Below is an email that Croakey recently received from John Greatorex, who is living at Mäpuru in north-east Arnhem Land. Previously he worked as a teacher at Galiwin’ku on Elcho island off the coast of Arnhem Land for many years, before moving to Darwin to teach Yolngu studies.
John Greatorex writes:
The fires that were slowing burning along the edge of the flood plains to the east of Mäpuru, dissipated over the course of the week, but then more small fires were lit to promote regrowth as several extended families visited various hunting locations.
As these small fires slowly burnt their way towards Mäpuru, a small group of young men followed their ŋapipi (mothers’ brother) and headed off taking advantage of the smoke and fire to hunt. An hour of so later they were successful in shooting a buffalo, and were carrying large sections of the carcass on hefty poles.
Hunting is a major and daily activity here at Mäpuru. Everyday family groups go in various directions, sometimes to the mangroves, other times to freshwater billabongs, flood plains or jungles. On the weekend 15 or so young women with their junior siblings strode off to a special patch of mangroves for latjin (mangrove worms), a walk of about 8km both ways. Well after dusk, we could hear their singing in the distance as they walked home.
What strikes me every day at Mäpuru is the absolute vitality and happiness of the young. Something I missed when I recently visited Galiwin’ku last week, a government designated ‘growth town’.
There is a caring and cohesion here of a level that may not be visible to outsiders, that is not present in the large centralised towns nearby.
Last night my dear mum (the one in Melbourne), explained how the local shire runs ‘home-help’ programs for the elderly. For some of her elderly friends the shire organises washing, cleaning, and things like drivers for shopping trips. I am sure many families around Australia take wonderful care of their ageing mums, dads and grandparents, but I think this is more the exception than the rule.
I still have vivid memories of accompanying mum while she did her bit, delivering Meals-on-Wheels for the elderly. We would, more often than not be told “I haven’t seen anyone since you came last week, would you please stay and have a cuppa?” And now I can see first hand when I visit mum in her retirement village, and we call on residents in the nursing home across the road, who often don’t see close family members, sons and daughters, grand children for months at a time.
On Friday, relatives from Mirrŋatja sent a crate of serratoga and barramundi to an ill relative, there were so many that they had to be shared between many families, certainly more than one ill person could eat. Then last night while visiting this home, a relative from a nearby house dropped off a bowl of hot and delicious buffalo and vegetable stew. Not because the sick man’s household was short of food, but to show concern and compassion.
Yes, we are pleased to be at Mäpuru, helping establish a small independent school, and in doing so making it easier for people to stay on their estates. The community also now has fax for public access and a mail bag that comes straight to Mäpuru.
Like the fire that brings on new growth, residents are feeling good about securing a productive future for their children. By remaining on their ancestral estates Mäpuru residents are better able to maintain a way of life and order, consistent with the rom passed down from their ancestors. A place where there is a hope, peace and harmony.
FOOT NOTE: In late 2007 the Australian and NT governments signed an MOU that transferred responsibility for homelands from the commonwealth to the NT government. As part of the MOU it was agreed that $793M be spent on services, salaries and infrastructure to growth towns. The MOU also stipulated that “no Australian Government funding will be provided to construct housing on outstations/homelands” effectively laying a drag net by which governments expect to further force homeland residents from their nation estates.