Saturday, March 17, 2012

Life in the real Australia.

For those of you who have been seeing my facebook updates than you know all of whats going on right now. I am on my third day in Wadeye an indigenous Australian community about six hours drive from Darwin.

Most of my working life has been directly with indigenous organisations with my job before Traditional Credit Union being the Batchelor Institute. Also growing up in Darwin, Northern Territory indigenous influence surrounds you. I've been out to communities before normally just day trips so this was my first over night adventure.

Port Keats/Wadeye has a bit of a reputation I remember my ex who used to come out here telling me about the locals would tie dogs to stakes at the beach and wait for the tide to come in and drown them. Not to mention it is quite famous for rioting with youths armed with machetes storming the streets and people having to lock themselves into offices until it passes. I've been to wadeye about four times now and never seen anything like this but I was a little hesitant about being on my own overnight especially when I saw the three gates and padlocks on my first accomodation. People might say a lot of random shit about me but one thing they say that is true is, that I never let fear control me.

To be honest I don't know if they say that usually Im informed that im crazy or that I have no fear but its the opposite. I am terrified of everything. For years I had to jump from a foot away to get onto my bed because there could be some mass murderer underneath. But I also live by the philosphy that if you do let fear control you than you could miss out on some of the greatest things in life.

Back to the original topic. To add insult to injury a cyclone was set to form off the coast heading directly for the town. I'm not scared of cyclones, yes I did mention im a Darwin girl. Its got to get above a catagory 2 in order to have me quaking. I actually love a huge storm with the wind whipping around me and the houses shaking. Thunder crashing & lightning illuminating the sky. I love nothing more to be standing at the ocean watching the huge cyclonic waves being pelted at the shore as the salty raindrops stream down my face. So with my boss & General manager a little worried about me stuck out in the direct path I was actually a little excited to take the storm head on. What I was scared of is being stuck in the tiny non interesting town over the weekend.

However I decided to stay and was amused when I discovered that most of the tradesmen also staying in the area had left town terrified. Leaving me with only four tradies to entertain myself with.

But lets get back to community life. I'm not sure what people think of when they think of Indigenous Australian communities. But there is nothing that interesting about them. They are small towns with a larger coloured population ratio to westerners. They have ADSL, stores, schools etc. Old traditions are still present though. For instance when someone dies you can't say the name of the deceased person. Cursing places is taken quite seriously. I heard of one woman who cursed the two food shops, the bank and whatever else in her community. When something is cursed everyone is scared and leaves immediately closing down. Sometimes it can take a few days before they are reopened where they have to be smoked out (taking green leaves on fire through the buildings with chantings.) This isnt because of the curse this is because of the very slow, relaxed, there are more interesting things to do - nature of community members. A similar smoking ceremony also happens when somebodies dies to rid the evil spirits they go through all areas the person has visited. When bodies come into the communities from where ever they died all the companies also seem to be shut down by respect.

The elders are the leaders of the communities and their word is law. This is where an interesting mix of western influence & traditional values seem to intertwine. In traditional days if a man raped a woman he was stabbed through the leg (or it could be the achilles heel) with a spear. This often would either kill him or cripple him for life. Now they get jail. People might think these practices are barbaric but often the thought of punishment can be more deterring of the actual punishment. Its defintely evident with the increased violence and assault cases rampant through-out communities nowadays.

Since I've been here in amongst the crazy weather there was a community meeting. A young couple in a relationship had filmed themselves fornicating on their phones. I'm not sure how the elders came about it but the act "shamed" the community. In western culture the act would maybe shame the parents but more than likely only affect the people involved in teh video. As punishment for the event they banned the entire community from purchasing phone credit. There are signs at all the business saying credit will not be sold for the rest of the month. So this punishment has involved the entire community because of two peoples actions. Firstly this would have no effect in western culture as people would just jump online and purchase their own credit. Plus I dont think western kids would care so much about the global shame. But in Indigenous Communties where family is such a huge deal these two youngsters are likely to never commit the offense again. wow. Also its easy to police since people selling credit again the word of the elders would likely be dismissed from the communties, lose their jobs etc. Its serious stuff.

One sad thing about community life with the western world taking over is that kids seem bored. I don't know if this is because of all the technology available but they aren't interested in learning cultural values and a lot is lost as people pass on. They turn to other things to entertain themselves. Paint & Petrol sniffing is one of these. A horrible past time for people to undertake as it can cause serious brain damage. As kids are destroying their brain cells they turn to violent and destructive behaviour destroying homes. They want to blame the "white man" reality is that it is partly the white mans fault despite how much people want to deny it. But the integration of the two cultures was a complete mess and only in the last 10 years or so real effort has been implemented to correct disastorous results.

Anyway I tried to find a tradie to take me to the beach but apparently its somebodies land and the creek was to high. So I amused myself chatting into the wee hours with a plumber who certainly loved to talk! That also could have been because the wild weather knocked out all the phones so I had no internet access for 24hrs. Thats like being an 80yr old porn star without viagra...

So this plumber had some interesting stories to tell me about life living on communties but the topic of petrol sniffing was rampant and then his extreme disapproval of drugs. He lost his brother to drugs, I asked him how was it an overdose. His brother also a plumber was climbing in a roof cleaning air conditioning and found a bunch of dead pigeons. They had died of some fungal infection of which he breathed in a spore and four days later was braindead. How you can tell someone you just met stuff like this is beyond me but I actually found it incredibly interesting also Im fairly certain drugs had nothing to do with it. He said it was because of the immune system being shot. Who knows. But what I wonder is, did his brother have a great life? He died aged 32 leaving two young kids behind. But was he happy, to know how quickly life can be taken from you so young more people need to be living life.

Now its been a few days since I updated this and I made it back to Darwin safe and sound though the plane ride back was terrifying with it dropping half a metre at times in turbelance. Thankfully it was a short 40 minutes Im not sure how much longer I could have handled it.

Well wadeye thanks for opening my eyes a little more. till next time!

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