A friend of mine, photographer Kristian Laemmle-Ruff, went on a life changing trip in 2014. He travelled along the Western Australian coast from Perth to Broome, across the Kimberley through to Arnhem Land and finally down to Alice Springs, where he flew back to Melbourne (our shared hometown). Soon after returning, Kristian said to me it was weird experiencing culture shock within his own country, and he was struggling to bridge the disparity inherent in our nation’s makeup. I couldn’t relate, I had only been as far north as Alice Springs and west as Uluru, and in that moment I felt how limited my understanding of Australia is. I know the eastern states, and even then just the coast and the capital cities (with a few brief stops along the Newell Highway). I am ignorant of my homeland, and started to question what I truly knew about this place. I had read books, articles, novels, seen films and documentaries, television programs, but this was another person’s perspective that was often dictated by commercial interests and an audience’s want to be entertained (except when the author has been brave enough to confront). I realised if I wanted to understand Australia I needed to challenge my sheltered existence to see what was really happening across country.
I arrived in Broome disorientated. I had travelled, via Perth, directly from London, having spent the past three months there and in Europe. To travel from London directly to the Kimberley was bold. To see the contrast is illuminating. I arrived with a loose connection, a friend of a friend of a friend, Beee, who agreed to pick me up from the airport and whose couch I could sleep on that evening. Straight after arriving Beee took me to the beach to meet more people she knew, one of them Petrine, the founder of Bridging the Landscapes. We got talking and quickly understood that she knew the person I had been recommended to find in Fitzroy Crossing, a Bunuba elder, June Oscar. I am an emerging writer of theatre and film and was connected to June by my friend and mentor Tom Gutteridge, a former artistic director of Perth’s Black Swan State Theatre Company, who connected with June when producing Jandamarra in 2008. Tom also encouraged me to meet with Dillon Andrews, another Bunuba elder who also assisted with the production. The following day, Petrine and I crossed paths again and she offered to drive me to Fitzroy Crossing, where she was headed via Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge, two places Tom had recommended to visit, where she was meeting with Dillon. We laughed at the serendipity. We would leave on Friday and get to Fitzroy Crossing on Saturday.
Petrine is an incredible woman. She is on the ground amongst communities connecting and empowering them as much as she can. With Dillon and his niece Denise, Petrine met with five government officials to talk about a plan to empower the communities, a response to the state government’s consideration to close remote indigenous communities. It was an incredible meeting to witness and Dillon took them, and me, to very sacred sites - Carpenter’s Gap, Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. This was an experience like no other, visiting the sites in the company of an elder, filled with intimate knowledge that was passed on and experienced throughout his life. He told stories and sang songs. I connected to the sacred, I felt the power of this land, and felt really uncomfortable that I had been a silent witness of the happenings across my lifetime. There is no longer a need for such passivity. I want to be an active listener of the time I live in. So in that moment, surrounded by Dillon and his mob, I listened, and truly connected with them and they connected with me. Dillon invited me to spend time with him and to go to his community, Biridu. I am now in Fitzroy Crossing, Petrine has invited me to stay with her till I meet with June Oscar.
I can only thank Petrine, who’s opened me up to the ancient power of this land. Petrine is open to more people joining her mission through Bridging the Landscapes, an offer I wholeheartedly encourage others to accept.