Anna is an Airforce engineer-turned-community-development worker, wife to one sky-bound pilot, and mum to three children, who, through no plan of her own, has found herself home-schooling (eek!), working and sharing life in a remote indigenous community in North East Arnhem Land, Australia.
Anna Walmsley reflects on her time living and working among the Yolgnu people in the remote community of Raminging in Arnhem land.
Life out here is a lot of hard, interspersed with intense and wonderful moments, and many people ask me… why on earth would you live there?
In the beginning, this question was a difficult one to answer. The flights we provide (as part of MAF) give much needed access to services for the outstations, as well as making the work of many government and non-government agencies possible. But the flying here is neither as dramatic or obvious a humanitarian service as that of other MAF operations worldwide. There are also other carriers here — although many do not last much past 5 years — and Arnhem Land is supported by the excellent services of a developed nation — albeit few that are culturally appropriate. Health, policing, welfare are all available. So why? Why come here?
The longer we stay, however, the clearer it becomes. So in answering this question, I would like to introduce you to my friend and yapa (sister) Gadiki.
Gadiki is a single Mum to a beautiful 10 year old girl, Vashti (Wamutjan). She is a strong, capable woman with a strong faith who takes it one step further by choosing to be a key actor in the Ramingining church and community. I (Anna) first met Gadiki at an evening service where she walked up to me and told me she needed someone to help her with her Nungalinya (Bible college) homework, and she had had a dream where God had told her I was the person to ask. I said she was welcome to come around any time, and she promptly did.
Since then we have shared many things including our love of gospel dancing (I can’t see anyone who couldn’t enjoy this!!). I have shared my Internet, my administration skills, my cooking, my help and my knowledge of all things balanda (western culture). She has shared her hunting skills, her love of her culture, her child-minding skills, her energy, and her dance routines. We have shared our lives and our faith, learning and growing together. She has been incredibly open to me about her struggles and willing to sit and answer my many deep and possibly prying questions about Yolngu ways of doing things. But life for Gadiki is not easy.
Overcrowded housing, chronic disease, malnutrition, substance abuse, early death, domestic violence, and suicide: these are not just headlines, they are the daily reality for many here. But while this reads like a situation to be found in a less developed country, we do not live in a place of absolute poverty. People do not go hungry here for a lack of money or food. No, what exists here is a different type of poverty.
The clash of ‘white’ on ‘black’ has lead to today’s Yolngu living in an almost no-man’s-land of grey. No longer is Yolngu Rom the only law governing the land. Every day they must interact with a completely foreign and mostly unforgiving system that presents obstacle after obstacle in the path of many leading the life of their choosing. The result has been that, out of frustration, confusion, or shame, many give up. “Want a job? Great, can you tell me your tax file number?” What’s that???; “Want a tax file number? No worries we need a birth certificate. What? You don’t have one?”; “Feeling sick and need help? Here is top-rate care but NONE of it is in your language.”; “What about food. Are you hungry? Sure, there is a shop. But with a myriad of food that is either not good for you or you don’t know how to cook.”
Feel a bit overwhelmed? I know I do, and this is their reality day in and day out.
So why are we here? For people like Gadiki. Like all Ramingining families, she ‘lives‘ in a 3 bedroom house with up to 16 other people in it. She recently built herself her own tin house with no air conditioning or front door to give her and her daughter space. She has struggled with feelings of desperation, continual humbug by people wanting anything and everything she has (food, money, clothes), violence, illness and death.
Despite this all, she has hope and hungers for her children, her family, her people to be strong in the future, and she works tirelessly to make this happen.
Life for Gadiki is not easy, and hers is a story echoed throughout Ramingining and Arnhem Land; but unlike many, she chooses to strive for change. It is people like her that present the glimmers of hope for the Yolngu to stand up into the future. But these few need people to help provide a bridge to the unknown balanda world… and it is here we find ourselves.
We are doing nothing more than offering friendship, the knowledge of our way of life that we take for granted, and our support when the burden of life here gets too heavy — a proverbial wind break to the small sparks of Arnhem Land, which will hopefully one day set the whole place ablaze with a strong people restored.