Yet again, I had a good time at hodgson downs last weekend. I tell you, that mob spoil it for this Ngukurr mob by being so nice.
Alawa classes went well. I got in too late to do anything on Thursday but Friday we had a class that went well. I didn’t think it would because there was a community meeting on and I thought everyone would want to be there. But the two old men I work with to teach Alawa are so dedicated, they both rocked up after I thought I’d have to try and do something on my own. We ended up running a pretty good class. Some of the kids are actually getting into it. Their teacher made them make a little ‘pocket book’ that says on the front “Nanjal yemberli?” (what are you doing?). Then they stuck in a photo of one of the old men telling a Dreaming story. Then the old men put the caption to the photo which goes:
“Ninda ngemberli wulunga Wuradbunggu-yi, gada arrganya, ala murru Yilayi, Wanggurlayi, yil-jijan yil-murrgu”
which I translated (hopefully accurately) as
“I’m telling you mob about the Quiet Snake, where it travelled, and also the Night Owl and the Crow, three Dreamings.”
Neat, huh? And today I realised that there was only one word I needed to ask old A for the meaning… haha… smarty britches me.
Prior to the Alawa class I’d been asked by my lambarra C - also manager of the local football team the Nurralingi Tigers - to drive him and some others in for the Friday night game in Katherine. I was glad to because I like going to the footy and I like that mob, and my good mate, my banji J, was also coming with us.
Well, the Tigers were playing the only munanga team in the competition, the Tindal Magpies, the team from the local airforce base. They’re both at or near the bottom of the table. Both teams are so different though (not only in skin colour!). The Hodgson Downs mob are all smaller, leaner, faster and more skillful while the RAAFie mob are all about a foot taller, much bigger and play differently. It was a good game… especially cuz the Tigers won! …for the first time this year! I was so happy… they’ve been consistently messing up this year and I was so worried they’d do it again, but no. Go Tigers. Afterwards, I hung out with my banji J which was great because he doesn’t drink or anything so I had a quiet and healthy Friday night.
Me and my banji have talked about going out camping for ages but I was always somewhere else or too busy or too tired. But Saturday morning we headed back to Hodgson Downs (after shopping and avoiding humbug) and when we got back we collected a few guys and they took me to Bella Glen to camp out for the night.
It was really good. I’d been there before but it was fun to go there to camp and to go there with only young guys (all around 20). I tell you, it was so interesting to find out what they talk about round the camp fire. I ended up being pretty quiet and felt a bit on the outer, but only cuz I only knew a handful of the people they were talking about and also cuz I missed half the jokes cuz the colloquial Kriol was coming thick and fast. After making a fire, boiling tea and cooking up tinned meals to eat with bread we settled down to sleep under the stars. So nice. But bloody cold too. And in the middle of the night I woke up to the horrible discomfort of having a bug right inside my ear. I could hear and feel it crawling around. I was still half asleep and it must have crawled out not long after it went in because my trauma only lasted maybe 15 minutes.
In the morning we drank more tea, ate brekky (tinned beef mixed with spaghetti on toast) and then went for a walk around the place, which is actually a beautiful waterhole in a little gorge. We climbed the sides of the gorge (nothing too steep) and explored, then swam, then headed back about midday. It was great.
I was thinking today about camping out. I’m a bit proud at how acclimatised I’ve become to being out here. I was happy sleeping under the stars, happy being dirty, happy eating dinner out of a tin that had been heated on the fire, happy drinking tea out of a cut-in-half OJ bottle I’d found on the ground, happy being around these guys and happy that they felt they could be themselves with me there. I mean, none of those things are remarkable, but they’re nothing I would have been doing a year ago with any ease.
Oh and being a linguist, I couldn’t help being with these guys and wondering about what kind of place their traditional language has in their lives. Just as I was beginning to realise it has no place, my little banji A (all of 14) sprouts up with the Alawa word for ‘west’ (lurrunggadi) when we were talking about which way the sun went down. haha. He almost knew all the other directions too and was actually trying really hard to remember them. Of course, after that, the conversation went back to something like girls or kung-fu movies but still…
Going back to Ngukurr after camping out I realised why it was so nice hanging out with these guys. They didn’t whinge and they didn’t rely on me to do anything for them. I just can’t imagine that happening if it had been people from Ngukurr instead of Hodgson Downs.