So, it all started for us a few years ago. I was working for the Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir and my parents are benefactors of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra who supported a commission for the SSO, Gondwana, and Bunuba Cultural Enterprises to collaborate and create a 1 hour piece of music/full show performance (complete with dancing!) that brought the Jandamarra story to the Sydney Opera Househttp://www.sydneysymphony.com/production-pages/2014/concert-season/jandamarra.aspx
So that’s how we built the connection with the Bunuba people. One of the elders, Jimmy Dillon Andrews, just had a really good connection with my husband Tommy and they hit off a beautiful mateship. So, Dillon invited us to come and stay with him and his family and see their country in the Kimberley. Amazing!!!… How could we say no?
So we flew into Broome and spent a couple of days there getting organised, settling in and grabbing swags, camp gear, supplies (someone can organise this for you in advance though, if you prefer). We were hosted by Bridging The Landscapes founder, Petrine McCrohan who has been connected to Dillon and his family for over 10 years. She provided us with quite a lot of background and helped us feel more informed as we set off on our adventure.
We drove to Derby, stocked up on supplesonwards to Windjana Gorge the same day where there is a tourist camp site. It is just SO stunning. And it has really good camp facilities – some picnic tables, fire pits you can cook on with bbq plates, hot showers and toilets etc as well as an endless supply of fresh bore water for drinking. https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/windjana-gorge
In Windjana Gorge we met Jimmy Dillon Andrews (our connection that began this journey) and his two nephews. In the dry season, Dillon runs a social enterprise which supports his family and community, and Windjana Gorge is one of their sites of operation http://www.bungoolee.com.au/files/8913/6245/9591/Tag-along_Tour_flier_2013.pdf
It was an incredible insight to camp there with the traditional owners of the land! Dillon gave us a welcome to country smoking ceremony, and walked us around the gorge, showing us secret aboriginal artwork and carvings, telling us about the traumatic history of the gorge (there was a terrible massacre), showing us the bush foods etc. The kids played metres away from freshwater crocodiles! And had a great time playing with other kids their age they met at the campground.
We had 2 nights there, but you could do just one if you wanted to…
From Windjana Gorge the next morning it is only half an hours’ drive to Tunnel Creek - another amazing landmark and national park experience that also has significant history. https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/tunnel-creek
Tunnel Creek area is all the country where the Jandamarra story played out – the greatest Aboriginal-led resistance of white settlement. Highly recommend reading the story before you get there to appreciate the landscape and what happened on this land in history.
Also in the area is Yiramalay School an exciting initiative in partnership with Wesley College in Melbourne which we checked outhttp://www.wesleycollege.net/Wesley-Life/Yiramalay-Wesley-Studio-School.aspx
They of course welcome people who work in our space to observe the school and students and it was truly inspirational. And there is Leopold Downs station which is also very interesting outback experience.
Our destination though, travelling from Windjana Gorge, was to get to Biridu which is a Homelands community that is actually off the map. A direct drive from Biridu to Windjana is probably only 1.5 hours. It is a private community, not sure how much you know about homelands but here is a bit of background http://www.amnesty.org.au/indigenous-rights/comments/26411
Reconnecting Aboriginal people to their traditional country, and improving their health and life outcomes in this way is my real passion.
It was such a privilege to spend time with people living with such connectedness to their land and inspiring to see hope for cultural traditions to survive and continue in future generations. They have visitor facilities about 500m from the community which are very comfortable and would give you privacy. They have these little huts that are elevated off the ground but they have open walls so you are still sleeping under the stars – so basic and beautiful! Biridu is particularly innovative and entrepreneurial and pro –active in supporting themselves and setting up enterprise and infrastructure. This is one of the things we are funding at the moment, we are spending about 50k developing the next stage for their social enterprise to broaden the facilities’ use so that they can use it as a location for various training for Aboriginal people to up-skill, also to use it as a place where Aboriginal people can recover from substance abuse through intensives where they can receive counselling and support and ‘dry out’ for an extended period of time…. they have a lot of uses envisioned.
At Biridu, we sat around the campfire while Dillon sang songs in language, and Betty played with his grandson Samuel. We ambled around in the 4 wheel drive and learned about the surrounding land, their stories, their way of life. We swam in the most stunningly remote waterhole, and also in the Fitzroy River. We talked to Dillon and some community members about their dreams and to see where we could help. They are terribly shy though, so we have been chatting mostly to Petrine in this respect. Petrine has been working across the Kimberley for nearly 15 years and is passionate and committed to working alongside Aboriginal family groups who are determined to connect back to their traditional lands. She is very well respected in this space, and her vision is to attract and be a conduit for like minded people who are keen to contribute either voluntarily with any unique skill sets or with a focussed amount of funding. Her dream is to facilitate authentic reconciliation by introducing non indigenous people to communities and families, for mutual benefit and generational impact, on both sides.
Finally, we visited Mowanjum community (on the fringe of Derby) on the way back to Broome but it was just a day trip. This was to see the other spectrum of Aboriginal communities where they are urbanised, depressed, have chronic problems and are just a melting pot of different mobs who have historically been removed off their lands and are displaced.
There, we spent time with one of Dillon’s relatives Penny Bidd and her husband Keith Nanowatt. Penny is a Winyuduwa woman. She is looking after 15 of her grandchildren for various reasons, and living in very depressed conditions. She is desperate to get her grandchildren back to the health of her homelands. Petrine has worked closely with the family for 6 years and has in 2015 reached a good agreement with the leaseholder for easy access and work opportunities at the station. Penny and her family can build something there for herself, her children, and her grandchildren to connect back to country, and have a better life. This is something I am working with Petrine on, and would love to collaborate with another family if anyone our there is interested!!
This article in The Australian touches on Penny’s situation and the dangers of living somewhere like Mowanjum, a depressed community on the urban fringe of Derby, and gives a bit of an idea for the urgency for her to leave http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/remote-community-closures-open-deeper-cuts/news-story/9728d80bff5f0a9d412dacece53b4739
If anyone is interested in journeying with Bridging The Landscapes, it is a deeply meaningful experience and one that can span across generations. Please go to the connect page and send an email...you wont be sorry.
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.