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Cultural Tours 2008 - June |  October



It was eight women and John (a long time friend of the community who speaks fluent Djambarrpuyŋu) that set off from Darwin in an heavily loaded troopy for the 2 day drive to Mapuru community in north-east Arnhemland. Despite losing some of our load on the way (who needs pasta sauce anyway), we traveled deeper into country, where pandanus grew large like trees and the rivers were clear and drinkable and full of crocs. On the night of my 30th birthday, I slept under the starry Arnhem sky next to a fire that we had lit with our fire sticks and woke to the most amazing pink light over savannahs. Spot fires burnt slowly through the land. Another day of corrugated red dirt driving and a few splattered boxes of melons later we arrived at Mapuru.

Home to about 150 people, Mapuru is trying its hardest to provide a future for its kids. One of the ways it does this is by bringing in some income from sharing their traditional skills like basket weaving, cycad bread making and bush food to balandas (white fellas). The business has operated for six years and dependent on word of mouth, and the availability of John to take groups in on his holidays. So far a groups have come in for 5 days of basket weaving, but here we were for 12 days camping under a shelter of reeds and paperbark, cooking on a fire and learning the old ways. Many on the community were worried how we'd last in the heat and without the convenience of fridges and gas stoves. We didn't want to leave.

Our days were spent weaving, going out on the land to collect cycad nuts, pandanus, plants to make the pandanus dyes, and collecting bush food. It became obvious that they were not pointing on a 'show' for the balandas, this is what their life is like. With the nearest store a $500 return flight away on Elcho Island (Galiwin'ku), the business of surviving from the land is a full time job. And they set a cracking pace, weaving from sunup to sundown. We would collapse exhausted after dinner every night and wake with the crows before sunrise every morning. It became practice that every fire we needed we would light with our fire stalks. We all became blistered and calloused but it was great practice! Certainly makes you think twice about a lunchtime cuppa. The women decided to encourage our fire lighting practice by often encouraging us to make a coal for them when they wanted to smoke a tobacco pipe.

By far the most valuable part of the experience was the connection with the 'weaving women', who mostly did not speak much English. They welcomed us into their families, quickly adopting us into their kinship system. It was clear from the start that without an adoption into the 'gurrutu' or kinship system of which there are 16, it is hard to place you within the landscape. Soon we all had new grandmothers, parents, children, aunts, uncles etc.


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