matter who is playing this is still the one band and is considered the same band from start to finish by all.
Secondly they have a style of music which I can only describe as ‘Desert Reggae’. But it seems to be very heavily influenced ( for some reason that no one seems to know) by 60s surf instrumental music like The Shadow, Surfaris, and Beach Boys however it does not matter what you play as long as every second song is Wipe Out! Wipe Out MUST be played and can be played over and over and over. In fact if you just played wipe out for 3 hours straight that would be fine. On this subject I could write an essay with the title of something like ‘the cultural adaptation of Wipe Out into the traditional Dance ceremony of the Martu People of the Great Western Desert’. Now that has to be an irony in the greatest sense of the word. The most remote dessert dwelling peoples in the world playing surf music?!
Next, in the desert they sing most of the songs in Language or pigeon mix, again several members might appear to be the lead singer. There might be 2 or 4 people singing at any time but this will always take place with a hood pulled forward and usually with back to the audience to hide the face completely. On one or two occasions we had to turn the mics’ around 180 degrees because the guys where literally trying to sing into the side of the microphone and when trying to record a song live on a directional mic’ this will not work. Singing is usually Gurrumaul Yunupingu style. High pitched falsetto in a sort of wailing monotone that seems very reverent and similar to Corroboree singing of the traditional manner. Also most of the lyrics involve themes of the desert, the land and connection to and ownership of country. I think if would be fair say that the Martu are a extremely jingoistic bunch. They are not only shy but very filial and this sort of bond is obvious in all the actions. (When Milton was offered the opportunity to travel to Perth and play on the Western Desert League to represent his community at the Eagles Vs Dockers derby he jumped off the bus as it was about to leave saying “I cant go I’m home sick. “)
The Punmu Lakeside Band was the first to break the ice. And there arrival to the stage was met with much support and applaud. A large amount of Punmu people had come across for the Carnival. Things really warmed up after a few songs and now I must explain to you what it looks like in front of a stage watching the Martu Mob dance. Infectious would be the most obvious description but how to describe the style, well that is hard, for the women have their own style which I have seen nowhere else on Earth. It is very rhythmic and vibrant and if I had to describe it in comparison, the only correlation I could manage would be a cross between Hawaiian Hula girls but faster, and an imitation of Beyonce’s choreography from that song ‘put a ring on it’. The way this gyrating and impressive hip isolation is employed on the dance floor is in the manner they describe as ‘run-in-run-out’. Which I can only assume has been adapted from American Brake Dancing footage. In this manner and usually (apart from the kids who dance all night to everything) only on the most frantic or faster part of the song, will the so inspired, run from the shadows into the light, in a moment of euphoria, seemingly injected through the vibration of certain sentences of the music, which overcomes the existing restraints of self consciousness enough to run out in front of their piers for a certain period of time (usually very short) during which the rest of the crowd (mainly hiding in the shadows) call out in hysterical laughter. Until, at a time, measured by an unknown devise, the demonstration is then ended by the subject suddenly running from the spot, as if it never happened, back to the awaiting group. For some reason this always seems to be the pinnacle of the act that generates a premium amount of laughter.
One rule that seems to be unwritten is, the younger you are the longer you can dance uninterrupted. ie the very young kids just don’t stop. And the older you are, when you get up, the more encouragement you will get from the sideline. If an elder gets up then this creates a commotion of great measure. However if the festivities persist past a certain point, it seems that after most people making at least one or two dashes into the centre to dance and not mysteriously exploding or being abducted by some force, the confidence thus gained equates to enthusiasm multiplied and at some point a whole group might run into the light where they will form a circle into which individuals will run-in-run-out, do a little jig, be applauded and then alternate. Until the song stops upon which everyone will spontaneously disappear again in a blinding puff of dust.
As for the men their style is particularly different again. I hate to try to describe it less I don’t do it justice. But the first thing that comes to mind is the traditional dances I have seen in some early footage of Indigenous customary Dancing which requires much stomping of the feet into the dirt and the raising of much dust. This is accompanied by a massive variation of jerky type upper torso movements that may or may not burst into outright Brake Dance moves (especially the younger kids that have them well rehearsed) or a sort of convulsing, rapid twitching of the arms, accompanied by a pumping of the chest. The measure of the timing for these convolutions is usually directly proportional to the tempo of the music and thus a mesmerizing pattern occurs, where-by, most of the songs climax at regular intervals in upbeat section or chorus’ regularly, allowing everyone to run into the centre, shack, jive, convolute themselves and then run back out at its completion. Thus Wipe Out the most perfectly suited song for this manner of dancing as it holds a rhythmic verse type structure, until the ultimate drum roll section draws out the seeming hypnotised audience, that proceed to draw a veritable furore of energy from the song, kick a cloud of dust high into the air and just as suddenly be completely and absolutely gone from the site in one hundredth of a second when it (the music) stops
One might be forgiven for thinking they are dreaming after witnessing these occasions. In the light of our stage, on a red dirt floor, under the infinite desert sky, infused with milky stars, on the fringe of the light, through a filter of dust kicked into the air by the bare desert feet of the Martu People I had a moment clarity. I realised how much I love these people. How could you not. Amazingly, at the end of the night, when the music stops. Everyone just disappears within seconds. There is no cry for an encore or lagging audience or pestering groupies. They just go. And two seconds latter you might be wondering if you dreamed it all.
Friday 6th May – Day 20 – Football Carnival at Cotton Creek
Today was a bit of an effort to get up, my injuries from yesterday had had time to assert themselves and I had a few bruises I couldn’t ignore. I had iced my knee before sleeping so that had helped considerably, ample amounts of Dencorub and tape saved the day and I was able to warm up for another round. However not so impressed was my wrist that had lost a substantial amount of fine motor skills making it a little hard to play guitar last night.
We wanted to put on a BBQ again, as had now become our tradition at concerts. A few of the guys had asked us if we would be doing more meat but we had none left. I asked Newcrest if they felt like chipping in but they had no more resources to offer. After looking in the shop yesterday with Tony I had realised that there was not enough meat in the whole store to feed the amount of people that would be there tonight. Even if there was, the cost of food in the store is so high that very little, except the absolute minimum is brought in, like tea and coffee and flour. At $15 a pack for a kilo of sausage it would have cost a $1000 just to make hot dogs. Milk cost $4 a litre and Emily paid $9 for a pack of crackers once. The community is charged $600 per pallet in freight so with cost like that obviously only essentials get ordered. Realizing that it was not going to happen, I asked Kim if we could take him up on his offer of a hunting trip last time we came. His offsider was very keen when I sprang the idea on them and seemed a good keen man. So the party was organised and we went over to their house at 530am for a coffee before heading off.
Kim is real greeny and runs his old Landy on bio fuel. But the old girl had seen better days. The roof rack was stacked high with spare tyres and jerry cans and it looked like someone might have used it as a bit of a target for shooting at one stage too. It sure did the trick and one thing was certain when with Kim in the bush, you really felt safe. He was the ideal tour guide too. Kim had spent several years doing safari tours up and down the Exmouth coast so was the ideal guide, combined with his teaching back ground and his amazing horticultural knowledge, the result was a running commentary of the most informative nature, complete with his customary and constant grin. Kim is one hell of a guy. He was also dubious about finding game. He was sure there would be no Kangaroos as there never is or has been out here and the next available source of meat was Camel. However the government had just finished culling them back this year and 8000 had been terminated in this region, so Kim informed us. Anyway ever hopeful and intent of feeding the mob at my concert tonight, with my ever loyal sidekicks Tony and Ewan and under the local knowledge of Kim we headed out into the desert on a bio bus that once used to be a Land Cruiser. The drive was amazing and Kim took us out to where the Talawana track intersects the Canning stock route. We headed south from there across the flat desert rocky plains. Kim informed us that in this area he had seen lots of camels before and that he used this track a lot. To me it seemed like we were just driving around in the desert and apart from the occasional wheel rut here and there I could not see any track at all. After a time we came upon a camel carcass and we got out to look around. Obviously the cullers had found a herd, because as far as the eye could see in every direction lay the rotting corpses of slain camels. We pressed on into the desert, our hopes of finding a camel for dinner now pretty much dashed. Then suddenly I saw a heard to the left. I was sitting in the middle at the back so how I saw it first I do not know but it was big herd. Kim hit the pedal and off we went in pursuit. The scrub was impassable and the sand to soft so we couldn’t leave the wheel ruts here. By a stroke of luck the heard cut across the front of us and headed directly for the track up ahead. Much confusion ensured. In the excitement I can’t really remember what happened too well, and as I was watching it through hand held video camera, it was all a bit of a blur. All I know is at one stage I could have reached out of the car and touched one, they were so close, but as I was sitting in the middle I was stuck in. I remember zooming in on the camels and thinking that they where really close. Then I realised they had stopped in front of the car and were looking at us. I was wondered why no one had taken the shot then I realised that Kim’s offsider still had the gun in the car. He was saying to Kim “I can’t get the bullet in, I can’t get the bullet in.” Next thing I know, as if the camels heard him say “bullet”, they were gone and he was still fumbling with the rifle. When the dust cleared Kim said “mate don’t worry they’ve gone”. There was silence for a while, no one wanted to look at anyone else and no one said a thing. Kim just turned the car around and headed for home. As we headed home I looked back at the footage on the handy cam and it was then that I burst into laughter. All of a sudden we all saw the light side of it and I broke the tension by pointing out that at least we didn’t have to slaughter the poor thing, a very messy job to have to do in this heat with the flies in droves too. Kim spotted some bush fruit that he pulled over to show us called Lipburn and I was amazed to discover in an area no bigger than 20 metres, several types of bush foods. One, a common looking weed that covers the whole area is almost delicious. Kim informed us that it is full of vitamin C and he uses it in his salads all the time. Another called Tick Weed would be the last thing you would think to eat out here. It is a sticky, long, skinny pod that when broken open offers a handful of small mustard seed looking type fruit. It’s not particularly tasty and one would have to eat a vast amount of it to get a belly full but it would save your life if you were lost or alone. Another small desert weed that looked particularly inedible offered a very fine root when dug out of the soil, almost turnip in flavour but a little more fibrous. Anyway the hunting party didn’t return home completely empty, at least we brought some desert vegetables for dinner and as for tonight’s BBQ? Well, it looks like well just have to have a big concert and that’s it.
Back at the field I was amazed to see some of the guys up and about that had taken some big knocks. Roderick had his leg strapped and was busy taking off the bandage the nurse had made for him so he could play again. A few missing players had shown up now and the team coach had even arrived. I was not there more than 3 minutes when an almighty thump brought the game to halt and the stretcher was called again. This time it was a broken wrist and I could almost hear the engines of the Royal Flying Doctors. The lad walked off the field himself, he would have been no older than 16 but he held out his chest and never cried a drop. Being the loose man and sort of obvious (6 foot 2 and white) I was given a jumper and asked to fill for the boy. But there was not much time left on that game and I was soon back on the Kiwirrkurra team without too much incident. My hamstrings not being use to lateral movement had seized up pretty bad and if I never had a chance to catch them yesterday then today was impossible. I took a few possessions in the back pocket and got them away without being killed, but after one pack that had me locked in the bottom, I was pretty much a useless member of the team from then on in. I took a nice mark on a kick in but kicked it out of bounds on the full as my heavily taped knee decided that it could not respond to my commands anymore, and I limped from the ground and retired my boots from the Western Desert League for 2011. I watched from the side line as Tony made some daring play from the centre, his heart was all there and his ball skills terrific but he is a Rugby League man and AFL frustrated him to the core. Three times I saw him get possessions and break free, but not being able to just run with the ball meant he had to attempt the alien Football process called ‘bouncing the ball’, all three times his bounce resulted in a loose ball again. Once, he managed to sort of keep it going in the general direction, kicking and scooping away at it, the opposition hot at his heals. It was comical to watch form the sideline, like a flurry of legs, arms and a yellow ball in a cloud of dust doing 100 kilometres an hour, nearly picking it back up a few times then losing it again, then finally getting possessions again only to be swamped by players in hilarious ensemble from which he emerged again still holding the ball, heading for the goals again and attempting another bounce which failed again, this time leaving him sliding through the dirt on his bum as the play passed him by like a window without opportunity. I saw him punch the sand and swear and when he limped to the side line I couldn’t help but laugh. When he saw me smiling, his face lit up with his beautiful big white teeth all ablaze. Tony is a diamond in the rough for sure. Tough as boot leather, a boxer and rugby player and a painter by trade. He grew up in the bush and so loves it with all his heart. He played a great game and like everything he did, gave it his all. I saw him go up in the pack a few times and he played ruck with courage. One thing is certain is he got some street cred’ from the locals for his efforts. Everyone has their peculiarities but you can always count on Tony to say it how he sees it. He is honest to the point of sensationalism. He would rather hurt your feelings than lie but he would never let you down. I remember arriving in Cotton Creek the first time, Rob and I waving away at the assaulting mass army of flies burrowing into our eyes. Rob looked at me and with great concern and hoping I had a solution said “I can’t handle these flies Damien” Tony standing calm and relaxed said “rub your skin with olive oil it’s working for me.” We both looked at Tony with awe and admiration, his knowledge of the ways of the bush and his secret cure a prize worth respecting. “Is that one of your surreptitious bush remedies? Handed down through the generations?” asked Rob. “Nah, I just had dry skin” answered Tony.
The third concert was anticipated by a larger audience, probably because word got around, our further activities on the football field and the continued arrival of some late comers to the carnival. And most impressive was the recording from the previous night. Rob spent the whole day, recovering from a knee injury at yesterday’s football match which gave him a good excuse to sit on his swag and mix down the tracks. In the late afternoon he was handing out the newly pressed CD’s to some of the guys and when I was setting up the truck for the gig, I saw the Punmu Lakeside boys pull up in their black Hilux, insert the CD in the cars audio and then drive off with the windows down and the music up around the community, (a distance of no more than a few hundred metres from one end to the other) several times, like the boys from the hood, and in this manner they became our promotion representatives.
As a result of the CD’s the other bands were very keen to get up and thus we had bands waiting to play from the get, go! Tonight was very much about them and they ruled the stage all night. Candice myself and Brian all trimmed our sets back to 15 minutes each in order to make more time and just as well we did as it was 12am before the last of the dust settled.
Tonight was a repeat of last night’s events only with much more enthusiasm and perhaps a few more people. Of real note was one of the Cotton Creek guys that performed 3 solo songs he had written himself and wanted to play to the community. It was so good that we all stood motionless, hanging onto each word, his rock Ballard, desert, country songs full of emotion and well spliced acoustic melody. He had showed Rob his songs earlier in the day, and he was so impressed he got up and played bass for him and got Candice playing drums. We offered to record the tracks for him during the concert that night and finish it off before we left tomorrow. The crowd went wild and Clinton was the star of the night, his final song a chilling tribute to his elders, “who will be left to remember? My culture, my country, my elders, all gone.” A haunted silence hung on his last note till applaud broke the spell.
The Kiwirrkurra band had rehearsed at sound check for nearly 20 minutes, and were very keen to get another recording of their set tonight. They were in fine form and the dancing started instantly. My exertions on the football field, the 5am hunting trip and the last few weeks of constant travel finally caught up with me. I could hardly move by the time we had finished setting up and I was banished to the side line by sheer exhaustion by the time the concert started. However, Ewan had enough enthusiasm for us both and captured great footage of the dancing by running into the circle with the handy cam, much to everyone’s delight. I was, at a few points, unable to contain myself, so infectious was the energy of the dancing. And like a planet drawn into a black hole a I found myself attempting to imitate the dust stomping convulsions of the desert reggae dance etiquette, much to the amusement of those surrounding the dance circle. The sky had closed in with ominous clouds, a steady drizzle had become our companion. The dust turned to mud and splashed up our legs but nothing could stop the music, on a stage all taped up with sheets of plastic and makeshift covers to keep the rain of the electrical equipment, every spare awning drawn, and a web of ropes holding tarps to awnings and plastic sheets to the roof of the stage, we played on into the night. Every now and then I had to empty the collected water from the roof tarp with a billiard table cue and when the water hit the ground the kids would run into the puddle and stomp in its red slurry without the slightest care in the world and we danced in the rain like sprits released and the desert was our witness.
Saturday 7th May – Day 21 – Grand Final Day
As the teams played their final 3 matches for the carnival, my team completed a full break down of all the equipment and the stage back onto the truck. Hampered by the drizzle that threatened to pour any minute, it was midday by the time we had loaded the gear, fuelled up and where ready to roll.
In the mean time Rob had completes the tracks for Clinton and they had 3 songs finished by the time we were ready to leave. Expecting a good 8 hour drive to get back to Newman, I was keen to make tracks as soon as we could. After our goodbyes and thank you’s, it was 2pm before we drove out of the community. In a stroke of sheer luck, we met the council road workers only 50 Kilometres out of Cotton Creek and the roads had been graded all the way back to the Jigalong turn off, which sheered nearly an hour off our journey. It was dusk as we turned west towards Newman and the hazy clouds had cleared somewhat, now leaving gaps for the sun to fire its beams of light through. Bouncing off the fragments of the deserts sands whipped into the sky by willy-willies, the beams kaleidoscoped into a hundred shades of red. And as we drove out of the desert, as if to mourn our departure, the sky bled a deep crimson sunset. The horizon like a fading ember burned its self out till the darkness left me with those last sites to remember and the world closed in around my headlights till the land outside was no more. Until the lights of Newman glowed up in front of me. And I thanked the power above for the gift I had been given.
Sunday 8th May – Day 22 – Homeward Bound
As I write my final entry for the trip I reflect on the 22 days just past. Now with a fair wind at our tail and a downhill run, the Desert Feet Tour heads for home. The 1200 Kilometres before us fall away like the red sand from our tyres and with every mile the land changes before us. I reflect on the people I have met, and the characters I will never forget. Most of all I am reminded of the company of the Martu people; their stoic, silent preserve and their quiet strength often mistaken as a weakness. But the Martu are not weak, they have waited and watched for thousands of years. The material drives of the city will soon envelope me again. The advertising campaigns that require me to consume and to need will be upon my ears and eyes at every turn. I will see everywhere what I don’t have and be told constantly what I need to own in order to be happy. And I will seek happiness as is my right?! Mean time behind me in the desert, the Martu will sit still and wait, as they have since the beginning. Watching white men like me come and go in their crazy dance, offering this and that and then racing off again. I often wonder; who really has the most to offer?
Monday 9th May – Day 23
Dear reader, I would like to thank you for joining me on this journey into the heart land once again.
It has been my pleasure to be a volunteer on this adventure. Once again I must reiterate that I do not presume to have any answers, I just want to bring positive light to a treasure of immeasurable wealth; our Indigenous population and the fragility of their existence. Pressured on all sides, the western world will soon give them no privacy. The internet will soon reach the western desert and that will make all manner of visitors available to remote areas. As the distance and isolation become less of a threat through modern technology, satellite phones and ever increasing vehicle safety, more and more people will visit, pass through and explore the untouched lands of our remote deserts in search of gold, adventure and retreat.
So far for the past 4 years I have worked as a volunteer for VOW. I do not wish for any reimbursement, I have received payment enough being able to contribute, that is my privilege. Nor am I asking you to do the same thing, or make the same sacrifices, I ask only that by word of mouth or financial contribution that you might enable me to be the conduit through which these actions can continue to occur, if you think they are so worthy. For it might seem to you that I have run educational workshops into remote communities, however that is just one front, the real education is for us. It is the rest of Australia that needs to learn more about Australian Indigenous history, and it starts with us and our children. There is very little time left.