Family Ties 

It’s 5.30 PM on a weeknight. The baby has been sick all week and getting up at 4.30am… I am exhausted. Utterly so. The house is a mess and I’m feeling miserable. I’m writing exactly this in an email to a friend of mine in Adelaide when a car I don’t recognise pulls up at the front of the house. This happens often enough – sometimes it’s Anangu wanting to sell wooden carved goods like clapping sticks or Tjampi woven baskets. Sometimes they want to use the internet, sometimes they want firewood; in fact Ruebens dad came to ask for some last night because he caught a bush turkey and wanted to cook it – he showed me the dead Mallie-Fowl on his back seat! I always oblige where I can. 

A group of older women are at the gate. “Nyuntu Palya?” I ask. Are you okay? One of the women speaks for the group: “Uwa, Palya…. Tjamu nyuntu, Wayne Curtis?” Is your grandfather Wayne Curtis. “Uwa” – yes. I explain my family tree as I understand it. She starts to cry and speaks rapidly in Pitjantjatjara to another woman in the car, who opens the door and gets out; she’s sobbing. “This your Kami, cousin!” This is your grandmothers cousin. She explains that she grew up with my grandmother when she lived in Ernabella as a small child. They’re all crying with happiness now. And so am I. We stand there in this awkward group hug, I look into their faces and they look into mine. Searching their faces, I can see my grandmother and father in their kind, dark eyes. We stand talking for a while. They each hold and cuddle my baby and sing to her in Pitjantjatjara. My Aunty tells me that she knew that I was her family: “I see you walking around with your baby and I said to my sister ‘she looks like Nicole, I bet she’s our family!'” 

They go on to explain that they’re having a special ceremony at Inma tonight and that they need some firewood, so we fill the boot of their car with wood. I feel like I have so much comapred to my Anangu family – firewood is the least I can do. 

I see my Grandmothers cousin today when I go to the shop, she stops me to hug me again and tell me how happy she is to meet me. “Why you always walking everywhere? You don’t have a car?” She asks, concerned. “Nah I got one, I just like walking!” I don’t admit that I’m too lazy to get the car out to drive the 5 minute trip to the shops or school. No one in this place seems to walk anywhere, despite it being a tiny place. It’s a sign of being poor to walk everywhere like I do. We talk for a bit longer, she tells me that she and my grandmother used to go to Yalata together to visit other family when they were tiny kids. It’s so amazing and yet so heartbreaking to hear about what my grandmothers life was like before she was taken from her family. “What was her English name? What name did they give her?” She asks. “Pat” I say. “uwa… Her Pitjantjatjara name, ‘Umatji’ (oomahchee)” “Umatji”….. Wow. I’m speechless. I only ever knew her as Nanny Pat. 

She promises to come for Kapati one day soon so that she can tell me more about my family. I walk home, a sick baby, warm on my back, her hot breath in my ear. I cling to these small pieces of information… They all form part of who I am as an Anangu woman.

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3 thoughts on “Family Ties 

  1. You need to get this published as a book. I’d say once you are done, but you’ll never be done. So maybe Ill say, publish part 1 of your journey. Incredible Liz, just incredible. xxx

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  2. Hi liz, I’ve finally caught up on your stories….wow…how amazing…and how raw some of these experiences must be for you. I love the mental wifi…I’ve had these urges when travelling up north to jump out the car, lay on rocks, take off my shoes and feel country and feel the earth, or just sit and take it all in – it’s like going back to where I should be. Keep enjoying you’re doing a great job.

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