Entry 1: Out of Our Comfort Zones

I’ve never worked with community; a disappointing truth, having grown up in a suburban Australia not reflective at all of the history and culture of this wonderful continent.

I’m currently sitting on the flight up to Darwin where I will meet the group and we will travel down to Katherine together and tomorrow make the final drive to Barunga. I’m a nervous flyer, always have been, and hate turbulence so hopefully writing this journal entry will serve as some form of mindfulness. I’ve never been to the Northern Territory; having grown up in Canberra, Adelaide is as far off of the eastern coast I have ever ventured. My journey to Barunga doesn’t feel like a simple trip interstate, but rather an adventure to an environment, community and culture far different from my daily life and I’m ecstatic! I’m not only excited to meet new people, work with community and camp on Jawoyn country, I’m also excited to find the commonalities in our lives and the lessons I can learn from our nation’s first peoples.

I tried to research a bit of Jawoyn language before leaving Adelaide, but the only vocabulary I have remembered is ‘Bobo’ which means ‘goodbye’ and that’s not much use when you’re trying to make a good first impression. Hopefully, Claire can tell me how to introduce myself etc. as I love languages and believe linguistics are a vital aspect of addressing the archaeology wherever you go. I’ve never worked with community; a disappointing truth, having grown up in a suburban Australia not reflective at all of the history and culture of this wonderful continent. I’m also nervous, mostly about whether or not I will be cold at night as being cold in a tent is pretty much the worst thing on earth, but also about making friends and leaving a good impression with the community at Barunga. Honestly, I think once I get there these fears will dissipate, and we will be left to enjoy all the bright stars and wonderful new friends.

Entry 2: Experiences and Challenges

We were given our Skin names on Monday… it is not a claim though, it is a gift and one I believe will only gain a larger place within my identity as a grow in my knowledge and understanding of culture in Barunga.

I have learnt so much I don’t even know where to start. Our arrival on Saturday fell on the day of the local AFL grand final and the Barunga Crows won! The sense of community and family was so palpable from the get go. The Traditional Owners, Custodians and Elders have been such kind, generous and most importantly patient with us; there are many conventions and traditions we are still learning, and they have been nothing but supportive of our learning. We were given our Skin names on Monday, I am Kalidjan which means Claire is my mummy and I have a nana and grand mummy in Barunga now! This gift felt so precious and at first I was unsure as to whether it was appropriate for me as a munanga to claim a Skin name; it is not a claim though, it is a gift and one I believe will only gain a larger place within my identity as a grow in my knowledge and understanding of culture in Barunga.

My research project is looking at the effects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), more commonly referred to as ‘the Intervention’, on women and women’s culture in Barunga. I have begun to Interview several Elders within the community, including my nana and grand mummy, about the ways in which the Intervention has impacted on themselves, their families and their connection to Country and culture. This has been such a rich learning experience, however it has also been completely heart breaking to hear the implications of that ruthless act of colonisation, as that is what it is.  We visited Drupni rock art site on Sunday, one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. I was told by a Traditional Owner about Mimi’s and how to avoid being swallowed by a rainbow serpent and I must admit, I had a little trouble getting to sleep that night. On Tuesday, we drove to Manyallaluk where we met Richard, an amazing artist working with traditional techniques. We also met Carol, such a talented weaver who showed us how to split pandanus leaf; though none of us could manage it.

It is now Wednesday, two days left before we leave, and I have developed a chest infection. As much as sleeping in a tent with a constant cough has been challenging, I don’t want to leave yet. I want to keep talking to these amazing Elders filled with knowledge and experience; especially when women’s stories are so often sidelined as secondary to the fact within historical contexts. I am looking forward to presenting my report back to the community and hope it can be helpful in some way; now I just have to write it!

Entry 3: Take Away Thoughts

I am a Kalidjan and will be silently working out my Jawoyn relationships to everyone in my family from now on.

I can’t believe the week is over. On the one hand I am well and truly sick, ready to go home and curl up in my own bed and on the other I feel strange about leaving Barunga; as though going back to suburban Adelaide is going to feel like a false reality. So many munaga in Australia go about their lives blissfully and wilfully ignorant of the myriad of beautiful, complex and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. More than that however, many of us choose not to confront the horrific effects European colonisation has had and continues to have on Australia’s First Peoples.

I’ve made some wonderful new friends in both community members and the other field school participants; I’ve even gained a new mummy, grandmother, nana, several aunties and many more family members. The Jawoyn ladies who taught us this week were truly amazing; they were patient with our mistakes and encouraging with our successes. The Traditional Owners and Custodians of this Dhuwa land have gifted us more knowledge than I will ever be able to thank them for and I hope that I am able to return to Barunga soon because I will genuinely miss these women.

Last night I took my Skin test with Mummy Claire and Aunty Jean and I was surprised at how clear the system of Moieties and Skins is in my head now; this is something I am determined not to lose. I am a Kalidjan and will be silently working out my Jawoyn relationships to everyone in my family from now on. I don’t know how much Claire would appreciate me calling her Mummy at uni though, so I probably won’t do that. All in all, this week has been one of the hardest and most identity shifting experiences I have had, and I know it will not only shape my archaeological practice but will also inform the way I move through the world.