In October 2005 Catherine (as she prefers to be called) Freeman and Debra Mailman made their way to Mapuru as part of the Lonely Planet TV series ‘Going Bush’. After two days of hard work with the Arnhem weavers women, Catherine and Debra learnt the basics of basket making and dancing to ancient songs.
Below is an Article published by the Sun-Herald about the new SBS series "Going Bush' with Cathy Freeman and Deborah Mailman, they visited Mapuru in 2005
Urban blackfella chicks in the sticks
Author: Sarah Price
Publication: Sun Herald
When Cathy Freeman and Deborah Mailman got the chance to go bush, they didn't realise quite how much it would change their outlook, Sarah Price writes. IT CAN all get a bit much, week after ratings-period week, to see the fabulous holiday destinations one could go to, if one could afford it, and the fabulous times the hosts of the fabulous travel shows are having in said destinations.
So it is refreshing to hear, in episode four of SBS's new travel series Going Bush, the oft-candid Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman have a totally urban, city-girl moment.
"There are times when I was standing there in the middle of the bush, especially when we were looking for pandanus leaves for the basket weaving, I was like, oh my God, we're getting attacked by mosquitoes and it's hot and it's sticky and all I want right now is a facial," Freeman laughs.
It was near the end of two three-week road trips with her friend, actor Deborah Mailman, in which the pair grabbed a four-wheel-drive and hit the road from Broome, in the nation's north-west, to the tip of Arnhem Land, exploring Aboriginal communities in the Top End. It is the first time the two indigenous urban girls have done such a trip - for them it was as much of a chance to get away from it all as it was an exploration of their heritage.
Devised by Lonely Planet, the trip was documented for the four-part series, due to air in February, and the companion book Going Bush: Adventures Across Indigenous Australia.
The book takes up where Mailman and Freeman leave off in the TV series and includes holiday destinations through country Australia, from the northern tip of Queensland to Tasmania and across the Red Centre to the west.
And while the television series is predominantly about travel and exploring the Top End, it is more than just about a great holiday in the Australian wilderness. It is an exploration of Aboriginal culture and, ultimately, of Australian culture, featuring isolated communities that lead vastly different lives from those of their urban counterparts. What also sets it apart is its overwhelmingly positive depiction of indigenous Australians - a rarity in the landscape of Australian television shows - which it achieves without hitting viewers over the head. In each of the four episodes, viewers are introduced to an array of Aborigines in their communities. For the majority, everyday life includes its fair share of living according to the traditional ways - gathering food from the bush or the sea, performing traditional ceremonies and making things such as baskets and mats using leaves from pandanus trees and dye gathered from plant roots.
Ultimately, it celebrates and showcases the diversity of their lives.
"These communities know how to deal with their own problems and they have been for a very long time," Mailman says. "What was great was on the tourist side you see these fellas realising how much there is to offer in terms of their story and their country.
"So now you see these small businesses being set up that allow people to come in and visit their country in terms of tourist ventures. That's really important to see and they're doing it off their own bat, they're doing it on their own terms."
Mailman and Freeman were approached separately by Lonely Planet to take part in the series and the book and both jumped at the chance. It gave them a connection to the traditional indigenous culture of the sort that was absent from their own upbringings.
Freeman says there was a sense of gaining more understanding of themselves and their culture.
"Every step we take we can speak confidently about our traditional ways, ancient ways, just through sharing our stories and experiences from Going Bush," she says. "The other thing it's also done is made me appreciate the bush a lot more than I did before.
"It feeds your pride in who you are as an Australian indigenous person." Mailman says it was also important to show the dynamics and diversity of Aboriginal culture. "We're all sorts," she says. "You've got two urban girls going in a car that have never . . . had this bush experience before. "It doesn't make us any less of a blackfella. Even though we were brought up in an urban environment, that experience is different."
Because the series features such isolated places, viewers may have to remind themselves that it is supposed to be a travel show: everywhere the pair went, tourists can go, provided they have the right permits and approvals. And yes, Mailman and Freeman did have a fabulous time. So much so they did not want to come back.
"It was just such an incredible experience," Mailman says. "All positive and all wonderful and went beyond anything I'd imagine. Every step of the way, you're surrounded by absolute beauty."
"It's awe-inspiring," Freeman says.
And getting back into life in the city after such an adventure was not easy.
"I found it really hard coming back," Mailman says. "Adjusting again to routine, I really didn't want to come back. I was almost ready to come home and pack my bags and head back. I fell hard and I fell in love with the experience and just wanted more of it."
Freeman, though, while she too loved the experience, does not think she could live in the bush full-time.
"I'm too used to being in and out of different kinds of environments," she says. "I'm predominantly city, although I think people owe it to themselves, myself included, to go bush. "I'm having vague thoughts of planning two bush trips a year, just for my own sanity. There's too much rushing and racing around, I reckon."
Mailman found the noise of city life and her responsibilities to the outside world hard to get used to again. "What I loved about being up there is being uncontactable," she says. And then comes the confession. "I did something a bit cheeky," she says. "On my message bank on my mobile phone when I was up there, most of the time you couldn't get reception, so it was 'Hi, you've reached Deb, my phone will be out of reception for the next three weeks so I can't contact you. When I get back to Melbourne I'll get in contact with you if you want to leave a message,' but I left that message on for probably a good two or three weeks after I got back.
"I was just feeling a bit lost."
Both say the experience has changed them for the better. Mailman says she tries to keep a sense of peace she felt on the trip. "Try and slow down things, not get so wound up," she says. "It was a big change in me, actually, because I'm such a worry-wart."
The people they met also made all the difference, plus being accepted by the communities everywhere. Freeman and Mailman hope the series will inspire others to do what they have.
"Arnhem Land is a very strong example of successful achievement,"Mailman says, "of what's happening in those communities and how they're creating a business. "But I think the most important thing is that it's not about creating a multimillion-dollar business. "For them it's always still coming back to family and maintaining those relationships and the relationships to the land, that's the most important thing. "And they're happy to share that with people."
Going Bush will be screened on SBS from February 1. Going Bush: Adventures Across Indigenous Australia, published by Lonely Planet, is released this month.
Media & Communications Executive - Asia-Pacific
Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd