Every Friday, my husband takes one of the upper primary classes so that their regular teacher can have what’s called ‘NIT’ or ‘Non Instructional Time’. And for the last few Fridays he’s used this time to take the kids out bush. Each class has, or should have, an Anangu Education Worker. Someone to help manange behavior if needed, and to ensure that classroom learning happens in a culturally safe manner. The AEW in this class is a woman named Gina, and she’s fantastic. Each week she’s picked a new place to visit, and told us the story behind the place, the dreaming, and her own personal experiences there as a child growing up. She points out what different plants and trees were used for; bush tucker and bush medicine. Matt brings some modern day science into it as well by bringing the data loggers and water testing kits. I’ve really gotten a lot out of these trips – and so have the kids. Not just the school kids either – my kids have loved it. This class is made up of some of my favourite kids that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting here in Amata. They’re all such a delight to spend time with – none of the other issues around teasing and bullying on these trips; the Tjiitjii are just friendly, caring, polite and kind. On the first trip we went out to the Seven Sisters waterholes – you might remember this place from the ‘dead dingoes and cave paintings’ post – well this time we went had had a look in the waterholes, the kids leapt back in surprise – there was a snake floating in the water. One of the kids went and grabbed a pebble and dropped it in. Again they all leapt back; it was still alive!!! We made the decision to save it – so my husband grabbed a big stick and fished it out. It was pretty stunned so it probably got eaten by the eagle we saw circling!
Then last week Gina took us out to her sisters homeland. Homelands are basically houses, sheds and makeshift shelters and homes that exist outside of the communities. There are hundreds of homelands dotted throughout the APY. They aren’t always occupied – but when the houses in community encounter significant overcrowding – often people will move back out to the Homelands. Different family groups have their own homelands, and Anangu feel quite connected to their homelands. This particular homeland was set near what used to be a large river system. Now it was all bone dry. Someone has built a dam and it had destroyed the river. Gina told us the story of a big feud between families, which caused one of the men to go and build the dam. I didn’t really understand. Now it was just sand and rock. She told us of the days when they would swim in the river as a child, and how her brothers and the other Wati’s (young initiated men) declared the best spot to be for the Wati’s only – kicking the young girls out. We hadn’t traveled far when the smell hit our nostrils. A smell that couldn’t be confused with anything else. Decomposition. We smelt them long before we saw them – the horses. Many of them. At least five or six, all long dead, and backbones picked dry. Perhaps they’d come looking for water? We kept walking along the dry river bed – we saw more dead horses, and a large dead cow. We didn’t find any water to test but we found lots of amazing plants. One in particular – and the name escapes me, has a seedpod which when you dab it on your skin covers you in a fine coloured powder – each pod a different colour! Black, orange, brown, yellow. Along with ochre paint, this is what was used for body paint during ceremony. One of the kids took the seed pod and gave himself and my husband a big black handlebar moustache! Min complained early on that he couldn’t walk because his legs were tired, and one of the kids picked him up and put him on her shoulders, and then later put on my carrier, and put Min up on her back, and then Emmeline! We trudged back to the bus, trying as best we could to breathe through our mouths as we passed the pile of entwined horse-spines. I can’t wait to see where Gina takes us next time – getting a chance to visit different places within the lands that we don’t even know exist is really special. I feel so privileged to be invited and included!