Today is indigenous literacy day here in Australia with that in mind I thought I’d let you know I spent the past three incredible weeks in the Kimberly on a remote Aboriginal community called Jarlmadangah (population fiftyish). I worked with the children from its little school to record sounds of the bush, animals, their elders’ songs and music for an animated ibook we were facilitating about their dreaming story ‘Woonyoonbool’.
It was honour to be invited along with a great organisation ‘Sharing Stories’ to Jarlmadangah and the country by the Nyikina people and their elders Darraga and Annie Watson. Hearing and recording Darraga and Annie sing their old songs was mind bogglingly special. The songs Darraga and Annie hold are from a culture passed on by songline for thousands of years, tens of thousands even (ie. a little before pop charts existed). When Dajjiga and Annie took us and the kids out to see special places in their country, they’d climb out of their battered troopys and start singing out to the land, singing songs like “we are here, this white mob here with us, they are ok, dont make them sick” Or “hi river, please give us fish.” Stuff like that. Songs that respected the land they love and live in.
It’s sickening to learn about how far the white settlers went to annihilate this culture and enslave its people in this region, (I’d recommend you read the book ‘Never stand Still’ by John Darraga Watson for more on this). For us who are lucky to still be here enjoying life and this land today, there is hope, and the children and elders I got to work with are doing some great work to preserve their culture and communities. There is so much to learn about living in Australia out there. The people In Jarlmadangah have a great school, attitude to life and beautiful home land.
It was an unforgettable pleasure seeing this very different kind of Australia and to make many fine new friends. On the last evening the elder, Darraga painted me up and we did a ceremony with the community, they also gave me a skin group. We all laughed a lot as we worked and many tears hit the red dust when we left.
After two weeks in Jarlmadangah I sailed into the Buccaneer archipelago, several hundred remote islands between Broome and Darwin. Ancient mountain ranges sinking in the sea, their peaks like turtles-islands bobbing up with the huge Kimberly tides. Ancient rock art in caves, whales, crocodiles, sharks, turtles, mud crabs, birds, hermit crabs, phos-fluorescent algae, horizontal waterfalls. The seafood was plentiful we caught mudcrabs from the mangroves and plenty of fish. We camped on the beaches at night, those where we saw no crocodiles waiting for us, those that did we happily dis-disembarked the swag filled dinghies and enjoyed the night sky from the safety of the boat bowl as opposed to a crocs.
After days of staring out into this beautiful, untouched, uninhabited, wet wilderness, we meandered up an estuary, hidden from the world, to refill our water from an ancient spring. Here an old bloke called Phil has squatted for twenty five years. From out of a corner of his lush tropical garden sporting only orange underpants Phil waddled, “these are my best undies” he drawled, “I put them on especially for you all, usually I wear nothing.” A saltwater crocodile bathed on the pontoon by his old yacht below in the bay. We swam in an old BHP water tank which he’s cut a window hole in the side of, allowing the soft spring water to gush out down into the garden inlet below. It was best infinity pool i’ve been in. When asked by one of us what he calls this place he dryly replied “it’s a water tank.” The water never stops flowing, there’s no tap to turn it off. Phil spends his days brewing his own beer he carves animals out of pearl shells and sells them as jewellery to the sail-bys.