Note: I should have explained in our previous post, that all photos of indigenous people have been (and will be) taken with permission.
Today was to be, driver Ian informed us, our longest day, and it sure was long – 420km on dirt road at an average of 60 kph. As we were in permit country, we were only allowed to stop at certain places, in fact just four along our route. Our destination was the Arafura Swamp (or wetlands), apparently the largest swamp in the southern hemisphere. (I love how we Southern Hemisphereans measure things this way.)
Anyhow, our trip took us through what Ian called Eucalyptus Tropical Woodlands. Although superficially it all looked the same, it did vary with different vegetations, such as cycads (ancient ferns) or livistonias (palms), predominating at different places.
During the trip, we learnt about the work Jack Thompson (yes, the actor) has done to support indigenous people do what they want to do versus what the government tends to do. The Gummutj Corporation, for example, runs an indigenous mine. There’s a program to selectively log stringybark for their own construction needs, and they mill it using mobile milling equipment. They run a Cattle Station – Guthrie Station – a prison farm. Indigenous people are taken into protective custody by their own community, in order to keep them out of the prison system. Rehabilitation is offered. The station has its own abattoir and serves communities only.
We learnt about the flora and fauna of the region:
- Cycad armstrongii – small cycad
- Grevillea decorans
- Livistonia humilis – small palm
- Grevillea pteridifolia, with gorgeous yellow orange flowers
Ian also suggested that indigenous Australians are the only people to have documented climate and other change over last 20,000 years through their rock art
Our trip was done in 4 Stages, starting at 8am and finishing at 5pm
- 1.5 hours to Giddy Creek/Giddy River for morning tea
- 1.5 hours to Flat Rock Creek for a brief stop (though it was probably a little less than that)
- 1.5 hours Goyder River for lunch
- 2 hours 20mins to Murwangi (and the Arafura Swamp)
For the last long sector of the drive, Ian played the DVD of the documentary film 12 Canoes, which discusses Yolngu life from multiple perspectives:
- Old people (or ancestors) and the laws they passed down
- the role of the Macassans, whose impact is still evident in the language, and in the presence of tamarind trees
- the 1898 Florida Station war, when the Macartney brothers gave the local people poisoned horse meat – the Yolngu eventually won and the Macartneys left.
- the 1903 Arafura Station and East Africa Cold Storage Company, a three-year war eventuated which the Yolngu also won, but after a lot of deaths on both sides.
- Joe Bradshaw (related to he of the Brandshaw figures).
- Thomsontime, representing the role played by anthropologist David (I think) in the 1930 s → his photos have now proved excellent history for the Yolngu, but at the time he also fought the government for their land, their law and their respect.
- the swamp is their home, providing nourishment for their soul, food for their bodies. “It is us” they say. But now they face new problems: invasive planets, government laws (such as those limiting the killing of crocodiles resulting in excess numbers), and tourists who are needed for their money but who disrespect their laws. How to solve these problems?
- the importance of the “seasons” which represent what they can eat, and do, and also control how different aspects of their lives work together.
- Kinship, which shows how people, animals, land, objects all relate to each other. It identifies responsibilities, how they should live. It keeps their culture alive. Some old kinship laws have gone in the modern world (such as they no longer inherit wives.)
- Ceremony, which relates to naming, creation, initiation, birth and fertility, the cycle of live – it also keeps the people together and their culture alive.
- Language, which is complex in that each clan, each country and sometimes even special activities and relationships have their own language. Some are similar, and some are very different. English doesn’t work well for their culture and ways of thinking.
- Nowadays: this section of the film had no narration, but showed through images and sound (such as of mobiles ringing) the changes coming to the communities.
It’s an excellent film – directed I think by Rolf de Heer of Ten Canoes fame. It provides a simple but not simplistic introduction to the history and culture of the Yolngu, and can to a degree translate to other indigenous groups. Should be seen by all Australians!
Arriving, finally, at Murwangi at the Arafura Swamp
Anyhow, it was a very bouncy ride, and we were not sorry to arrive – and to be greeted with cold eucalyptus scented flannels and a complimentary glass of something we fancied!
The chef here focused on incorporating native Australian ingredients in all the meals – so we had kangaroo, crocodile, and various native berries and herbs. But, more about the Swamp in our next post.
Note: A rush job to get this out in our few minutes of connection in Maningrida before we go off-grid again! Excuse the scrappiness! (We’ll revise it when we get the chance as some facts may need verification!)