Dear Paul and Kev,
I want to share with you a story.
In mid August I was fortunate to be able to visit a remarkable community called Mäpuru, in East Arnhem Land. This was my third visit over three years. The premises of having visitors in the community is to share and teach traditional techniques of weaving and material preparation while developing relationships with people, the reality of the experience is far more than words could ever describe. Mäpuru is a rich, strong and completely uplifting place. And at the same time they experience daily the massive hurdles of being Aboriginal Australian’s. Somehow the community lead by their elders have managed to rise above the bullshit (buffalo would actually be far more fitting) that is inflicted on their lives to maintain a place where people feel safe, living off the land, connected to country while learning two ways.
Part of going to visit Mäpuru means being able to spend the mornings at the school, listening to reading and participating in singing. This term the senior school has been studying ‘From little things big thing grow’. They have used your lyrics dissecting them into small discussable bites as a way to talk about; opposites, history and I’m guessing somewhere along the way the parallels of the story with their own lives, today. It is not often that I ever read a song’s lyrics, and certainly not out loud and slowly. Two weeks ago I heard a classroom of 12 to 22 year olds read your lyrics, then sing them with gusto, looking each other in the eyes. I wish you could have been there it was a very moving experience.
It is somewhat frightening that a song written in the early 90’s about a story that happened some 36 years ago completely resonates in 2013…….I wonder and hope that within my lifetime I will be able to witness some truly BIG things - where Aboriginal Australian’s can experience a more just life living in their own country on their own land.
I dream of the day I can proudly say “I’m Australian”.
Thanks Paul and Kev for writing such powerful words that can be read and sung, and considered. Thank you Mäpuru for yet again opening my eyes to all the things we have to learn.
8 September 2013
Mäpuru reminded me .. .. .. ..
It’s almost two months since I left Mäpuru. I’ve fallen back into the routine of daily life at home. I find myself having the same conversations with friends that I had before I left. My mind is ticking away trying to organize work issues and finish off Uni assignments. Life rolls on as it did before. Yet, I feel as if something is missing. I feel as if my heart is still up in Mäpuru.
The community up there was beautiful and open. A type of openness that I have never before experienced so fully. Everyone was accepted and everyone was valued. When I was given my mälk (Skin name), Bilinydjan, I was not only given a place in a family, in a community- I was given a place in the world.
On reflection I have realized the significance of this. I have realized the connectedness of all aspects of life- a connectedness that Yolŋu people live by. As I sat down with Roslyn, under the bark shelter on the first day of weaving, I was introduced to my ŋändis (mothers), yapas (sisters), wawas (brothers) and märi (grandmothers). I suddenly had Yolŋu family. As the days passed, and I began to piece together the puzzle of this new found family, of who everyone was in relation to me. As I made these insights I slowly relaxed into the pace of Mäpuru. Conversations ebbed and flowed as we sat under the weaving shelter. We learnt about kinship systems and strength of community. I watched as the women gracefully cared for the children- together. If anyone needed help, there was always someone there to provide it. All age groups had fun together all the time. Back home families and communities are often so segregated. People can feel so lonely. In Mäpuru there were no generation gaps. This was beautiful and inspiring. Everyone had a place and as the days passed I began to feel more value in my self. I expected to go to Mäpuru and have some great moment of divine revelation, a moment where my future was clarified and I knew what my next steps should be. This moment did not come. Instead I realized that I do not need to have all the answers now. That I need to be present in the moment and life will unfold naturally. I realized that by being honest with myself, I am doing enough. The Yolŋu accepted my mispronunciation of words and my uncoordinated weaving skills. They understood that I am learning. They accepted me for who I am, and for where I was. Through accepting me, the Yolŋu people I met helped me accept myself.
I learnt that tears should be transparent. On our last day in Mäpuru I felt overwhelmed by all I had learnt, and sad that I was leaving. I ended up in tears. Roslyn hugged me and wiped away my tears. I was apologising for crying- a reaction to tears that is common back home. But when I looked up Roslyn had tears in her eyes. She was sad because I was sad. This simple gesture made me realize that you should never apologize for your emotions. Tears are honest and the truth is always justifiable.
A few mornings were spent at the primary school hearing the children singing. The children were beautiful and their songs were wonderful. It was an honor to be able to watch the children learn. It was inspiring to see such strength and enthusiasm from Roslyn, Jackie and the Balanda teachers, who have created a curriculum that understands the rich value and importance of Yolŋu culture, aside English teachings. As Roslyn lead the children in her manikay, crying song, one morning, us Balanda were overcome with the beauty and honesty of her words. As tears pricked my eyes I felt an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. I feel so incredibly lucky and privileged to have been welcomed into the hearts of the people of Mäpuru. I feel thankful for the weaving skills I learnt, the food I tasted, the country I stayed in and most importantly the friendships I made.
Ultimately, my time in Mäpuru reminded me of how much there is to learn about Yolŋu culture. I’ve only just begun.