July 2013

Desert Feet Tour – July 2013

Day 1 – Saturday 6th July

DSC_5126-2Parnngurr

This tour will take us to the heartland of the Western Desert once again, Parnngurr (Cotton Creek) One of The Homelands Movement communities, which is among four of the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Desert communities that constitute the most remote communities of this world.

If you have a vague recollection of the term “The Homelands Movement,” it may be because of Yothu Yindi album of the same name, published by Mushroom Records back in 1989.

“The homelands movement of the 1980s and 1990s led to the establishment of a large number of small communities in the Western Desert, including Kunawarritji, Kiwirrkurra, Milyakirri, Wikiri, Bibarr, and Jupiter Well.” (Kunawarritji Community Layout Plan Report & Provisions January 2004) Which in turn has resulted in a lot of remote tourism and Eco resort businesses run on Martu Native Title by Aboriginal Corporations.

In WA the movement was born from a combination of factors. Primarily, a desire to go back to country by those that still had knowledge of their traditional hunting grounds and the boundaries of their language groups, with the intention of keeping their culture, lore and practices, in order to pass it on to the younger generation. However, the circumstances around the established of communities like Parnngurr deserves mention, and if you will forgive me, this seems an opportune time to digress into an account of this historical relevance for those readers not familiar. It is quite an interesting part of Australian history, especially as the story takes place in our own State, literally our own back yard.

I have taken the liberty of using an extract from one of my essays, The Relevance of Art, Dance and Language In Traditional and Contemporary Aboriginal Society.

“The following story is well documented in the movie Wangka-Lampuju (Our Stories, Martu Media 2008). It all began in 1946, the Apostolic Church set up a mission at Jigalong called the Aborigine Rescue Mission or ARM for short (A name as patronising as its vision). The mission was used as a supply depot for Indigenous people, but ARM also collected the welfare payments from the State Government on behalf of its residents; the Martu People that had come in out of the desert.

ARM then allocated part payments to those that performed certain duties to maintain the running of Mission. The focus was on the assimilation of children and the conversion of Aboriginal People to Christianity. The mission enforced church attendance by cutting off supplies to those that failed to attend. Children were forbidden from using their language during school and were punished if caught doing so. This was a part of a program to implement what was then, The Assimilation Policy of the Australian Government, “That all aborigines and part-aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other Australians” (The Policy of Assimilation 1931-1961, Page 1, section (a)).

Even with the incentive of food and rations as a form of control, the Martu people of the area maintained their language and kept cultural ceremonies, dance and art practices intact. In fact, the mission had the reverse effect to which it intended. The incentive of free food brought tribesman and their families into the Mission from the deep, isolated Western Desert. This migration only served to reinforce language, and cultural ceremonies.

As less and less families existed in the desert, the intricate network of kinship and Lore could no longer be practiced. (Stephanie Fryer-Smith., 2002, page 12) This caused the remaining families to gather around Jigalong, which consequently became a centre of culture practice. Culture and Lore along with the Dreaming Stories are handed down to youth by the Elders verbatim (Stephanie Fryer-Smith., 2002 p. 14) and so language was preserved. In 1969 the Aborigine Rescue Mission pulled up camp and left. Jigalong become a landmark community and the first to take control of its own administration.”

And so the scene was set. By the 1980s Jigalong was home to almost all the Martu. Homesick and tired of the limitations of the Government services, they began to return to country and the so “The Homelands Movement” had begun.

The only way to Parnngurr is via the Talawana Track. The Talawana Track is a remote, unsealed, corrugated, gravel road that runs between Windy Corner on the Gary Highway and the Marble Bar Road, a distance of 596 kilometres. The majority of it was built by Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party in 1963, and was the final road they built.

Leonard Beadell (OAM BEM FIEMS) has appeared in a few of my previous blogs, he was a surveyor, road builder, bushman, artist, and author. Responsible for opening up the last remaining isolated desert areas of central Australia from 1947 to 1963. He is, from all accounts, an extraordinary man. Probably the contemporary equivalent of Sir John Forrest and Ludwig Leichhardt, he was in parts of the desert in the 1950s that no white man had ever seen, and made first contact with some of the Martu groups that would later lead to the a the appearance of anthropologists like Rob Tonkinson, a person instrumental in the Martu Native Title claim.

His book Beating Around the Bush is well worth a read, the following is a synopsis I found online, but don’t read it if you are going to get the book.

“In 1963 his Gunbarrell Road Construction Party (GRCP), having just completed 1350 kilometres of the new Gary Junction Road from Liebig Bore in the Northern Territory, made their way to Port Hedland for badly needed maintenance. Once the vehicles were serviced, they made their way to Marble Bar, where Beadell parted company with his crew, as they were returning along the Gary Junction Road to regrade it, while Beadell set off in a southerly direction to begin a 600 km reconnaissance for the new Talawana track alone.

He travelled via Nullagine, Ethel Creek Station, Billanooka and Walgun to the ruins of the abandoned Talawana homestead, where he arrived on 2nd August 1963. Beadell plunged east into the Gibson Desert spinifex, and crossed the remnants of the Rabbit-Proof Fence. He discovered a survey marker placed by Alfred Canning who had been there some 70 years prior while building the fence. A major obstacle which lay across the path was the McKay Range, which Beadell struggled to traverse. After he had found a way through, he came to an 80 metre long crystal clear water hole, and noticed fresh human footprints near the edge. Further on he saw a spiral of smoke rising above the spinifex, so he closed the gap towards the smoke, switched the engine off, and waited for a meeting with an unknown tribe which he knew would come. He was rewarded when two Aboriginal Men made their presence known, while others kept their distance. Anthropologists were very interested in this discovery, and Beadell was able to take a small study group back to the spot at a later date.

Well 23 on the Canning Stock Route was his next objective, but he was unable to find it, though he knew he was close. To save time, he continued on to Karara Soak (sic) where he discovered the location of Well 24. This left him 200 kilometres to travel through featureless sand and spinifex before he suddenly arrived on the cleared path of the Gary Highway. It was 7th August when he settled down to wait for the GRCP to arrive from the north, and for the next five days, the wind was so strong that he was barely able to leave the shelter of his vehicle. This led to his naming of the future corner where he camped, Windy Corner.” (Beadell, B. 2000)

For us it will be a journey of some 1500 kilometres starting from cold and rainy Perth, but of course before we can turn East into the frozen Desert, we must first ascend North, to Newman.

Day 2 – Sunday 7th July

FIFO

In Newman there is one shopping centre, and in the centre of the mall a stall displays shirts and singlets with the insignia “FIFO” in big bold letters. In small print underneath the acronym, in some bizarre attempt at humour, has been changed to “Fit In or F@#k Off.” Despondently, I wonder if this latest fashion craze is a big seller. A merchandise display at the counter of the newsagents promotes the label and the proprietor sees me looking at the catalogue. My discomfort must have betrayed me, for the lady at the counter was abrupt and gruff. Perhaps I didn’t look like I fit in, perhaps I just looked offended, perhaps she was having a bad day, or maybe it was all in my mind, but when she asked “Can I help you?” the tone seemed more impertinent than polite. I could not resist the opportunity to challenge the absurdity of the situation and I said, “I’m not sure what you have to do to fit in around here.” “Well you’ll be right, mate” she assured me. I’m not sure if it was an insult. “I think I almost prefer the latter” I suggested. She looked at me blankly, so I presumed my arrow missed the mark. Perhaps she was impervious, perhaps the depth of her ignorance was such that she didn’t see the issue. That was a sad thought but none-the-less, I was wasting my time here so I moved on.

In Newman, if you’re not orange, you’re black. I would prefer not to “fit in” to such a mentality. It sort of feels nice not being dressed in fluoro orange, because I don’t have to be. Maybe I am just rebellious, but I went straight to the car and put on my big black hat that says, “I’m not working in the mining industry.” But that big hat has also become the DFT flag. A Martu will stop me in the street and ask when the next concert is, or if I’m heading to such-and-such a place, or will we be at so-and-so community. Kids call out “Band tonight?” and teenagers ask me if I remember their name, then tease me for forgetting. The interaction warms me, it’s a privilege, you see, but that’s only my opinion and it’s worth what you just paid for it.

Of course its wrong to generalise, and not everyone in Newman is like that. In fact many are the very opposite. After all this is the twenty-first century and Newman is modern town, isn’t it? Liberated, right? White Australia Policy is a thing of the past. Asian people run the local cafe with seeming impunity, (at least they do a better job than the Aussie in the other cafe anyway) the fact that women couldn’t vote is all but forgotten, and one even made Prime Minister. We are all far more accepting, multi-cultural, and open-minded now. Aren’t we? It’s illegal to be racist or sexist anyway? Remember how Robert DiPierdomenico was stood down from his role in Auskick after making a racist remark regarding Gavin Wanganeen. But despite all that, there is a silent partition, it is unspoken, but it is there. Most people have a vague idea about the Martu being recognised as the Traditional Owners, and that they have to say something at official ceremonies about it. But that is about as far as the tolerance goes. After all, they don’t work, and we do. Why should we help them? Right? They should Fit In Or F@#K Off, I guess. Tolerance and acceptance would not help anything anyway, those are the mystical concepts of the east, for Buddhists and Taoists, they don’t apply to us. Do they?

Day 3 – Monday 8th July

The Green Desert

The dawn light revealed a muddy brown estuary covered in dirty white wind caps. The discovery was like a dichotomy to the senses for new recruit Jaimie Small. It had been dark when we arrived here, so she had no idea ’til the morning that we were near water, let alone that there was even this much water anywhere in the desert. But the desert is full of surprises, that’s what I love about it, and the best way to tell someone is show them.

The Green Desert

Jaimie comes to us from Officeworks, as a Desert Feet volunteer/trainee/cook but also to document and blog her experience for Officeworks as part of their National Reconciliation scheme. It is also a part of an ongoing relationship with the corporate giant, that so far, has resulted in some great exchange. The fact that a Multinational Superpower is interested in grassroots reconciliation speaks volumes, a corporation with personality. I guess relationships are core to any business, but I had no idea just how deeply that concept was imbued in the culture of their leadership until I got the opportunity to spend some time with a few of the long-standing senior management like Martin Duffy and Derek Carroll. These guys are truly the Steve Jobs’ of their industry; men who have been at the forefront of the development that pioneered a new industry and revolutionised the way we shop in this country, which makes them a part of Australian history and culture. Martin’s Masters was on the corporate culture of Wesfarmers, and he was instrumental in the takeover and modelling of Bunnings. So the corporate responsibility of Officeworks’ head office in Melbourne is a mild affair in his CV, comparatively. But success is not just in the office, success is in the balance, and it’s his unassuming and easy nature that is so impressive considering he has a family of four. I found out Martin had just ridden 2000km for Cancer, and being a active type myself, I made the mistake of asking him to take me for a short run on the Melbourne foreshore, it seemed a novel way to see a bit of town and get to know him better, that is until he suggested that a short run was 8km, on which he had to carry me most of the way back.

Anyway, once again I digress, but the point im trying to make, is for me it is a great privilege to be invited onto Native Title Land, it’s more about the privilege, it’s not something I take for granted, and it’s something many people ask to share with us. Wanting to have a cultural experience is not something I can make people have, but if you want one, then assisting is my greatest delight. Taking someone to the Martu lands for the first time is the next greatest privilege, and hearing that Jamie was really keen to learn more about Indigenous culture, language, and people, is like music to my ears. It’s been two years since we travelled to Parnngurr and we are all looking forward to going back there again.

By midday we had come to the intersection of The Rabbit Proof Fence and the Talawana Track, indicated by a large sign saying so, which is pretty much all that’s left of it, other than the odd bit of wire and some petrified posts. I’ve blogged on the subject before, and many know of the Rabbit Proof Fence, made famous by the movie of the same name, so skim this if you want to, but the Rabbit Proof Fence is of fairly great historical importance for several reasons. It was run through the entire length of the State after being surveyed by another ambiguous but famous character of our West Australian history called Alfred Canning.

“Alfred Wernam Canning (1860-1936), surveyor, was born on 21 February 1860 at Campbellfield, Victoria, son of William Canning, farmer, and his wife Lucy, née Mason. Educated at Carlton College, Melbourne, Canning entered the survey branch of the New South Wales Lands Department as a cadet, and in January 1882 was appointed a licensed surveyor under the Real Property Act.

About the turn of the century rabbits from the east were beginning to invade Western Australia and Canning was instructed to survey a route for a rabbit-proof fence. The line took him from Starvation Harbour on the south coast to Cape Keraudren, east of Port Hedland, through 1175 miles (1891 km). Said at the time to be the longest single survey in the world, it took him three years. On one bad stretch when a camel died, he had to walk 210 miles (338 km).” (Extract from the Australian Dictionary of Biography)

The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia, formerly known as the No. 2 Rabbit-proof Fence, was a pest-exclusion fence constructed between 1901 and 1907 to keep rabbits and other agricultural pests, from the east, out of Western Australian pastoral areas. There are three fences in Western Australia: the original No. 1 Fence, which crosses the state from north to south, the No. 2 Fence which is smaller and further west, and the smaller east-west running No. 3 fence. The fences took six years to build. When completed in 1907, the Rabbit-Proof Fence (including all three fences) stretched 2,021 miles (3,253 km). The cost to build the fences at the time was £337,841. And they remained in operation until the 1950s when the introduction of Myxomatosis diminished its value, since then it has pretty much rotted away in the sun or been covered by sand drifts.’

There are some colourful historical stories available, if your interested in further reading. In 1929, Arthur Upfield, an Australian writer, began writing a fictional story which involved a way of disposing of a body in the desert. He had previously worked on the construction of the No. 1 fence. Before the book was published, stockman Snowy Rowles, an acquaintance of the writer, carried out at least two murders and disposed of the bodies in the method described in the book. The trial which followed in 1932 was one of the most sensational in the history of Western Australia. A book was published about the incident called Murder on the Rabbit Proof Fence: The Strange Case of Arthur Upfield and Snowy Rowles, which I read while on tour last year and quite enjoyed.

In the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara, the fence was used in the 1930s by three Indigenous Australian girls for their route back home to Jigalong. The girls, taken from their parents in Western Australia as part of the Stolen Generation, escaped from the Moore River Native Settlement Mission where they were being held, and walked back to their family at Jigalong by following the rabbit-proof fence. The 2002 dramatic film Rabbit-Proof Fence is based on the book. And I have had the pleasure of meeting Evelyn Sampi several times, who played Molly Craig in the movie.

Our illustrious hero Canning then went on to make a big name for himself by completing the Canning stock route. You have to wonder about someone that names his own exploits after himself. Perhaps he had a giant ego, no doubt, perhaps Canning was determined to be a success at all costs, or perhaps he was a blatant racist. Either way he was a product of the all too familiar generation of explorers and surveyors that seemed to have no concern or respect for the T.O.s that helped or hindered them in those endeavours.

“Canning received a hero’s welcome on his return to Perth, however his cook, Edward Blake, alleged the party had ill-treated Aboriginals, coerced Aboriginal men to locate water by force-feeding them salt, destroyed waterholes, and kidnapped Aboriginal women for sex. After Premier Newton Moore failed to act on his claims, Blake took them to the newspapers, which prompted Moore to call a Royal Commission.

It was necessary at times to use chains on our guides but we padded them to make sure they did not chafe the men’s necks…they were happy with the arrangement.” —Evidence given before the Royal Commission by surveyor, Hubert Trotman

The Commissioner of Police admitted that Police were forced to chain the guides due to their unwillingness to join the expedition. The continued chaining was justified on the grounds that they would have run off, jeopardising the expedition. After three weeks of questions and replies the Royal Commission exonerated the expedition members of all charges. In 1929 at the age of 68, Canning was commissioned to complete a restoration of the wells. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/canning-alfred-wernam-5499

So, back to Desert Feet Tour. As the day set in, the desert seemed to transform before us. No longer did the wide-open barren patches of dark blue buckshot glimmer in the sun like fresh laid bitumen, here the country turned a unexpected pastel green, large groups of Desert Oaks clung in groups in the valleys between the dune ridges, forgotten and isolated forest clinging to life. Like starving men on one leg, their slim trunks and scant foliage archetypal of the men that once hunted amongst them. I half expected to see a man there, silhouetted against the scored sky, balancing on a spear, one foot on his knee, unmoving. As the isolation grew with each mile, so the Great Sandy Desert absorbed us into its silence, an omnipresent calm, with the patience of forever.

By 3pm we had been driving for 7 hours and I became a little anxious, expecting the turn-off, and not knowing whether it was before me or behind me. We passed a grading party about 330pm, and that gave me some reassurance we were still on the Talawana track anyway. Then at about 4pm the stilted water tank of the community appeared in the line on the horizon, and I knew Parnngurr was ahead.

The deeper we got into the heartland, the faster the weather seemed to be changing. As we beat up the corrugations of Parnngurr’s red road, my windscreen was being played by the tapping of a light, but constant rain. It fell from isolated showers that washed across the plains like fast moving black boats, offset against an otherwise sunny day. The great desert sky seemed confused, sun beams danced across the plains wherever gaps appeared, and to the east, it was mostly blue and clear.

Under our sunny canopy of rain, huge rainbows semi circled the road like psychedelic bridges. Just to add a bizarre edge to a strange scene, a few lightening bolts fell to the ground followed by an agonising crack, like the mast of a tall ship giving way. One would expect a black brewing storm to precede such intensity, yet only isolate clouds where on offer. If this was your first time in the desert and you expected a dry and sunburnt land, you’d be sorely disappointed. As we pulled into the community, a sun-shower of white hail fell on us, playing the drums on our roof and scattering those caught in the open.

As I waited for the hail to stop, the CEO, Robin, pulled up alongside us and told us to go to the school and settle in. Kitty the nurse and Tristen, head of Newcrest’s Community Development team were in a Troopy out the front, dealing with a compound fracture. The Royal Flying Doctor couldn’t land on the airstrip, and the Parnngurr Carnival had already broken two bones.

We tried desperately to set the stage up between downpours. At one point we had the awnings up and looked like we had a fair break, ’til the next squall started bending the gables precariously. Carlo and Richard took shelter while Ewan and I struggled in our spray coats to close off the windward side, but it was dark before we could secure it, and the temperature had dropped rapidly. Everything was covered in mud. The stage and anything on it was soaked, it was freezing cold and blowing a gale, and not a soul had come out of the safety of their cover. When Jaimie showed up with a huge pot of soup and hot tea, we scuttled into the corner and scoffed the hot food with relish. The thermogenic effort of digestion must have stolen our last ounces of our enthusiasm, and we just went home, surrendering to the elements.

We were not back in the camp three minutes and Alwyn Kelly found us, and so we had our own private little concert instead.

Day 4 – Tuesday 9th July

Parnngurr

It’s been two years since we visited Parnngurr, and I can’t even remember what I wrote in the blog about this place last time, but for those of you that have not read any of the previous blogs or wanted to know a bit more about how Parnngurr came to be, I have alleviated the following facts and information (aside from a few embellishments and additions) from the www.planning.wa.gov.au site, from the Parnngurr (Cotton Creek) Community Layout Plan.

“The Community, which was established around 1980, (part of the Homelands Movement) lies within the Rudall River (Karlamilyi) National Park, (Punmu is the other Aboriginal community within the Park, which is where the previous Blog was set). Parnngurr is located approximately 375kms by unsealed road and track from Newman; the regional centre of the East Pilbara Shire.

The people who live at Parnngurr are Manyjilyjarra, Warnman, and Kartujarra people, and are part of the larger Martu Aboriginal group. The community is located a few kilometres south east of Cotton Creek which is a tributary of Rudall River. The creek flows after heavy rains. The site slopes gently down towards another smaller watercourse to the east of the Community which is fed in part by water collecting from Mt Cotton which is 1km east of the Community.”

A lot of people ask me where the water comes from out here. So I added this in too. Most community locations are chosen because of their proximity to a bore, and most of these bores were put here by mining exploration teams or pastoralists. Parnngurr is not far off the Canning Stock Route either, which meanders from waterhole to waterhole 30-odd km south of here.

The Community’s water supply system consists of two bores equipped with electric submersible pumps which pump into an elevated tank. Water Bore 1/90 is located approximately 1.3kms to the north east and Bore 7/90 is located 70 metres to the south of the Community. Bore 7/90 is the primary supply bore.”

You may have also heard about Cotton Creek from other sources, as the surrounding area is the location of some of the purest and largest deposits of yellowcake, otherwise known as Uranium. Next, you might ask, “Does that affect the water?” the answer is (according to the World Health Organisation) “The concentration of uranium from bore 7/90 exceeds standards set for health based on chemical toxic affects. In addition, problems with potential contamination of the water supply have been reported and thermotolerant coliform bacteria have been detected in the water supply.”

There are a few mining companies in negotiations with WDLAC now that have their eyes on this Uranium, but the fact that the Uranium seam runs under a National Park creates further complications for potential mining companies. Several large companies have known about it for some time, I even have seen some evidence that one lot drilled exploration holes in the park itself, however at this stage there are no operations.

Although the Rudall River (Karlamilyi) National Park, park falls entirely inside the Martu Native Title area, The Federal Court of Australia determined (in its infinite wisdom) that Native title is extinguished by previous use where the crown can show operation of “THE ACT”

“There are certain areas that are excluded from the determination, in some cases because Native Title is thought to have been extinguished by operation of the Act or by operation of the common law. It is on that basis that the Rudall River National Park is not included in the determination. There is a limitation on the recognition which can be granted under the Native Title Act.”(‘James on behalf of the Martu People v State of Western Australia [2002] FCA 1208’)

Considering that a National Parks supersedes 60 thousand years of occupation, you might be forgiven for falling into a false sense of security concerning the safety of the Uranium underneath it. If Rudall River National Park supersedes Native Title, theoretically, it should supersede the needs of the state and mining company’s too, right?! Well, that has not been the example that history has given us.

Like Red Cloud’s Fort Laramine Treaty of 1868, that exempted all lands west of Missouri River in Nebraska and part of South Dakota from white settlement forever. Until gold was discovered in the Black Hills which also happened to be the ceremony lands of the Sioux Indians. All of a sudden, the Army, that was supposed to be keeping miners out was running its own recognisance missions!!! The rest is history, made famous by Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Needless to say the boundaries of that particular treaty were moved, and not peacefully. Red Cloud died far from his hard won Reservation, along with General George Custers and a lot of his men. In 1874 the US Government re-assigned the Lakota tribes to other Reservations and the Black Hills was settled by European Americans who went on to produce about 4 millions US dollars annually.

That would have been a good investment considering they offered Red Cloud $25,000 for it. When he said no, they just killed him instead. Interestingly, in 1980 the Supreme Court ruled that the land had been taken illegally (go figure) and awarded the Souix $106 million which to this day they still refuse to take, willing only to settle for the return of the hills to their Treaty. They are still waiting.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Desert Feet activities ran pretty much as smoothly as could be expected, while in the background the football carnival raged on intensely. Aside from a regular flow of traffic to the nurse’s quarters, the only thing of note was that young Alwyn has become one of our trainees and assisted in the workshop and the set-up for the concert. The concert raged on until past midnight, kicking up a storm of dust which floated aloft into the heavens like a dome of smog. The big yellow spot light cut a beam through its haze under which all and sundry danced with abandonment to make up for the lost night yesterday.

Concert time

 

Day 5 – Wednesday 10th July

Tjupurrula and Napanangka

This morning in the brilliant white heat of the day, the truck looks like a semi permanent feature of the community. As if someone had parked it there a few years ago then abandoned it to the red earth, like a forgotten playground. We had set her up in the sand outside the office to utilise the veranda for shelter in case it rained again, however a heavy night of dancing had raised a layer of the silky red dust, which had settled over the stage, sea container, truck, and gear, like a magic camouflage. The once white Hino, now looked dressed for traditional ceremony in her coat of magnetic ochre, painted evenly by an invisible hand, with the perfection of nature’s art. On this canvas, the canvas of the desert, everything gets a dull corrosive coat. There is no escape.

As I contemplated a strategy for some workshops, Bobby pulled up with a fresh cloud of dust, which floated weightlessly in the air, diffusing the sun among its particles with patterns of light. As it settled over my head, the taste of dirt at the back of my throat reminded me just where I am, the great Western Desert doesn’t let you forget. Everyone must breath its silt, ingest its pervasive grit and suffer its longing to be so ingrained in us.

Bobby’s smile is a warm embrace, it reveals some well rounded teeth, spacious in the cavern of his mouth, but it’s a mouth that talks of a man without vanity or self importance. When Bobby talks to you, it is with an unassuming presence, large spaces between his words, patience is his language. Maybe he is aware of something beyond the senses, a secret the old people showed him, something he can’t explain. He exists completely from a field of incidence, living out of a present space.

That is how he greats me every time, in the moment, excited to see me, even if I just saw him three minutes before. He makes you feel special, every time. His giant belly rolls like the happy Buddha when he laughs, and nearly everything he says is followed by that jovial expression. It’s rare to see him out of his car as he has become quite enormously overweight lately, and it is a process that is not in recession. It’s not funny, because he is, like all his peers, way too young to have diabetes and such chronic circulatory issues. He is the victim of a weakness for the white man’s dubious commodities such as flour and soft drinks, that Indigenous men have such a violent predisposition to.

Sadly, men like Bobby rarely make it into their 60s. Those with an early onset of diabetes, on average, live 16 -25 years shorter than the average Australian. Average he is not, in any way. Loveable he is. Lorna had attacked his great big curly wig with a pair of scissors and I nearly didn’t recognise him this time. When I asked where his hair had gone, he gave a sideways glance with a hint of indignation, but Lorna only laughed her cheeky, cute giggle, the wad of Mingkulpa perched precariously in the left corner of her mouth, a green trail of its juice adorned her chin. Ceremoniously she plucked it from her mouth, rolled it in the powdered ash while she spoke to me, then popped it back under her lip. “Kumonjay!” Bobby exclaimed. “Komonjay!” Lorna parroted, and one of those smiles that starts in your stomach, gripped my face with happiness.

Lorna Brown, Lorna Ward, Lorna Ellis, or Lorna West are all names you might find on her paintings. If you do find one, grab it. She is a world renowned artist. But her real name, her Luritja name, the name the desert mob of Papunya gave her, is Napanangka.

I would consider her to be one of my closest friends in all this giant State, her bubbly little personality and cheeky smile make me laugh, though I rarely understand what she says. I’m sure she can’t understand much more than a few words of my conversation either, but we have found the means to sit in the dirt by concerts and chat on for hours, finding humour in the activities around us, and drawing out ideas in the sand. If you ever wanted to collect some Aboriginal Art that is sure to be a good investment, have a look at her stuff here, http://www.kateowengallery.com which is where I found this Bio too;

“Lorna Ward Napanangka was born at Papunya in 1961. Lorna’s father is Timmy Payungka Tjapangati, one of the first generation Papunya Tula artists. Lorna herself started painting in 1996. It as in 1999 that Lorna’s standing started to rise. That followed her participation in the collaborative artwork “Kiwirrkurra Women’s Painting” for the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal. Lorna’s style is extremely varied. It is rare for any one composition to resemble another. She effortlessly moves from style to style, medium to medium and colour to colour. This versatility and collectability has been recognised by collectors worldwide. Lorna has exhibited in Australia and overseas and was a finalist in the 2002 NATSIAA. Lorna Ward Napanangka and her husband Billy Ward generally live in the community of Kintore WA but having family in Kiwirrkurra WA and also can be found living in this area.”

This is a bit wrong actually, because they both live a Kiwirrkurra never Kintore. It must be old too as Billy Ward is not her husband, also the photo of Lorna is not her. Which is weird. But it’s definitely not her.

Bobby has won several prestigious awards too and is exclusively signed to Papunya Tula which you can look up online. There is a lot of info on him too, below is a snippet off one of the web sites I found;
http://masongallery.com.au/artists/bobby-west-tjupurrula/

“Bobby West Tjupurrula, Born: 1958, People: Pintupi, Language: Pintupi, Area: Kiwrrkurra
Bobby West Tjupurrula is the son of one of the original shareholders of Papunya Tula Artists, Fred West Tjakamarra. He was born at the rock hole site of Tjamu Tjamu, which is east of Kiwirrkurra W.A.
Bobby’s family was met by Jeremy Long’s Welfare patrol in 1963. At the time, his family was camping at Willi rock hole, slightly east of Kintore. Bobby commenced painting for Papunya Tula Artists in the late 1980′s. In 1999 he took part in depicting the Tingari story on a collaborative painting with the men from Kiwirrkurra and Balgo. He is a traditional owner of Kiwirrkura and has been the official spokes person for Papunya Tula.”

He has taken me to the Rock they speak of above, Willi Rock Hole. Showed me where his father lived. It is the most impressively balanced rock I have ever seen, like a massive Stone Henge, made all the more imposing for the vast and flat landscape that it juts out of, like a Japanese Zen Garden in the raked pebbles of the endless Gibson Desert. When you are there, you can feel the presence of his ancestors reaching back to the beginning of time. It is a perfectly formed natural house and the only cover in hundreds of miles. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to or anthropologist to work out that this place has been inhabited for a long long long time. I am unclear just how, but he is related in some manner to The Pintubi Nine, or The Lizard Eaters, after the title of a book with the same name. That is another worthwhile read for those hungry for good Aboriginal history like me, and once again i must digress to relate some highlights of its pages in order to set the scene for a man like Bobby

“On October 1984, a family of nine Pintupi, referred to in the international press as the ‘Lost Nomads’ or the ‘Pintubi Nine’, were brought in from the Great Sandy Desert in Central Australia and reunited with their extended family at Kiwirrkurra. They included Walala and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri and Tamlik Tjapangati (also referred to as Thomas Tjapaltjarri).

Until this time the small group had lived a nomadic life moving from waterhole to waterhole. It is believed they had become separated from other Pintupi more than twenty years earlier and when ‘found’ the group had never seen a motor vehicle, worn clothes, nor had any contact with Western society.

According to the story told by Warlimpirrnga to journalist Nigel Adams in February 2007, he had been hunting and seen smoke from a campfire so he approached the camp site. An Aboriginal elder, Pinta Pinta (This is the father of Mathew Pinta whom featured heavily in our last adventure and with whome we have done alot of recording) and his family were cooking beside their 4WD vehicle and he asked for water which they obliged. He was naked and carried only a spear and a boomerang. When one of the younger men fired a shot gun in the air, Warlimpirrnga fled.

Pinta Pinta and his family drove back to Kintore to report the incident of “the naked ones” to the Kintore Community Coordinator. Over the next two days a search party which included Geoff Tull, a European, followed Warlimpirrnga’s tracks to a deserted campsite where they found spears. There they waited.

The nomads returned and saw Geoff Tull, “the pink man.” This was the first time they had seen a European. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was the devil, a bad spirit and he was the colour of clouds at sunrise,” said Warlimpirrnga in the 2007 interview.

The nine nomads were persuaded to travel to the community at Kiwirrkurra where they were reunited with their extended family. They were found to be in excellent health. Up to that time they had lived a traditional life hunting wildlife such as goannas, rabbits and other bush food.

From this remarkable story, Walala, Warlimpirrnga and Thomas have emerged as artists of international fame. All seven children and one of the mothers are still alive (At 2013 only four still survive). With the exception of Yari Yari who has returned to a nomadic life, they have adjusted to a vastly different life, living in Kiwirrkurra in Western Australia, other remote desert communities, and in Alice Springs in Central Australia.”

Most of the information above can be found in the book The Lizard Eaters by Douglass Lockwood, however this story is made popular because of Tjapaltjarri brothers who have hosted many exhibitions. So their bio is often abbreviated onto art websites like the one following, which is fairly accurate compared to what I have read. http://www.aboriginalartstore.com.au/aboriginal-art-culture/the-last-nomads.php

Although I would love to go on, I must get back to the present day. I had a show to run and as we prepared the stage for our workshops, a host of colourful characters began to appear, one might be forgiven for thinking it was a league of super heroes or a circus come to town. Captain Cleanup with his outrageous superhero costume and foam muscle shirt, sweated away in the heat while trying to make picking up rubbish seem courageous! A novel idea, but unfortunately, he seemed to be the only one picking it up, like a Garbo with undies on the outside. Meanwhile, Dr Wolly, Clown Doctor extraordinaire, rode around on his unicycle, like the pied piper with a trail of children chasing him, pulling at his tail and honking at his nose. In one corner Fairy Sandie was inundated with a long line of willing participants who found themselves painted as magical butterflies and moving skeletons.

green-screenOur activities included a green screen on which we filmed the kids performing the song we wrote with them, which encouraged some hilarious behaviour from our miscellaneous character ensemble. Before you know it we had a video clip featuring a host of Martu children, superheroes, fairies flying, clowns juggling, and even some adults wanting to be in on the fun. (Scroll down to see the finished music video)

Day 6 – Thursday 11th July

Grand Final Day

When I finally managed to pull back the flap of my swag, the first thing I saw was Richard sitting half asleep rubbing his eyes. He looked at me and in way of greeting he sung, “Everybody wants to dance! All night long!” So infectious was that song last night it must have been the first thing his half dazed mind recalled.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I record Indigenous music in remote communities. Put that simply, I have to admit it’s a pretty cool job. I guess all jobs have their perks, but last night was a bonus. After the football carnival at Jigalong last October, I was sure that every concert would be an anti-climax, Desert Feet had reached its full potential as far as participation from the Martu could measure. Over one thousand people stood in front of the old Rhino that night. I was soon to realise that it was only the beginning, and not an end at all. Far from being a disappointment, each concert has offered something new. New talent, new friendships, new adventures. Like coins in the bank of relationships. Building on the bridge of continuity. Last night was a small concert, but the ease of familiarity created a very welcome environment. I was drawn into the dance circle, like an ant into a hole, and before I knew it I had blisters on my feet and cramps in my legs.

Perhaps it was the intimacy of the smaller crowd; perhaps it was the permanence of the Western Desert Sports Carnival that has added a level of security and routine to the mostly eventless desert communities. Or perhaps it was the cooler desert weather at this time of year. Perhaps I was a little drunk, intoxicated by that endless open starry sky and the vast desert, which seems to have a tangible sensation, as if the weight of its accumulated time is a hand that reaches back to the primeval. Last night there was a presence of some description, or an energy, generated by the motor of those circumstances. It’s something hard to measure, beyond evaluation, because what would you evaluate it by? Other festivals? A big concert? Who else can say they went to the most remote music festival in the world? And if you did, what would you find at one? Would you find a group of Aboriginal people with some of the oldest Indigenous languages in continuous use on earth? Then hear them sing in it, in several different genres, original music, with a fusion of contemporary sounds and ancient culture?

If I went to Africa, I would expect to have some exotic and sensational dance experience that I had never heard of. However, few people I know would have any idea that one exists right here in their own back yard. Until I came to the Western Desert, I never even knew Parnngurr existed.

It was creeping up to 3am by the time we had debriefed, wound down, had a cup of tea, looked at some of the footage from the day and crawled into our swags. It had been a fantastic concert, workshop, and day all round, and as we recounted the events I contemplated the contrast to city and my so-called normal life. I have learnt so much from the Martu. Learnt to see a new value for those things I thought I owned and needed. In the west we gain respect by what we give and for how much we own, but here, you give from respect and are owned by the land, nothing else really has a value, there is only family, lore, and land. What an irony that we, a Western country, born into First-world pedagogy, harbour an ancient value system linked to non material understanding outside of our own, that we, with all our advanced social evolution and technology, can make no allowance for, nor comprehend. Yet it is here among us and always has been.

The Footy

White flour marks the boundary of the football field. Laid by eye, its uneven margin meanders through the red dirt like a child’s drawing. The canvas is a an oval roughly the regular dimensions used for AFL league, yet the surface is far from anything any AFL player would contemplate deliberately inflicting upon their boots, let alone their bare toes. Singing in the heat, its surface speaks of pain and courage. Hard as rock and in some places, mostly just that. Buckshot litters its gritty face and anything loose enough to be called sand, doubles as an intoxicating dust that clings at your nose hairs and turns your spit to glue.

Western Desert Sports Carnival Semi Final July 2013

Western-Desert-Sports-Carnival

The soldiers of its terrain await the bell, their bare feet print the dust with well worn, callused stamps. Pumnu are undefeated, have not lost a single game the whole carnival. This will help them in round three for the overall grand final with points, but for today, it puts them in contention for a shot at the carnival grand final. With two games to go, Warralong (Karntimarta) play Nullagine (Irrungadji) to decide who plays against Punmu. The anxiety is a silent mask worn by all. Paul Kelly sings out across at crackly loudspeaker, “They got married early, never had no money, then when he got laid off …………..” I wondered if Paul Kelly knows where Parnngurr is? It’s funny where songs end up.

The game is a collision of bones, every fall looks painful, in the first quarter two guys come off with horrible-looking scrapes caked in dirt and blood. Jeremy Sammy proudly displays his elbow to me, it was a ragged shank of meat. Kitty has an armoury of bandages and tape, anti-inflammatories and pain killers. Guys await her care as she allocates triage. Eighty four people will receive her nursing today, she will tell me later that in four days of football she has treated two breaks, (one was flown out), one dislocation, and three fingers. Gone through 14 rolls of strapping tape, 24 packs of Nurofen, and 12 of Asprin.

DSC_5697-2

In the background, Parnngurr Hill watches over the action in silence. Its glowing yellow cake just a scratch below the surface. Enough money to buy a small planet, in the form of uranium, within a stones throw of a community that can’t afford a decent filtration system. The irony is lost on its audience, but it’s an irony with very fuzzy boundaries. In the meantime, there is serious business of football to think about.

Last Concert

The long horizon of the desert’s west showed dust tails, the trailing wake of those taken to the Talawana Track after the Grand Final. For the rest of us the presentation and the final concert would kick off after a feed and a tub to ease the aching limbs.

At the awards, Punmu took the trophy and gained a decisive lead for the season. The feeling was festive, and aside from a few stiff muscles and a couple of bandaged appendages, most were keen for a big celebration. Richard had erected a huge screen and projected the music video he had been making over the week, for all to see. It featured people from around the community, the Newcrest Team, and of course us silly buggers too. Children flew through the air, clowns, fairies, and superheroes danced across the stars of the universe and sides split with the hilarity of it all. You can view the final music video below.

There was a moment, deep in the night, that I must relate. The Kiwirrkurra Band had the stage, and the intoxicating rhythms had drawn all and sundry, like a tractions beam, into its sphere. DSC_5311-2Those sounds of hopeful abandonment, in which nothing else existed except the narcotic of its emotion. The area under the stage was magnetised by the primal bass, those electric pulses that passed down the copper wire of the sub woofers, manifesting from the cone into a sonic pulse that thumped the air in which we swirled. The vibrations seemed to pass through the space with such intensity that it formed a vacuum into which the audience where drawn, while the Kiwirrkurra Band, shining in there moment of glory, struck a chord.

When young Olodoodi started up his falsetto, it rang out, a harmonious wail, on the verge of a mournful cry, yet full of hope. His face contorted in the effort, could have been singing of agony or joy, but his howl cloaked us all in its vibration like a sheet of love. I heard others join in with a concord of wordless singing. I had no idea what the words meant or if there was any, I just remember looking down and seeing the dark red dirt under my feet. I saw a hundred other feet moving so fast they seemed independent, an unsolvable puzzle of limbs. Perhaps my own limbs were free too, dancing of their own accord, as if I had stopped but they continued. Not just my limbs, but my every cell seemed to dance, in the chimera of the moment, inebriated by the vibrations, the night, the energy, the clean desert air and a million, billion stars that laughed with a knowing wink, one at a time, ad infinitum.

Kiwirrkurra Band

Kiwirrkurra Band perform at the Western Desert Sports Carnival in Parnngurr 2013

When we discovered the Kiwirrkurra Band back in 2011 on our first trip through the Gibson Desert we felt like we had uncovered a diamond in the rough. Every time we have seen them again since, they have morphed and reshaped themselves into to different versions. Mostly playing the same songs, but in various keys and with several interpretations. I have come to realise the variations are of infinite possibility. Lazarus is generally considered the best on drums, but this carnival he is not here at all, and it was Sylvester Oloododi and Tristan West that took turns playing drums. I had never even seen Sylvester play drums before. I don’t know why I was surprised, they all seem to be able to play all the songs on any instrument, but tonight Sylvester was really a show unto himself on the skins. The theatre of the Desert Feet Stage has a unique quality, it is just a platform for the occurrence, but never-the-less, it is occurring. When I catch a glimpse of it I cant explain it. A sort of unassuming naturalness, like theatre without a script, intuitive improvisation, just the transmission of raw talent in a neutral medium. And it’s at those moments I realise why these guys are special.

Tonight Tristan West, traditionally the keyboard player on most of the recordings was on everything else but. In this version of the Kiwirrkurra Band, David Brown was the latest addition. It turns out (so David tells me) he is the founder of the Kiwirrkurra Band back in 1996. David is the son of Jimmy the Preacher, a well know character of the Pintubi mob. I have met Jimmy several times. He is the sort of man that you don’t forget, he makes humility seem simple, by adding a bubbly little laugh to the end of each sentence, mixed with his thick accent and peculiar adaptation of English, he has developed a language of happiness all of his own. It’s not just me either, I have watched him walk though the community like the Pied Piper, kids are drawn to him and hang from his arms while a trail of dogs swarm for his attention. His giant bush of black curly hair has not aged a second for all his advanced years. This impressive mop gets compressed under a large flat rimmed black hat, the resulting ear muffs of hair that spring from the sides create an enviable display of coiffeurment. Black RM Williams’ and a big silver belt buckle are his signature adornments, which he seems to have some material loyalty to in spite of being born in the traditional way and growing up in the desert. He is a peculiar fusion of old and new and a community leader.

The chug chug of David’s guitar style, was a quirky new addition to the bands sound. His notes clapped to the music in and original and unique manner but choked out before they could overpower the song. It was a technique none of the other boys performed, perhaps too hard to master, it was certainly his own style. Whichever the case, Ewan and I looked at each other, we both knew we would have to record them all over again. This would be the fourth album of theirs with a new feel.

Day 7 – Friday 12th July

White Men Can’t Throw

This French guy called Eddie (well that’s what we called him anyway) showed up at Parnngurr on a push bike and hung out with us after the carnival for a few days. It turns out he has studied Indigenous languages in France and has some sort of a Masters or something really impressive that I can’t remember. He had ridden that thing all the way from Alice Springs and was doing some sort of research while simultaneously riding a cross-country marathon endeavour. He was an interesting guy, but I never really worked out what he was doing at the football carnival or who had invited him. I do remember him telling us he had learnt to make boomerangs from an Elder, the traditional way, and he had a bunch of these things he had made in his bag. He asked me if I wanted to go down the football oval and try one out, but I felt a bit weird about it so I said no. He was adamant that it was ok, and Richard was keen to see if he could film it in flight, so they took off. After a while, it got the better of me and I drove down to the oval to see how they were going.

In six years of driving around in the desert out here, I have never seen a Martu throw a boomerang. In fact I have never seen anyone throw one, except these two crazy white fellas on a remote Aboriginal Community. Here was this crazy French man, cycling across the Gibson Desert on his own, standing there hurling boomerangs around the football oval, while Richard, with his home-made tri-copter, ran around after it trying to video it. To his credit though it did come back. All the same, I decided to maintain my distance and went home before anyone saw me there.

Eddie Mittelette

Eddie Mittelette rides thousands of km through the desert on his bike

Day 8 – Saturday 13th July

Desert Oak and Buckshot

DSC_6902 (Large)We needed a full day for the trip back to Newman so we left fairly early. Our mission was to get the Kiwirrkurra Band and the Wild Dingo Band into Newman for a concert tomorrow, then back out again. The Kiwirrkurra boys got an escort with Bobby, and Matty West brought the bus into town with half the community, stopping in Jigalong for the night on the way. It was a detour of some 600 or 800 Kilometres just to watch the boys play, but having the community get behind the event was a great reward.

The Wild Dingo Boys would take a ride with us in the Troopy, which meant that Ewan and Richard would have to come back out again to drop them off. A round trip of about 800km.

On the drive home the old Talawana had been freshly graded by the party we had passed on the way out. So for the most part, we were spoilt rotten. It was a fortunate turn of events as these tracks only get graded once a year.

We passed by the lonely Desert Oak outcrops again and their forlorn shapes watched us with silent indifference, like frozen warriors, the one legged tribe, with their burnt trunks giving a slight nod as the wind touched them, as if saying goodbye. The unspoken guard that must watch this road ’til their roots fail in the bitter red dirt.

Soon the land turned back to open fields of gravel, like patches of fresh poured bitumen, while the encroaching scrubs grasped at the sides like animals feeding from a waterhole, only to discover the dry and lifeless pond was a mirage of metal rocks. To the south-west, the ranges of the more fertile grounds of Balfour Downs Station came to view, and soon we would share the road with their wandering cattle.

Without incident, by nightfall we reached Newman in time to make camp at Fortescue River where the stars were so bright they seemed to warm you, and by a blazing fire with fresh brewed tea, the final day of our tour snuck up on the Pilbara night.

Day 9 – Sunday 14th July

Newman concertNewman Concert Serries

East Pilbara Shire and Strut & Fret Production House engaged the Desert Feet Tour to provide Aboriginal performers for the Sunday Concert Series in Newman. The timing worked well, the guys were able to practice for the show during the carnival. Today was also an opportunity for these two bands that we have been working with intensively now for a few years, to play to a broader audience, outside family and friends of the community. Live, for the public.

When I ran into the Kiwirrkurra Band in the Newman shopping centre, even stoic Eric had a smile on his face. Sylvester and the younger guys looked like it was their first day at school, and I realised it was the first time we had been able to get these guys to a gig in Town since Port Hedland exactly two years ago! The last three concerts we had booked for them, they had been impeded either by rain or car problems. The last one had been a real disappointment when they had been asked to play with Archie Roach and the rain cut the road off, so we were all feeling understandably pleased with ourselves.

Bobby had asked that the Kiwirrkurra Band play first so they could hit the road early and begin their 1200km journey back across the desert. The show kicked off at 2pm and I was surprised to find the boys cowering in the amphitheatre at the back of Boomerang Oval. When I went over to tell them they were on, Eric said Sylvester and Tristan were in the toilet. That was the third time they had gone so I think the nerves had gotten the better of them, but they followed me across the park reluctantly. For a while I almost thought they might bail, but for Samson Bennett who offered to fill in for the missing David Brown. He is an older guy and a veteran performer and a gun lead guitarist (I’ve seen him play) and presence seemed to give the guys confidence. They got a warm introduction from the Shire, the event coordinators, and Desert Feet Tour to a live and silent Newman audience.

They started off a bit sketchy and played in a arrangement that they were not comfortable in, until David Brown showed up, obviously a bit worse for wear, yet even in his reduced capacity the Band finally kicked into gear. By then they only had 15 minutes left. When their time ran out they were just warming up and wanted to keep going. Cut-off was strict though, and that’s a good lesson to learn when playing professionally for venues, so it was a good learning experience all round. They got paid up, and Bobby and I shook hands again while the whole community piled into the two buses and a Troopy and off into the desert they went. I will not see them again now ’til Waralong in October. The last thing I saw was Matty West’s big warm smile out of the window, and I wondered if those buses would make it to Kiwirrkurra again.

Concert-Newman-July2013 (36)Up next was The Wild Dingo Band, they were all over it like a rash. They never missed a beat, and with big Clifton Girgirba as frontman, they really have a powerful presence too. It was not a huge turnout, but being Martu they had and unfair advantage on the Kiwikurra mob, as heaps of Martu live in Newman and Parnpajinya community just out of town. Pretty much everyone from there came in, as some of the boys had camped there. So Newman got a taste of some serious Martu dance action. We called last song 3 times before I could get them to stop! In the end we had to pull the plug because of the licence restrictions, but true to form, the guys could have gone for another two hours. But that’s how it goes in show business. That’s why you have to do your best songs first, play only a few songs but really well, and this is all part of learning to perform live too.

Concert-Newman-July2013 (25)

Overall, it was a great success, created some public exposure for our two best bands, (got them some money which they decided to put toward music equipment) and capped the trip with an icing of favourable memories.

Now, the ever enthusiastic Ewan, had to drive all the way back out to Parnngurr to drop of the band, especially Alwyn who is only 14 and had special permission from his folks to come with us. We only had one casualty, young Kinky, who refused to get back in the car, and in spite of all our treats and even the older boys’ plea’s, he did a runner.

I would only learn this later, as Emily, Carlo and I began the 20-hour journey south as soon as we had packed the truck. At 80km/hr it’s a long drive from Newman to Perth. I had a course to be at on the 16th and so we had to shoot though, leaving Richard and Ewan to complete the task.

Concert-Newman-July2013 (13)

Concert in Newman – WIld Dingo Band

The road home

Deep in the late hours of the night, my passengers both sound asleep to the purr of the diesel underneath us, I had the world to myself. The Southern Cross blocked the road to the south like a fallen tree, unhinged from is heavenly mantle, it lay across the bitumen with precise coincident. The sky was a back pool of diamonds, and all else outside my headlights was cloaked in its nocturnal mantel. Deep in the zone with wide eyes, I saw the heavens spin on an invisible axis ’til suddenly a strip of imposable yellow breached the waking eastern horizon.

desert sky

The morning showed the distant ranges near Mt Gibson in the dim haze. The flat pans of the vast Great Sandy Desert were all but behind us now. The land before me was dark red and gun-barrel grey in the morning light, heavy with the metallurgy of its soil. The rising plains before Mt Gibson ascended in a smooth and gradual rise towards the bulging Range that looked almost purple, as if holding its breath.

As the old Rhino struggled to her peak, the world before us changed to less desolate mid western climate, then about 30km north of Wubin, the desert runs out of sand, and as suddenly as the sign appears saying “Welcome To The Wheat Belt,” the landscape changes from red to green, as if someone changed the video. On the left a sign says Rabbit Proof Fence Road and I realised we had just passed that rustic old land mark for a second time this trip, only at two different way points, over 1000km apart, and in very different environments.

Desert Feet Troupie almost in Perth

Perth awaits me like a parallel world, and as the traffic consumes me back into the obscurity of its rush, my wheels roll, once again, in time to the mechanical engine of progress; Peak hour traffic, car accidents, flashing lights, as if i never left. Progress is an Autobahn without speed limits. Some things are left behind; some get a Highway built across the top of them. Some are forced to catch up or die. It is easy to mistake our technology as superiority, congratulate ourselves for our mastery of the environment, especially as we look out the car window and see that everyone else is doing the same. From that seat, one is most likely to say “Oh look, he has a bigger car than me, or a better bike than me.” These first world problems have become the suffering of the minority. Most of us know that only 3% of the world’s population enjoy such luxurious miseries, the rest, the other 97% suffer mostly from malnutrition and die from treatable disease. I was in Africa when I first learnt that our Aboriginal people die from treatable disease at a higher rate than some post war, sub Saharan, African nations. That night I lay in bed with my eyes wide open. I did the math. In Africa, they have endemic poverty from over population and lack of resources. In Australia, we are resource rich and our Indigenous People are the minority. It did not stack up. I asked the question.

I have to leave you once again; wind up this blog with some convincing and interesting conclusion. Except that, I have none to offer you. I still just have questions too, but I have come to the conclusion that the question is the most important quality. Its where we start the journey of human rights. The most rewarding journey of all, as it is an external journey. One that leads you out of self and into service.

My job is just to give you an insight into another culture, one that lives on the fringes of our world. If I have induced you to ask some question, then I am very happy. Sometimes the question is of more value than the answer. In the situation of Aboriginal affairs, maybe the question is the answer. They say the journey of thousand miles still starts with the first step, but before you take the first step you have to ask, where are we going?

Desert Feet Tour Photo

Desert Feet Tour Photo