There aren’t the words to describe the day we just had!
We started the day with our first experience of a day on the bus: bus aerobics with Disco Kitty, bus games and reflection time in our small group. Today we learnt about the Stolen Generation; after watched the Rabbit Proof fence, we had a reflection space to talk through the things we had seen in the movie and the policies relevant to them.
We arrived in Port Augusta around 4.30pm, set up camp like champions and head out to hang out with the Dusty Feet Mob.
Our level of excitement could not prepare us for the night that we had!
Our crew bound off the bus and joined in footy games, nursery rhymes and the preparation of our feast.
We were welcomed to join around the fire where the kangaroo tail had been cooking in the embers and were welcomed to Country by Rob, a traditional owner of the land. Rob shared of his Country as a connection point where 3 traditional lands join as 1; a gateway land that people had to travel through, now hosting 36 different Aboriginal groups.
After Welcome to Country we had the privilege of sharing a special dinner with the group, kangaroo tail (prepared especially for the occasion). Our gang could not get enough! Some went back for thirds!
After we had got to know one another better and shared in the feast we all head into the hall to dance! The Dusty Feet Mob performed four dances to reflect on the stories in history that have impacted Aboriginal people. With permission from the original 3 groups in the Port Augusta area, the Dusty Feet Mob shared dances about their love of land, the 1967 referendum, the Stolen Generation and Reconciliation.
This was not a performance, but a time of vulnerability; it was a time of sharing stories that were still so deeply felt. Each dance was introduced by Aunty Maria and by the end of the Stolen Generation dance there was not a dry eye in the room. For this moment to be followed by a dance of reconciliation to ‘I am, you are, we are Australian’ was even more moving. The invitation of forgiveness, of friendship, of moving forward was a sacred time. It didn’t stop here. We were then welcome to partake in the dance with them (KEEP YOUR EYE OUT FOR THE VIDEO!). The beauty of forgiveness, could not of been more evidently seen than in this moment.
As friends, we moved to the center of the hall where we were invited to join a memorial for the Elders who have past over the last 3 weeks. We learnt the reality of the health gap represented in the room. For many of us, we have only had to attend a funeral once or twice over the past year. For the Dusty Feet Mob, they have attended 3 funerals in the last 3 weeks! The layers of mourning were real: the loss of stories, the loss of family, the loss of time. To stand alongside our new friends in such a deep space of mourning as we sang, prayed, lit candles and listened is a moment that will not be forgotten by any of our pilgrims.
A moment of love and deep respect.
For us, this was a time of acknowledging our common heart. A heart to empower young people to find their place and purpose; a heart to understand our past; a heart for a better tomorrow.
The service didn’t bring out sorrow, it brought out hope.
We finished the night all over the place: some took part in a yarning circle around the fire, some ran around with the kids playing games, there was even Irish dancing lessons! Many of us did not want to leave. Many of the Dusty Feet mob did not want us to go. We had to pry off some of the children just so we could get our group to bed.
This was a night that will never be forgotten.
Here’s what Caty (15 years old) had to say: “I am so greatful to the Dusty feet Mob for opening up everything. To share in their food, their culture, their dance. For me, the dance about the Stolen Generation stood out. Last year I did an assignment on the Stolen Generation, so I knew some of the policies they were dancing about. The dance was different to writing an assignment. It actually showed me what happened and the hurt that would have been experienced when children were ripped out of their mother’s arms. I wouldn’t be able to go without my family they are everything to me. Family is everything. To loose your family like that, it is horrible.
After that dance, we got to dance the ‘I am, you are, we are Australian’ dance. To be surrounded by little Aboriginal girls who now have their family, I can’t explain how it made me feel.
Today I have a deeper understanding of what happened and the pain that is still so present, because some will never be able to see their family again.
Thankyou for sharing this with me.”
A day in the life of a pilgrim:
Wake up 5am
Pack up gear
Take down tent
Breakfast and conversation
Rest or reflection time
Bus Aerobics (with head bands)
Games fun with fantastic fellows
Small group discussion
Lunch at Rob’s mobile Sanwich bar
Movie in bus cinema or more conversation.
Day 3 saw us arrive safely, thanks to incredible bus drivers, to Warburton. What a blast to engage with lively beautiful children for the night. As our guide Matt showed us out to the community. Heart warming to see our team mingle with merriment with the children and adults. So welcoming and full of life. Another great opportunity to connect with people! What a wonderful world!
How lovely to be welcomed with smiles and anticipation. The kids at Mt Margaret community were a welcome distraction from driving today!
We were up with birds and breakfasted, thanks to Rob’s deft team of cooks, bottle washers and drivers!
During a lingering game of ‘Have you ever’ with highly competitive pilgrims and leaders (we won’t mention names… Helen) the alternator on the bus was fixed and we headed off from Merridin. Rest time was most welcome. Then a full on wake up by Minna and her, scrunchie wearing, bus aerobics instruction! Bus games were essential bonding time with records for ‘teddy passing’ smashed, songs sung and smiles all round
After a quick shopping stop at Kalgoorlie to stock up, lunch at Menzies, with road side sandwiches to rival Subway, we arrived at Mt Margaret.
The night was full of joy and laughter as we shared time with the local.kids. Face painting, balloon sculpting, stilt wallking and plate spinning were enjoyed by all. Friendships were started and for me you just can’t beat the smiles on the kids faces. Such enthusiasm and engagement from both community kids and pilgrims. Giving is so much more rewarding than receiving. Thanks for the oppotinity to share time with each other as we journey through this amazing country. May we learn the art of being who we were created to be and enjoying creator, creation and each other.
South Australia! What a gang! It’s the first time in 5 years that a bus has come from South Australia, and so we’re doing things a little differently to the other states. We are a team of six, and we’re figuring out how to do Pilgrimage SA-style as we go!
So far we have the ‘leaving home on a bus’ part down pat. And ‘home’ for all of us is Kapunda, SA. Dave (the one with the hat) is leading, but really we’re all making the decisions and learning the mistakes together.
Day 1 was a trip from Kaunda to Port Augusta – a short trip to start us off. We slept in tents at the caravan park, and together made the rissoles for dinner. Then it was an 8am start to get to Coober Pedy.
Mostly the bus trip has been talking and singing, but along the way we stopped at a few fun places. The first was the salt flats. For Pilgrim Brodie, growing up in the region meant that he’d seen plenty of salt flats in his life before, but had never had the chance to walk out onto one. When asked about what he enjoyed most about this experience, he answered ‘licking the salt’. Apparently it tasted like salt.
We also stopped at Woomera, ate some lunch and explored the old army base.
And then it was back on the road to head to Coober Pedy. One of the first lessons we learnt in making up the Pilgrimage as we go along, is that waking up later than we mean to, and spending too much time taking toilet breaks, means missing out on stuff at the other end. So we didn’t get to do the things in Coober Pedy that we intended to. Fortunately for us, we’re driving back this way and have another chance. For now it’s overnight in the Underground Church, before an early start to get to Kings Canyon.
We kicked off the day with an amazing hot breakfast from Joan (our incredible Chef) before having time with one another playing games before connecting with our Ngarrindjeri friends.
As always, Camp Coorong is an incredible space for our pilgrims to begin to grapple with the history of Australia and the ongoing implications for our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. In the word of the late Uncle Tom, Ngarrindjeri Elder, “Like a stone that is thrown into a pond the rippling effect [of our past] is still being felt today”.
The beauty of the Ngarrindjeri mob, is their invitation to move past our heritage and share in the richness of their culture. Elly led us on a bush tucker walk and shared her love of the land, the lengths they have gone to care for it and the nutrients available from the local flora and fauna.
After lunch we were met by Aunty Ellen and Aunty Noreen who shared the love of weaving with water reeds. For Aunty Ellen, “The weaving pattern represents life. Stitch by stitch, circle by circle. The lands, waters and all living things are connected like family.” This was an incredible time of learning in action and building relationships between our pilgrims and the local mob here.
The high levels of energy continued into free time as we played games, sang around the guitar and finished off our weaving pieces. Some of our crazy pilgrims even decided they wanted to partake in a mini bootcamp!
We are looking forward to learning more about the history of the Ngarrindjeri people from Uncle Darryl after dinner.
Here’s what Devon (16 years old) had to say about his experience so far: “The Pilgrimage has been an amazing time to hear the point of view of our first peoples and how they express their spirituality.
Aunty Ellen was so welcoming and easy to understand; she was so passionate about he culture and helped me realize what a phenomenal community Aboriginal people would have been for the Currency Children.
You can find out more about Camp Coorong at: www.ngarrindjeri.com
Our journey began as a group of strangers with pilgrims from across Victoria coming together to take part in this incredible journey.
Regardless of where we were internally as we boarded the bus, everyone embarked on the Pilgrimage with a willingness to meet the stranger, that they were about to spend the next 10 days with.
It didn’t take long for a community to be built on the bus as we shared our dreams for the coming trip and played games on the 9 hour journey to the Coorong to hang out with the Ngarrindjeri people.
After a long day, we were welcomed to the Coorong by an incredible sunset as we learnt how to put up our tents, reflected on our first day of the Pilgrimage and celebrated the Birthday of Josh over dinner.
Here’s what Shanai (15 years old) had to say about her experience so far: “[the bus] automatically [had] a positive vibe… As someone who struggles in social settings, my biggest lesson today was to learn that there was no judgment here and I will be accepted for who I am. Accepting this has made me more excited for what will happen over the next 10 days and take part in all this journey has to offer.”
Saying goodbye to the cool blue sea we head for the inland country. The group is in high spirits, comfortably accepting each other as travel buddies.
Group discussion is hearty as we anticipate the evening meal. Activity is various with quiet tones. This is the life!
There’s so much more to say about our time in Pukatja. The festival, the waterhole, the card games, the team getting to know each other, the Jesus stuff, the donkeys…
Or the time the kids found out where we were staying. They decided to stay too. There was a whole afternoon that we had our own little fan club waiting outside our front door, yelling our names.
“Phiona!Phiona!Phiona!Aidan!Aidan!Aidan!Chris!Chris!” And so on. For a few hours.
One even burst through the toilet window, surprising the occupant. Ah, fame.
But the real reason we were in the community, and why we were spending time with the kids, was because of Easter. AKA, the Jesus stuff.
The Uniting Church workers of the region invited us to come and help out at the APY Lands Easter Convention. Four days of celebrating Easter in a distinct style – a mix of Anglo tradition and what the Anangu call Inma (celebration). One tradition that the whole community came out for is the Good Friday Inma. A good hour was dedicated to dressing up – the kids as tiny Roman soldiers, the women as Mary and Mary, and a young Anangu man as Jesus, carrying the cross. He was whipped (by kids with leaves), nailed to his cross (by long red fabric), and placed in a tomb (a small tent). Come Easter Sunday the women would visit his tomb, and find him gone.
Sunday morning we resisted the story at dawn, with a 5:30am start. The area around Pukatja is rich with hills, and the one behind the church has a particularly spectacular view. In our tiredness we joked and laughed with each other, only to be told that this is a sad time. No laughter during this Inma.
So in silence we climbed our hill, and waited for the sun to rise. We sang old hymns, and said prayers for the young people of the region. We continued praying until we saw the sun reach the top of a distant mountain.
Once the sun was up, the hot cross buns were eaten and the tea was served. Our intrepid leader found herself in a conversation with a local Anangu man, who was talking about life for the young people of Pukatja. He was so passionate and sad, that soon all of us were drawn into what he was saying.
“What will happen to our young people? We old people grew up with tradition, but where are our young people? And how can you help? You must help.”
That last question was a bit of a shock to our collective system. How can we help? What do we have to offer? We’re under no delusion that spending a few days playing games with the kids will have long term positive impact. So what will? And here we are, about to leave. Carrying the faces and names of all these children who we may never see again, and who’s future is uncertain. What have we left them with that will last, other than yet another group who’ve come in and out of their lives?
Last year in nearby Indigenous community Amata, we spoke with an elder named Leah. We wanted to know if it was ok to take and publish photographs of our time there.
“Oh yes. Tell people about Amata. Show them our community, help others to see us”.
The truth of Australia’s remote communities is that they are easy to ignore, and with some of the things that we don’t quite understand we’d prefer to turn a blind eye. Or we try to force our way in to fix what we see as the problem. The biggest challenge I take away from Pukatja is to not turn away. To see all the unanswered questions and to feel the pain of not knowing the answers. It’s not for us white fellas to solve; it’s for us to listen to people like Leah, people like the man who talked to us on the hill, and to not forget the questions. To bring the questions out into the open and make others aware that these kids exist. Maybe we have some of the answer, and through more conversations with more Aboriginal leaders we can find a new way to do these visits and to tell this story.
But right now we can only say ‘wampa’.
What Actually Happened.
Day 1: We arrive, feel awkward and confused, but play an amazing game of Emperor and Scum.
Day 2: We attend the community’s Good Friday Passion Play, and then play an amazing game of Jungle Speed. That night we attend an Easter service (our third by that point) and find out that the children of the community are incredible/exhausting/insatiable/noisy.
Day 3: We plan and produce a festival for the kids. This goes for 2 hours until we are interrupted by an impromptu church service, the fourth Easter service by this point. We play more card games, visit a waterhole, and then go to yet another Easter service.
Day 4: We’re up at 5:30am to attend an Easter dawn service. We get home for a croissant-y breakfast, a round of cards, and then another Easter service. We get in trouble because we can’t keep the kids quiet enough. Then accidentally sign on for a few hours of cooking sausages for the entire community. Then we go home.
No wonder it’s a bit hard to put into words, right? But lets talk about that part in Day 2 where we finally meet the kids.
We weren’t quite prepared to be so beloved. And being beloved is exhausting. After plonking ourselves on the ground, a mob of kids jumped all over us. This probably sounds metaphorical; it isn’t. Chris, Aidan and Nan managed to find themselves instantly integrated into a game of marbles, while Heather, Phiona and myself became sitting apparatus. Phones were removed from pockets, selfies were taken, games were played, phones were gently taken back and placed back into pockets, and then they discovered how willing we were to give them piggy backs.
“Put me up there,” says Adalina, indicating my shoulders. It’s been a while since anyone’s been up there. Has anyone ever been up there? Can my back take it? Actually, no time for questions; she’s already climbed up. And there she’ll stay til the night is over.
“Let’s go this way”. She grabs my head and points me in a particular direction. I obey.
“Now over to that wall. I’ll show you a trick”. She grabs a rope and climbs from my shoulders up a wall. She reaches the top, makes sure I can see her, and then with a proud smile climbs back down. “Can we go get some water?” I figure the water must be close by. It isn’t.
Soon there’s a whole procession of us, with at least one Anangu child each tagging along, walking through the community at night to the water fountain on the side of the shop. To the swing set. To the other swing set. Not back to church yet, let’s climb this. And so on. It was more fun than any of us have had in a long long time, but by the time we got back to our accommodation that night we were dirty, tired, sore and with a ringing in our ears that couldn’t just be from the church’s massive speakers.
When I went to bed I found chewing gum on my shoulder.
“That was amazing,” one of us said. “But there’s three more days of it to go”.
Part 3 is here.
“So, who wants to go to Pukatja?”.
We were sitting around our Basecamp dining table which had only recently been set up, with a couple of newbies from Victoria who had only just arrived at camp, discussing a plan which had only just been decided on.
The past week had been a series of umms and ahhhh with regards to Pukatja. Every year Fusion gets invited by the Uniting Church to help in a remote community over Easter weekend. Our challenge this year was there was no accommodation and a thousand unanswered questions about what would happen over the weekend and what our task there was. It maybe involved a few church services, each in a language we didn’t know, with unexplained cultural aspects, and very undetermined start and finish times. It maybe involved doing festivals with the kids, or maybe storytelling, or perhaps just sitting with them. Maybe we’d be helping the Salvation Army do a sausage sizzle and serve hot cross buns, and that would be it.
Can we take our cameras? Dunno. Will they object to having their picture taken if we do? Dunno.
Haw many of us should go? Dunno. Is there phone reception? Dunno.
Could we sleep in that person’s backyard, like they suggested? Dunno. Would we have access to a kitchen? Dunno. Showers? Dunno.
With many ‘dunno’s hanging over us, we still had to answer that first question: Who wants to go?
S0me hands shot straight up. Others took a little longer to get there.
Regardless of where we were internally at that point, the very next morning, at 8am, eight of us piled into the van and heading into the very unknown.
Pukatja, previously known as Ernabella, is a community across the border in South Australia. It took us about 5 hours to drive there, with only one toilet stop. It took us a little bit longer because we couldn’t find our accommodation, which ended up being the floor of a TAFE building. Better than a backyard.
What we experienced was far more intense than we expected, in many ways. Our first night was a shambles. We showed up for a church service, and while our intrepid leader Rose made her way around the elders of the town introducing herself, the rest of us stood wild-eyed and bewildered watching something we only barely understood.
“Hey you.” An elder beckoned us over. “These kids are watching you.”
What looked like a small army of children stacked on top a nearby picnic table stared shyly in our direction. We shyly stared back.
Should we go over there? Dunno. What if we sat down? Dunno. What do we do with the kids if we do make contact? Dunno. Do we look like clueless white people right now? Probably.
Luckily we were saved by an invitation from up the front to come up and introduce ourselves and talk about the Pilgrimage to Uluru. We were off the hook. For now.
How do we make contact? How do we go into a strange community with complex issues and start to do things with the kids? Are we crossing a cultural boundary, or perpetuating an unhealthy dynamic?
It took us a while to grapple with these questions, and we overthought it all and avoided the issue until our brains hurt.
In the end it was simple; we went over to where the kids were, and we sat down. Within seconds each and every one of us had at least one child on top of them.
“What your name? What’s this? What’s her name? Can I take photo? Can I get on your back? Can we go to the swings?”
The man who’d invited us, Peter, joked that to get by in Anangu culture you only had to know one word: ‘Wampa’. It means ‘I don’t know’. Couple that with a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and you can respond to anything the Anangu throw at you.
We went in to Pukatja requiring an answer for everything before deciding how to respond. Is this ok? What if I upset someone? What if we look like idiots? These kids, on the other hand, had decided to act and use their questions as a way to connect.
By the end of our time in Pukatja we had ‘wampa’ down pat. And once we got the hang of it, so much more was able to happen.
Stick around for part 2.