29 August 2013
I move into my luxury new accommodation today. There is another bungalow in Don and Lyn’s yard, with a kitchenette and a bathroom, and it is being vacated by the workmen who were staying there. I can take up residence. I am pleased that I can still see my “Parrott Hilton” sign from the little front deck. This is simply “The Hilton”.
Don works as the National Parks Ranger for Munga-Thirri National Park in the Simpson Desert and works tirelessly to protect the land and culture well beyond the official boundary. He says, “This job is vital to me. I don’t know where I would be without it. Working ‘On Country’ is very important to Aboriginal people”.
I spend some time with Lyn and Don on their veranda each day, chatting about life over a cup of tea. It is a difficult road for them as they fight to protect the Aboriginal land, trying to reach agreements with the Pastoralists, and often not being able to reach agreement even with their own people. The consequences of displacement spill over into families.
Don tells me he believes the Aboriginal people are often still caught in the web of the settlers’ will. “The white people call on the Aboriginal people to support them when they have done something culturally wrong, and the Aboriginal people often come out in support of the white man. Perhaps they still feel obliged”.
A compounding complication is that the pastoralists come to town with a truck of meat to hand out free to the Aboriginal population. This has always been the way, says Don, but now they are more selective to whom they donate. Whatever the original motivation for the donation might have been, one outcome seems to be a fear of losing this benefit by speaking up against some pastoralist activities.
Don has a difficult path to negotiate in his continued struggle to protect the land from over grazing, road graders going through sacred land, and visitors in 4WDs heading cross-country, inadvertently – or through lack of awareness – damaging sacred sites.
We leave our veranda to visit one of these burial sites with a representative of council, to see how the vehicle tracks now leading there can be disguised to prevent more traffic coming this way.
There are dust storms in the late afternoon so we do not head out again with Jim as planned. We shut tight our doors and windows as the sand scours each surface it sweeps against, tossed and thrown in the baking wind, searching a way in. It always succeeds.
But for Aboriginal people living a traditional life, says Don, a sand storm on the dunes was a beautiful thing. “Wind exposes any small dead wildlife. The goanna then comes to feed, and we could feed on Goanna. And the dust is taking seeds and nutrients right up as far north as the storm will go. When the drought breaks and it rains, the rivers will bring the sand back south again.”
As I bunker down for the evening I reflect on all the issues resulting from displacement; effects on the land and environment, on culture, on people’s belonging and sense of wellbeing. My brain spins webs, seeing all manner of environmental destruction that could not have been dreamt of if we had remained more connected. I can see in my mind’s eye, the Aboriginal people walking, navigating Songlines that connected them across the whole country, the speed of their travel conducive to absorbing their surroundings; the pat-pat of feet on ground physically imprinting a memory. And then, destroying my image is the ever-present car. Close on its heels, the giant blank wall of a shopping mall blots out my mind’s view.
In medicine it is well known that there is first the disease, and then follow the symptoms, symptoms that can’t be cured without curing the underlying disease.
Some symptoms in our world flutter through my brain – environmental destruction, obsessions with consumerism and wealth, depression and isolation; is the underlying disease that causes these symptoms our evolved disconnection from the very land on which our feet depend? If we can work out the disease, will the cure become easier to find?
(There is a rather hard to see speech bubble next to the post title, where comments can be left, or at the end of the tags it says, ‘Leave a Reply”, – for anyone who cares to offer their thoughts?)