Archive for the ‘desert’ category

lifestyles of the not so rich and famous

March 12, 2015

Yesterday, in supporting the forced closure of over 100 remote communities in Western Australia, the PM said this:

“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”

#%$& !!

So I stayed up late and wrote him a letter. Maybe the staffer who reads it will think it’s too long and won’t get to the end; maybe they won’t like my stories. Deep down I’m not counting on any change of approach on the part of the PM, but in the face of deceit and oppression, we shouldn’t stay silent. (letter below)

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Dear Mr Abbott,

I am writing to you regarding the comments you made yesterday about remote communities. I was moved to write because it seems to me you just don’t understand.

There have been many responses to your comments – anger, derision, disbelief. I feel many of those too, but mostly I feel sad. Sad that Australia’s Prime Minister can have so little understanding of what being ‘on country’ means to so many Aboriginal people, sad that in the midst of criticism you congratulate yourself for taking your office to a remote place for one week, sad that this seems just another episode in a long line of policy decisions and statements which negatively target people in Australia who are already vulnerable.

I trained as a primary school teacher, and my first teaching position was in a remote community called Tjukurla, a community in the tali (sandhill) country in the far east of Western Australia, not far from the Northern Territory border. I taught there for a couple of years, and have returned numerous times, to visit again with people who so welcomed me when I ventured there as a young teacher. Tjukurla is one of a number of communities, including Warakurna, Mirlirrtjarra (Warburton Ranges) and many others, which are part of the Ngaanyatjarra lands. The Ngaanyatjarra lands include parts of the Gibson, Great Sandy and Great Victoria deserts and cover over 250 thousand square kilometres. It is striking country – dirt tracks stretching to wide horizons, ranges and desert oaks and rock-holes, stark blues and reds and golds.

And it is home to over 2000 people. Let’s repeat that word: ‘home’.

These are Mums and Dads, health workers, artists, school students, hunters, community leaders, custodians. These are people whose language is alive, when so many others have perished. These are people who have a long and enduring connection to their land, a connection which fosters identity, well-being and sustenance. As somewhat of an outsider, I don’t have the words, or the conceptual knowledge, to describe this connection properly, but there are many members of communities all over Australia who can and have, and continue to do so. If we pay attention, we might start to understand what this means, at least a bit.

Tjukurla and the other communities in the region where I lived were not without their challenges – intermittent power supplies; rough roads; a government education service usually staffed by inexperienced teaching graduates (as I was); health services not well enough equipped for the challenging circumstances in which they worked; lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables. These and other challenges, many of which still persist, are ones that require complex and long-term policy responses. They also require listening to the people for whom these challenges are most real. The blunt instrument of removing people from their ancestral lands, and all the associated grief and disruption that will bring, is what I would consider the complete opposite.

As one journalist commented today, maybe your idea of ‘closing the gap’, is that Aboriginal people just become more like white people. While this is not said out loud, that is the implication and that is profoundly disturbing.

In February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke these words on behalf of the Australian Parliament:

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.”

You were in the parliament that day, and I imagine, like most of us, you would have applauded those words. Let’s not make those same mistakes all over again.

Prime Minister, the criticism your comments received from around the country should serve to you a warning, that there is an enormous amount of listening to be done, especially to Aboriginal people and their plans and worries and hopes. Instead of backing the closing down of communities which are people’s homes, I would think that as the ‘Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’, meaningful listening and a genuine attempt to understand would be the best place to start.

Yours sincerely

Cameron Tero
Belmont, etc

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Rothwell and landscape

August 23, 2010

So often our primary thoughts are that it is us, the humans, who dominate the landscape and control and change it. Whether our attempts are to conserve or to exploit, or to record and interpret, our thoughts circle around the ideas and the changes and actions that eminate from us.

There is another attitude, possibility less easy to take – that instead the landscape might take hold of us, shape us and speak to us, in ways we cannot yet imagine or even describe.

These words below are not my own, they are the work of journalist Nicholas Rothwell, in his latest book “Journeys to the Interior”. But still, they help me find a way into those indescribable ideas about the natural world and the work it does on me.

Can today’s Australians inhabit such a landscape? Can we feel at home there? When you find yourself in a pale dunefield at sunset, with the sky blush pink and deepest indigo, or when you look out from the crest of an inland mesa at the clouds in their indifferent race across the sky, such questions tend to dissolve, and patterns and thought-chains separate from man’s deliberate kingdom take hold.

I have always felt, at such moments, on the verge of dissolution – close to death as much as on the threshold of new revelations in the march of life – and rather than imposing my will on country, or on landscape, and prolonging the dictatorship of control and consciousness, I am overwhelmed – I am a creature of new rhythm, and the desert, and the inland, are writing me.

From “Journey’s to the Interior” by Nicholas Rothwell (2010, p53)

forgiveness

July 28, 2010

Some further thinking about the lack of preparations I wondered about …

The desert, so often described as ‘unforgiving’, was the opposite. The length of the journey, the eternity of the horizon and the dirt track laid out before us, it gave us time. Time to remember, time to stop often, time to listen and watch, time to take in the sky and the spinifex. Time to sit by smoky fires and admire the stars. The journey forgave us our lack of preparation.

And the folks who hadn’t heard of us for so long? Hard to describe, hard to grasp even.

There are calls across the bush for children and ladies to come and see these visitors. There is holding of hands, swapping of stories. There is a longing gaze, and a shy glance. There is laughter, and whispering of sadness. There is time together that I will never forget, and hope to return to again.

The desert and its people, welcoming and forgiving.

Heading for the desert

July 27, 2010

 

A few weeks ago we packed up our Hiace van with a tent and food and our kids. We headed east from Perth, first to Kalgoorlie and then further east and north through the Western desert, and on to the Northern Territory and Alice Springs. It was a wonderful journey, not without it’s challenges, but very worthwhile. It is too much to try and write it down all in one shot, so perhaps over time I’ll record some bits and pieces. They are not in any order or around any particular themes, just thoughts and ideas and memories I had along they way. Sometimes I wrote them down, or just filed them away in my mind for later.

Part of the reason for the journey was to revisit Tjukurla, a remote community in the Ngaanyatjarra lands, where we lived over a decade ago. The Ngaanyatjarra lands are in the central eastern part of Western Australia, include parts of the Gibson, Great Sandy and Victoria deserts and cover over 250 000 square kilometres (about 3% of mainland Australia). The lands include the communities of Tjukurla, Warakurna, Mirlirrtjarra (Warburton Ranges), and many others. It is striking country – dirt tracks stretching to wide horizons, ranges and desert oaks and rock-holes, stark blues and reds and golds.

The kids at the school where we taught are all grown now, and many of them have children of their own. One of the golden moments of our journey was coming across a group of ladies on the road east of Warakurna. They had car trouble and were doing some hunting while they waited. It turned out that these were Tjukurla folks, and we had a beaut time there by the side of the road, talking and meeting each other’s children, hearing stories of who lived where now, and even joining in the hunt for tirnka (goanna). It was worth the trip just for that.

We did lots of ‘preparation’ for our journey, a great deal of it geared around things like spare tyres, food, where we would stay, and making sure the van could go the distance. I did wonder though, whether we were prepared enough in other ways. Among the demands to fit out the van, to tidy up and pack, and find a home for the dog and the chooks, it seemed less urgent to prepare in ways not so tangible.

Even though we lived for a time in Ngaanyatjarra country, there is a lifetime’s worth of learning to be done about history and culture and change, and the extended time since we’ve been there means that some of the knowledge and memories have significantly faded. There is a language to learn that makes relating to local folks much more meaningful and respectful. And how might we tune ourselves and our children to the new rhythms of a remote place and people who were part of our past but to whom we’ve been stangers in recent times? None of this works well done in a hurry, and there is no course to do or single text book to read. Perhaps the journey itself is the only preparation.

To be truthful, we tried a bit. With the aid of old photos and stories and some language books, we at least made an attempt. But the proportion of time spent preparing ourselves in those ways was far outweighed by the practicalities.

It is a note I make to myself for the future – wherever I go are go, close by or far away, the balance and nature of my preparations are worth further attention.

A pair of shorts

April 8, 2010

Last year I did some research about simple living – what people do, why they do it, and what difference it makes. One of the best parts of the research was listening to all the stories people told about their endeavours – their hopes and fears and ideas.

One a bloke told me a beauty from his time living in a remote community, out in the central desert near the Western Australian border:

I always remember this guy, one of our neighbours, I saw him get into a truck one day with a pair of shorts on and the truck was going to Kalgoorlie. And that’s all he had, a pair of shorts. He jumped on the back of the truck and we never saw this guy for 3 months, and then later he came back from Alice Springs and he’s done this big circuit from Wingellina to Kalgoorlie, across to Port Augusta up to Alice Springs and back to us. And I’ve often thought about that and thought, in one sense it was a good little reminder of simplicity and I thought well, extended family helped out and all that …

This story is far removed from the experience of most in modern urban environments, particularly in Australia. Still, it brings new meaning to ‘travelling light’. In a sense, travelling light is a useful metaphor for simple living. Those who travel light have less impact on the world around them, they take up less space and use less resources. Travelling light also holds possibilities for reliance on others, for sharing and the fostering of relationships of all sorts, within families and between strangers.

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 The research project about simple living yielded some wonderful stories and lots of ideas to think on more. It’s long, but the full document, “More or Less” is available here.