On my way back from the disposal of my own data collection in the ‘civilised’ rubbish heaps, I made my final walk around the deserted settlement. I looked up into the massive Casuarina Tree. Its strong arms holding up the Sky and balancing the Sun: its roots gripping the Earth. I stared out at the Wind-disturbed remains of the sacred Burial Grounds built entirely out of Sand, the purification trenches, the Dreaming Mounds. I climbed on to Gina granddaughter’s evening Hillock where she used to howl at the Sunset each Day. And I sat up on ninija Rock by the Water Hole and lumaluma’s hollow, the highest point in the Lands.
It was from here that ninija as chief could carry out her duties as overall keeper of the Lands. ‘Traditional Landowner ninija – sole keeper of the stories, songs and artefacts of her People and her Lands.’ That is her full title. Now, she has gone to find another Rock deeper inside her massive Lands which stretch across the hottest area of the world. There will be new stories and songs to record about her journey, but not by me this time. I am no longer an observer.
On departure day, as I watched the group prepare to leave, they packed nothing at all. They took only a few handmade possessions which they habitually carry or wear: their dilly bags woven from Mangrove string containing personal effects such as churingas (totemic identity badges); their Wood and Grass carrying bowls, coolamon, sported on heads, shoulders or against bellies; their custom-made digging sticks slung across shoulders with ornate Kangaroo straps; beautifully crafted decorated boomerangs for hunting; and perfectly cylindrical Hollow Log coffins containing Bones of their deceased.
Churinga. Coolamon. Hollow Log Coffins. I remember how strange theses names were to begin with, but how now they have become the objects they describe. They are so beautiful, so practical and of course hand-made.
If only you could have been there to see them go. Ninija’s tribe, leaving the dis-organised collection of tin-roofed huts, each with its rubbish heap outside. All naked and all barefoot, now all indifferent to white man’s comfortable way of living! They are mostly advanced in years, weakened by a cultivated dependence on ‘Easy’ supplies of ‘civilised’ bags of white sugar, flour, pre-packed snacks, tea-bags. Modern medical assistance and intervention was forced on to them at the settlement, their own natural remedies and healing practices kicked aside as voodoo.
Ninija, leading the exodus, tall and broad. Her strong frame stooped to carry the extra weight gained as a result of unaccustomed starch and lack of exercise. Her hair a flaxen thatch cropped short by sharp ‘white fella’ scissors. She carried a large Grass dilly bag slung over one shoulder, a digging stick of the Pelican clan across the other. And held loosely down by her thigh the perfect wooden cylinder of her treasured Bone coffin, distinctively that of a Traditional Landowner. This would soon contain the precious remains of her son ginger.
At her side was small gina, her granddaughter, ninija’s successor to be. She was strapped up with her own digging stick of the Porcupine clan. Her grandmother’s coolamon, carrying bowl, balanced perfectly on her small head. Gina spiked the sand as she walked with a black tightly furled umbrella, outsized for her, its crook and ferrule of lacquered wood now flaked by strong Sun.
The party of shiny black skins with their blond and red topknots of wild hair was joined occasionally by competing Kangaroos. On one side they were flanked by a massive flock of high Emus, great scratching Bird of the Lands, and on the other by a troop of wild Camels. I had been so surprised to come across wild Camels in the Australian Desert. Apparently, they were once imported by Arabian explorers and have now become naturalized. Above the whole assembly, white Pelicans flapped their slow Wings through an indigo Sky, muttering to the full Moon.
The shimmering tribe was walking away from civilisation, from ‘security,’ from ‘safety,’ without compasses. Away from health care and education. Away from the culture of ‘the thinking’ stuffed with words and ideas.
Following them, at some distance, was the party of newly arrived white workers adorned in multiple protective layers. They were led by the tall blond rifca in her loose-fitting blood red dress. Rifca. She was to help in much greater ways than the practical work of building shade shelters assigned to her and her group. Like me, she was to become a link between ancient Desert knowledge and wisdom, and modern People. But that’s another story for another ‘here’ and ‘now.’
Wisdom Tip: Australian native tribes have been ‘civilized,’ cleaned up and taken to white-fella’s cities. But many of them have decided to go back to their Lands and traditional life. This story begins when ninija is leading her people, young and old, back into the depths of the Lands where white-fella cannot survive. They carry only their precious handmade tools fashioned from desert materials, having discarded all white-fella’s gifts in heaps at the settlement. They have no fear. They are sure-footed in the knowledge that the Great Mother and Father earth will provide for them if they take care of the Lands, the songs and the stories.