October 2012

Desert Feet Tour – October 2012

Day 1 
Saturday 6th of Oct
Taking steps towards reconciliation. 

The Desert Feet Tour; An Eight ton 4×4 Hino Truck, $50,000 worth of PA gear, some adventurous crew, and the Great Northern Highway. First, the tall trees that surround the basin of Perth give way to open undulating fields; those of the Great Southern wheat belt, then, just as abruptly, the long miles of green pastures turn to flat and sparse stations. Grazing stock raise the dust and stunted bushes wait for what little rain might come. Soon, even the bushes disappear, revealing blue metal stones that patch the red dirt like outcrops of hot steel plates in the sun. Then, the Western Desert swallows you up.

It’s then you realise how close it is, but it takes another day of driving until you’ll realise how big it is too. So big and so wide that even the greatest of mans machines are lost in its vastness. Even the biggest mines, open cut craters full of giant yellow metal beasts, are just a scratch on its surface. The Western Desert; where a white hot and clear sky meets an endless arch of red horizon. Old and harsh, forgotten and avoided. A time capsule of a secret culture, it’s a tale of adversity and strength, it’s a story that spans millenniums, a book too wide to hold, its pages are rusted steel leafs, now crumbled and turned into to the red dust that fills this land.

This is a story too, of the Desert Feet Tour, a story of musical endeavour; maybe it’s even a musical feat, taking steps to bring you a positive look at our amazing cultural inheritance. It is an adventure into the heartlands. This is the story about a bunch of young West Australians that believe you cannot fail to be inspired when you see what we have to share with you. We, who have all laboured in love, dared to believe, stepped out on a limb, crossed a gulf, made sacrifices, turned our back on western material values in pursuit of something less tangible but something more valuable, and have been paid in double, in a currency that can’t be measured. It’s not just music we found out here. It’s a song. A song so old no one remembers when it started.

Our ambition is for you to hear it too, what we want is for you to have an experience of cultural significance. You; who cannot reach these places, who cannot find the time, who wants to help but doesn’t know how, or just didn’t know! You might not believe, or believe otherwise. You might want to know, but don’t know how to ask. We all had the same reservations, we all do. It’s not a shame to feel such things. It’s only a shame if you don’t investigate “why?”

We hope you might feel and understand through us, the significance of this treasure, the connection to land and the indestructible resilience that is our Indigenous people, something to be proud of, something to value. To see firsthand the heart of the matter, not the surface that the media presents, not the negativity that we are sold or the superiority that has been ingrained into our white education. For to acknowledge that is to disarm it. And there in the silence of not knowing, you too might hear the song.

 

Day 2
Sunday 7th of Oct
Jigalong

Last night the sun was a blood orange that fell to the horizon like an overripe fruit, its dark juice leaked out into the sky like a dash of red cordial into a glass of water. The atmosphere above the desert was a vase of viscous reds and yellow, a cocktail in the challis of the gods, toasting their handiwork after a hard day in the heavens above.

We got as far as Fortescue River until the wheels fell off. For some reason I thought there would be water in it, or at least some pools, but it was bone dry. I walked the soft sandy bed in the darkness seeking any moisture at all, but the stony grit of its floor crunched like dry cracker bread. I marvelled at the huge roots of the old ghost gums, all exposed and looking like so many insect legs, where the once raging currents had washed the soil clean from under them. The trunks indicated the previous tidemarks, well over my head, and in some places double overhead. It’s hard to comprehend that such a vast body of water can completely disappear altogether. But the lack of any water has one great benefit. No mosquitoes! We slept with our swags open under the stars, a cool breeze touching my face and desert sky winking its age old twinkle.

The dawn was hot before the sun even had a chance to appear, and so by force of nature it was an early start. A Martini of Bacardi, Cranberry juice and Grenadine made up the morning sky, as if some residue was left from last night’s display, and I boiled the first billy for the trip under a Ghost Gum. Hot black coffee. Dry dusty road. Jigalong here we come.

I made the rounds to see who was in town. Said “Hi” to the coppers, dropped in at schoolteacher Michelle’s, to see about a space at the school to do some recording and workshops, then headed up to the pool with the crew.

Ewan dived in first, his white skin a startling contrast in a pool of Indigenous kids. He was immediately swamped by several, whom latched on to his tall lanky frame, and for a moment the world was perfect, ebony and ivory living in harmony. Ewan’s laughs rang out amongst our beautiful hosts and the privilege of being on country flooded back to me again and I remembered why I do this, why I spend every second of my time in Perth seeking the funding to spend as much time as I can out here. I dropped into a corner of the pool with my big black hat and sunnies still on. Out here we are the minority, but you wouldn’t know it. The kids played nonchalantly around us, on us and with us, as if we had never left. Jordan brought me a hand full of some strange shrub he had plucked off a bush and showed me how it worked into lather when rubbed vigorously against the skin. I asked what it was, but all I got in reply was a silly look and the answer “Plant”, so I’ll have to be content to tell you it’s a ‘soap plant’, for lack of any scientific name or colourful traditional Martu phrase. However, what I can tell you, is the kids found it pretty humorous when I decided to start washing my self with it and singing as if I was in the shower.

The plan was to get a few songs down for the Jigalong Band before the carnival started. We needed a room that was safe and quiet to work in, but being school holidays half the staff is away. The band room is locked up and the keys in the UK (which is handy), the shed is out of order, and so the school library was our last reprieve. However, when we went over to set up, we discovered two electricians in there and so that was the end of that plan. Dejected, we were loading the gear back onto the truck when the CEO showed up to inform us we were being kicked out of the Rabbit Proof Fence, no one had thought to book us in! It had taken us an hour to bump all our gear in and now we had to move it again. Cedric told us to go to the HACC house, but we all looked at each other in silence?! We had no idea what that even meant, but we were happy to just swag it anyway. When we got over to the HACC house we discovered it had a huge lounge room. We all looked at each other again, we must have all had the same thought at the same time! Ewan was out the door faster than a shot to go find the guys again, Emily cleared the table and lounge chairs out of the way, while Jess and I loaded in the studio equipment. Within an hour, the HACC house was a sound studio. We lined the walls with mattresses and hung blankets from windows to dampen the noise, but that didn’t stop half of Jigalong from hearing the noise, and so the house was full of awing kids and loyal audiences. By about ten-thirty, Ewan had some good takes, I had cooked up two kilos of mince into a giant Mexican bean dish with rice and we all ate like starving animals then fell into our swags, exhausted.

 

Day 3
Monday 8th of Oct
Newman and back

I had to run back into Newman to make a few calls. We have had no word from Bryte and as it turned out, I needed to book him a flight, which I couldn’t do from Jigalong. I didn’t mind as I had heard there was a communities meeting in Newman and it was a good chance to network, maybe rub shoulders with some of the BHP crew and local NGOs, always looking for some funding opportunities, as I am.

I bought another eight cartons of water, Jigalong has some nitrate issue with the tap water, it was 3pm by the time I was back in the community and Ewan had been hard at it since 9am. They had two really great tracks down and the Wild Dingo Band was sounding great. Except we had started to drive people mad after 2 days of playing the same songs, we got a fe3w complains so we pluged the key board intot he midi. Adam had us in stiches when he played the drums on keys as if it was the most natural progression ever. That guy is a genius. Ewan and I could only stare wide-eyed at each other as he rolled out fills with his fingers instead of drum sticks, switched into 6/8 time and then rolled back into a straight four count, never missing a beat. Standing at a keyboard or sitting at a drum set, that man has drum rolls for heart beats, I’m sure of it.

The HACC house was a veritable market place, crew coming and going, kids dropping in to listen. Old friends showed up, others we haven’t seen since Parnngurr, I’m pretty sure this little lounge room in the desert was the centre of the community for the day. My tow kilos of mince made another appearance for dinner, I filled it out with another can of kidney beans, a tin of crushed tomatoes and three zucchinis. I made it go further by cooking a huge pot of rice to and we all ate again with still some left over, so I started serving it to kids, passers by and all and sundry. Come 10pm it was still going! It’s like the magic mince pudding.

 

Day 4
Tuesday 9th of Oct
Back in the Day.

Jigalong is an old community, one of the larger ones too. It was first set up in 1946 by the Apolistic Church, they called the mission “The Aborigine Rescue Mission”…!!!? (or ARM for short). Those poor misguided white fellas hey! Talk about “good intentions paving the road to hell.” It would not take much common sense to work out that after 45,000 years the people out here probably didn’t need any rescuing, but I guess they had to justify their actions somehow. They immediately set about trying to destroy the culture as quickly as they could. In a clever manoeuvre they managed to convince the State Government to give them the welfare payments for the Martu People. They distributed the money with their own requirements, which included attending Church, refraining from any cultural activities (like ceremony or law), and of course no speaking of language (Which is Imperial Colonization procedure 101). The objective was Assimilation, part of the then Government’s “White Australians Policy”, especially focused on the children. “That all aborigines and part-aborigines are expected to attain the same manner of living as other Australians” (The Policy of Assimilation 1931-1961, page 1 section (a)).
A sad but important historical fact, and unfortunately a part which most people are either ignorant of or just want to forget. Both of which are attitudes that have failed to improved the circumstance that are a residue of their effect.

The irony of this story is sweet. What ARM failed to realise in their genius, was that although their food was an incentive to come in from the desert, it was certainly not any reason to stop practicing law and ceremony. All they had to do was go hunting if they wanted food anyway! As a result, Jigalong became a huge cultural centre, Western Desert language groups that had lived in total isolation for thousands of years converged in the area, traded, hunted, and practiced ceremony together. For an anthropologist it would have been a dream come true; a melting pot of some of the oldest continuous culture and languages on the Earth’s surface. From ARM’s perspective it meant failure. The mission packed up and left, leaving Jigalong to find its own way. In 1969 Jigalong became one of the first Communities ever to take control of its own administration, nearly 40 years before they would finally see a successful Native Title claim.

Martu (pronounced Mardu) is not actually a language, it’s what the combined Desert language groups call themselves and it is the name of the second largest successful Native Title claim in Australiana (136,000 SQM) it means ‘One People.’ The Martu area is made up of several language groups, the main ones being Kartudjara, Nangatara, Mangala, Wanman and Mandjildjara (which is probably the closest to Wangkatjungka, one of the Valley Communities on the other side of the desert that we will visit later in this tour, some 2 thousand kms up the track). I love those names, they roll of the tongue like poetry, but hearing Nangatara language is like walking in the annals of time, it’s a language built on necessity, Nangatara people never say anything they don’t have to. They are shy and mostly quiet. Qualities that could be misinterpreted as submissive or weak, a mistake many missionaries made.

Anyway here we are nearly 70 years later, and Jigalong is still alive and well, despite years of misunderstanding, attempted genocides and its own social struggles. But the same red dirt that has drifted across these plains for eons is still here, and today a bare patch of it burning in the midday sun will host one of the most ferocious football matches that has ever be played on earth, and the same bare and calloused feet that have trudged it for all that time, will commit to it today. Like a King needs a Thorne and a fish needs a river, these people need this dirt under their feet. And so, ever eager, the third and final Western Desert Sports Carnival (WDSC) for 2012 has begun. The football kicked off in spite of a few teams not being here yet, the guys are so keen they are bursting at the seams. Half the Newcrest crew have not even arrived either and I am still waiting for the rest of my team, Bryte MC will arrive tomorrow with Diabetes WA crew but we will not set up the stage till Wednesday as planned, despite several requests to start earlier. I’m conscious of being a bit conservative with the guys’ energy as we have a full month in front of us yet, and many miles to travel.

We kept the studio set up in the house and Elliot and the Kunawarritji Band, now formally calling themselves the Wild Dingo Band, spent the day recording new tracks. We had time to go thought the publishing/recording agreements with them, and as Adam James is also the drummer for the Kiwirrkurra Band he is now officially signed with two Western Desert bands. Being the veteran to the process, his quiet confidence was encouragement for the others. I’m pretty sure Adam is a Punmu boy, and he always plays for the Punmu Bulldogs, but he lives at Kunawarritji and seems to spend a lot of time Kiwirrkurra. Anyway he is now the only Martu man in two music videos in the whole world. When I first met Adam a year ago, he would not even make eye contact with me. He is without a question the quietest person I have ever met, he rarely shows any expressions, and the times I have seen him speak have been brief, muffled and spoken downwards. Yet, get him on the drums and his energy is inexhaustible. Today Jess set the guys up over in the long grass to get shots for the Music video, and when Adam walked past me with his eyes down cast I asked him if he was getting used to this yet, he looked up and smiled lightly.

Jess has a thick Irish accent. I love the Irish. Maybe it’s something about that accent warms me to them instantly. Maybe it’s just their history of adversity and trial that has created a culture of humility, but it would be impossible not to love Jess. She is the tiniest little lady, with the biggest heart, a warm smile and that cracking sense of humour that only comes in one flavour, Irish! Jess came to Australia as a teacher on a 457 visa. However, her community interests have taken her outside that comfort zone and a creative desire has generated a new career ambition. She enrolled in a Post Grad’ Mass Media course, heard about our project and asked if she could come as our Media and Promotions volunteer. Not having to wield a camera is always a bonus for me, it’s another job off my workload. As much as I do enjoy a bit of creative photography, shooting a video clip for the Wild Dingo Band and a editing up a promo of the trip is still outside my skill set. Having Jess floating around with her smiling eyes, wondrous interest, and obvious regard for the Martu people was warming. I can’t give someone an appreciation of the cultural awareness and significance that is available, but those that are open to it can’t fail to miss it. Watching the realisation come to fruition is the greatest satisfaction I can experience out here. Jess has that ability to be into everything and interested in everyone without overpowering anything. No matter where I looked or what we were doing, Jess was there, onto it, smiling. You cant buy that. At the end of the second day of recording she was dog tired, slumped over a cup of tea when she looked up and said, “Damien, this has changed my life forever” I said, “Wait ’til you experience the concert tomorrow night.”

 

Day 5
Wednesday 10th of October
The Martu Festival

By about 4pm last night, I was starting to worry about the missing component of my team. I know the plane arrived in Newman at 11am, but I had no way of calling them from here so I had to just wait. It was nearly dark by the time they pulled in and sure enough, they had missed the turn off and ended up in Nullagine. Anyway the star of the show, the one and only Mr Bryte MC was in the house, and so we had a full contingent for what was shaping up to be a big concert. Elliot was saying there was over a thousand people in town, and three of the Jefferies’ boys had stopped in last night asking to start the concerts early.

In the meantime, Newcrest’s last bus limped in from Punmu this morning with half its front end smashed in by a cow. The other had returned to Newman to find the rest of the Nullagine team still missing en route. The word is that Kiwirrkurra are not coming, they have Sorry Business at Kintore, so Ewan and I are sideless, and Jigalong have decided instead of having 38 players in one team they would form two teams. This caused a bit of controversy and so the blue shirts had called another meeting at the oval. Anyone else that hadn’t arrived by now probably wasn’t coming. As this is the last carnival for the year, it will have two Grand Finals, one for the carnival and one for the League. The League Grand Final is the combined points for the year. The football oval looks more like Ayers Rock, than a rocky sand. It makes the gravely red dirt field we played on at Kiwirrkurra look luxurious. At least it will be easy to bounce the ball.

I watched half a game before heading back to set up for the workshops, and got sun burnt in about 20 seconds flat. The forecast is 40 degrees plus all week and 20 – 30 knot Easterlies. I’m not sure what is hotter, the sun, the wind or the sand. I was impressed by the fortitude of one young player on Nullagine’s team who was very active. He got lots of possessions, and although slight of build and small of frame, mixed it up with the big boys with fearless enthusiasm. When he kicked a goal in the first quarter, I’m not sure if I was more amazed by his ceaseless activity in such heat, or the fact that he did it all with a thick woolen beanie on his head.

Most of the day was spent in workshops over at the school, which I wanted to get done while we still had Bryte. Ewan and I wanted the stage set up as early as possible to weed out any problems. A Sorry Camp behind the Basketball court meant we had to move from the convenience of the concrete area to the only other place with power available. I had flashbacks of the Nullagine concert in April when we pulled the truck up. Red dirt! My poor lungs, my chest was hurting already just thinking about all the dust that was going to go up my nose.

But it was worth it, Fairbridge Festival eat your heart out! By sunset the concert was offering to be our biggest turn out yet! It was like our own private Martu Music Festival, cars semi circled our stage like a drive-in-movie and people took up prime spots on the red dirt before we even kicked off. The girls made up nearly 20 kilo of rump steak into meat skewers partitioning the chunks of lean beef with quartered onions, zucchini and capsicum. The mean aroma of BBQ and the buzz of excitement is a dish served best under the stars and our desert arena was a fitting vessel. It was a privilege to be there and the attendance was welcome enough. When surrounded by the desert and living with Martu, you get a sense of the connection as if they are its children. I became filled by an approbation, this harsh land demands respect but the culture it has forged in the furnace of its red hot and ageless heart, deserves even more. The Martu are a constant reminder, for me, that contentment is not conditional on circumstance; a family can be a family anywhere, with strong values and culture. For a moment, even my Westernised mind and all its conditioning was content to just sit here too. Contentment? A thing without a price; how do you buy it? It’s more like a place, or a moment, where the mind is not asking what is next. Its similar to not noticing your healthy till you get a cold, mostly we cant realise it effect without hindsight, because it was more about the absence of wanting or needing than the owner ship of the feeling. It is a conundrum; asking for contentment is like asking for humility, you cannot have it until you stop asking. Nature is not without a sense of humour, but today she smiled my way, a little deposit in the lager ledger and therefore, I am a wealthy man today. One day of contentment is worth a fortune of anticipation.

The Martu kids, never one to be concerned over a bit of sand, had gathered at our stage kicking a cloud of red soot high into the air, soon our throng of dust warriors had stampeded a veritable low pressure weather system into a cloud of fine grit that hung in the still desert night like a heavy veil of silt. The stage lights cut laser beams through the particle-laden air like holographic pillars, and everything seemed a lighter shade of red. From the height of the stage, perched in the corner of the community, backed against the only three gum tress in a hundred miles, I looked out across a sea of Martu People, near enough to 1000; elders, youth, and kids alike and so the Orphans clocked a new career highlight. My first gig in a month, I was feeling a bit rusty and nervous, but after a few songs I warmed into it. From the height of the stage and rise of the slope, I had a good view of the surrounds. Kids frolicked and danced and slid in the sand below the stage, a scattering of local workers, teachers and support staff for the football carnival chatted in clumps, obviously grateful for activities like this, a rare treat for the isolated Jigalong workers. At the BBQ, a line of people extended out into the darkness of the night, and by that time the mighty Asha had been cooking for about 2 hours straight. In the periphery of the stage light, the white bonnets of Land Cruisers were faintly visible in the starlight, and the applause at the end of the song told me there were lots of people out there. In appreciation of our acceptance, the invitation and the welcome, I sang. I sang as hard and as loud as I could, with all my heart I yelled out to the heavens above.

The pace picked up when The Jigalong Band made their appearance. The crowd converged into a large circle around Ewan’s mixing table and the edge of the stage. The Jefferies boys that make up the Jigalong Band are mostly brothers and a few cousins. In typical Martu style the arrangement varies from song to song and so there is generally a bit of shuffling between instruments, a settling in, a few false starts, some discussions, and then “Bang!” a song bursts into life. I have come to know most of their set now, and when “Everybody Likes to Dance” comes on I can’t help but join in on the crazy jig that is the Martu dance style. For the girls; it’s like a cross between Hawaiian Hoola dancers and Afro American pop choreography. It can involve some serious hip shaking for those with the capability. For the boys, it involves what is mostly like a sort of stomping war dance coupled with a 60s rock swing dance manoeuvre. You have to see it to appreciate it, but it is definitely unique. Gable, the drummer, has this huge thick head of really tight curly hair that has either been bleached by the sun or had a bit of peroxide put in the ends, it forms a blond pom-pom when the way he wears it tied back high on his head, so tight it seems to pull his mouth into a permanent smile. I have never seen him without that smile. It’s one of those never-leave-home-without-it smiles. When you see Gable; you smile. His brother, Shortie, looks the spitting image of him, only with an under cut. Thanks be to God for that, or you’d never tell them apart. His Mohican style undercut is always exposed with the same high top-not style; it is very warrior-ish, it just reminds me of how a Martu might have tied their hair back 40,000 years ago. Their music is a mix between rock ballads and 60s surf instrumentals, but of course, they have a 20-minute version of “Wipeout” by the Surfaris that fits into every set. That goes without saying.

It was midnight by the time the Wild Dingos had finished and 230am before we had wound down enough to hop into our swags. We all collapsed with satisfied exhaustion.

 

Day 6
Thursday 11th of Oct

I had to shoot back into Newman again, so I did a day breaker and hit the road at first light. Bryte needed to be back in Newman for some event, the opening of the new skate ramp or something. Which coincided with Tanya Maxwell arriving from Perth to spend the rest of the Carnival with us out here. As our newest team member it’s a prerequisite that she has some ground experience on tour too, and it is with great anticipation that we welcome her and her impressive skill set to the DFI team. She has a double degree in Economics and Commerce under her belt, and a lot of work in remote communities all over Australia at only 24. Tanya can play a guitar for 3 hours, faultlessly singing every top-40 song you have heard in the last year and never miss a note, forget a line or hesitate. A seasoned performer, confident and beautiful. For Tanya, everything is an exploration in honesty and an opportunity for integrity. I am grateful to say that her community minded ambitions seem firmly resolved on assisting the development of the DFI. Our Rotary club saw her potential immediately and offered her a scholarship, which has opened us to a new world of potential support.

Anyway back on the western front, when we got back out to Jigalong, Ewan and Emily had a team of kids playing music in the school. Paxton had never touched a bass before that morning but Ewan had him playing the Jigalong Song within an hour. A few girls wanted to learn guitar so we took a little group aside for that, and Emily did some violin lessons with the other kids too. We would try to get them up tonight at the concert to perform the piece, but for now we needed to get the stage ready for another big night.

Last night in the darkness, tired and eager for bed, we had thrown a few tarps over the truck and gone home. When we pulled them off today, the stage was covered in a fine film of dust. As I walked across the deck, silt rose in billows like puffs of smoke. I surveyed the scene before me with amused scepticism, coughing as the dry irritant caught my nose like a sharp smell. It looked like the verge of a dirt highway. We had to do something different tonight, last time we played for a week in the dust we all ended up with chest infections. I had thought about finding some hay to spread on the ground in front of the stage but the volume we needed would have taken a day’s carting. Ewan offered to water it down with a hose from the school, but the idea of another Parnngurr Concert, when it rained and everything got covered in mud, was scary. We had tarped up the stage thinking the wind would be an issue, so just letting up the rear tarps made a big difference, as the dust could escape. Ewan watered down the front stage area anyway; we decided mud in the equipment couldn’t be any worse than dust in it. That pretty much made the difference, and it didn’t really become muddy after all. The kids made castles in front of the truck instead of throwing handfuls of dust into the air and we could actually breathe during our set, which was nice.

The highlight of the concert was Ewan’s set. He got Paxton up from the workshops today, Alwyn who is a great little guitarist played lead, and Eric who would only be 10 or 12, played the drums. They ran through the Jigalong song a few times live, much to the delight of all. It is only a four-chord song, but before today, Paxton had never held a Bass. Alwyn has become a regular at our workshops now and we always have a laugh when I see him again with our little running joke where I ask him for guitar lessons, because when I first met him, he asked me for guitar lessons and we soon realised he was far better, at age 12, than I would ever be.

Another huge night of music ensued. Well over 1000 people again. Last night’s huge cook up, all the prizes we gave away, and the bush telegraph attracted any that might has missed out last night. It was well past midnight when the crowd began to thin. I was leaning against the speaker stack, two big box subs and a tall monitor, all up it stands higher than me. If you stood in front of it for too long it would damage your hearing, but at a right angles to the cones, just inches out of the sound waves’ direct line, the vibrations are like an ocean swell pounding a stormy shore. They beat into me, resonating right to my bones. The Wild Dingo Band had called out “last song” and I was waiting for it to end so we could pack down, but in typical fashion, it just went on and on. The song’s riff has this mesmerising little breakout that reappears in several sections, it’s a riff that catches in your head and so it was not for about another 10 minutes that I realised they where just looping the song over and over. I had sort of vagued out a bit when i t occurred to me I had been listening to the same song. The song was called “Yangkuwana Malaku” (I Want To Go Back). They had recorded it with Ewan in the house. You know that phenomena when you hear a song a few times then all of a sudden you just realise how much you love it. You might have heard it 20 times, but then it’s like you’re hearing it for the first time. There I am slouched against a speaker stack under a starry sky when I realised how amazing this song was. That’s when I had a bit of an epiphany, because I was not thinking about the song, I was just leaning there, pretty tired and keen to pack up so I could get to bed. I was watching a group dance and then the world kicked into slow motion, one girl threw back her head, crimped jet black hair fell around her like cords of glossy rope, when her mouth burst into a smile, her white teeth lit up the world, and the desert seemed less like a desert and more like an oasis. I had this vision of that smile just shining on forever, up into the atmosphere out into the stratosphere and endlessly throughout space. Like a radio wave. An invincible smile, timeless and true. But maybe I was just really tired, intoxicated by the mood, or maybe it was the trance-like melody of “Yangkuwana Malaku”, maybe it was a bit of both, but that song was washing across me, all over me like a net, i was like sea grass in a tide swept over by it. Lost in a maze of melodic streets. I couldn’t tell you which bit it was, it just kept climaxing, each melodic loop merging with the next one like a huge Menorah of different coloured candles melting into one stream of wax, candles of rhythm. Each sequence building on the last until even your very skin is ready for the musical culmination. It teases, like a movie with sub plots that distract you from the main scheme. Its the expectation of the finale that will be the salve of the anticipation. I was totally lucid yet lost in the song, when I realised what it was about Elliot’s music that can change your perception of time and space. It’s how much energy their music has, it was not just how they played it, but the way they played it, like it was all that existed, with every fibre of every cell. It was as if i could see it, see the vibrations. If this was a Matrix they would be green music instead of numbers. Their music is the vibrations of their presence, written on an endless musical staff with no beginning and no end. Like the Dreaming, their music is their dreaming, timeless. Expressions of timelessness.

 

Day 7
Friday 12th of October
Worst game of football I’ve ever played

I stomped at the ground on the oval, which sent a jarring shudder back up my leg. I kicked around a bit looking for some softer soil but everywhere I trod, the compacted earth rebuffed my weight with impunity. I was thinking to myself “There will no impact absorption on this field” when Adrian saw me scratching around in the dirt like a chicken and laughed. “They brought out a truckload of sand and spread it on as topsoil but it’s all over there now.” He pointed to the tree line to our west. The air above the desert was a smoggy haze; the prevailing winds had turned the crisp blue sky into a yellow miasma, from all the dust it had wiped up. It looked more the smog over a city; the last week of 30-knot easterlies had left the footy field drier than an Arabian desert. “It’s just bloody rock!” I cried. “Yeh! That’s why I left my footy boots at home!” he offered warningly.

I never was a great footballer, truth-be-told, as a kid I actually begrudged the game. My first memoires of football are not great, I think I felt that footy camps, training, and weekends at foster football parents houses was just a convenient form of babysitting, a way to for my mum to get me out of the house. I know I was a bit of a handful as a kid, and Mum, being a single parent, must have struggled with me at times. I often competed for her attention with others in her affection, and football only reminds me of that anxiety I felt as a kid. Anyway that’s the only excuse I can think of for my lack of any real ball skills. Everything else I seem to have in abundance, strength, height, size and agility. I was always a keen surfer, had good balance and kept fit, but put me on a footy field with a team of Martu, and there is not much competition. It’s not a matter of trying to be “fairest and best”, of course I always give my all, it’s just more a matter of not giving away frees or making a big stuff up.

However, that was not to be the case this carnival. Not only did I manage to draw attention to myself, I did it in the most embarrassing circumstances. Nullagine adopted me for a semi final and put me in the ruck for my height. The first ball-up of the first quarter, I won the ruck, but found the play went dead. The whistle blew and next thing I knew I was standing there with the ball, no one moving, everyone just looking at me. The umpire was shouting something but it was either in a Martu language or broken English, because I didn’t get it. It turns out I had been given a free kick because one of the other team had entered the square before the ball-up, but in my confusion, the umpire had penalised me for holding the ball too long and given it to the other team. I was so demoralised that I never really recovered from the embarrassment. I ran around for the rest of the quarter but the heat seemed to sap me like a green shoot in summer and before I knew it I was on the sideline trying to suck air in past the clumps of dust that had gathered in my nostrils.

Playing football with these boys is a bit intimidating at the best of times but there is something about the red dirt field, the silent audience, the tension, the heat. Its a bit like walking out onto a Roman colosseum. The old heart ticks away waiting for that siren like gladiator in a arena, the sort of understanding that in the prevailing moments it could be a celebration of glory or just agonizing pain. I was trying to appreciate having all my faculties and appendages working, in case after this game they were not. This carnival has seen three guys taken back to Newman with broken bones and a dislocated shoulder. I don’t mind pain, it’s the agony I can’t stand. However, I have to admit, there is a rush in the adrenaline that the fear creates, that gets the juices surging out there, and it’s powerfully addictive. But these guys just do it all in their stride, as if playing footy on bare rock with no shoes, under a 40 degree sun is the most natural thing on Earth to be doing. Football as a sport, I can take or leave. What’s special to me about the Western Desert Sports Carnival is the opportunity to get amongst the guys, be a part of something worthwhile, and hopefully, to earn a bit of red dirt cred’. It’s sort of a trial by fire, it’s just too tempting to refuse, and there is always a team that needs an extra player.

If you really like football, then you have to see a game out here. Really, they make our AFL players look like A-grade kindergarten. Martu don’t have any pretences, it is not about how you look or what you wear. There are no macho attitudes, or limelight hogs, no physio specialists waiting on the sidelines, or masseuses to apply your Denkorub, no gym equipment in the change room, hell, there’s no change room! There’s no big trophies, or interviews, or photo shoots, or sponsorship deals. There’s just the game.

Anyway, I didn’t get any street cred’ today; in fact I probably lost some. I was heading home and as I passed Newcrest tent I got a bit of ribbing from the few of the white fellas for giving the free away. Normally, I can give as good as I get, but as I was feeling a bit vulnerable already and I had no comeback and so, I had to take it on the chin.

But my most spectacular football effort was yet to come only it would be at the concert that night. It all happened because Ewan got stung by a bee the night before. He had a pretty bad reaction to it. Consequently, I realised how lost we are without him. So tonight, I was getting a crash course in sound engineering. I was standing over the mixing desk, it was dark and there were a few hundred people around me. The weirdest feeling came over me, it all happened in a microsecond, I’m not sure if I saw something in the corner of my eye, or I just happen to look up and saw something, but i had a lightening fast reaction. You know that feeling you get when you see something that shouldn’t be there and so your mind can’t compute it. Well high in the left hand corner of my periphery was this yellow object. My brain said “There shouldn’t be a large yellow object at 12 o’clock” my instinct said, “What is it, and why does it appear to be flying?” Next thing I know, without having time to think about it, I punched the incoming yellow football with a cracking thump. I must have hit it square on cause it was so loud everyone stopped and looked at me. Adrian called out “what a save!” In the distance a bunch of kids scattered, mischievous smiles on their faces. Someone had kicked it up high and that football was coming down square over the top of the mixing desk about to smash into $5000 worth of fragile equipment, not to mentions Ewan’s Mac book! A voice next to me called out, “you should have done that for Nullaine” and when I turned around, the Newcrest staff where standing behind me, all smiles, “Good spoil Damo!” called out the cheeky Dan.

The concert that night was the smallest of the three, but still bigger than any other carnival audience we’ve had. It was going really well until three girls arrived from Newman that had obviously been drinking. They went harming anyone really, and just danced all night, but one of the Jigalong Elders got up and said a few words in Language and it seemed to really change the vibe. A lot of people just left after that and took their kids home, which was fair enough. Jigalong is a dry community and the council has fought long and hard to have the regulations enforced as a by-law, which means that possession of alcohol is actually an offence in Jigalong. A lot of people didn’t appreciate the behaviour; they come out here to get away from it. But that didn’t stop the Wild Dingo Band, oblivious to all but their moment in the spotlight. Like musical monks, lost in the sounds, meditating on melodies, captured in the creation of the tuneful vibration, their ceaseless energy is inspirational. Footy all day, and music all night.

 

Day 8
Saturday 13th of October
Grand Final Day

Grand Final day is serious business around here and it’s not something you get to see every day, so we generally dedicate the day to watching the games. There was heavy discussion happening on field when we arrived. The blue shirts had called a meeting and the scoreboards were being examined. The teams stood in groups in the background, like battle-ready troops. I was watching Shortie scrape at the dirt with his big calloused foot like a bull about to charge. I was admiring his feet, his toes are thick appendages that fit with complete symmetry to form one large big pad perfect for walking on hot sand, and probably hot coals if he wanted to.

The first game was serious and some heavy play ensued. Emily was laughing at Gable, “What is it? I asked.” “He never stops smiling!” Emily observed. All our eyes followed Gable, somehow he carried his bulky frame with the ease of a ballerina. It was only 10am, but it was over 40 degrees in the sun. With his topknot bouncing around like a hopping samurai, Gable came flying past like a bird on the wing. His ball skills are enviable and as usual he read the play like a comic book. A favourable bounce left an unguarded ball in his path; it seemed to disappear magically from mid air only to reappear in his left hand, deftly juggled with one hand. But a dust storm is close on his tail and there are hands all over him, he drops it, then get possession again, drops it, picks it up again, drops it again, went to kick it, missed, scooped it up again but slipped, continues forward but on his hands and knees, crawled through someone’s legs then flung himself prostrate onto the ball, until someone stood on him, ran over him, and the play left him behind sucking in a cloud of dust. All Emily and I could see from the sideline was his huge ragamuffin topknot and that giant white smile that never, not even for a second, left his perpetually grinning face. We all laughed at his fortitude.

As we started the car and drove away, the realisation of just how hard these guys are hit me, it’s not an act or even conscious decision, it’s inherent. It’s a result of the conditions and environment. Born amongst the dust of steel and ore, forged in the ageless kiln of a desert, raised under a merciless sky and forgotten by time, the Martu survived by wit and skill. Not luck or fortune. I was brought up pretty tough; I’ve been a bricklayer and a pearl diver, I’ve worked hard and had to stay strong, I consider myself pretty resilient, but I’m not even a shard on these guys. Nowhere near.

Ewan had spent the day walking round the oval selling CDs and so by the time we left we had sold about $200 worth for the Wild Dingo Band, who were now the flavour of the moment and hot off the press. Kiwirrkurra Band CDs have continued to do well despite the boys not even being here, but the big payoff was literally just that, handing over the money from the CD sales and a bunch of pressed CDs for the guys to sell. Elliot had a smile from ear to ear and we left the community with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

 

Day 9
Sunday 14th of October
Newman to Broome

By the time we reached the bitumen last night it was too late to get a hotel in Newman and it was too late to go camping anywhere remotely worthwhile, the nearest spectacular location was Kalgan Pool, which involved another hour of rugged tracks. In the dark and this late, it was not going to happen, so we opted for Opthalmia Dam just out of town. It’s not a camping site but it was close, and at this time of night we were out of choices. Getting away from Jigalong had taken longer than we expected, and after being there for a week it was a big job rounding everything up and packing it all away again. We were all pretty exhausted when we rolled out our swags and in the darkness, we had no idea what was around us other than the round gravely ground that made a nice clean surface and the skinny but prolific ghost gums that lined the road.

In the darkness I leant against a tree, and something gave way under my hand like brittle plastic, crunchy and delicate. On closer inspection it looked like hundreds of insect had been caught in a web of some giant spider, that had sucked their shells dry, but soon we discovered the whole truck was laterally covered in what appeared to be empty hollow crickets shells. Ewan explained that are Exuvia, the end of the crawling life stage of a nymph, and when we hunted around we discovered that the whole area was prolific with the empty shells, billions of the creatures transformed into their new shapes here in some sort of mass sanctuary. The area was a breeding ground for what turned out to be dragonflies. Their empty carcasses hung silently, unmoving yet perfectly contained, like a million tiny statues, ghostly and alien, yet amazing and wondrous.

Waking up to a vast lake of flat and clear water was almost hard for the mind to comprehend, after a week in the dry waterless desert. It might be manmade but it was wet and cold, and it was not long before the lot of us soaked in its shallow expanse. The total immersion of our dusty bodies in that liquid was a reprieve for the spirit, food for the dusty swagman’s heart.

Tanya will fly home today; we will miss her and her, human radio like, qualities. I have never met anyone that plays the guitar so avidly as Tanya. Last night she played every song anyone could think of, and then fell asleep with the guitar in her swag. I was making coffee over a small fire when the flap of her swag fell back, a hand emerged from the folds, reached for the guitar pulled it to her chest as she sat up and just began like someone had switched on stereo. I cant even talk in the morning, let alone sing, and even when I do sing I have to warm up first. But Tanya’s vocal box is a gramophone implant, she is always singing something, you can put in requests, stop her half way through a song and change song, sing along with her, and even get her to play songs she doesn’t know if you can give her the melody and the words. She is in fact, far better than a radio. I’ve never met anyone like her, Ewan has a pretty impressive gamut of songs and can bust out some pretty hard stuff,like Pearl Jam, with his soaring falsetto, but Tanya even leaves him behind with her unlimited jukebox repertoire ability.

Back in Newman it was a bit teary for the girls, Asha, Tanya, Emily and Jess had all become pretty close. Sarah arrived on the morning flight in time for all of them to have a big women’s clucking session and I think when Jess and Tanya realised how cool our replacement, Mrs Sarah Nix is, they were even more disappointed to be leaving, especially as Nixy will be our cook now for the rest of the tour, and it doesn’t take long to realise how awesome the food will be once you get talking to her. Jess was covered from head to foot in Calamine Lotion after having a reaction to the lice in the dam, which was sort of ironic, because at Jigalong she had asked what it was like to have lice, after seeing them in the kids’ hair as you do. We had all offered her our experiences with them over the years, declaring them par the course, which left her feeling a bit despondent because of her lack of inauguration into the world of nits. “I won’t be able to tell my family I got lice in Australia!” she decried. Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for.

 

Day 10
Monday 15th of October
Dark Road

The first leg of the tour is over. The next leg requires a large geographical shift. The rest of our work will be done in the tropical climate of Broome another 1200 kilometres up the road. The success of the tour hinges on the concert we have planned with Shane Howard, but first we have a big hike north, a few days of concerts and workshops up at One Arm Point and another few hundred Kilometres of some pretty bad roads to cover. I don’t think I will be able to relax any, until the truck is parked in the shade at town beach for the concert for the former front man for Goanna. We have poured a considerable amount of cash into the event to create performance opportunities for some of our emerging remote indigenous community bands and of course, to secure Shane himself. The event would not be possible without the support he has offered us, and the generous deal he has done for us. However, it will all be in vain if the truck does not make it there, and she has a long way to go yet.

To prevent her from overheating and to make the ride a bit more comfortable, we decided to take the old Rhino right though to Broome overnight. We got favourable conditions and a lack of any wind gave us a great average speed of about 80 km per hour! Asha accompanied Em and I in the truck, and we stopped for dinner at Auski about 6pm. Just past the roadhouse we got flagged down into a parking bay by traffic management. I’ve been stopped on the roadside before, but never seen the road closed off completely like this, especially not at night, they usually stop at dusk with the oversize vehicles. In the parking bay we pulled up behind a semi trailer and another couple of touristy looking four-wheel drives, we were there for about 10 minutes when a coffee van pulled up next to us. The guy parked up and walked over to my window “Can I get you a cold water or soft drink? Coffee? Any snacks?” the guy asked. ‘Here we go,’ I thought to myself, ‘now I’ve seen it all. Some guy capitalising on people stuck in a waiting bay!’ I asked if he knew how long we would be pulled over and he tells us that BHP are moving two processing plants and they should be here within the hour. “I’ve been sent to make sure you’re comfortable and everything is free,” he says. Well, seeing as BHP was paying, all of a sudden I felt thirsty. We ordered coffees for all!

When the plant came past I could see why they had closed the road. When they transport the Super Movers, you have to drive around them on the verge, but this thing used up both verges too. I counted the wheels on the trailer as it went past and there were 16, that’s 64 tyres. It has a huge Mac towing it and another pushing it on a draw bar from behind as well. It reached up into the sky like a giant Meccano set. I would say 100 foot high, and there were two of them. The traffic behind them was a few miles deep. It was an impressive feat of transport, to say the least.

 

Day 11
Tuesday 16th of October
Broome Day Off

We fuelled up in Hedland at midnight, and I am thankful to say that Hedland finally has a 24-hour garage station. We could have made it without if but it would have been a pinch, probably we would have ended up waiting at for Sandfire to open so as not to risk it, so it was nice to be able to stop, refuel, freshen up and carry on. Em took the next shift through till about 3am, I did another hour from there ‘til neither of us could keep going and we stopped till dawn. A cool morning breeze sailed us into old Broome Town, arriving at 9am. We headed straight to Gantheume Point and dove into the famous emerald ocean of Cable Beach.

 

Day 12
Wednesday 17th of October
One Arm Point

One Arm Point is on Cape Leveque, 220km north of Broome at the tip of the Dampier Peninsular. Its traditional Bardi name is Kooljaman. The Department of Transport controlled the land to run a lighthouse until 1986, when the land was purchased by the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC) for the benefit of local people. The ADC, along with other Government Departments and the Bardi people successfully developed the area into a tourist complex, linking up traditional ways with the fast encroaching 21st century, and it has become a model community and a pioneer for tourism and culture crossover.

The tourist resort at Cape Leveque is a low key, low impact project of a type and structure that can be controlled by local people and of a size and extent that minimises the impact of the environment. “A place where Aboriginal people can link in with the operation of a tourism venture, where visitors are able to experience the beauty of the local area and participate in unique experiences and activities available through this business enterprise.”

Peter Hunter is the Chairman and an Elder of the Bardi people. The Hunters are an old family and very large. Peter is quite a striking man with a commanding presence. The Bardi people have had a staple diet of Fish and Turtle, and an abundance of native fauna since the beginning of time. They are tall and strong. Peter’s huge forearms are attached to the biggest set of hands I have ever seen, powerful, vice-like, clamp looking appendages. The clean white, neat, nails are a contrast to the deep, deep brown of his ageless skin. If it weren’t for the snow-white hair that covers his head and those burly forearms, it would be hard to pick his age. It’s hard to stop staring at Peter, he has an interesting combination of cultures, which is common in Broome, with its multicultural heritage made famous by the romantic era of the Pearling industry, and the influx of Copnagers, Manila Men and Japanese. Only Peter’s Father was not a Malay or Copanger Pearl diver, he was an Indonesian Trochus shell fisherman. The thick hairs on his arms form a white sleeve, like a white stocking pulled over brown skin. The effect is quite impressive, and he might have to be careful or he could start some sort of trend. Great, white, styled caterpillar eyebrows sit above what are the most intriguing eyes. Lagoons of pale blue almost white discs that leave you guessing as to what his cast iron and expressionless face is thinking. Peter has been a public figure in his day, and thankfully for us we are on his good side. He gave us the keys to the hall, his thanks, and free reign of the community, except for the men’s business area near Jologo Beach.

One Arm Point, or Ardyaloon which is its Bardi name, is at the end of the road, literally, the last half of which is sealed, the first half of which is one of the worst roads I have seen on earth. However, it is worth the drive, for Ardyaloon is spectacular, and boasts Australia’ s only trochus hatchery. The beauty of Ardyaloon has brought it much attention, and the community has managed tourism for economic and environmental development. The selling of the locally crafted, polished trochus shell and jewellery made by residents is one example. The trochus shell has shaped the Bardi people’s destiny in many ways. It has also inadvertently shaped their heritage and ancestry.

Trochus niloticus, commonly called topshell or Trochus, is one of the most valuable and sought-after reef gastropods because its shell is used in the manufacture of mother-of-pearl buttons. This species and the less commercially important Tectus pyramis, and some other trochids, are naturally distributed in the Indo-West Pacific Ocean and the Philippines. However the Trochus has been sought after for a long time, and has even survived successful translocation efforts starting as early as 1927 into other tropical islands of the eastern Pacific.  However, the commercial exploitation of Trochus can be traced back as early as 1907 and Trochus stocks have been in a decline since. In fact, stocks in the Philippines reached near extinction in the 1980s when it was estimated that the average world harvest of trochus was about 4,000–6,000 tonnes, with a retail value of about USD 28 million!

In the meantime, fishermen have been making the intrepid crossing into Australian water in search of the elusive shell for some generations. Risking their lives and freedom on the chance that they might fill their hulls and return across the straits, mostly without any sort of navigational devices, and without anything other than sail power. These cases have been well documented right up into recent history. 13 Indonesian fishermen found themselves in a Broome jail for 13 months back in 2006, after being caught by a Navy patrol. They had about 1.5 tonne of shell, which it was estimated had been mostly poached from the reserves off One Arm Point. While digging around for research, I found an old newspaper clipping from April 11th 1934, which complained of Japanese ships waiting off the coast; allegedly acting as mother ships for illegal Trochus shell divers.

What is most interesting about the Bardi People is their mixed ancestry, which, like Peter Hunter, is directly related to the Trochus shell and other fisheries. Fishers from Makassar in South Sulawesi visited the Kimberley as early as the 1700s and there is evidence that a significant trade in marine resources between the Makassans and local Aboriginal communities occurred in the region. The Makassans collected trepang (sea cucumber), shark fin and turtle for trade with the Chinese. Recently a Bardi family traced the steps of a long lost family back to Sulawesi, where they were reunited with a whole family they had never meet before. Many Bardi men had been know to leave on the fishing boats and never return.

And it could have been Peters direct ancestors that sighted European explorers such as William Dampier when he sailed into what is now King Sound. Dampier’s visit was the earliest known white contact that foreshadowed an industry two centuries on, that was to play a large part in the shape of things to come. He too discovered the lustre of the pearl. And if you want a good read, full of historical facts, “The White Divers of Broome” is a astounding novel. The Pearling industry was the begging of a dark period for local Indigenous people who died in thousands, victims of slave labour for the collection of shell in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

We settled into the digs unloaded the gear and before we had finished we had several of the kids we remembered from last year at our door. Brehanna, little Rodney, and Anthony, and the first thing they said was, “Wunna go Round Rock?” Well it would be rude to decline your host’s invitation, and so it was with great resistance that we forced ourselves to spent the afternoon swimming in the pristine emerald blue ocean of the King Sound.

 

Day 13
Thursday 18th of October
Concert at One Arm Point 

I woke at 5am and walked outside to see the new day. The air was like the vapour over a boiling kettle, hot and heavy, thick drops of moisture dripped off the tin veranda like rain. At first I thought it was, until I remembered it doesn’t do that at this time of year. A line of little holes in the red dirt marked the edge of the porch where the heavy condensation had burrowed into the damp soil like evenly spaced ant holes. The deep red soil made little puddles of thick oxide paint.

It is hard not to fall in love with this country. Its beauty is obvious, and anyone could understand why you would want to live here, more obviously, why they have lived here for thousands of years, however, the Traditional Owners have still had to fight for their land, and the fight continues on the Dampier Peninsula still today. This area has a colourful and long history, and much of the culture and languages have remained in spite of all that has happened. There are at least 35 different language groups for the North West Coastal areas. Each language group belongs to a traditionally occupied area or country. When you hear Indigenous people of the remote North West talk of “Country” it refers to their place of origin; literally, culturally and spiritually. This country was made for them by powerful creator beings, Wanjina (Wandjina) and the Wunggurr Snake. When you see how abundant this land is, it seems easy to understand the connection. Yet what I find most impressive is how that same belief and connection is just as relevant in the more harsh and desolate areas inland. Not saying that this area is not without its own adversity, the Kimberley has its own special set of difficulties and climatic variations to contend with. What I learn about myself when around Countrymen is the stark contrast to Western views. The relationship between people and country is one of reciprocity. While country is the source of their spiritual and physical wellbeing, their very identity, while I have been taught to own it. My sense of self and identity is conditional on what I own and how much I own. It’s that ownership which creates a long lasting separate identity called Damien Thornber, whereas this mob see no separation between themselves and the country. They cannot own it, they are, owned by it. That’s the difference. It’s a cultural thing, not right or wrong, good or bad, just different. Difference makes the world a beautiful place. It’s nice to know that it doesn’t have to be one particular way, that my ideals are inherited, not facts, just perception. For me, it’s a freedom to question these things I take have taken for granted. Out here every day starts with that question. What’s really important?

Bryte ran a Hip Hop workshop in the hall and after that it was so hot and muggy we piled every kid we could fit into the cars and went back to Round Rock. Sarah returned from Broome just in time with Rob who would help us out until the concert in Broome. He had hopped on a plane that morning in Perth, been picked up at the airport in Broome, was taxied straight up to One Arm Point and escorted straight down to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It was culture shock in the best sense of the word and most literal sense too, a double dose of culture was on offer and he was beaming with delight. We sat in the shade of the rocks of which the kids jumped off into the clear oceanic waters that have etched deep cliffs into the channels between the islands over thousands of years. At the tip of the King Sound, the water is brilliant and clear, unlike most of the Kimberly coast, which is generally murky owing to the long tidal flats and muddy mangrove creeks that feed it. Here, the deep ocean currents wrap around from the Indian Ocean. The tides run so fast in and out between the islands that it creates whirlpools. The ledges drop off to hundreds of feet only metres from the shore, and these deep channels are feeding grounds for all manner of large leviathan.

Tonight concert was an intimate and short event and we had the tarp over the stage by about 830pm, by which time everything was pretty wet from all the humidity. Asha and Sarah had gone to great lengths organising the BBQ, realizing a long-term dream of mine; the inclusion of healthy BBQs alongside our concerts for the tour. Nixy and Ash spent hours making those beef skewers with the kids, some 200 hundred odd had to be prepared and the kids involved themselves the whole way. I have a personal issue with the idea of cooking sausages at the BBQs as they are not healthy, and nor is white bread. But in a remote community meat is not cheap and unless you have time to go and shoot a few roos, sausage meat has been the only item available in quantities large enough to feed everyone at a concert. Often the store or the committee want to contribute too, and mystery bags and sandwich loaf is the obvious choice for a BBQ. But I won’t eat that, and therefore I don’t want to feed it to others. The concept of healthy BBQs has become a reality this tour as a trial, thanks to Coles who supplied all the bulk meat and vegetables for the skewers. Skewers were the obvious choice as they don’t need accompaniment, are a complete and nutritious meal, and are lean and healthy. Also, there is no waste or pollution afterwards, except for the sticks, which can be thrown into the fire. I’ve wanted to do this for years and so I’m excited to see it happen. So far they have gone down a real treat, I had one complaint only, and that was from Alma Hunter who asked for some salt.

 

Day 14
Friday 19th of October
Big Concert at One Arm Point

We were sitting down having breakfast when Nellie Hunter came to the Hall. I don’t think she expected to find us there but when she saw the guitars all set up for the workshop, Nellie mentioned she had always wanted to learn guitar. “It’s never too late” I said, and an hour later we were playing Slim Dusty classics together. Nellie laughed at my attempts to play country songs; apparently, I do a terrible Slim Dusty impression. Nellie kept crunching her face up when I tried to follow the harmonies, but I had never heard the songs before, so Nellie had to do the singing. She knew them all by heart and luckily we had Rob there who worked out the chords for us. The two songs Nellie wanted to learn were three chord classics “Cinderella” and “Rose of Red River Valley”, and it didn’t take long to teach her the chords and how to change between them. Nellie had a natural rhythm going on and was soon strumming away with a stiff but enthusiastic thumb. That little exchange was one of the highlights of the tour for me so far. We sent Nellie home with one of the classical guitars, a tuner and a few pages of notes, chords and Slim Dusty lyrics.

I dropped my iPhone in the ocean after that, which sent me into an insant severe depression, I mean, who wants to live without an iPhone? I hate to say this as it makes me feel old, but I remember a day when nobody even had a mobile, let alone knew what a smart phone was. Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I have now evolved (or devolved, I’m not sure which) to the point where I put my appointments, make my notes, set reminders and tasks, read my books, keep all my passwords and email accounts, and do all my banking, on my iPhone. It’s ludicrously convenient, until you drop it in the ocean in a remote Indigenous community, out the Back of Burke, that is!

Other than that, we had a great day, if that’s possible without an iPhone. The very pretty young Jesslyn showed up for the concert, which was positive. We had met out at Telfer mine site in the Western Desert where we realised that we had many friends in common; in fact, most of them were her family. It turns out Jesslyn is a Sampi, and one of Old Man Sampi’s 36 grandchildren. She has the classic features of Indigenous and Indonesian mix, with a to-die-for complexion, big brown eyes, and her hair is so long and so thick you could climb a castle with it. At Telfer I played a few of the songs we had recorded out here last year, and she recognised the voice of her younger brother straight away. It turns out Jesslyn is a singer and musician too, so I made her promise to come play at the concert. Having a bit of local talent on the line up made for a bigger turnout tonight. So Asha and Nixy had their work cut out for them, making lean beef skewers again. One of the kids didn’t like zucchini, so when she made hers she just put meat on the stick. She made her little pile secretly and we did not notice till they got to the hot plate, where she stood by anxiously, looking out for her special skewers with beef, beef and extra beef.

Djarindjin Band turned up at the last minute too, and so we had a nice little audience for the final concert at One Arm Point. The highlight of which was definitely the kids getting up to sing the song they wrote with us today in the workshop.

 

Day 15
Saturday 20th of October
Death of a Trailer 

We hit the road mid-morning, and when we came back into range, just as we hit the bitumen, we had a scrambled message from the other vehicle, something about the trailer being broken. So we turned around and headed back up the track agian. When we got back to the Land Cruiser, the situation was not good. The tow ball socket had separated from the trailer at full speed, Ewan helplessly watched it transform into a cloud of red dirt and a mangled tangle of metal in the rear view mirror. Last time I lost the trailer it was behind the truck, and the draw bar had snapped off before the chains, so the trailer just wandered off into the bush. This time it was sheer luck that the chains had separated! The draw bar punched down into the dirt like a pole vault. The hole in the road where it speared the hard red clay looked like a mini meteor hit. Ewan said he wat he it flip three times from end to end in the rear view mirror.

There was going to be no saving it this time. It was ‘third time unlucky’ for the old girl. The frame had separated completely, and lay twenty metres away, the box top sat in the sand separately, like a juxtaposed Lego block. The trailer itself was a twisted lump of metal. The 50mm galvanised steel draw bar twisted back on itself like a coke can. We dragged the parts into the bush on the roadside to join the graveyard of mechanical decay that lines that old track. Another victim claimed by the detrimental dirt corrugations. The verge embankment that has become quite steep, the constant grading has dug the road deeper and deeper into the land. The exposed soil is the most brilliant red, almost luminous, like the ochre paint. Cut into the earth, its a blood coloured vein through the green undergrowth. The traffic has painted the trees and shrubs that line the road with a even coat of dust, as if someone has spray painted the foliage. The lush green trees of the tropics all painted oxide red.

Out here when vehicles break down, they stay there, there’s no RAC, and if it’s in the wet and you get bogged, no one wants to get bogged trying to pull you out either. This old road is impassable for a good part of the year, and no matter how many times they grade it, it only seems to get worse. In parts, the road is so deep you’d swear you were below sea level. It looks more like a dry riverbed than a road. If you meet a car coming the other way, you both end up at obscure angles, breaching your side of the sloping verge.

Back in town the first thing I did was go to the Telstra store. The guy at the shop welcomes me with a big “Hello sir, can I help you today?” I explain that I have dropped my phone in the salt water, “Oh, that’s bad he says.” “Yes” I said, “thanks for the confirmation.” So now we are both on the same page. “Do you want a new phone or just a cheap temporary phone?” he asks. “Just a temporary phone for now, so I can make some calls.” “Well we can do that but I’m sorry we can’t register the sim card ‘til Monday, the computers are all being upgraded.” “Ok” I say, “then can I get a normal phone and a pin card adaptor?” “No, sorry we can’t do that either,” he says, “we don’t sell them.”
“Ok then, so really I can’t do the temporary phone thing at all, can I, so lets forget that option. I’ll take a new one of these iPhones you have here” I say confidently, grateful the other options weren’t available, leaving the more expensive but better option anyway. “No sorry I can’t sell them,” he says. “Why not?!” I’m getting suspicious now. “We can only sell them with a plan. “But I have a plan already.” “Sorry sir but we are not licensed to sell iPhones with out a plan.” “So tell me,” I ask, “what can you do for me?” “I’m sorry sir it seems I can’t help you today.” That was the strangest shopping experience I’d had in a while, all I bought there was a bag of “cant’s” and a dozen “no’s”.

 

Day 16
Sunday 21st of October
Shane Howard on the Desert Feet Tour

When I pulled the truck up at Town Beach this morning, it was with a sigh of relief that I shut the motor down. I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that the concert would go ahead, nothing can stop us once the big Rhino is in place (Except maybe a nuclear bomb.) if it never started again I would be grateful to have made it here, completed the tour so far, fulfilled my obligations to Shanes managers, and show the world the Desert Feet mob can run a successful festival, work with national level acts, and pull it all together (even if it was all a bit touch and go). I was yet to meet my idol, the famous Shane Howard, but Rob had talked with him at the airport, and Nixy was a bit smitten when she picked him up for us. Sometimes dreams come true; getting to play on the same stage as Shane Howard is one of mine, but getting to meet with him and hang out too, was a highlight of the Desert Feet life for me so far.(I am embarrassed to admit, I might have turned into a bit of a star-struck teenager around Shane.) Next to Archie Roach and Paul Kelly, Shane would be my all-time favourite Australian singer-songwriters, and although he is mostly famous for his 80s classic hit Solid Rock, his story telling and folk style songs have impressed me far more over the years. (Although of course, Solid Rock is just bloody awesome.) I guess its people like Shane Howard and Paul Kelly that have inspired me musically, with their ability to season as performers and grow past the hedonistic rock and roll style life, into an altruistic maturity. They have both sung songs full of untold Australian stories and have used their powers to bring attention to public issues. I think Shane had an awareness of Indigenous culture and its value ahead of his time. He was the first to make a protest song for land rights and paved the way for other bands like Midnight Oil. Solid Rock was a song of its time, it brought a consciousness into vogue that was missing and in hindsight it seemed obvious, long overdue and much needed, but it could have just as easily had the opposite effect on his career too; he took the risk of speaking out. Then for a time his example seemed to accelerated the movement, people seemed more interested, Rob Riley was on everyone’s lips, there was Nookanbah, people in the street sung Yothu Yindi, “Treaty Yeah, Treaty Yeah”, it seemed like it was all on a trajectory of exponential growth and things would change forever. Somehow it all seems to have faded into the background again, but not for Shane, not for me, and not for you either evidently!

What I learnt from Shane was the power of music. It was the nurturing of the concept that would grow into Desert Feet I guess. Then years later i saw Mary G perform and that clarified it for me, put it in context. Because Mary G is funny and fluffy and light, she pulls you in, opens you up, cracks your lips into a smile of anticipation. Then, when you are totally open, she drops the message into your little receptacle. The message is so clear because all your defences are down. She knows you can never win an argument by force, you may force the other to concede, but they can still retain their belief. The secret with music is it talks through a different medium, is understood through a different sense, can be heard without even listening! It can be felt. Solid Rock does that to you too, you feel that tribal rhythm, get caught up in the moment, start enjoying the feeling, and then, BANG! The message hits you. A message you didn’t even come here to learn. That is the power of music, the power of song. That is what Shane has, but it’s not his power, the power is here already, and it’s no coincidence that this country was connected by song-lines for thousands of years before we came.

I guess that’s the great thing about music, its ability to appeal to a broad spectrum of people, one culture enjoying another’s variations. Culturally specific sounds are food for the banquet of life. Just listening in itself is cultural awareness, and that is prior to any verbal or subliminal message of any sort. Music is old, and every civilization has their own scales and styles associated with their culture. Music feeds a human need, everyone wants to feel something when they hear a song, make it mean something. Have you ever heard a song and been transported to a different dimension by the memories or the meaning it provokes? The message can be just as powerful, or even more so. Music can open the ears to a message that the head may have closed off to. The doorway is that vibrations. The heart might feel the rhythm before the head can make a judgment. In that state, the message is exchangeable. It might not even be a statement; it might just be the transmission of a culturally specific genre of the music that makes you ask the question, begins a lifelong investigation (like it did for me). I mean who doesn’t like the tribal sound of African congas. You feel it in your bones, the rhythm is a long lost family member you didn’t know you had, and the melody is an exotic food you can’t believe you never tried before. All at once you want more, have to have some, want to understand it, and then you are open, neutral, teachable.

Maybe, just maybe, music is a way to move forward towards cultural recognition. It is a powerful tool because it gives you direct access to culture and stories and language and history, without any intervention. You do not have to leave your seat. It gives you the power to make change, just by buying the artists’ music. It’s like voting with your feet, when you stand up and talk about it, refer it, pass it on, recommend it to your friend. You have the power, you’re the buyer and your choice is your statement. When you buy cigarettes you chose ill health, when you buy an apple you choose a fresh mouth. When you buy Mercedes you say “I’m wealthy” (or ‘I want to appear to be’, anyway) when you ride a bike you say, “I don’t want to pollute the environment anymore.” So why can’t you vote for Indigenous rights by buying songs? As an active advocate for Indigenous rights, I often speak to Rotary clubs, NGOs and even for Government Functions. People often tell me they don’t know what to do, how to go about it, but the news is good, we have more power than we realise. As individuals we have tremendous power, the power of choice. I’m sure we could put McDonald’s out of business tomorrow if we wanted to, all we have to do is stop going in there, right? That’s called voting with your wallet. How can they survive without us? Don’t we have the ability to make change with our decisions? That is the whole benefit of living in the first world, our inheritance is our opportunity and an abundance of options and that is what differentiates us from the vast majority of the Earth’s population. (Dear reader; I have once again digressed incalculably again, please forgive me, I know that you are reading this because you are already the converted, but I have to say this just on the off chance that someone, somewhere was inspired to ask the question. That is my job done then.)

When we got off stage I had a small gathering of people waiting for a chat, (that is the most famous I’ve ever been) a couple of girls from One Mile even wanted signed CDs. I got a few hugs and even a kiss from my new biggest fan, Gemma. Gemma was one of the Seaside Drifters’ cousins and had come to see us after hearing about us last year, that was flattering. Gemma is the tiniest little lady, but she informed me with great pride that she had 5 kids of her own. Her lithe frame was nothing but skin over bone, and her bare feet and arms were covered in pigmentation, a birth mark maybe. Emily and I were totally enchanted by her audacious manner. Something in her spoke of a strength beyond physical measure, and we became drawn into a conversation. For some reason she decided to confide in us, maybe out of embarrassment at the disfigurement that she carried, perhaps our music had touched her, but soon Emily and I were lost in the Wild West of crocodile hunting and pioneers of the outback Kimberley. I was thinking, “Here is a book in the writing.” She held up her hand defiantly, most of her fingers were missing. She was reminiscing about her days as a crocodile hunter for a certain person, I won’t name them, but Crocodile Dundee eat your heart out, Gemma was the real deal. I thought she was going to tell me that her fingers had been bitten off by a croc, but the real story was hard to comprehend. She told us of how they used acid to peel the meat away from the skin, apparently without any protection, gloves, masks or otherwise. The acid had got into her bones and rotted her fingers off. She was lucky to have any hands at all Gemma informed me. My first question was the most obvious; “Did you get compensation?” but there was no remuneration for her as the work was done out in the bush and was all cash. In other words, it never really happened. She might have lost her fingers but she certainly didn’t loose her sense of humour, Gemma informed us with a smile, “I can still play the drums.”

All in all the concert went as well as it could be expected I think. Certainly nothing went wrong and I even managed to secure a couple of local bands at pretty short notice. Seaside Drifters were just smoking hot, and probably the highlight of the day for me, considering i couldn’t find them till 9am that day, it was a fluke to get them there really, but i do love it when a plan comes together. Patrick is a Shoveler boy, they are a big Family here but he managed to round up a band and drive to Broome from Bidyadanga just to play. When they pulled into the car park, the old landcrusier was on empty and Patrick had a look of surprise relief on his face. I told him not to worry, that we would fill it up for them on top of the performance fee, “just get up there and rip it up.” They literally arrived in time to walk straight onto the stage and miraculous we managed to stay on time. I could not believe how much they had improved since I saw them last year, and I would have to say they did the best version of Wipeout I have ever seen or heard!!! And that is saying something, because I have seen a few hundred versions since my inauguration into the world of remote Indigenous community bands. I think Wipeout is a prerequisite for musicians out here. I was told that we had a as many people as you could hope to attract in Broome at this time of year, around the 1200 mark, one local estimated. I guess I am just a bit spoilt now by all the Indigenous music festivals we have run in remote communities, where people just dance like crazy for hours nonstop. This was more of a chilled out, mellow vibe with markets and stalls. The location was awesome, and just being in Broome is good enough.

When people hear the word Broome, they automatically think; holidays in the sun, long beaches, and of course the romantic history of the pearling industry. But today another industry, bigger than pearling ever was, is knocking on Broome’s door. The demand, the opportunities, the threats, and the unstoppable progress has torn old Broome town into fractions. However, the enemy at the gate is not so clear any more, there are not just two sides to the argument, and the argument is not just black and white. There are several fights running and sometimes the same man is caught in a war on two fronts, or in other cases, long standing friends, that were united on fronts like the Nookanbah protests, have found themselves on opposite teams. It’s a complicated and political situation. Some people cry “No Gas!” while other support industry. In the background of all this is the ongoing fight for Native Title by the T.O.’s, and then there are factions around ownership too.

The State Government wanted compulsory acquisition, the mining companies wanted to negotiate with Traditional Owners, some Broome house holders have painted ‘No Gas’ on the front of their houses, while others accuse them of interfering with Indigenous rights to negotiate. You’ve got Barnet screaming, “Use it or lose it!” Indigenous residents yelling “Save Broome” and the KLC trying to assist Native Title claims complicated by the possibility of huge amounts of money. People that were famous for land rights protests in the 80s are now being spat on in the local Supermarket, and others that have fought their whole life for rights, have dived for cover. In the meantime people that have taken sides are locked into insular forums on Facebook, busy affirming each other’s ignorance. But do our fractured views make us less effective? Who is the enemy now? Is it the government, the mining companies, the white man, the lack of Indigenous rights or greedy individuals of varying colour and ethnicity? Its much easier when the enemy wears a black hat and looks wicked to feel good about pulling the trigger. I mean, who wouldn’t kill Darth Vader. He even looks evil. However, the reality is that this is not Star Wars, there is no one good guy and one bad guy. There is the good and bad in any outcome here. In the mean time I have to stay out of this debate, but i believe it highlights the infectiveness of Native Title and the lack of real results for Indigenous people. If someone wins the right to self-determination, what does it say if we don’t trust that determination? For me, the issue is that we have not given our First People of Australia the rights to the full measure of the laws that we have made, ie. Human Rights, and the international treaties and conventions for the protection of Indigenous people that we have signed. Until we do this, all these other issues are distractions. We are the only Commonwealth country without a Bill of Rights or a Treaty, STILL! Have we forgotten? For me, this is the issue. I’m not an environmentalist; I’m a human rights advocate. How can we presume to save a whole planet, if we cannot even preserve the rights of a mere 600,000 Indigenous Australians? Are Australians just too spoilt to really make change? Do we give lip service to issues while underneath secretly we don’t really want anything to change too much? Have we forgotten that our forefathers died for what they believed in? Isn’t that what a belief is; the willingness to give your life to an ideal? I hear people say they don’t want Gas! I wonder if they have they stopped using it?

 

Day 17
Monday 22nd of October
iPhone withdrawals and recovery.

The first thing I did at open of business was ring the Apple store in Perth, but they would not let me buy an iPhone with a credit card over the phone. There was no way of getting one sent up before I left, and even if I could get one here, my iTunes backup was back in Perth on another computer, so I couldn’t do a restore anyway. It seemed that I was just not meant to have a phone again for a while, and I had finally just accepted that it might even be good to just go without for a couple of weeks when Emily found an iPhone on gumtree in Broome. It was unlocked and my sim went straight in, so after 4 days of withdrawals, I am now contactable again. I don’t have any of my info on it, but at least I can stop carrying my old iPhone around in a Tupperware container full of rice. I’ve been opening this tub up every few hours and scratching through rice grains like a chook, to see if its comes back to life yet, pressing at it hopefully, eyeing it sorrowfully, tucking it back into its rice house again, like some crack addict, going through that little ritual every time i remember that my iphone died. If anyone had been watching, they get a good laugh.

Today was mostly about recovery, Emily is sick Ewan is getting better; we are all exhausted and need a few days off to prepare for the last leg of the tour.

 

Day 18
Tuesday 23rd of October
Day Off and Fresh Recruits

After the climax of the tour, the big concert with Shane Howard, we are left with only four crewmembers. I decided to do a bit of power recruiting to try take a bit of the pressure off us. My first choice was Gemma from the concert but she works every day at the Catholic Church and couldn’t get time off. We made arrangements for next time which is something to look forward too. Most of my regular crew are away or busy, so I had to dig deep. Rob had exams, Richard’s on tour over east, Cassie is out at sea, Tony is in Asia, and Bryte had to return home.

Enter Carlo Basso
When I called him we had not spoken for over a year, but he answered the phone as if the most natural thing in the world to do right now, would be speaking to me. There was not a hint of surprise in his voice. I said, “Hi mate, I’m looking for someone to help me out at short notice.” He said “How short?” I said, “Starting tomorrow, for maybe a week, maybe two, definitely not longer than three. The pay is not much, and we will be travelling into some poor and remote areas. Basically, it’s like third world conditions in some places, it’s hot, hard work, and confronting.” “Yeh, ok man that should be right” was all he said. “Oh,” I said, “Do you want to think about it and call me back?” “Oh, ummm, nah man, that’s ok I’ll just come.”

 

Day 19
Wednesday 24th of October
Fix-a-trailer 

Coates was going to charge me over $2000 for a single axle standard trailer for 10 days. I had said no to Peter Strain’s generous offer to use his old trailer but after hearing that, I decided to revisit the idea. When I looked under it I realised it had solid angle iron frames. If I could just chuck my 4×4 tyres on, it would lift it that vital few inches and make it all a bit more robust too. It was 6am in the morning when I discovered the stud pattern was not the same. Peter and I decided to take a chance and drive back up the Cape Leveque road and see if the axle was still on my old trailer, and much to our surprise, no one had touched it. It took a bit of jigging, grinding and bashing, but my heavy duty axle, the slipper springs and the 4×4 hubs all fit on to Pete’s old trailer, making it a pimped out rig, the floor pan was not in the best nick, so i dropped a bottle of rust converter into it and laid a sheet of 12 mm ply across it, which fit perfectly, all I had to do was cut off about 400 mm. Luckily I had kept the number plate from mine, as Pete’s had long expired. The only other thing was the lights, but it so happened I had one of them spare too, and by midday Peter’s old trailer was magically converted into a pretty solid 4×4 rig with two spares and a heavy duty kit.

I spent the rest of the day working on the vehicles. Topped up the oils, tweaked the belts, tightened some loose fittings, checked over everything I could get to, and went over all my running gear. The Land Cruiser is burning lots of oil and dropping steering fluid. The truck has gone though three sets of batteries this year, and I now officially hate 24volt systems. Other than that we look like we might make it through the last leg with a bit of luck and some favourable winds. We ate at Matso’s on the way out of town opting for a night drive to Fitzroy Crossing, favouring a darker but cooler drive.

The air was humid and heavy like a tropical night should be at this time of year, it was a sign of the build-up inevitably on its way. Theoretically there should be no rain till November, but unfortunately sometimes the season doesn’t listen to the forecast. Rain would be a dampener on our show, but short bursts or anything other than the heavy seasonal rains that will come soon, we can cope with. By Willare Creek, an early change in the weather seemed possible , and the Kimberley turned on a show that you would only get to see on the Great Northern Highway in late October. Skies fat with black and ominous clouds blocked out the stars and only in the tropics can cumulus look this heavy and then somehow not rain. Massive bolts of lightening struck up spot fires that set the countryside ablaze, and heavy smog settled across the road. The air smelled like a campfire and the night was dotted with orange glowing lights, like a landscape of Chinese lanterns. At Ellendale we could go no further, and when I rolled out the swag on the ground, fat heavy drops fell for just a few seconds, as if to tease us.

 

Day 20
Thursday 25th of October
A Wangkatjungka Welcome

It had obviously rained heavily at some point last night in Wangkatjungka, and the northern sky looked ready to burst. “I just need you to hold off another 10 days, Mr Wet Season!” I was looking at the sky when I got out of the truck, and nearly fell over Olive Knight. With a warm embrace, she hugged me like a long lost son, and for a second I thought I had come home. In the office, old Warren was surrounded by boxes of trophies for the carnival, and several people talking at him at once. So I left him to his work once I had the keys for our digs.

The social issues here are confronting, and even after 5 years, I still find it hard to comprehend. Wangkatjungka is a very poor community. Unlike the Western Desert Communities, which have mining companies fighting for community relations and the Cape Leveque’s Communities with Tourism, Wangkatjungka stands in stark contrast. The community sits on a Crown Land reserve. A small pocket of dirt, surrounded by pastoral magnates. The community has been leased back to the residents for 99 years. FAHCSIA and ICC are pretty much the only sources of income and as far as resources, there is little to none. The school here belongs to the State and in many ways seems isolated and separate from the Community. Olive fears for her language, which is not being taught. In what seems a tragic irony, English, which is a second language out here, is used as the benchmark, the kids are judged by the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), which of course they fail. The kids fail, the community fails, the school fails and all for what? For around $1 million a year to keep a state school running with eight teachers for 60 kids, of which, on a good day fourteen might show up. Yet these kids have an amazing inheritance. They are the future of their culture and the only speakers of Wangkatjungka and Walmatjarri languages left on earth. They actually have literacy abilities far above the majority of any kids I know, only not in English. All the kids here would speak 4-8 different languages each, if you include the Kriol and English. Musical they are brilliant but it’s not taught in school. Artistically, they are naturals, yet art, theatre, music, and drama teachers cannot be afforded in remote schools. Yet a small fortune is spent every year so eight white people can live here for a few months at a time in their accustomed manner on a remote community where most of the residents don’t even have adequate housing and where living conditions are equivalent to a third world country.

Some of them have no idea about the culture, language or history of the place. For some of them, it seems they are just here to get their rural placement over with. In that time, will they learn any Walmatjarri, experience ceremony, sit at a Sorry Camp or even leave the sanctuary of the little barbed-wire-fenced compound, except to go back to town on weekends. Some of them might never even mix with the community, sit in the grass, talk with the elders, or hear the issues. What example would a person like that be to a remote Indigenous community? Would it be proof of the recognition and reconciliation we have offered? Would it be an example of our willingness to make right the wrongs of our ancestors? Is it treating the fragile thread of trust with respect? Does it build long-term relationships? Does it show an interest in Cultural Awareness? Like it or not these people are our representatives. The diplomats of our future relations. Have they been adequately trained for the experience. Do they have suitable cultural understanding? Are they working towards a solution? Do they have an interest in Human Rights, advocacy, Indigenous affairs?

Wangkatjungka ‘s situation is a precariously delicate and fragile social and political disposition, outwardly it has nothing, red dirt and heat. Yet its people cling to scraps of hope, promises long overdue and its sanctuary from town life. Fitzroy Crossing has always been a place for fringe dwellers, the temptations and problems associated with it are the bane of everyone in the Valley. Wangkatjungka is at least somewhere to rest and regroup after a hundred years of displacement, forced labour, cultural suppression and injustice. In some ways, Wangkatjungka offers safety and reprieve, in others it locks its residents between a generation that tried to kill them and a generation that wants to forget it all. But, whatever it is, no matter how bad or tough, no matter what we think, this land is the lifeline of a people desperately clinging to the remnants of culture, law and language that it needs for identity and a future. Yet the struggle to be a remote community, the health issues, the isolation and the poverty, is a double bind.

I wonder what this world would look like if we were coming out here asking questions instead of demanding changes and offering advice. Questions like; can you teach us your language? Can you teach us your culture? How did you live in the desert? Can you show us your traditional foods? How do you suggest we present your culture and languages in the school curriculums? How do we ask questions and still be culturally sensitive? Can you show us your land and waterholes, and tell us the stories of them, the traditional names for them? Can we preserve and learn your languages? Can you show me how to catch a goanna, follow a kangaroo, cook a snake, eat a Roo tail track a Dingo? Can we write down and record your dreaming stories? What can we do for reconciliation? Can we listen to your music? Can we sit with you in the long grass, for no reason at all, other than to just be with you, and then maybe after five/ten years of just getting to know you, can we walk the road to reconciliation together, hand in hand?

I see these kids having fun and i envy their language and culture and I hear all the fact too like how these kids struggle with low self-esteem, loss of identity, depression, and feelings of rejection and disenfranchisement. They feel lost and discarded. They experience prejudice when they go to town, see the hopeless and overwhelming social issues among their own people, are prey to addiction and sniffing, have high suicide rates and numbers of FASD. That we all know, but has anyone told them that they are a rare cultural asset? That their language and history is of international importance, that their culture is the greatest inheritance of our Nation, or that the languages they have are of great anthropological importance and some of the oldest Indigenous languages in continuous use on earth? Maybe a bit of recognition might help overcome feelings of low self-esteem, but hey what would I know? I’m no child psychologist.

The community put us up at the HACC house again, which is pretty good of them, considering that there’s a shortage of houses as it is. However, there was a “but” that went with the offer and that was that the shower was broken, so it was lucky we didn’t have Bryte or Candice with us. Carlo had his first experience with some of the residents too, when he tried to use the ablution a giant green tree frog had beaten him to it. He came in and asked me to remove the leach from the toilet seat. I thought I had misheard him. “A leach?” I asked. “Yes, a leach.” He confirmed. “It’s on the toilet lid.” Well I had to see this, I’ve never heard of a leach crawling out of a toilet before. It was quite a sight, i must admit, a green tree frog the size of a man’s fist had, quite appropriately, used the lavatory, only it failed to lift the lid. It sat alongside it with a smug smile, like a proud parent. “I never knew a frog could do a poo that big!” Carlo insisted self-consciously, embarrassed by my uncontrollable laughter.

 

Day 21
Friday 26th of October
Concert night at Wangkatjungka

Kankuwa is her skin name, it’s a Konejandi (pronounced Gooniyandi) word, given to her by an old lady from the north of her birth lands, but she is mostly know by her white name, Olive Knight. She was born on Bohemia Downs Station somewhere around 1946. Her mother was very young and moved around with her between Christmas Creek and Gogo Station to avoid tribal issues. In 1955, a missionary spotted her and took her to, what was then called, ‘United Aborigines Mission’ at Fitzroy Crossing. It was here that she discovered a profound love of literature and an uncanny ability for language and grammar. She is one of the first people to learn to read and write the Walmatjarri language, and she was also instrumental in the development of the first Walmatjarri Dictionary. By 25, she had 5 children of her own, but still managed to complete a diploma of Pastoral Ministries, which was the foundation for her love of Gospel music. She became accredited as an interpreter, and a Certified Health Worker, and currently holds a BA in Applied Sciences. Her fascination with Shakespeare and Victorian age writers, her love of music and her ministerial education formed a cocktail of culture, language, love and forgiveness that transforms into a soulful concoction of the Blues. It’s in a league of its own, simply because there is no other artist on Earth that could produce such songs. They are their own genre, simply by description, ‘Gospel Blues in Walmatjarri’! She can safely say she is the only gospel blues player in the world that sings in Walmatjarri. Its a language without the constraints of time or boundaries, born in the hot sand of an endless desert on the wings of an endless song. And they are simply beautiful.

In her late teens, Olive worked on Gogo Station as a servant, without pay or wages, she was given rations for her efforts and she slept in a tin lean-to, far from the house. Times were hard back then in an already hard environment, but Olive talks of this time with fondness, and without resentment or bitterness. “I was lucky,” she says, “Because the manager was a good man he had a half cast girl of his own” You get a glimpse of the sort of a world Olive lived in to consider herself lucky for not being abused, But Victor Jones must have succumbed to issues of his day, Olive found him dead on the veranda, he had shot himself with a German Lugar. “I used to see that gun under his pillow,” Olive told me. “I was too scared to touch it.”

Olive comes from a day when Indigenous People ran and hid in the bush when white men came. She knows stories of her family being poisoned by their gifts, yet she holds no grudge, she is honestly free of the suffering of resentment. She is a matriarch now, an Elder, and she wants to continue her journey of healing for her people. Most importantly, she wants to see her language maintained and taught to the next generation. If you get lucky enough to sit with her, as I have, then you will know I do not exaggerate when I say that her presence has a strength, like a balm, a healing. She has a smile that could make you cry with happiness, that beautiful skin and that huge big hair. You will feel it too, she is the grandmother of 18, but she is also the grandmother of us all. Her vision for culture and healing is beautiful, and a little outside the scope of this blog, however, suffice to say it involves music and a deserted community, Ngaranyjadu, 100km down the road south from Wangkatjungka. The power of song for her has been the ability to tell her story, the catharsis of writing it down and letting it go. She calls it health and healing though music.

The first concert we did was the biggest we had ever done at Wangkatjungka, the football carnival had attracted other communities and some, we were told, had not even arrived yet. When we played, one of the Springside Reggae boys drummed for us, a young guy called Riccardi. He was a veritable machine on the drums, but he is used to the fast and heavy styles of reggae and rock. He did some really interesting stuff, more like some sort of improvised jazz percussion intro that went all the way through the song, it was weird but way cool. Carlo played lead, and is a genuine guitar god on electric. He must have impressed Olive who acquisitioned him to perform on her blues songs, and then he was asked to play for another few bands after too. I don’t think he knew what hit him, but he seemed to take it all in his stride. So far, he has been a valuable little addition to the team, his skill set seems unlimited around music equipment, he has jumped in on the sound desk, workshops, mixing and session work, all with a carefree and easy manner. Nothing seems to rattle him, and I have watched for telltale signs of culture shock, but you would think he is in his own house the way he always seems at home with his unfailing easygoing attitude. When I told him our accommodation has no shower he only grinned at me, I wasn’t sure if that meant “Who needs showers anyway” or that he knows something i didn’t.

 

Day 22
Saturday 27th of October
Wangkatjungka

In the morning I ran back into town to see if I could find Steve James, the lead singer from the Dry Metal Band. Olive decided to come with me for a drive to visit her father (Skin Group father not blood father) the old man was the founder of Wangkatjungka and was in hospital. We found Steve by his bedside, and Olive came back with some bad news. The local GP had given him only a day or two. It was going to be the biggest loss the community had seen for years, and consequently a big Sorry Camp. There had been talk in the community about the old man; one of the young guys told me if the old man died the carnival would have to stop. “Everything will stop.” He’d said.

On the road back home, Olive was pensive and sad. She started telling me her story, as if in some sort of therapeutic out pouring, she just told me everything. I sat in silence, trying to remember as much as i could. Albert Facey’s life was a Beverley Hills dream compared to Olive’s, but for me it was just the privilege of being with her. She has this way of telling you something that should upset you, some fact or story that is incomprehensible. Then just when you’re lost for words, she throws this smile at you. It’s a wicked grin that pulls her face into devilishly cheeky beaming smirk, as if she has one of those joker masks in her bag and she just pulls it out, turns her head away, and puts it on really quickly. This huge white smile jumps out at you, a mischievous giggle that belongs to a teenage girl, not a 60 year old woman, pops out and then, it’s all gone. Next thing you’re sitting next to the calm, silent, and authoritative Olive again, and you’re looking around for the person that was just there, as if, they’d swapped seats or something. I love her. There is no one else like her.

Today was a bit of a landmark for the Desert Feet Tour; the first time we have employed someone from the community to run the workshops. Olive did a song in Wangkatjungka language with the kids about animals. The kids really responded to her, not just because she is an elder in the community and very respected, but because they all know that she knows X-man and went to New York with Huge Jackman himself. On top of that, she is the perfect example/role model for the kids to inspire them to use music to express themselves, and especially the girls. If nothing else, I want to see an Indigenous all girl band form out here before I die. After Olive has done her song, we then wrote one with the kids and got Olive to translate it into Walmatjarri, the words are here below:

“Swimming at the crossing, jumping in the springs”
“Jawumalany parlipa, Jarntak palany Parlipa”

I would have to say this is the most excited I have been about our workshops or the Desert Feet Tour since we started. Our mission statement and objectives fit perfectly into Olive’s health and healing through music. Being able to engage her as part of the DFT has been an incredible development for us all.

With the workshops done we had the concert to look forward to. Word had gotten around from last night and a few more bands had put their names down. Nixy made something like 600 shish kebabs over two days. The BBQ plate was the size of a dinner table and she lit a fire under it with fallen trees. The team from Balgo and Billiluna had arrived in a bus. Ringer Soak was there and even some crew from Mowanjum (next to Derby). The lineup was looking like a festival more than a concert, and Ewan and I decided not to play, which was a good move because it was 2:30am when we finished. We have set the bar pretty high now after this sort of event, and it’s going to be hard to do those little intimate community gigs with only 30 people after this tour. Olive kicked off the concert again and made a lovely speech welcoming us to the community, calling us her friends and family and asking everyone to look after us. Her talk was met with absolute silence, as Olive is a senior Elder out here now, and one of the last desert-born Elders. She is the vice chair on the Wangkatjungka Council, but to see her play you wouldn’t believe it was the same person. Its like she gets possessed by some blues demon from Mississippi. She gets all hunched over that axe like a black widow, then she starts twanging at those strings with a fleshy hammer, sitting on an old cracked plastic chair, bare foot stomping. The stage is her confessionary, the sky her cathedral, the land her god and soul. Then with a microphone under siege, attacked by brutal honesty, her face contorted in sincerity, gives birth to such emotion and sorrow, and memories; like leaves of reminiscences, falling in the autumn of her life, unashamedly, willing to feel her pain, again and again and again, just to touch another being. Humility. I can’t understand a word of it, but I feel it;
Yanin palaju, yanin palaju, jarraampayi-kutu, yanin palaju
Yanin palaju, yanin palaju, jarraampayi-kutu, yanin palaju
And then it just stops, and all of a sudden there’s this little ol’ lady; just talking to you over a microphone, her kind voice rings with a maternal love. And you’d think you where at a tea party getting scones and jam.

Olive had never seen a guitar until she was 17. A stockman had got hold of one and played it around the campfire one night on Gogo Station. She tells the tale of how she was mesmerised by that music box and waited all night until she could get a look at it. Over the next few nights Olive would watch the man play, memorising his finger movements and storing up the songs in her mind. But it would be another 30 years before she would own one. In the meantime she learnt to strum an old tea box that a blind man helped her make, and it was from him she learnt the blues. However, her expression of that soulful outlet would be repressed for most of her life; blues, rock and roll, and pop were all considered the devil’s music by the church. Hymns and a little bit of country was all that got through, and Olive’s first ever EP was a Buddy Holly two song record. She learnt to sing in the choir, but her desired to make her own music never left her. And at 66, she is my number one hero. Up on that stage busting out soulful blues like she was born to do it. I love her blues version of Somewhere Over a Rainbow with a verse translated into Walmatjarri. Lets face it. I just love Olive full stop!

Tonight was to be our last night in Wangkatjungka, and we are all acutely aware of how lucky have gotten with the weather so far. In the distance, the build-up teased us each night with its menacing black horizon full of heavy clouds, lightening and smoke. Tonight, the wind gusted in over the desert like a fresh sea breeze. I could smell the water in it, but still the rain held off as if by force of will. We have a mere few nights left till we can boast completion for 2012, but it will be a close call either way. That rain is out there and the Wet Season is near.

 

Day 23
Sunday 28th of October
Mini Indigenous music festival

In the morning I had coffee with my friend from Perth, now a teacher in Wangkatjungka and living in top camp. She told me the old man had died and the carnival would have to stop. The Sorry Camp had already been set up at Ngumpan up the road, and it would be a month before the funeral, which meant a long mourning period for the family. But when I got back to the house I was surprised to get a visit from Olive, asking us to stay. Not only did they want us to stay, they wanted us to put on another concert. Apparently news of our festival had reached far and wide. The famous Walkabout Boys from Yiyili had come into Wangkatjungka just to perform. The elders had called a meeting and they had decided that the old man set up this carnival and that he would have wanted it to go on. In 5 years of dragging this truck around the desert, it was the single greatest moment of our adventures. The combined communities had decided Desert Feet Tour should stay another night. And there was no way we were going to let them down.

The line up for tonight was even bigger again. Ngumpan, Nookanbah and Millijidee all had football teams here from the Valley. Communities Billiluna and Balgo had sent a team over from the Desert, those two communities are near the NT border, and had driven a long way to get here. There were people here for Yakanarra, Looma, Fitzroy Crossing, Mowanjum, Ringer Soak, and more. By 6pm the line up looked like this

1. Olive Knight
2. Us Mob/ Ashley Ooboogooma from Mowanjum, just out of Derby
3. Millijidee Band from Millijidee (a community just over the other side of the valley)
4. Check It Out Band from Billiluna
5. Walkabout Boys from Yiyili
6. Dry Metal Band from Wangkatjungka (this was Steve James band but he didn’t play as he was at Sorry Camp)
7. Springside Reggae Band, also from Wangkatjungka and made up of a couple of the same guys.
8. Sonic from Ringer Soak
9. Dark Crystal, which was a sort of jam-band (combined communities)
10. Also there was two Check It Out bands (I’m not sure how that worked..?)

It was by far the biggest line-up we have ever had but it was the quality of the acts that made the night. We really did have our very own Indigenous Music festival. People would have paid money to listen to music like this, but the irony of this night is that you just couldn’t buy it. You couldn’t make it happen either, it just happened. As much as I enjoyed the satisfaction of getting to play with Shane Howard and the experience of seeing a national level act, for me, there is just no comparison. Give me a concert under the stars like this any day. The Broome concert was pale in comparison to this night. I would have to say it was the greatest musical experience I have ever had. I’ve been to Big Day Out’s, Blues and Roots’, seen David Bowie perform in front of 60,000 people. But i have never experienced the energy I saw out here last night. I think the most impressive stuff i have learnt and experienced around Indigenous culture is the same part of it that is least obvious and in some ways; unexplainable, even mostly invisible. I do not think they would let many people inside that space to really see it, that’s a sad irony. To truly understand you have to be willing to stop trying to understand and just be there, somehow it’s in that space. I just consider myself lucky, because i just happened to be there. It’s a culture alien to us with an understanding that wants no promotion, nor need any approval, its virtue is built upon layers of humility, each layer attained only by worthiness. I can’t prove my worthiness as I would in the western world, as that action would contradict the humility needed to be worthy. Its sort of like teaching a man that is tone death music theory. He may understand music perfectly and site read but he still can’t play it. However, if you have a feel for music you don’t need any theory, you just play. That’s how I see it here. Spiritually there is no one on the earth as connected as these people, it is not a matter of trying, it just is. And I wish I could give you an experience of that, but somehow that power seems more evident, obvious and enhanced out here, maybe it’s the build up in the air, the electricity. Maybe it’s the heightened awareness that comes from being in nature, at the mercy of the elements and vulnerable. Maybe it’s the insignificants you become aware of when surrounded by such powerful scenery and brilliant skies. Maybe it’s just being surrounded by amazing people. Maybe there is a power here that the Government can’t measure, mining companies can sample and no one really wants to comprehend.

Wangkatjungka was the first place that I ever experienced the dance that is common only in the Western Desert and surrounding communities, and here is it is the most perfected I have seen it anywhere. If doing it the fastest counts as the best, then in Wangkatjungka, it is in a league of its own. No one has a name for it or even really calls it anything, when I’ve questioned the girls about it, they only giggle and laugh at me. If I ask elders where it comes from, I get only vague answers like, “That’s how we do it here” or “Yes, it’s that way always.” Even old Leon van Erp who has been out here for over 40 years cannot tell me where it originated, who started it, or when it began. Then only way to describe this particular dance that the girls do is; imagine a belly dancer shaking their hips, then press fast forward on the remote and watch them fly like chipmunks on coke. Their hips move so fast it breaks the sound barrier. You only see a blur of movements. The girls can keep their lower portion locked into this radical gyration for minutes at a time and for hours in short bursts. All the while their arms do this sort of flick-your-hair-back motion, or sometimes they just sit their hands on each knee, which allows them to get their backs into this crazy movement. Of all the songs played, nothing invokes this action more universally than Wipeout. Every band has a version of it in their arsenal, and every band plays it as their last song. It’s just so incredible to see.

Us Mob/ Ashley Oobagooma was a surprise act. The guy had played for us last night as well, and his stuff was really good. It was Olive that introduced him to us, and when we asked him if he wanted to play he was pretty casual about it. I was on stage was thinking, “Oh yeh, he might have a couple of songs in him, it would break up the night a bit.” Then he gets up and out pops this incredible, seasoned performer. When I asked Olive “Who is this guy?” She replied, “Oh, he’s the black Kenny Rogers.” I must admit with his big head of white hair and his big white beard he looked the spitting image. When I spoke to him later he tells me he had studied at the School of Music in Adelaide as a kid. He was a Mowanjum man and lives on the community out of Derby. Apparently he has a few albums somewhere so you can look him up. Its not a name you likey to get wrong. Otherwise wait a month or two and check our soundcloud account it should be there. My personal favourite is ‘Don’t Muck Me Round’ a clever blues riff that sucks you in. Ive been singing it ever since.

Walkabout Boys are pretty famous up this way now, so getting to see them for free was cool. They are real old hats, had the look going on, and knew how to talk to the crowd between songs. Ripped it up with obvious professionalism, real veterans of the stage. It was just awesome.

But Jamieson took the cake for the night. Jamieson’s band Springside Reggae will be the next group we publish, they are smoking hot. Jamieson sings songs in Wangkatjungka and his younger cousin/brother does harmonies over him like sweet honey on a jam scone. Hearing his songs again was like hearing old radio classics you haven heard for ages. We knew all the chorus’ verbatim from last year, and you can’t help sing his catchy melodies even though you can’t understand or pronounce a word of it. He writes great hook-lines, and is a great performer. His stuff is radio quality for sure.

Just before the end of the night, a big wind kicked in. Willy-willies danced across the basketball court and the smell of rain had us craning our neck skyward. Distant lines of lightening showed black billows of cloud or smoke, but it was too far away to see clearly. A full moon lit up the clouds passing over-head and the sky made kaleidoscope-shape shadows on the ground around us. One old woman told me that all this dancing and activity has brought in all the old spirits. “That is how we used to bring them in, in the old days, with ceremonies. Sometimes it took many days. But now they are here to see the Desert Feet Tour.” “Will we be safe?” I asked her. “Yes, you’ll be safe now.” she said.

 

Day 24
Monday 29th of October

Leaving Wangkatjungka was getting harder every minute. When I woke up, Matty West from Kiwirrkurra was out the front. “Kumojay!” he called out from his drivers seat. When I asked him how he got here, he tapped the door of the blue Ford Falcon under his arm. How the hell he had driven that motorcar across the Central Desert, I’ll never know. He informed me with the most casual manner that he drove from Balgo to Halls Creek, and then down to Wangkatjungka. It turns out his niece, Gemma West, Bobby West’s Daughter, is here all the way from Kiwirrkurra too. “She married a Wangkatjungka man.“ He tells me. “Bloody hell!” I exclaimed, “You Central Desert mob sure get around, “Yeh, nearly as much as you Desert Feet mob!” we both laughed. Unfortunately, the Kiwirrkurra Band and Bobby West didn’t make it to the football carnival. We had heard they might, and were looking forward to it, but Matty informed me that they had Sorry Business in Kintore.

Three times we hopped into the truck to drive off, and each time we got stopped. DJ asked me to play in the Legends game, “It’s for old people,” he offered innocently. “Gee thanks DJ! No offence taken” I declared humorously. I was actually pretty tempted to play, I even had my boots, but it was over 40 degrees here today and even a few of the young guys had refused to play in the heat yesterday it was so hot. Also, we were now a day behind schedule. We started the truck agaon and old man Finnegan, the elder for Yiyili, caught us. He made us promise to visit his community next time too. He had some really kind words for us about for staying the extra day, which was pretty rewarding. This time we got going and were nearly out of town, when Gemma caught up to us in a cloud of dust, waving me down out of a black Commodore with no windows. She had the warmest hug for me and wouldn’t let me leave ‘til she got copies of the Kiwirrkurra Band live at the sports carnival in July. It just so happened that I had a handful of them in the Landie, and you’d think I’d flown her home for the weekend she was so happy. “Make me think of home” she reminisced.

As we drove up the old dirt road to Ngumpan, I got so sentimental I almost told Em to turn the truck around. I was really tempted to watch the grand final, and also some Lawyers had come in from the Human Rights Foundation, doing workshops with kids about human rights, using football as and example. I would have like to have seen that too. But the show must go on. I was partly consoled by the knowledge that a little bit of Wangkatjungka was with us, Olive Knight would accompany us on the rest of the tour, which was pretty exciting stuff for all of us, particularly Ewan and Nixy who had her in the car with them.

It was afternoon before we got to Fitzroy Crossing and dark before we were on the way to Nookanbah. Up ahead, the land burned in the night like a never-ending red sunset, the ember coal horizon poured a billowing black smog into the sky. Framed against the night, it looked like an hourglass with its sands mysteriously falling upward, while behind us in stark contrast, an empty black sky twinkled with Kimberley clarity until a full moon exploded onto the scene like a burning basketball from hell, a disk of red-yellow fire. As it rose into the black pond sky with the brightness of a half lit sun, it turned out the stars behind with its brilliance, till the illuminated pale blue/black ether resembled an ocean in the heavens. We had to stop the truck to watch. Gazing on that moon made my neck sore, I could not look away.

 

Day 25
Tuesday 30th of October
Nookanbah

We arrived in the night, but Nookanbah’s little community seemed to have grown exponentially. One might have thought they had arrived in a rural town rather than a remote community. The workers dongers, affectionately called the Nookanbah Motel, was indeed just that. Satellite TV, en-suite, double beds, linen, towels provided, and wireless Internet! It was luxury. It had been expanded tenfold since our last occupation in 2009. Back then it had been nothing but two rows of dongers under a tin roof. Pindan had won the tender for FaHCSIA housing constructions and have two cooks and a leading man out here full time for the 20 or 30-odd builders that worked so exhaustibly, we hardly got to see any of them.

In the morning, we dropped Olive at her family’s house. There was a Sorry Camp in town too for the funeral coming up next weekend. An old man, Jungala, they called him. I had never met him but Olive said he was a senior lawman and had lived to a ripe old age. So it was “Big Sorry Business……. long time that one.” She said. After we had dropped Olive off, we were pulled up across the road talking to a guy we knew, when we heard it; the wailing. We all just froze. It hits you down deep, like a harmonic gong in the heart. At first I didn’t understand what I was hearing, then it dawned on me, it was a mourning, a crying out. I had this feeling that I shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be hearing it, like seeing an accident, the force that sound carries immobilises you. I think we all felt the same, because no one seemed to move or talk for what seemed like an age. Maybe we were all scared they might hear us and we would interrupt their private outlet. Then Ewan started the car and drove on, he said he had heard the old people will lament if its been a long time since they’ve seen each other too, so it might have even been that, maybe it was a mix of both. Maybe I’ll never know. All I know was it was the most profoundly moving human sound I have ever heard. A sorrowful wailing, drawn up from the bottom of the diaphragm like an opera singer, but so heavy you could feel it, like a wet woollen blanket. At times it seemed to break into a sort of song, I’m not sure if it was words or sounds, but they repeated in loops, like a chant. Later, I wanted to ask Olive about it, but I could never get up the courage, just in case it was something I shouldn’t have heard.

We had work to do, so we set off to find the Rock Eagle Band we had done some recording with them last year. Most of the people in Nookanbah works on the station, so the place was mostly deserted. Plus no one does much in the heat of the day here, and the heat here at the moment is a force of nature. I heard it was 43 in Fitzroy yesterday, but I reckon it was well past that here today. We pulled up next to a late model Troopie. A boy sat at the wheel listening to the stereo. He looked through the passenger side window at us without any recognition, but when we told him we were the Desert Feet mob going to do a concert tonight, he smiled. “We’re looking for the Rock Eagle boys,” Ewan shouted over the music. The kid pointed straight ahead, his finger poked out where a windscreen should be. From the side angle it looked like his hand had just passed through the glass. I saw Emily do a double take, then she looked at me and we had a little giggle like a pair of teenagers. He sent us to a house up the road; there was a trampoline on the roof, but no one home.

We found some kids that had just come out of school, three girls, Nana, Sharlia and Clani, so cute butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. They lead us to the guys who greeted us warmly and agreed to meet us at the basketball court tonight. Unfortunately, it seems Broken Hero is not here at the moment. So we did the only thing left to do, and went for a swim in the Fitzroy River, at the kids instance of course. Or maybe we asked them to take us down, I can’t quite remember.

Nookanbah has a colourful history, and was made fairly famous by its protests in the 80s. But it goes back long before then. Something like 20 million acres of pastoral lease was opened for balloting in 1881. After the famous expedition of Forrest to survey the area named the Kimberleys after the British Secretary of State for Colonies. It was the Emanuel’s in competition with the Durack’s who would take up the leases that would come to be known as Gogo and Nookanbah. Alexander Forrest set out in 1875 in what was to become one of the most significant expeditions for WA. His report triggered the very short gold rush at Halls Creek, named after the character of the same name, and the very famous overlander droving extravaganza that took 3 and half years, over 5600km, and settled the station at Fossil Downs, which to this day is still the most impressive overland droving feat in the history of cattle anywhere in the world. However Nookanbah started its life as a sheep station.

Noonkanbah, was pretty much violently taken from Aboriginal people over a fifty year period, 1880s to 1930s. Survivors of the invasion became a cheap labour force for the pastoralists. Their population was also increased by the migration north by the desert people. When the low wage era came to an end in the late 1960s, through reform of industrial law, the working relationship between pastoralists and local Indigenous people broke down. The people of Noonkanbah station walked off in August 1971, setting up a fringe camp outside the town of Fitzroy Crossing. Some turned to alcohol in despair, while some organised themselves politically as the Kadjina group, named after one of their spiritual ancestors.

Kadjina asked the State and Federal governments to purchase one of the pastoral leases covering their homelands, so that they could return from their Fitzroy Crossing exile. The Yungngora Association was making the same request. They cooperated in a mustering contract on Blina station, north of Noonkanbah, while Noonkanbah’s owners negotiated a sale with the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission in 1976. The Yungngora and the Kadjina agreed to share Noonkanbah, and to reject a non-Aboriginal manager offered to them by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Nor did the new owners of Noonkanbah want the Education Department to run their school. To this day, the school is independent, and our good friend Luke has been there the last six of those years! His two children have been born there and he is part of the community. It’s a great success story.

However, there were still many trials ahead. The Yungngora Association discovered that the land they had bought was subject to 497 mining leases and an oil exploration permit. The Broome Magistrate who heard their protest ruled that the Mining Act must be upheld: Noonkanbah people’s lack of authority over its land was a slap in the face, they realised the fight had only just begun, and the exploratory activities of the Amax Corporation and of CRA, particularly their intentions to drill near the sacred site Umpampurru, (or Pea Hill) upset them greatly. Luckily, the media began to take an interest. The Noonkanbah mob petitioned the Western Australian Parliament against this incursion in May 1979. The newly formed Kimberley Land Council assisted the owners’ publicity campaign.

The Nookanbah people obtained a temporary court injunction against drilling, and they soon negotiated privately with CRA an exploration protocol. But in February 1980, the re-elected pro-mining Premier, Sir Charles Court, renewed his government’s campaign to let the miners drill wherever they were entitled by non-Aboriginal law. As one of his Ministers said, “This is an oil-hungry world.” The drilling rig arrived under police escort in March 1980. The contest was now the focus of national publicity, and Court’s stance was beginning to embarrass at least some members of the Fraser government. A further confrontation between traditional owners, and drilling contractors and Police, on April 2nd 1980 resulted in the withdrawal of the unwanted visitors.

Premier Court had the audacity to describe the eviction of Amax as an ‘insurrection against legitimate authority’. He could of been excused as being ignorant until he upgraded his audacity to sheer stupidity by accusing the Noonkanbah community, “of lack of respect for the rights and needs of other Western Australians.” (Go figure that one??!!) Of course, the Premier did what he wanted anyway. Yelled out “Compulsory Acquisition”, employed non-union labour, (Even Union boss’s were disgusted with the action) A fifty truck convoy of drillers and set out for Noonkanbah in August 1980, escorted by 25 police. (Starting to sound like a familiar story yet?) They were met by a blockade of protesters, media, local Indigenous people, including Rob Riley, Jim Morison (who i have the pleasure of working with on the BTHC) John Watson (who appears on the pages below) and of course Dicky Cox. Police arrested many (Dicky and John among them) and the power of the Crown reared its ugly head, all to no avail, the hole turned out to be dry.

Today, 20 years later, Nookanbah is still here, operating successfully as a cattle station, outpost, community, and cultural centre. It has its own heroes and champions, history and stories of the drovers and boundary riders. There is the broken down original, stone homestead and the huge big woolshed, that served as the first school and was built over a hundred years ago. Today the Yungngora Association have won a Native Title Determination over the land, but Native Title is just Native Title. It does not recognise prior sovereignty. Exclusive possession can only exists over unallocated or vacant Crown land. (God knows theres not much of that left) The government can still use Compulsory Acquisition, and the mining companies will never leave it alone, as the technologies develop, they revisit old sites and drill deeper and further and for a wider range of minerals, there is even ‘Fracking’ going on out this way as we speak, but that is another story. In the mean time Nookanbah is a working station and the people here are busy, and so our concert, though well attended, was finished by 9pm, an early night for us. Even this late at night though, the heat still has its fangs in you. The air hung on our skin with a veritable weight, oppressive, like working in a kiln, but up above not a cloud touched the sky above, which was a black pool in which the moon, a glowing pearl in its depth, illuminated the landscape. That moon has followed us through the valley, and offered us a thousand different paintings on as many different canvasses. Each one more beautiful than the next, and it seems never a night, nor a moment can be wasted in the north, each second is a show, a silent movie on the screen of infinity. The splendour holds you in its grasp, mesmerizes you, like beauty on a catwalk. Only at this show, the lady is the Valley and the cat walk is the Kimberly’s, it has no end, will never grow old and needs no audience. It just goes on and on. Speaking of going on and on, on a less poetic note; is this luck that has kept the rain at bay. Tonight, the Kimberley’s had let us off again but with one more concert to go, I am hesitant to thank it too much yet. For that is another show that is worth seeing, only thing with that show is that, once it starts, it doesn’t finish for four months.

 

Day 26
Wednesday 31st of October
Nookanbah workshops

Today, the heat reached a stifling temperature, outside the room it hits you like the sparks off an angle grinder, and that was at 8am. I watched the builders labour under its weight from the veranda for a while, and noticed some of them wear Camelpaks now. I didn’t envy their task, but the money is good. One of them told Nixy he would make over $50,000 for his 6 week stint. It’s a stark contrast to the men and women that built the old original homestead next to our our dongers. They would have worked for little to nothing, ate what they killed that day along with some stores of flour, salt and sugar. Tea would have been a luxury, and there was no such thing as air conditioning. No power, no running water, no ablutions. By lunchtime it was so hot i would have been willing to make sacrifice’s to the God of air conditioning if asked, I reckon it was 50 degrees, no worries.

We set up for the workshop under the school’s covered basketball court. It was new the first year we came here, a huge complex. One of the teachers ran a sports clinic after school, and we waited till that finished before we started, it worked out well because the kids were well and truly tuckered out by the time we got to them. Olive sprinkeled her magical inspiration dust over the kids who seem in awe of her everywhere we go. It was actually hard to even move, the air clung to you like a wet hessian sack, it was impossible to be in the sun, its bite was a back handed slap. And by the end of the workshop we were all dehydrated and exhausted. They say when the rain comes it gets hotter again. Even some of the locals told me today’s heat was unprecedented. There was nothing for it but to retire to our rooms and thank God for AC.

 

Day 27
Thursday 1st November
Jarlmadangah

In the morning the heat wave continued. I’m sure it is the build up and we can expect a big rain any day now. Outside, I readied the truck for the drive through the Valley. I had a few running repairs to do, and in the sun the heat was like a low tin roof. So hot it made you stoop under it. I discovered that the minor hydraulic reservoir pump had sheared itself off the hosing, which meant I couldn’t check the oil, steering fluid or water. The rest of the journey through the Valley would be on a whim and a prayer now, I would not see a hydraulics fitting store until Broome. In an emergency, I may be able to pump oil up the dipstick, I’ve heard of that before. But the old Rhino has never let me down yet. For a 20-year-old motor, it burns no oil and has hardly any leaks. We are one stop away from completion, and the only way out of here is back out the way we came, or through the Valley and out through Jarlmadangah anyway, so the show must go on, as they say.

There are actually three roads out of Nookanbah, one goes south over the Fitzroy River and deeper into the Valley, that road is usually the first to be shut off after the rains. Another heads north along the old Nookanbah Road back to the bitumen, and the other goes northwest, following the main artery of the Fitzroy River, and across some of its lesser tributaries, Mt Hardman Creek and Mt Wynne Creek, onto the vast and long flats of Camballin Station. There was an irrigation project located here which received little attention or publication, unlike its big brother the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. It was however, the first large scale rice growing crop in Western Australia, and was also the second largest in all of Australia, the other being on the Murrumbidgee in New South Wales. Initiated in the early 1950’s, it was hoped Camballin would develop into a highly productive irrigation area, but it was finally abandoned in 1983. The Tradition Owners speak of catching fish on the fields when it functioned. At one point, it was operating as much as 23,000 hectares of cropping, which is not hard to comprehend when you cross it.

Turn of the century relics and old machinery litter the landscape like scenery for a black and white photo, caught in still frame moments forever, forming backgrounds you might expect in an old western movie. A landscape frozen in time. Forgotten stonewalls, barrages and dykes of a deserted water system spot the countryside. Lonely, skinny cattle, eyed our passing vehicle with hungry scepticism. Their bones, dressed in tight cow skin, point in a hundred directions at once like hands pressing through a tent.

In spite of the high production potential of the area, and heavy investment by the Government and private companies, the cropping venture was a failure. Plagued by birds, insects and heavy weed infestation, they soon found the remoteness of the area, lack of experience and poor planning to much. The major problem however was an inability to maintain constant water supply from the Fitzroy River in the Dry, and then conversely, its massive and frequent floods. Even a last ditch effort to build a 17-kilometre levee did not withstand the floods of 1983, which effectively stopped the $20 million grain sorghum operation, the biggest ever planned for the area. Poor Camballin!

Later some of the project bought up part of Liveringa Station, which is described as active flood plain. Its basin is an extensive plain of the rich and dark cracking clays. Liveringa Station is mentioned extensively in Jandamarra and if you, like me, have an insatiable desire for Indigenous/Australian history, or want to know more about this area, colonisation, human rights and advocacy and you haven’t read Jandamarra, you must, must, must get hold of the Howard Pederson version. It has the most comprehensive abridged overview of the settlement of the Kimberley I have ever read in its first Chapter. It is blatantly honest and does not make excuses for the facts. It is on par with Hughes’ ‘The Fatal Shores’ and is to Australian History what Steven Hawkin’s ‘A Short History Of Time’ is to space. It should be part of our national curriculum, and I would not consider anyone truly Australian unless they have read it. But that’s only my opinion and that’s worth what you just paid for it. ‘Kimberley History’ by Cathie Clement, Jeffery Gresham and Hamish Mcglashan is widely sourced and well researched too, it’s a bit dry and the language needs excusing, but it’s got the facts right from a timeline view. I recommend them both. If you’re a history buff you won’t be able to put Jandamarra down.

Storing water is the main prerequisite for successful irrigation. This water was supplied from two storage structures installed by the State Government. The first of which is the steel barrage across the Fitzroy River, which is the structure John Watson worked on in the late 50s as a labourer. It used to collapse automatically under flood conditions, and then as the river flow lessens the barrage was raised to redirect water into a 17-mile dam on the Uralla Creek. The 17-Mile dam, completed in 1957, was shallow and much of the water was lost through evaporation. It was estimated that the losses were about 50%!! Driving through here today, it is believable; the heat on these fields seems unearthly.

 

Day 28
Friday 2nd November
Final Concert

Jarlmadangah Burru is a small community of about 100 people. It was created as a result of three elders – John Watson, Harry Watson and Annie Milgin. Unlike many communities, it has no connection with Christian missions or Government Reserves and as a result, the people are very clear about what they want for their community, and how they should achieve it. Jarlmadangah has very strong cultural connections through its elders, but at the same time participates in economic activities. It manages the station lease, runs camel tours and adventure tours, and is currently building eco tent accommodation not far from the community.

The story below is recounted by Emily as i was out of the room when it happened, however it answered my question above about the Wailing Song we heard at Nookanbah and it use;
In the morning, John Watson came over to where we were staying to greet us. He gently shook everyone’s hand and welcomed us all with a friendly smile. He walked into the kitchen where Olive was sitting. They hadn’t seen each other for a long time, but their hello was not a big hug and kiss, as you might expect when we greet our own loved ones after not seeing them for a long while. They shook hands loosely and mumbled “hello,” but turned their faces away from each other as if eye contact was forbidden, or they were too shy to look at the other. Then they both put their hands to their faces and wept audibly. The wailing song froze us all and everyone the kitchen went silent, still unaccustomed to this type of greeting. After a short period, maybe 30 seconds, they stopped, and everything just carried on as if it had never happened.
This was such a beautiful story, I insisted Emily write it. It impressed me with a sense of wonder and appreciation for an intricacy of a culture slipping from our world forever. It seemed the most beautiful form of greeting i have ever heard of, like a true opening up of one’s self and soul.

As we set up for the final concert, it seemed imminent that we would get a downpour. Lightening danced across the eastern horizon and a hot wind blew out of the desert. Nabiru even said it looks like rain, and he’s been out here two years now. He even admitted it was one of the hottest days he can remember, and that’s usually a sign it’s going to break. But miraculously we avoided even a single drop. I was in a hurry to get the stage put away, and with only the three of us performing and a very quick few songs from Joseph, we were packed up and driving the truck back to camp by 10pm. John had driven back from Looma to see the concert, and at 7pm Olive suggested we (the Orphans) should play first so he could go to bed. I got really nervous. It was weird. The whole concert was no more than 30 people, but I guess I just did not want to stuff up his song in front of him.

 

Day 29
Saturday 3rd November
Say ‘Galya!’ not ‘Goodbye’

Somehow, the Desert Feet Tour of 2012 has come to a successful conclusion without getting a drop of water on it. Olive called back to Wangkatjungka and the lightening we had seen last night had hit them bad. It had been a big storm and later we would discover it had dumped a lot of water in Fitzroy Crossing, and torn down a heap of trees. We had been asked to go fishing and Olive didn’t want to go home with out some catfish. Later back in Fitzroy, I would hear that the day reached 43 degrees. Carlo got sunstroke and ended up in the car all day drinking water to fight a headache. None of us caught a thing, except for Olive and Janice who caught a catfish each, “It’s too hot, even for the fish.” Olive reckoned. I had a pick at Olive’s catfish, straight off the coals, the best way on earth to eat them. I giggled when Olive produced her own little saltshaker out of her handbag, just for such occasions. Although I didn’t get a fish I filled up on freshwater mussels that the kids caught for bait, and a heap of cherabin that Janice had caught in the throw net. The spot was particularly beautiful, peaceful, silent and timeless.

Before we left Jarlmadangah, we caught up with John at the Cultural Store. We all scraped together what cash we had and spent it. John did a couple of songs for us in language on sticks and boomerangs, and then told us the stories behind them. Beautiful pieces that left us all silently gaping with awe, I recorded them on camera so we could sample some of it into the song and maybe do up a bit of a video clip of him too. One song he translated for us he had been taught by men from the desert. “The old men that taught me that song,” he recounted, “They wore no clothes, they just had a bit of possum hair rope tied around their parts.” He told us.

John Watson is a pretty special guy, you don’t have to look far to realise that. Aside from the fact he is just gorgeous, with his huge big white bushy eyebrows and Father Christmas beard, he is also something of a scholar in his own way. He was forbidden from attending school and denied the right to learn to read or write, yet he speaks 13 different languages fluently, including Malay and English. He, like his forefathers had only oral tradition to rely on for the dissemination of law, song and dreaming, and he has an incredible repertoire of songs in several different languages. Hearing them, even a bit of one, has an instant effect on you. You can’t listen to those songs without a sense of wonder, maybe its the primal earthy sounds that accompanies them, maybe its the unique mode that traditional songs are pitched in, or maybe it’s the unmeasurability of them, the unknown quality, the sheer possibility that they have been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years. Imbued with some sort of sentimental inheritance running through the ambiance of their resonance. They are more than songs, they are snap shots history stored in little chunks of significant vibrations that permeate to the heart. More like spells, their wonder is a potion, drank from the ether. We could not understand the language yet its effect was profound. As soon as John commenced that pentatonic wailing noise, banged the ironwood sticks together, it transported us into a timeless dimension, to a day long gone, when song and law and dance was all there was that held the known universe together.

When I went to say goodbye, John stopped me with his big hand on my chest, “Don’t say goodbye, I don’t like that word, it means maybe I’ll never see you again. Say it like my people say it, say ‘Galya’ that’s my language way.”

 

Day 30
Sunday 4th November
Back to Fitzroy Crossing

Fitzroy Crossing and the lands and valleys around it are the home for a number of language groups. When Fitzroy Crossing was established the main group was the Bunuba People, about whom much is recorded because of their successful and long term resistance in the Milawundi, otherwise known as King Leopold Ranges (named by Forrester after the king of Belgium for some reason?!) Other traditional owners of the area are the Njikena, Konejani and Waladjari peoples. This place is a great hub of law and language, a national treasure of valuable culture, a historian’s smorgasbord of information, a linguists Christmas feast of variety, and the anthropologist Last Meal (so to speak). In short, Fitzroy is a veritable world of colourful narration. There are stories here that make Ned Kelly’s life seem a triviality. Most of them will never be heard.

We arrived in Fitzroy about midday and checked into the Lodge. Our original plan had been to go back out to Wangkatjungka with Olive to sign up Springside Reggae Band and see some of the country, but Olive was worried about some issues that had risen after the football carnival, and wanted to head home. Our parting was not without a fair measure of sadness, relieved only by the promise of contact and a near reunion. Still, people like Olive cross your path once a lifetime, so it is not without regret that I say goodbye, or ‘Galya’ anyway.

Our back up plan was to go visit Jungula at Tunnel Creek, but when I called him, his nephew had died and he was on Sorry Business, so we decided to just book in at the Lodge and rest. I don’t know about the others, but the tour has mostly evaporated any adventurousness I might have left. A good sleep was all I wanted, and the prospect of 2800 kilometres of road between home and us was enough to exhaust any ideas I might have left.

 

Day 31
Monday 5th November
Broome

The trip from Fitzroy to Broome was hot and the old truck was running very hot. We tried turning off the AC, but the cab was an oven even with it on full. So we had to just keep slowing down. By the time we reached Broome, we just drove straight into the ocean and dived in. Learning the lesson, we decided to pull an all night hike across the Roebuck Plains on the way home. Those plains are around the most boring, hot and long roads I have encountered in Australia, and the last stretch is notorious for wandering cattle. A local informed me the fences are down past the 80-Mile, and stock accidents have been common. Driving at night is pretty safe for us, as the Rhino doesn’t go any faster than 80 kph anyway. I have just about proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you don’t use high beams and you don’t go over 80 you can avoid any cattle collisions. It’s only when they are blinded by high beams that they don’t move. Doing that leg at night is now possible with the 24-hour roadhouse in South Hedland. It used to be that we would have to wait at Sandfire or Port Hedland for fuel. so we waited for the afternoon to cool, then left around 4:30pm for the hard leg southwest to Port Hedland.

 

Day 32
Tuesday 6th November
Home

At midnight, I took the wheel at Hedland, with an esky full of red bulls and iced coffee. Emily had broken the back of trip with her eight-hour stint. The air became noticeably cooler, and prevailing winds would not slow us down now. The first 600 kilometres from Broome is the hardest, as you are not losing much longitude. Just out of Hedland, the road hits a T-junction and the road south offers up Newman and Meekatharra. I swung our bow due south into a black, starry, cool night, and the dark straight road opened up before me to infinity. Like a picture in my windscreen, the Southern Cross sat perfectly across the horizon at the end of that black road. A brilliant diamond broach, lying on its back, as if a crucifix had fallen off the mantelpiece above. Its two pointing stars above winked at me with certainty, southward bound at last.

At 4:19am I was pretty fried, lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and a month of work caught me. I couldn’t figure out which town or mine the bright light on my left was, I was wondering if I was hallucinating, till I realised it was the sunrise! By quarter to five, I had full view of the beautiful Munjina Ranges that surround Auski. The road between Port Hedland and Newman would be one of my favourite in the country. So it was a fine welcome bringing it home with that view and the company of the sun which gave me bit of a lift. Then finally, the naked hills of Whaleback appeared along my western horizon. A whole range of hills excavated by the iron ore mine next to it, flanks of brown dirt in unnaturally perfect piles, like a massive ridge of poured black salt. Juxtaposed amongst the natural greens of the surrounding ranges; it is hard to comprehend that man can move that much soil and the mine looks like a skinned ridge in contrast to the outlying hills.

I pulled the truck into Newman at exactly 7am. Just in time to roll straight into the hydraulic hose shop, pick up the fitting I needed and head to the garage, I was finally able to fill up the oil, look under the cab and top up, but everything was fine anyway and I gave that old girl a big metaphoric hug.

When I started this journey five years ago, I had no idea of what I would find. Over that time, I decided to go back to University to study Human Rights and Indigenous History. Mostly because I realised quickly that I didn’t know anything about the issues or the people I was suddenly immersed in. The gist of it is, that what I really found out was how little I knew. At Uni I have learnt to reference and research information, and so I have tried where possible to give you the background on places and individuals with as much investigation as possible. However, this is not an essay, it is my journal/blog, and therefore, I reserve the right for artistic licence.

What I’m most interested in is to express the beauty of the land, and subsequently those that are so completely, utterly, and inexorably part of that landscape. The single greatest realisation for me over this time is that attachment, and the depth of it. I would almost go as far as to say that one cannot live without the other, and I feel this, in essence, for both the people and the land. I don’t want to take sides in an already ambiguous and destructive argument. I do not support mining nor do I reject it, I’m not religious but I’m not agnostic, I wouldn’t want to blame the Government just hold it accountable. To be realistic, don’t we need to accept that these institutions are here to stay? Blame is not a solution, it’s another problem. Can fault ever really be laid solely at the feet of any one person or thing? Religions, Governments, Industries, and us as individuals, aren’t we all equally responsible for the state of affairs?

I wear one hat and one hat only; Indigenous People’s Rights. However, when in the desert, one must be resourceful or die, a hat often must serve multiple purposes. Sometimes it’s for shade, sometimes it is a vessel, sometime I need to drink from that hat, sometimes I have to take it off or loan it out, and other times I have to leave it in the truck and just endure the sun. That hat, like Matilda’s, has many corks that hang from it, and like Matilda’s corks, mine have a function too. They are the corks of cultural awareness, reconciliation, advocacy, diplomacy, negotiation, and trust. But this hat rests on the head of relationships. Without which, the rest is conjure and pomp. Those relationships are my fortune and the church, government, mining companies, or anyone or anything, can never take them away, because they are built in the red dirt and they are free. Industry, democracy, and capitalism have a problem with things that are free because they cannot control them.

When employed as a sales agent, I had to understand contract law. What I quickly learnt was that a good transaction, or contract, was one where all parties where happy (including the third party or agent). The other thing I learnt was that this is always possible! It just means taking the time to negotiate. The basis to negotiations is always the same, relations. Good and proper, respectful and polite. What I see in the agreements between Traditional Owners and non-Indigenous residents of Australia is that one side is not as happy as the other. One side seems to continually suffer. So therefore, it stands to reason that the cause of this can only be ineffective and underdeveloped relations!? Doesn’t it?

Let me just close this Tour, this year, and this blog by saying this. I am no journalist or correspondent. I’m definitely not an academic and I’m certainly no scholar. The words above are only “My” truth, yours can be entirely different, or have a different meaning. But that does not mean we can’t be friends. They say, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” But I say, “Shoot me all you want, just don’t forget what we did” You inherit your father’s business and money, why shouldn’t you inherit his mistakes?” I didn’t agree with my mother all the time, but that doesn’t mean I had to dislike her. No, quite the contrary! Isn’t variety the spice of life? Like a TV with lots of channels, if you don’t like the show, do you throw out the TV? After all, what is truth but a view, a moon on our horizon. And like the moon when it appears on the horizon, it looks huge. It would be ridiculous to think that the moon’s size can change, yet we say, “Oh! The moon looks bigger,” and that’s the truth at that time. It’s an optical illusion. Call me cynical, but I no longer seek truth or justice, those are the shopping items on the shelf of disillusionment. I seek relationships. As a great man once said to me, “Life is about building long-lasting and meaningful relationships.”

As you might have guessed now, I am a careful observer of irony; Irony is more beautiful than a sunset, or porpoises making love in a clear blue ocean. Once I realised it underlies all principles, I was free to see my own mistakes. I came here to teach, but only learnt that I need to listen. As Shakespeare said, “The empty vessel rattles the loudest.” Let’s all just go and listen for a while, and maybe fill our vessel with a new substance. Come and sit in the dusty red sand, and share the silence of the First People of Australia, there is a song here that has been playing for thousands of years, and you will hear it too. Maybe you already have. I hope you have.

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