Entry 1: Out of Our Comfort Zones

I am expecting that people support one another with what little they have for no other reason than its because they are a community, and someone needs help.

My initial expectations are that Barunga will be similar to the Indigenous reservation communities in my native home of Canada. Canada has a similar dark history with respect to colonization and the subsequent treatment of our Indigenous people. Canadians pride themselves for having an inclusive, multicultural and openminded society but what is often forgotten about the the health, safety and wellbeing of our Indigenous Canadians.

What I have been told about Barunga so far is that it is a remote Aboriginal community, 80 km from the nearest town of Katherine. I am aware of the structural racism imposed on Indigenous Australians, particularly in remote communities. As such, I am expecting to find a community with very few allocated resources. I expect to see basic housing, most likely in need of repair. I expect there are very few public buildings with only the basics covered, such as an infirmary, community center and possibly a church. I am guessing there will be a public toilet block with showers, a field or open space to play football. I do not think there is a school.

I believe we will come to a community of initially wary, but ultimately friendly people who have the same wants and needs as everyone else – to feel safe and secure, healthy and happy. I expect people to be making use of public spaces, spending time hanging out together in the shade, or around a fire at night. I think there will be a strong community support network despite the low availability of resources. I am expecting that people support one another with what little they have for no other reason than its because they are a community, and someone needs help.

I am anxious, excited and curious. I am interested in meeting the community members and learning about their life. I am aware of the daily racism that community members face when they go into town, and I think I will leave this trip in one way frustrated and angry with how Indigenous Australians the country over are treated. I think I will be amazed at how they have adapted and made the best living they can for themselves despite the hardships they face and the short hand they have been dealt.

Entry 2: Experiences and Challenges

We are a resource for the community to use and we are here to help them, not passively experience the community and write assignments.

We are halfway through the field school and I have to say it has been truly amazing and an eye-opening experience so far. I found that coming to the community as a university student, even though you are here to experience a new culture and learn from the community, ultimately at the back of your mind are your assignments. Prior to our arrival at Barunga I was thinking about what topics I could discuss for my final project and already had a few ideas in my mind. On the first day as we had our introductions with the Traditional Owners and Nell, the Junggayi for Barunga, Claire informed the group that our project topics were to be based on what the community wanted us to discuss or research. Once we had covered all their needs and interests, then other topics could be considered.

This was such a simple statement, but one I found to be very eye-opening. It immediately addressed the fact that we, not only as outsiders but as researchers and students, are coming into a community with our own expectations and perceptions. So much anthropological and ethnographic research has been conducted in this way. Outsiders coming in with their own interests and agenda, essentially at the expense of the local people. While this can be a beneficial relationship for both parties this is often not the case and the interests of the local people are not considered. We are a resource for the community to use and we are here to help them, not passively experience the community and write assignments. I think this was a very important realization for me as an archaeologist as I always try to remember that I am working in someone else’s culture and to not get swept up in the science.

Entry 3: Take Away Thoughts

I forgot to avoid my new brother greeted him with a cheery smile and a ‘hello’ each morning.

We leave Barunga tomorrow morning and I have to say I will really miss this place. Even though we have only been here for a week, I feel very comfortable and connected with the community. Once we were given our ‘skin’ (kin) names, which determined how we fit within the community, it changed people’s attitudes towards us. For example, I became much closer with the women who were my mothers (beling) and sisters (bungirn) but I was ignored by my brothers (bungardi). However, I forgot to avoid my new brother greeted him with a cheery smile and a ‘hello’ each morning. Thankfully, he would smile and give a quick ‘hello’ in return until I remembered the correct customs and resorted to ignoring him as well!

There are so many lessons I will take away from this experience. I learned that when a community member is ready to speak with you, you’d better drop everything and sit and listen as that might be your only opportunity. They do not run on anyone else’s time. I also have so many memories I will be able to look back upon. I was fortunate enough to help record graves at a cemetery, see incredible rock art, learn how to make baskets (it’s really hard), speak with the community about their love of footy and make friends with people of all ages.

This place is incredibly special, and this was an incredible experience. We are so lucky to have Claire, Jacko, and Jordan as our cultural brokers who facilitate our interactions and connection with the community. It took many years for them to gain the trust of the community and we are so fortunate to be able to make genuine connections with people within a week. For future students; if you choose to do this course you will not be disappointed. In many ways it won’t be easy, but it is one of the best, real-life learning opportunities you will have in university.