Emma and Pete's blog about things. Many things. Things with few parameters. We are two socialists recently moved to Darwin who travel to remote Aboriginal communities for work and play. We like pie. Making pies on Aboriginal communities can be a challenge given a) the decided lack of fresh produce in many stores and b) the hugely inflated prices in many communities. Among other things, we ponder this.
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.
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).
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.
Pamela - - -
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.
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
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.”
Carl Ecke I said goodbye to you from across an abyss literally 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
in Brisbane, an afternoon off before a one-day workshop at the State Library
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..
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?
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
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!