November 22, 2005

feeling slack and getting a present

I don't know what it is but me and everybody else here seems to be feeling slack at the moment. I partially blame the lunar cycle. I believe that for the few days after a full moon, you generally get a slack and unmotivated feeling. Full moon was last wednesday. But I also think it's because the end of the year is nearing and maybe we're all winding down. I know that I'm certainly looking forward to my xmas break. Do you know that right now is the longest I've ever been away from Brisbane. I can't wait to see that place again and some of the people in it.

Besides feeling slack things are still rolling on. Last friday was a slack day, but a couple of people I work with were trying to sell some stuff they'd been given by family from Numbulwar. They had necklaces, didjeridus and woven baskets. They were trying to sell the baskets so they could afford to throw their 2 year old granddaughter a birthday party. The baskets were absolutely stunning I tell you. And even more impressive when you realise the amount of work that goes into them. They sold one for $200 (it was massive) and gave another one for free to the person they sold it. I was thinking... man those baskets are beautiful I wish I was given one! but oh well.

Anyway, no need to feel hard done by because those two, who are ultra kind and generous and accommodating, offered me one of the didjeridus later on. It's a really nice one too and my first didjeridu. I might have to learn to play now!

Deep down, I think I was still wishing they'd have offered me a basket. And then I realised - of course they're not going to offer me a basket... baskets are for women and didjeridus are for men. Haha... silly me.

November 19, 2005


wednesday bin fulmun. ai bin luk thet mun en imin brabli purdiwan. imin gloglo en imin luk beautiful. dijan foto im lilbit dakwan bat maitbi yu gin luk thet glo la ola lilwan claud en that tri jeya la bodom.

November 15, 2005


Ai garrim wanbala gajin iya la Ropa en im hambag la mi nomo lilbit. Im oldei askim mi 'Gajin! Wotaim yu gon hodgson downs?' en, 'Ai kaman gada yu?'. Dijan gajin main, im sotava handicapped wan, bobala, bat im sabi hambag, ai dali yu.

En ai nomo laigim wen im hambag mi. Samtaims mi brabli rud la im. Kapula taim ai bin jas ranawei from im en gu la Hodgson Downs misel en imin apset la mi bla tharran.

A couple of weeks ago, i finally took her to hodgson downs with me. I wasn't happy about it, but after saying no for so long, i was obligated to take her at least this one time. But you know, my gajin, who is slow (is mentally handicapped the right word?), a terrible humbug, and has always frustrated me for 'getting in the way when i'm trying to work', well, she put me to shame. I took her to hodgson downs and brought her back, and she wasn't anymore trouble than any other passenger. On the way back, she asked if we could stop in at roper bar store (a slight detour to the only shop along the 2 hour drive - more humbug!). She asked me if i wanted anything and i said an iced coffee and a bag of chips. And she bought them for me. And told me that she liked sharing, it makes her feel good inside. Didn't I feel small and selfish?

That was a few weeks ago.

Today, I did something nice for someone else and it did make me feel good inside. My anggurl E, an old man who does seem to have much family or anybody looking after him much, has been working at language centre all year without any complaint or humbug. When I went to katherine a few weeks ago, I bought him a tree for his yard. It's a tamarind tree, and will hopefully grow into a nice big shade tree with tucker to boot. I planted it in his yard for him today and i feel good.

Thank you gajin. You taught me something important.

November 14, 2005

thinking about work too much but having a good day

going to sleep last nite, my last thoughts were all about work. not only that, they weren't good thoughts.

i was thinking about some of the local people I work with here and how some are being a bit slack or not taking the job seriously enough or that they need to work harder or be more motivated. i was thinking, right, tomorrow maybe i'll have to lay down the law (in a gentle way).

along with these thoughts were the counter-thoughts - doubting my rights to impose a western work ethic on this mob or that i'm too tough on them when they've come a long way and continue to learn and worrying about if i rock the boat will people turn on me (or will i make this place as inhospitable as certain "learning" institutes next door to me).

but regardless, today at work, when i felt the first few hints of skiving, i felt my cranky face coming on. but i didn't need to worry because today was a good day. maybe i didn't need to be explicit about my concerns of these guys' work ethic. this mob aren't stupid and can easily respond to the things that are not being said.

so today, some special things happened. after nine months of working here, my wawa used the computer for the first time. pretty big event i reckon. he's 50 or so and not very literate, so i reckon it's a pretty big thing. but i wonder if it's pure or slightly perverse, to get so much joy from showing someone how to make letters appear on the computer, how to use a space bar and how to delete a letter and then watching them concentrate for the next half hour on typing six sentences. well me, i was proud of my wawa.

that was just after my baba, who can use the computer reasonably well, typed up some Marra verb declensions, which is also quite a big step to be starting doing more abstract language work that looks purely at grammar.

and last nite, when i was thinking too much about work, i was thinking about how i need to start pushing these guys harder to learn to read and especially write, their languages, so that they're not dependent on me all the time. so, after doing some writing activities, my mami told me to give her a spelling test. i was already thinking would be a great thing to do but wasn't sure if these guys would be ready or receptive. so good on you mami.

i gave her and my wawa 20 rembarrnga words to write down. my mami got 8 right and my wawa got 5. on the one hand these are low numbers, but on the other hand, to have these guys writing down language (instead of copying) and taking chances on spelling words they're unsure of, well, that's pretty significant. i reckon a year ago, they wouldn't know where to start.

so it was a good day.

November 13, 2005

big news

i forgot to tell you my other big news, although some people already know...

... i cut off my ratstail! bobala. a year n a half n it's all over. it was time.

i'm not a bogan anymore. (well for a while anyway).

November 12, 2005

back at Hodgson Downs

I didn't go to Hodgson Downs last week. I was too worn out and too demoralised by what was happening with the school program. Here's a story which contrasts the week before the language program was cut in half, and then the week after.

Week before:

Friday after smoko - Alawa class. We continued revising the first few song cycles from the ceremonial songs the old people has taught a few weeks ago, and that I'd recorded, transcribed and burned on to CD for use in the classroom and at home (I did this at the elders/community request). The boys and girls separated into their own groups and listened to the recordings with old people and other community members encouraging and helping them. They also had the transcriptions of the songs as a written prompt. After an hour or so, the boys and girls recombined to show the other group how they were going.

The songs the students are learning are part of the circumcision ceremony. In some neighbouring communities, this ceremony is not performed anymore and may not ever be performed again. At Hodgson Downs, elders still hold this ceremony and parents from neighbouring communities look to them to perform it so that their boys can still go through the ceremony. Elders and community members at Hodgson Downs are very concerned that after the most senior elders pass away, no one will be able to hold the ceremony anymore. They are wanting to teach and record as much of the songs as they can and that's why we started working on this in the school program.

The students understand how important this is and understand that they have a responsibility to learn these songs and contribute to the survival of the ceremony for future generations. However, learning language and culture is not popular and most students are reluctant participants. For many, even though they are aware of their responsibility, it is just too great and/or they don't have the confidence to think they can learn the songs. For a few of the students, they realise the importance and responsibility and are trying to make the most of the opportunity.

Week after:

Friday after smoko - no Alawa class:

With the Alawa class cancelled, the secondary teachers, still upset that the language program they worked hard on is in trouble, are asked by their students if they have Alawa today. They say, 'no', to the relief of the students. The teachers ask if the students would like to join the primary school children to sing christmas carols. They say yes and for the next hour or so they are singing songs like 'hark the herald angels sing'. The teachers who are critical of the Alawa Language Program are pleased to see the high schools students joining in enthusiastically with the rest of the school.


Interesting story, no?

Not only does it show that we are still very much in a colonial (as opposed to post-colonial) environment, it also shows how huge the issues of maintaining minority languages and cultures are in the face of such a dominant other culture, and how deep it goes and how it manifests in the attitudes of young people caught in these changes.

And yesterday, when I was telling this story to one of the senior elders, his comment was something that hadn't occurred to me before. He said something like, 'and where will those teachers be at christmas time? they won't be here, they'll be on holidays'.

November 07, 2005

tough times at Hodgson Downs

Earlier this year I was writing quite a few posts about how great it was working at Hodgson Downs. Well, recently my experiences there haven't been that great at all.

It's a long story, and to be honest i don't quite know where it starts or ends. But it does feature the following:

- some teachers putting the language program under the microscope after a year of barely taking an interest
- the same teachers cutting the program in half and showing very little support of language and culture
- the same teachers not acknowledging the commitment and effort that me, community members and the two teachers involved in the program put in... without any specific funding from the school or ed. dept.
- the cutting down of the program at the very same time it was starting to grow... we'd just started working on teaching the high school kids traditional songs, which is really quite special

my job is already hard enough and working for these endangered languages is already a very steep uphill battle. to have these extra obstacles placed in front of us was very difficult and upsetting.

last week, i didn't go to Hodgson Downs because I needed a break from it.

Now I feel a bit better and this week I'll go back and start re-assessing where we're at and what to do from here.

All this isn't a disaster. If it means that I now work purely with the community and not with the school at all, then we'll be able to do some great stuff. It's just an absolute shame (and also a bit of an outrage) that the school will have no language and culture content in it's curriculum.