Monday, 12 October 2015

September Travel Log

Number of nights away from home: 15
Number of hotels: 5
Number of flights (including connector flights): 7  
Places visited: Cairns, Bamaga, the northern-most tip of Australia (!) Yungaburra, Melbourne, Broome
Number of Australian languages worked on/with: 6

Phew, September wore me out and I am still feeling it. The trip to far north Queensland was amazing though - so I am posting some photos. One is a view of a  river joining the Gulf of Carpentaria, taken from our light aircraft, and the other is from the tip of Cape York, looking out into the Torres Strait at two small islands just over the way. 

In Bamaga, I worked with a group of sisters from a family who had been part of the  forced relocation of the Mapoon community in 1963. They now live 200km north, up on the Cape, in a new community  called "New Mapoon". You can read an article I found about that sad story here. Cape  York was  fascinating in many ways. Still thinking about it all and hoping to write something soon, but that's all for now.

Monday, 31 August 2015

August travel log

Well, August was pretty quiet. I am mentally preparing myself for September-October though, it's going to be a bit full on.

Number of nights away from home: 4
Number of hotels: 1
Number of flights (including connector flights):  6 
Places visited: Geraldton
Number of Australian languages worked on/with: 2

I know the photos of airports and hotels get a bit boring and repetitive. Believe me, I really do know. Welcome to the travelling life.
Up next, between now and December: Cape York, Cairns, Yungaburra, Melbourne, Broome, Kununurra, Mt Gambier, Melbourne. Will I see you on the road somewhere? In an airport?
Here is a picture of a famous Geraldton leaning tree (because sometimes I do some sight-seeing).

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Things that happen on planes

I am exhausted after a long journey from Darwin to Geraldton, via Alice Springs and Perth…. straight through the  centre of this  massive country.

I don't know how close to my old stomping ground in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands the plane flew. Certainly it was red desert down there below us, for at least some of the flight. Anyway for some reason I suddenly remembered these three poems, written when I lived in the desert, 15 years ago.

Mail plane
- - -

Flying low over Blackstone Ranges
Plane full of strangers
But they're not even there
It's just me in the air
I could float here for ages.

- - -

In this dry desert land
Miles from any watery place
I once saw the ocean in your eyes
As your saltwater sprayed me
And I almost drowned in your tears

The real thing
(Ode to a windmill)
- - -
I saw it once
on a hill,
alone  and still -
though it gave life to many.
And my tears blessed its rusty song
and my head spun
from the stark beauty of it all.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

On phonetics & colonisation

Here is a something I wrote about how I sometimes feel about my job.  Of course I also feel like I love it, enjoy it, it's a privilege, blah blah blah but I need to hold onto this thought at all times, also.

I sat with my head inches from his
for what felt like hours
this proud young man
with tears in his eyes
watched my lips teeth tongue
he wanted me to teach him
the sounds of his language
a language silent for so long
taken away from its people
when their lands were invaded
he wanted me to teach him
the sounds. knowledge stolen from him
but somehow imparted to me
because of my education
because of my colour
he was so grateful
i was so sorry
the whole situation
felt so wrong

Monday, 10 August 2015


The bizarre intimacy of having a nurse spend hours carefully picking scabs off my face. Her face inches from mine. She would focus on my top lip, an earlobe: the burn had caused my earlobes to stick to my scalp, held there by scabby skin that slowly dried and came off, gently encouraged by the nurse.

It didn’t hurt, unless the nurse accidentally grasped a bit of not-yet-dead skin, holding on for dear life. Then the pain would make me jerk, which only made things worse.

But that didn’t happen very often. Those women were so professional. I felt totally enveloped and safe in their hands, literally.They created the perfectly calm, controlled environment I needed after the turmoil I’d been through - was, in fact, still going through. But I didn’t know that yet.

All I knew was the morphine-induced bubble they let me float in, not enough to kill the pain entirely but to take the edge off. Morphine, pain, the smell of singed hair and acute awareness of skin.

I remember asking one of them if she enjoyed picking scabs as a child, and we shared a knowing smile. She confessed to enjoying this task, coming back to my earlobe every day, to see if more skin was ready to let go.

I remember the day the nurse on duty got the last bit of scab holding my earlobe to my head. I felt the lobe flap back to its  natural position, tender with new skin, exposed to the air for the first time, cold.

I remember, all too vividly, the smell of paraffin, layered thickly on my face and ears to help the healing process. I remember the taste of it, melting and running off my top lip into my mouth.
I remember thinking about my hands, wrapped up in bandages like boxing gloves for so long I felt alienated from them: what was the skin doing? How many layers had I lost? Would it grow back with webbing between  the fingers? Apparently that was a risk.

Nobody could tell me if I’d be able to use my fingers again, but we were all optimistic (or pretending to be?) about what we’d see when the bandages eventually came off. I was given exercises to do twice a day and I did them every hour, for good measure. I had plenty of time, afterall.

My hands were hidden from me long  enough to forget what they looked like. “Like the back of my hand….” I would think to myself, trying to remember it.

I remember piercing pain  if I suddenly dropped my hands to my sides and the blood rushed to them: like  the new skin under those bandages was so sensitive, so thin, it could barely contain my blood.

I have a notebook. It sat beside my hospital bed, for other people to write things down. Lists of things I needed, important phone numbers. Then suddenly one page with my handwriting: large, chunky, barely legible... scrawled with the pen held between two bandaged hands. “Day 5. Had tantrum.”

Strangely, I don’t remember the bandages coming off, just a new kind of pain afterwards. Trying not to knock my hands, with their precious new skin, against anything, trying not to touch anything too hot, too cold, too rough or sharp. Aware of the high risk of infection while I waited for my new outer layer to toughen up. Slightly obsessive about  hand hygiene now I was out of the ward and in the big dangerous world again.

And a diary entry, in almost-back-to-normal handwriting: “”I have started this new journal  because 25 days ago, on June 1, our house exploded. My other journal is in there amongst the rubble somewhere.”

Monday, 3 August 2015

Because my house exploded #2

Carl Ecke
I said goodbye to you
from across an abyss
I stood in the doorway
on solid ground
and you crouched, crookedly
in your hole in the sub-floor
on bare earth, covered in dust and soot
you were cold and silent
silent is not how you were meant to be
not when you were with me
I hadn't known it would be goodbye
that the chasm
opened up when my house exploded
was to be your grave
I didn't realise you could no longer sing
ivory jammed with rubble
broken strings

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Field diary fragment: some time in June, 2015

Later, in Brisbane, an afternoon off before a one-day workshop at the State Library tomorrow.

I wandered along South Bank, the “cultural precinct” and visited the Gallery of Modern Art, Indigenous collection. Somehow more moving than my usual trips to gallery – why? Felt so humbled and sort of … connected…. Seeing names of languages, places and people I have known/worked with/been to. Gija-Warmun-Galpu-Gumatj-Amata-Pipalyatjarra-Palawa-Ngarrindjeri-Gunjinku…  Like a mantra of defiance, belonging, history.  Not to mention stunning weavings and paintings and string things..

What will happen to this art, so grounded in place, in Country, if the government succeeds in driving people off their land?  Where will it go, what will it look like, what stories will it tell?

Why is it all making me so sad this week?

Friday, 31 July 2015

July travel log

We've not really been keeping this blog up to date, you might have noticed. I am trying to find a way to write about my work in a way that doesn't identify the people I work with or tell stories that aren't necessarily mine to tell. More on that when I get my head around how to do it.

In the meantime, one thing that is fairly certain and non-controversial about my job is that I spend a lot of time travelling. Maybe a fun/interesting/useful thing to do is to start trying to log that. So here I go, see how this works and I'll try to do it each month.

July travel log:

Number of nights away from home: 17
Number of hotels: 4
Number of flights (including connector flights): 6
Places visited: Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart
Number of Australian languages worked on/with: 10

Future trips
This is a suggestion from fellow travellers and friends across the country who I might run into at an airport or in transit somewhere. Obviously I'm not going to advertise my movements too specifically but if you have trips planned and think we could cross paths, get in touch and maybe we can organise to be at the same place and the same time, somewhere…. :)

Late August - Geraldton via Perth

Mid September - Cape York & Cairns

Late October - Mt Gambier via Adelaide

November - Melbourne.

That looks pretty respectable really! So - shall we do  coffee at an airport somewhere? Let me know!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Because my house exploded #1

[Here's my first piece of writing about a thing that happened in 2007. I feel there's more to come, but here's this.]

Because my house exploded
I flew through the air
Burnt hands and face and feet
The smell of singed hair

I flew into the doorway
Front door slammed on my head
A child I heard screaming
Thinking we were dead

Because my neighbour held me
Cold water bathed my skin
Wet blankets embraced me
His arms I stayed within

Because my house exploded
I lost a lot of stuff
My piano, oldest,dearest friend,
Losing it was rough

My confidence, I think, not gone,
But fairly bruised and battered
Everything I thought was safe
Was burned or lost or shattered

Home is where the heart is
It holds us, safe and warm
But when my house exploded
My whole world was torn

That was 8 years ago now
Wounds are healed and old
But still the stories surface
Wanting to be told

Because my house exploded
And that won't go away
And so I must remember
What I went through that day