Lockdown

The school went into lockdown today. It happens every so often; usually linked to violence and fights within the community. Basically the school locks all the gates and doors so that no one can enter or exit unless you go through the front office. Today it seems a crazed driver was tearing around Amata in a white car, attempting to swipe the truancy officer off the road, driving up onto the dirt “footpaths” – out of control. When the lockdown was called, I was standing in the school grounds, having just dropped Min at kindy which is a part of Amata Anangu School. This annoyed me somewhat because we had run out of milk and I wanted to go the shop. And of course its all about me and my needs – not about the safety of the community. And often the shop closes when there is fighting in the community. Possibly because all the fighting seems to take place around the shop as Its probably the hub. So anyway, I decided to chance it because I was hanging out for an iced tea (when you live in a remote community in central Australia in the height of summer – its the little things!) and the truancy officer gave me a lift. “Has anyone contacted the police?” I asked, “yeah I did, but they said they had other stuff to do around the station first”. That seems to be the norm for the police here in the APY, they just don’t seem to have the time or the inclination to deal with this sort of thing. “one time,” a school SSO told me, “I rang them when we were in lockdown and asked them to attend, she asked me if it was important, and I said that there was a man hanging out the front of the school with a machete – they just aren’t interested.” So anyway, the shop was quiet. Eerily quiet. That should have been my first clue. So I went around getting my stuff, mentally chastising myself for not having bought a bag because I was forced to juggle eggs, milk and apples. All of a sudden my husband comes rushing in and says “get out, now!” and I say “wait! I need this stuff – can I pay for it?!” so he relives me of my burden and we go through the register. “whats going on?” I ask. “people are coming with baseball bats”. So we get our stuff and head home – matt wants to walk me home. Outside the air is palpably tense. People are standing around, waiting for something. They are standing on the safety of the verandas of the surrounding buildings, under the pergola outside the art centre. Waiting for a fight. Even the dogs seem tense; jumpier and barkier than normal (it is so a word!), feeding off the adrenaline of the Anangu around them. We hurry home, keeping our heads down. Skip ahead 4.5 hours and I realise that in my haste I forgot some things. I strap both kids (yep – I’m the crazy baby-wearing lady, tandem wearing my kids. In my defence, the three-corner-jacks had put punctures in all three of our prams tyres, so I couldn’t take that, and Min gets tired legs) so I walk to the school. I see some Anangu I know so I ask them if its safe to go to the shop and has the fight finished. They said they thought so, and when I called into the school, they were no-longer in lockdown. I get to the shop and the Anangu woman working there told me that pretty much just as I’d decided to venture out, the fight had started again, or perhaps it was a new fight. “if they bring the fight to the shop, the shop will close.” But because it was open she told me to go ahead and get what I needed. I grabbed the remaining things I needed and came back out. People were heading in swarms towards the area between the pool and the clinic. All the camp dogs were barking and getting into dog-fights, kicking up dust in their wake. The Anangu woman who served me followed me out. “Go watch the fight!” she says. I walk back towards school and our house and I see two older women holding sticks and pieces of timber attacking eachother. One falls on the ground and people rush to help and defend her. It was a frightening and sickening display. My inner emergency nurse wanted to rush over and render assistance, but with two kids strapped to me, I didn’t want to endanger them. Then I see the school troupy hurtling towards me. It was Matt coming to pick me up. “what the hell are you doing? Why didn’t you just stay home??!” “I thought it was safe! You weren’t in lockdown!” I say, meekly – he’s right to be pissed. “Well we weren’t, but then the fighting started up again at the back of the school! Aboriginal people are very passionate! Well some are..” he looks at me askance as he pulls up outside our house. “whats that supposed to mean?!” I demand in mock outrage. “That’s the second time had to save you today!” he says, half smiling. “I can handle myself!” I say, puffing myself up (with a baby on my front and a pre-schooler on my back!). “can we go swimming later do you think?” I ask, half joking. “the fight is right near the pool! We are trying to work out how on earth we can get out kids out!! –I have to go!!”. He drives off, and I pop my bags down to open the door. I put the kids down and grab Min a drink. It was then that I remember my discarded bags. I go back out the front to grab them, and my veggies are strewn all over the front yard! Those idiot dogs!! I put my life at risk only to come home, forget my shopping and have dumber and dumber pinch the bacon I was going to use to make a quiche! GAHHH!!! Im furious!! Serves me right I suppose. Ill be keen to hear what happened. I abhor any kind of violence – so this was really challenging for me, and really confronting. The worst part is, that Im not sure how much of the fight Min saw – so I sat down and had a chat about it to see if he was okay and to let him know that fighting is really not okay. Its times like this that I have to really ask myself if coming here was the right thing to do for the kids, and do the negatives outweigh the positives. But then I remember watching Min and Shefalie running across the rocks, hand in hand as we explored a sacred site, and Mins face as he gets off the school bus and tells me how much he cant wait to go back to school… and I think, lets just stay a bit longer.

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2 thoughts on “Lockdown

  1. Gee, life isn’t supposed to be this complicated. I sometimes wonder what has happened to the sweet kids who leave school, then have to be in this “adult” world that argues with sticks and insults.

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