February 28, 2006

bush tucker time

Now that wet season has happenend (sort of) there's lots of little fruits growing around the place. This one is a kind of black plum, or in Marra: gulinja, or in Rembarrnga: wujal. Tastes good.

February 22, 2006

Funding time

At the moment, I’m feeling very uncertain about the future. Worst case scenario for our funding is a disastrous one where Ngukurr Language Centre wont be able to have a linguist working there and it’ll basically close, like it did for two years a few years back. Best case scenario is that there’s nothing to worry about and that we’ll keep going the same way, but even still, we can never be sure from one year to the next what’s going to happen.

When it comes round to funding application time, these things weigh on my mind… what if there is no funding. What do this mob do then? What do I do then? What has been the value of the past couple of years if it’s just going to fall over again? It’s not a good way to work, always with the knowledge that it could all be over soon. How are you supposed to achieve anything in terms of community development when things can only develop ‘subject-to-funding’. It’s a big reason a lot of Ngukurr residents grow tired of hearing about the latest scheme, idea or ‘solution’.

Wish us luck. I’m hoping everything will be fine.

February 17, 2006

something satisfying

Last year I blogged about giving some of the language workers here spelling tests. Well, I’ve continued doing some work with two of the language workers trying to explicitly teach them about writing down their language, Rembarrnga (which doesn’t have a completely straightforward spelling system). I made them a big syllable chart and have been giving them tests on writing down just syllables. Then I’ve been giving the spelling tests, writing down some simple words. It’s pretty amazing. Really, these two are still at a pretty low level, but they’re learning. They’re thinking about breaking words down into syllables now. And they seem to actually enjoy doing the work. But the coolest thing is that yesterday after giving them a syllable spelling test and a word spelling test, they sat there and kept practising on other words and even sentences. For instance, my mami R, she wanted to write down this sentence:

Re-ngœnœ nga-nguna (I’m going to eat my meat, which sounds better in Kriol: ai garra dagat main bip)

She got stuck on ‘ngœnœ’ but got the rest right, working out how to spell ‘nguna’ with the syllable chart.

It’s the little things like this that make this job satisfying.

Unlike being hung-up on by someone who does an important job in the community, which also happened to me yesterday.

February 14, 2006

'the man' is getting me down

Anybody seen that movie 'School of Rock'? ... where Jack Black's character is talking about sticking it to 'the man' and talking about 'the man' being any kind of oppressive force - being a specific person or just a general force.

Well 'the man' beat me hands down today and it's getting me down. 'The man' came at me from a few sides too, which makes it even harder.

I shouldn't really go into details for fear of getting too bitchy but just wanted to say that I don't feel so great right now.

I just want to learn, work with, teach, record, transcribe, write down, speak, listen to the endangered languages here and the people that speak them. But it's just not that straight forward. It never is I suppose.

Bobala mi.

In other news, I got an anonymous Valentine's Day card today, which is quite funny.

February 09, 2006


I haven’t written about this on my blog before because I didn’t know where to start and I still don’t really feel like going into details.

But at the end of last year, two days before I left Ngukurr for my Christmas break, there was a tragic and hugely significant death here. The entire community was, and still is, in shock and disbelief about it. The man that died was an old song man, a very important culture man and someone that everyone looked to for anything to do with ceremony and culture. He was also a completely unassuming man, always happy and smiling and never caused trouble for anybody. He was a cute little oldman too, which really belied his knowledge and strength and importance.

And he died in a tragic way before his time. It’s awful.

Anyway, today, after two months, his body came back to the community. I joined the procession towards the end and it was really moving, really sad, but there was also something really matter-of-fact about the ceremonial aspects to the procession.

Needless to say, it was emotional for me and for many people there. As has everything to do with this old man’s death. It’s really full on.

And like my wawa (brother) A says: ‘You won’t find another man like that’.

February 07, 2006

two 'ordinary' days compared...

Today was an extraordinary day – but in a strange way: it was extraordinary in that it was a completely ordinary day, but it was quite manic and exhausting for me. There are some things about this job that I just can’t get used to and still fight against or stress about which only succeeds in tiring me out.

One thing that I just can’t deal with, without getting cranky or stressed, is the way that some people I work with will just interrupt me when I’m already talking to somebody/ doing something and ask me something or ask me to do something else. Sometimes it’s just ludicrous! The short-tempered voice inside my head just wants to say ‘Can’t you see I’m already talking to someone!!’

The other thing I’m still struggling with is that coming from my worldview it sometimes looks like the mob I work with spend most of the day doing not very much and don’t seem to want to do very much. It conflicts so badly with the endless list of jobs I have running through my head and my determination to get through them. My analogy (courtesy of Namij) is that it’s like running through water: I know how to run (the ‘running’ is me working hard and getting through tasks) but the way that this mob work is like putting me in waist-deep water but I’m still running and trying to get somewhere.

But where is this ‘somewhere’ that usmob Munanga are always trying to get to?

People talk about the fact that for thismob, all interactions are about maintaining relationships or based on kin relationships (as opposed to Munanga who can base relationships purely on work). This seems to make intellectual sense to me, but that doesn’t mean that it suddenly gives me that understanding in my heart and allows me to move through my day in that way.

I don’t know what the answer is. But something that one old lady (main mami C) said one time is something that I need to remember. She said ‘I can’t be a Munanga, and a Munanga can’t be me’.

It seems to be just a constant struggle, where I swing between me 'wanting-to-work-in-a-blekbela-wei' and me 'wanting-the-mob-I-work-with-to-work-in-a-Munanga-way'. And then again, when I’m comfortable working in a Munanga way and I’m comfortable with the mob I work with working in a blekbala wei, then there’s still going to be a whole lot of tensions. Seems like a lose-lose situation and I’m caught right in the middle of it – stressing out, but dealing with it best I can.


Today was another ordinary day. But unlike the day I just described (yesterday), I got through it without ever stressing out or bordering on having a panic attack. And what a difference it makes! I actually had a good day, and I feel good. Not like yesterday, you should have seen me! (The tone of what I wrote above probably gives you a good indication.)

And the main thing I take from comparing the last two days is that it all comes down to me… it’s not the people I work with, they seem to be pretty much the same all the time – it’s me. If I’m stressed, I see things through stressed eyes and all I see is the things not being done and the things that are being done ‘wrong’. If I’m not stressed, then I happily carry on with my work, and happily help others with their work. I have patience and reasonable expectations, and I get to see that things are getting done or that progress is being made.

So today, I sat with A and R for an hour and a half, trying to teach them how to spell and write their language better. Their literacy skills are really quite low, but they’re trying and they’re learning. They seemed to actually enjoy the work, even though it was a struggle all the way and literacy still holds many mysteries for them.

N filled out her application form for her Diploma of Interpreting and sent it off. Her and JBJ sat down and sorted all the school students into their language groups. Later on, I worked quietly on the computer, while N and E sorted out the community meeting they’re planning.

I walked to shop to get myself some lunch and to my surprise, L - who is the school groundsman and has never said a word to me even though I see him every second day and he knows exactly who I am – he stopped and gave me a lift to the shop (it was stinking hot as per usual). I said thanks and said something friendly and stupid sounding to break the awkwardness and he asked me ‘Do you know who I am?’. I said ‘Ai sabi hu yu, bat ai nomo sabi yu skin’ (I know who you are, but I don’t know your skin i.e. my relationship to you). He said ‘Wamut. I’m your brother.’. Shortly after, he dropped me at the shop and I said ‘Thank you braja.’

There was something about that exchange that made me unexpectedly happy. It felt I was being accepted by someone who in the year or so I’ve been here hasn’t seemed interested in me being around.

Actually, since I’ve been back, I’ve noticed quite a few people talking to me / approaching me / saying hello that never really did before. It’s given me a good feeling about being back, like that I’m quite welcome here. I think in some ways, the status of a munanga working in a community is governed fundamentally by the amount of time spent in the community. Things like work ethic, methodology, benefits brought to the community - these are all important too, but if you’re a decent person, and you hang around long enough, your acceptance will be greater and greater. Essentially, it comes down to time.

February 05, 2006

good ol reflexive writing

Here’s some more reflexive writing a la my anthropology university courses…

Sunday afternoon and I’ve had a pleasant day pottering around home on my own, cleaning, doing washing, whatever I like… doing my own things in my own time in my own space – times that I treasure here at Ngukurr.

Then a guy that I sorta know and 5 other people arrive (2 I also sorta know) asking to buy and burn some CDs. I do this occasionally for people – sell them blank CDs and help them burn them. Anyways, that was cool – I said yeah, they stood on the doorstep hesitating, I told them to come in. I helped them out and asked if somebody could learn to burn them and then go on and do it. That was all cool. It all was all cool really. They burned CDs and were here for about 20-30mins. But I realised that even this seemingly simple exchange stressed me out. After they left I realised that I’d tensed up and was breathing shallower and needed to relax and take some deep breaths. I’m trying to work out why I was stressed … here’s some thoughts…

- My stress levels automatically go up when people arrive because I know they want something and I’m never sure what, so I’m always dealing with the unexpected and thinking on my feet.
- Maybe I’m still hanging on to my white v. black and us. v. them racist attitudes and just getting scared by having so many black people over and feeling scared and stressed because I’m not in control of the situation
- Is it just naturally uncomfortable having a group of people you barely know come over for a while, especially when they’re so rambunctious?
- Is it partially because being left-wing and socially-conscious and ‘politically correct’, I get stressed because I put pressure on myself to act the ‘right’ way and to always question my actions and feelings.
- Maybe it’s just the noise and mayhem that descends after having an up-til-then very quiet day

During that half hour though, I was still myself – friendly and helpful, cranky at the one girl who was being annoying and disrepectful. Maybe it is just the unknown factors and having the situation out of my control that I find stressful. I think that’s what Sophie found stressful about being here. In today’s example, the unknowns were not knowing what this mob wanted, how long they would hang around for and then the cross-cultural factors of not really knowing the proper etiquette and politeness of each other’s cultures to deal confidently with the situation. That means that we’re either tip-toeing or stepping on toes…

Curious. I just wish I could relax a bit more. But sometimes I think too much. This blog entry being a prime example.

February 04, 2006

'Coming back home to Ngukurr'

'Coming back home to Ngukurr' is a line from a song by Ngukurr's most famous band called 'Yugul Band'. And yes, I'm back in Ngukurr.

And it's fine. I've been away for a couple of months, in which time I've been working in Katherine and spending time in my house there, had Christmas and New Years in Brisbane with my parents and friends, got smacked in the head and had an operation. Lovely.

I got flown back in to Ngukurr because the rivers are up and the roads impassable. That trip had it's fair share of trials including humbug and a pilot forgetting to pick me up from a remote airstrip. Nice stressful way to start my next stint here at Ngukurr.

My first morning I walked around saying hello to lots of people I hadn't seen since I'd left and it was lovely. Everyone was happy to see me back and lots of them had heard about my 'incident' and were concerned. It actually made me a bit emotional, getting a sense of how much people care about me here, even though it's never actually expressed and will soon be forgotten after a few weeks of work, stress and humbug.

But I have to stop being so pre-meditative about my job being stressful. It doesn't have to be that way! (Slappling myself and telling myself to 'come on').

Even though I'm reluctant to admit it, I do see myself being here for most or all of the year, funding and sanity permitting. I'll try and keep yumob posted on my adventures.

Jaldu na,