You’ll recall when my Anangu family came to find me, they told me to go out to Cave Hill Homeland to visit them, and to talk to my Tjamu (grandfather, my grandmothers brother – who is also considered in Anangu way to be my grandfather) and to find out more about my family. Homelands are areas of land, right out in the bush away from community, where there is one or maybe a couple of houses, and belong to a family group. So Cave Hill is my family homeland – and when my Tjamu was visiting from Mutijulu (the community at Uluru where he lives) he was staying at Cave Hill. Cave Hill gets it’s name, I assume, because of the giant rock hill that’s riddled with caves. In those caves, are the most impressive and amazing cave paintings I’ve ever seen. So much so that tourist groups come to see it.
Today, we took a school group out to Cave Hill for a bush trip. I walked to school with the kids, and we hopped on the bus. I and the kids, a few teachers, a friend and former colleague of Matts, and a handful of Anangu Education Workers. We drove around community and picked up a kid who was late, and his mum. We stopped to pick up an Elder named Stanley – he is the custodian and traditional owner of Cave Hill, and to visit, we must gain his permission. Even though it’s my family homeland – I feel I have zero cultural authority to give or deny permission to visit. To be honest, I feel that I myself need permission to visit, and rightly so. Stanley hops on the bus and we head off, 10ish kilometers out of town towards Cave Hill. I introduce myself to Stanley, and explain who my Tjamu is. He nods and says “I know”. As if to say, “you don’t need to tell me – I know exactly who you are.” Of course he does. The Anangu have an exceptional ability to recall family trees.
The broken down cars on the APY roads are excellent landmarks – particularly if there’s something unusual about them, like being particularly old, or in this case; look like they’re engaging in something indecent. The Humping Cars look like they’re doing exactly that, and the turn off is just past them. We drive past the homesteads at Cave Hill and up to the area where the tourists come and stay. Stanley addresses the kids, and I’m pretty stoked that I can understand 80% of what he’s saying, in Pitjantjatjara. He reiterates what most Anangu say about visiting sacred places; Speak softly, tread lightly, listen carefully and don’t throw rocks.
We walk up to the biggest cave. I’m literally speechless. Vivid imagery cover the walls and roof of the cave. Vivid yellows, reds, browns, whites blacks… Its more amazing than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s freezing… much colder here than outside in the wind. I can feel that weight again; 60,000 years of history on the walls of this cave. I can see images of emu, Malu (kangaroo), Anangu and Pirinpa (whitefulla). I can see footsteps depicting Seven Sisters Dreaming… It’s incredible. Photos of this place are forbidden, so you’ll have to take my word for it – it was astounding. I can hear the voices of The Sisters, I can see their faces. Matt often says that Aboriginal People have a kind of mental wifi that we can plug into to get a feel for places. I know if there’s a place I can’t visit because I feel a tightness in my chest, or feel like I’m walking through mud. And similarly, I get a feel for the gravity of a place and it’s sacredness. Here, my wifi was plugged in and connected; this was a place of great importance. We walked to the top of the hill, with Stanley’s permission. From the top, we had a 360degree view of Amata and it’s surrounds, Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It was breathtaking. And the only thing I kept thinking is that this is where I want to be returned to when I die.
Then we went back and the AEWs and I cooked Malu Wipu, potatoes and Damper. While we sat waiting for our feed to cook, Stanley told me about my family, and that he was my Tjamu’s cousin, which in Anangu way made him his brother, which made him my Tjamu too. The kids found Maku (witchety grub) so one of the AEWs cooked those. I’d only previously had maku raw, which was a bit too slimy and paleo for my tastes. But one of the AEWs cooked one and passed it to me. It was kind of eggy, nutty, chickeny and something else – but quite delicious!
The other thing that became apparent, and that Matt and I both commented on, is that when the Anangu kids are out on bush trips, and out on country; they’re really well behaved. Obviously they’re excited so they need to be told to calm down every now and then, but for the most part they were excellent. There are issues around sexualised behaviours and “teasing” amongst kids in remote communites, for reasons I won’t go into now, but I saw none of this today – and they were excellent with my kids, helping them climb and bringing the baby back when she tried to run away into the bush. Matt and I discussed this, and I hypothesised that perhaps in the same way that being at the American Embassy is considered being “on American soil” perhaps the schools and the community are not considered to be “on country” in the same way as being out bush, and that feeling of disconnect in school and community contributes to the behaviour issues at school. It’s worth considering anyway.
It was such an amazing day – I can’t really articulate how connected I felt.
This. This stuff is why I’m here.