Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Trip to the NT and Guringji Lands after 40 years

Thursday 27 August

Dear All,
Please forgive this collective but we fear if we do not do this we will never contact any of you. There is no post office and no postcards here so nothing of that sort will arrive. Every day seems so full that I am also way behind with my diary.
We left Sydney on August 19, flew to Darwin (delayed for 40 minutes by military aircraft playing deafening “Pitch Black” war games, euphemistically called ‘exercises’), picked up the hired campervan (fridge, TV, microwave, sink, gas stove and – unused by us, a shower and
toilet) How things change - when I came here 40 years ago, I had clothes, books, writing materials, camera and film [no electronic cameras then], a few medicines and a swag.
We stayed the night in a caravan park and the next day went to Woolworths to buy lots of water and other supplies for the trip. We had coffee – the first since Sydney – tasted so good! - and then back to the caravan park, hooked up to the electricity again, filled up with water and got all the supplies safely stowed away and, after a microwave dinner of something from a box, got to bed early.
Up early next morning, stopped for more water and an extra packet of coffee and lots of diesel and then set off – along the wrong road!
We finally realised our error and went back to Katherine, found the right road and began driving, and Denis then drove for over 4 hours, stopping for a lunch of bread, cheese and fruit at the side of the road, until we reached a roadhouse called Top Springs (bad memories for me when I had to be rescued from racist ringers by a Gurindji senior man with a rifle) where we stopped for a cold drink and to call Kalkaringi to say we would reach them after the store closed. About half the way was on the Buntine Highway which is sealed but single lane and you are told to give way to the road trains and anything else larger than you.
We reached Kalkaringi about 5.30pm, parked in the small caravan park, found the ablutions block (2 showers and 2 toilets my side with lovely green frogs in the toilets), hooked to the electricity, unpacked a little and were drinking a cup of tea outside in the twilight when our friends Charlie and Tran strolled over from their bush camp and we made plans for the next day. We then ate another microwave meal, tried but failed to make the TV work, made up the bed (has to be made up each evening and put away each morning) and fell asleep by 10pm The next day Friday was the first day of the annual Freedom Festival, marking the anniversary of the Gurindji walk off from the cattle stations in 1966 to sit down on their traditional land at Dagu Ragu and demand it back – something Whitlam did in a small way a few years later – galvanising the land rights movement -- we drove first to the cemetery to lay paper flowers on the graves (Vincent Lingiari has a big grave) and then down to the Victoria River lots of water, lots of shade… quite lovely. Local MP Warren Snowden showed off cooking steaks (the toughest meat we have ever eaten; even the dogs had problems chewing it) which we ate with white bread and butter and sauce and a rather good salad. All served by Europeans in clean clothes which was rather entertaining.
Then up the river bank to a cleared area with shades set up and predictable speeches by Snowden and Neeva Perris and some rather bad dancing by a group of woman who appeared to be decidedly unenthusiastic about performing.
Then back to Kalkaringi where we visited the Arts Centre, handed over the artifacts I was given as farewell gifts 40 years ago which are now to stay in the centre, talked to the old women and marvelled at all the wonderful paintings.
Saturday and Sunday were also part of the 3 day festival, devoted mainly to sport – AFL for the men with teams from Yuendumu, Balgo in WA and locally. Yuendumu were the winners of the knockout competition but the Gurindji Eagles played valiantly! The girls had a basketball competition but we never got to see that.
Lunch each day was the same – 2 slices of buttered white bread with sausage, onions and sauce plus a cold can of coke or fanta or ginger beer, all for $5.
All this was interspersed with wandering around Daru Ragu to try to remember it as it was – but without success. 40 years ago there were no houses, a couple of small corrugated iron sheds and one 2-ton Bedford truck. Now there are many houses and vehicles everywhere (many of course belonging to visitors come for the Festival and the sports).
Now I have to hurry up or we will be back in Sydney before this is finished.
We have spent 2 days travelling, in a convoy of 3 4WD trucks crammed with old ladies and a few men, food, cups, water and other food, to the old Wave Hill Station, looking at places where people were living and working
40 years ago, the remains of their old homes, the dumps where we found old horse shoes, trucks, wire and so much more. Another day we travelled along the wire fence where the people actually walked off the station, led by Vincent Lingiari. They left before dawn, to avoid detection, and walked all day with all their possessions. The kids got cranky because there was very little water so they reached Gordie Creek in the afternoon and dug in the creek bed to find water.
Each day we stopped for lunch, sandwiches we had made in the morning, oranges, biscuits. We build a fire and boil billies and then drink tea sitting in the shade.
Tomorrow is our last day and Robbie Gilgi will take us back to Dagu Ragu so we can find the place where our family unit camped. Then we will visit Lauwie, the waterhole that I loved so much that I was given its name as my Gurindji name.
That’s enough for now.
Many thanks go to everyone who donated blankets. They are much appreciated.
Love to all
Hannah and Denis

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