March 27, 2005


happy easter! It’s easter Sunday and I’m in Katherine – the big smoke. I’m staying with fellow munanga linguists Robert and Jenny. what a luxury having four days of doing whatever I want to do.

Thursday I had a normal working day, although we didn’t do much. I had a run in with the couple who run the Batchelor building at Ngukurr (Adult education centre). It’s a very flash facility located next door to the language centre but it is totally under-utilised. Language centre is asking to be able to use it for Language Centre stuff but it’s causing some problems. My argument is that it’s a community facility and that the community should have access to it and be using it much more than it is being used at the moment. But the woman who runs it doesn’t want the building used that way. Which on one hand is fair enough, but on the other, the facility does belong to the community so I feel she should pay them more attention. anyway, the issue goes on and on so I’ll stop now. besides, after a few relaxing days I’m not worrying myself about it right now.

After lunch, we left Ngukurr for Katherine: me, my two Baba – G and J – and J’s wife. The river was still too high so we took the barge. Which is such a lovely 10 minute trip up the Roper River. After that, the truck is back on the road for the 3 n a half hour journey to Katherine. Going along the first part of the trip on the dirt road, I took a corner too fast and lost control of the truck! It was pretty scary, I’ve never lost control of a vehicle before. We skidded one way, then back the other, then landed in a big muddy puddle and were nearly bogged. My passengers were pretty unfazed and told me not to worry cuz these things happen. Hehe… so cool, calm n collected. Munanga passengers would have been freaking out, I’m sure.

You know, just when I think I’ve had enough of Ngukurr and am considering running away to the city or something, something happens and I’m happy there. For example, this last week at Ngukurr had been great so I didn’t really need to go to Katherine, but I knew that if I didn’t have a break while I had the chance I’d regret it for the next few months. So there I was leaving Ngukurr but didn’t particularly want to. And old B and old S – both of who can sometimes be grumpy and demanding - were surprisingly supportive of me having a break and wished me a happy easter and told me to have fun. They made me feel all warm and fuzzy and good about being at Ngukurr.

But I still went to katherine. needed a few hours to re-orientate myself into being in town but we ended up going to Rio’s – the only nightclub in town. I’ve been there so many times, the novelty has definitely worn off and with me not drinking (much) there was no drunken haze to protect me from the reality of what Rio’s is really like. But I still had fun. My baba G was there, pretty drunk poor thing. And I ran into a few other people I kinda know from Ngukurr and a few people I know from katherine too.

Friday was spent cruising around doing whatever… we had barra burgers at the Barra café, played soccer in the park, had a swim, drove here and there, video store, watched DVDs. basically, I had a very therapeutic day. And easter Saturday was very laid back too – grocery shopping, internet stuff, coffee, pizza and a couple of beers. lovely.

And then it was easter Sunday. I woke up this morning and had an overwhelming urge to go see my sister, brother-in-law and niece in brisbane. they’re there on holiday at the moment. if I wasn’t so bloody busy I would’ve planned it better and tried harder to see them. Well, this morning I jumped on the internet and very seriously considered spending $600 to go see them for a couple of days. That would’ve meant booking the ticket and then getting straight in the car to go to Darwin to catch the flight. So I rang brisbane to slyly find out what they were doing and found out everyone was in or going to Noosa which would’ve made me visiting that much harder so I just left it. Oh well, it will just make me more determined to get there in July.

and that’s all. I’m gonna eat lunch and then go to Edith Falls for a swim. yay.

March 23, 2005


After my 'ordinary' tuesday, wednesday has been kinda special. Why? Because after eight weeks of planning we delivered our first language lessons at Ngukurr School! Yay!

I was up this morning working my arse off trying to finish off the class lists and other info for the teachers at the school. The logistics of this language program are out of this world. There are nine classes at Ngukurr school. We gave each teacher a list showing which one of six language groups their students belong to. But we only had two of the groups ready to go, the other four had to miss out today.

So i made sure we had our materials ready, i made sure Baba G and Mami R knew what was going on. I went through the lesson plans, materials and language with them. Lunchtime came along and we went to the school: me, Baba G, Mami R, old B and old F. Of course, nothing runs that smoothly...

Firstly, on our way to school, we found out that parents had heard that one of the teachers had hit a kid... the angry march down to the school had begun and was flowing well. You see, when problems like that happen here, the word spreads and a big showdown ensues, with lots of yelling and very public displays of anger. So, when we got there, there was a fair bit of yelling and ruckus... i'm the sure the munanga teacher got the fright of his life. After that settled down R realised her husband had just flown 500kms away to another community and forgotten his things, including his medication, so right when classes were about to start I ran around the community with her trying to sort that out... gardi, talk about having to call on the stress management techniques.

Anyway, we set ourselves up for classes, on time. and they started. And the kids came. And the teachers taught. And some kids listened and some didn't. And some learned and some didn't. It happened and it wasn't disastrous, which in real terms means it was a success. I'm so happy it finally happened.

Even if classes were messy and half the kids were nuisances, just the symbolic fact that a bunch of elders are going to school and delivering classes in traditional endangered languages... well that sounds good to me. And if some kids are learning something too, then wow, that's so cool.

The other thing that i was so happy and proud of was that i really had only a small support role during classes. The Marra classes happened entirely without me and Baba G and the elders did it all themselves, with help from the teachers too. That's so cool... i'm really proud of my Baba - he was basically in charge of the Marra classes. I've given him more and more duties and responsibilities and he's coming through with the goods. That's great.

And my Mami, she did a good job with the Rembarrnga classes. Overall, it was a start and a fairly good one. Now we can keep going.

Well, after that, i was buggered. This had been eight weeks of work to put this program into action. I couldn't do anything more so I took the old ladies on an 'outing'. Me, old B, old F and old H, my cousin, went to Mission Gorge to see if there was still enough water in it to go fishing... but nothing, the water had dropped too much. We came back and stopped halfway to cut some bush medicine called Dumbuyumbu. We chucked it in the back of the truck and kept going. Along the way, the old ladies were speaking Marra and Alawa as well as Kriol. I know a bit of Alawa and could understand and join in a bit. What a good feeling. We went to a billabong called Warlan-ni and fished for a bit. I couldn't go in the water for fear of leeches so i sat there and blanked my mind out to compensate from three days of really hard work. After a while (and a phonecall - it's kind of surreal hearing my Usher ringtone go off when I'm sitting beside a billabong in the middle of Arnhem Land looking at water lillies and magpie geese) we headed back, fishless. Old B cut some Bulngu - a kind of bark - and picked up another bush medicine just called 'smelly grass'. And we went home.

I sat in the gutter again, drinking Iced Coffee and recovered from my day.

Now I'm here, blogging away and i'm going to eat dinner very soon.

Tomorrow, I'm going to go to Katherine after lunch to have a break from Ngukurr. It's Easter weekend this weekend. I hope the rivers are down. I would love to play some squash and go out dancing. I'm not sure if I want to drink. I'm trying to give up alcohol.

I need some recovery time because life here is very tough and I miss all the urban things I grew up with.

Oh yeah ... when we were leaving the billabong, old B picked some wildflowers for me to put in my camp. Gestures like that mean so much to me, because I work my arse off and have sacrificed a lot to be and don't get much thanks (not that I expect thanks, but i probably am deserving of it!). So I took the flowers as a thank you and it honestly did warm my heart much more than you'd think. Thanks magarra B.

March 22, 2005

an 'ordinary' tuesday

well, it's been two weeks since i posted. i might start posting daily (or near-daily) and making this blog a more personal thing. mainly because i can't remember what happens from one day to the next. i need *something* to remind me what happens in the 'kreisi komyuniti' i live in.

so here's my story for today:

oh... just so you know, i work at the Ngukurr Language Centre... my life has *become* the Ngukurr Language Centre... so I'll be writing mostly about... um... the Ngukurr Language Centre.

Well, after a few phone calls I went and picked up my Baba (brother) G. We're *finally* starting the language program tomorrow after only eight weeks of planning. Anyway, we went to A's camp to find out if she's interested in helping out for the Ritharrngu and Ngandi classes. Poor thing, she's sick with blisters n wotnot. We also tracked Baba (sister) C who said she'd come down and help with the Nunggubuyu class. Yay! We've almost got a language program!

Anyway, Baba G finished off the little Marra book we'd made and we went to show the two old ladies who are the best Marra speakers in town, F, who actually told the story, and M. We brought them back to Language Centre and checked out the book. F, a woman of 75 or so years, read the Marra like a trooper... what a special lady. We translated the Marra into English and Kriol. F was really pleased ('yumarr' means good in Marra... she kept saying it) and so was I. I was proud of Baba G too... he did the English translation himself and didn't need me there. It's a big step for these guys who aren't very confident to do this kind of work.

By that stage Mami (Mum) R and Baba (Brother) A, who both work on Rembarrnga, came by too. Tea and biscuits were consumed and things were abuzz. These are the times when I enjoy being here, when there's a good bunch of people here working happily and chatting away.

The old ladies were finished and I gave them a lift home and stopped off at the shop to buy some lunch and supplies. I scoffed down my sandwich and juice and then sat with Mami R and Baba A and read Rembarrnga stories with them. Just when I couldn't get my tongue around any more Rembarrnga words, Baba C came in and I talked to her about the Nunggubuyu classes.

By then, i was buggered... it was about 3pm and i hadn't really stopped since 8:30. I left everyone at the office and went to the school to tell the teachers we were ready for classes tomorrow.

By 3:30, Baba G, Mami R and Baba A and me were at Language Centre adding the Kriol translations to the Marra book. Baba G is just getting his computer skills back. And Mami R, well... she's never used a computer in her life... until today!! Ah, she's such a determined woman. She must be about 50. Her mum is one of the last speakers of Ngandi, and R is a natural linguist. She can speak Ritharrngu, Ngandi, Rembarrnga, Nunggubuyu, Kriol, English and probably more! Pretty amazing considering most of those languages are endangered and hardly spoken anymore. Anyway, today I showed her how to type on the keyboard and use a mouse. She typed two sentences in about 20 minutes but it was pretty special. Once I'd shown her the basic concept she didn't want anymore help... she wanted to do it herself... what a trooper.

well, 5pm came around... knock-off time. i sat in the gutter for a while and recovered from a long day. then, hopped on my bike and cruised around town for a while. i got lots of "hello"s and "hello uncle"s (as well as plenty of "hello "s). i also saw Daisy, the little calf that lives at my cousin H's camp, gallop across the street... it was a funny thing to see a cow running down the street in the middle of a community!

well my goodness... that's my 'ordinary' tuesday. i'm making hamburgers for dinner.

by the way... i haven't explained lots of things that probably need explaining to anyone reading this, but if you want anything explained more, just ask!!! (i've been here too long to remember what things need explaining).

March 08, 2005

feeling better today

what's this? another blog post already?

well, don't ask me how, but i'm feeling a bit inspired... or is it cuz i just can't sleep.

after a rather depressing post yesterday, i've actually had a good day today and feel much happier. i don't really know how it happened! maybe i made some progress today. the day started off with a brief conflict with a highly regarded academic linguist... who tried to intimidate me (and probably did)... so my day didn't start off great.

but i guess some of the good things that happened were: talking a bit of Alawa again (which i miss), actually getting somewhere with developing the school language program, getting permanent access to the ultra-flash study centre next door (so we don't have to always be sweating on my tiny verandah while we work) and meeting someone here at ngukurr who could actually alter the state of sad and sorry lovelife.

i tell you, some of the people i work with are pretty inspirational sometimes. i'm so proud when i see how determined they are and that i am actually helping them get to where they wanna go. and more and more i hear stories about people wanting to keep langauge strong (not just rhetoric either, with actual meaning) and i'm not even starting the conversation!

i think i'm also happy cuz i'm sleeping on the floor again, on my swag. i find it very comfortable somehow and it reminds me of sleeping on the classroom floor at hodgson downs and all my memories of Hodgson Downs are happy ones.

well, it's after 1am now... if i don't sleep soon i definitely won't be having a good day at work tomorrow.


March 06, 2005

february report

time for my next report... haha...

well, i've been trying to maintain a bit of sanity and sense of self over the past month. i've been busy and overwhelmed by my work and by life here.

I mean, while i usually talk about some of the cool and amazing things i get to do here, it's also very hard being here. and it's getting to me. it's hard to motivate myself when the job we're trying to do (support endangered languages) is just enormous. and i'm trying to do this job on top of all the other general difficulties of living in a little shack a long way from where i grew up and a long way from most of the people i love and i'm living within another culture too. so yes, i'm finding life tough at the moment.

last weekend i ran off to darwin. it was good, but not great. going to darwin's a big effort (it's over 600kms away). and while i though it'd be great to just run away from here and have a break from everyone it wasn't really the case. firstly, when i ran into a whole bunch of people from Ngukurr just out of darwin, much to my surprise, i was really excited! i thought i was sposed to be sick of everything Ngukurr! and secondly, i find that it takes me a good while to be comfortable in the city again... especially coming straight from Ngukurr... so i felt like an outsider in Darwin (there's also a lot of snobbery in darwin towards anything to do with Katherine). i did go out dancing though and ate some nice food, stayed at a nice hotel and spent some money (it's hard to spend money at ngukurr!). i also practiced my front and back flips into the hotel pool... i'm getting good at them!

work's been okay but hard. we've got more people working here at the language centre. it's good to have support and help, but it also means i'm committed to supporting staff and don't have so much freedom anymore. it also means that with so many people coming to work i have less space i can call my own (because work is also home!) and that's a big reason why i'm finding life tough here... because my living arrangement isn't very desirable. we're still trying to sort out running language classes at the school here... it's a mammoth job and we've got little support from the school and none from the Education department/government. the community is totally behind it. it's pretty frustrating that the community has to struggle with this school. there's very little culture or language stuff happening at the school... everything's focused on English literacy and numeracy. and the current government isn't making things any easier. ( i don't like John Howard). The community would really like more language and culture in the school curriculum, but they just seem to be continually disempowered or something.... i don't know...

(... maybe you can sense why being here is getting to me! nothing's easy! ... however before you go feeling sorry for me... imagine what it's been like for people who are from here who have been fighting all their life!).

i have done a few exciting things lately though. there was a big funeral on and i was asked to video tape the dancing at the end of the ceremony. that was pretty rad. and a lot of people came into ngukurr from other communities for the funeral too. one of the women i work with wanted to do language work with the visitors while they were here. so i helped out and had this crazy afternoon where i was writing down what one lady was saying in a language called Rembarrnga (which i know only a tiny bit about) and then the other lady translated it straight into her language called Kune (which I know next to nothing about but still tried to write it down!). it was pretty neat translating from one language to another and not using english much at all. Also, while the funeral was on, i got to meet three old ladies who live at a tiny place on the Gulf of Carpentaria. they are about the last people in the world who use a language called Marra on a day-to-day basis. pretty special huh? so yeah, my brain is busting trying to get my head around all the languages here... an old man was starting teaching me a bit of another language called Ritharrngu the other day but it was friday afternoon and it just went in one ear and out the other because i just couldn't think anymore. it's a pity that i'm surrounded by all these languages but don't have time to learn them properly.

well, that's my february news!