JOURNAL 22 AUGUST 1998
The highlight of the past week was our visit to Darwin, and in particular to the Daly River aboriginal community.
The Daly River community is a small township at Nauiyu Nambiyu about 100 miles south of Darwin - the population varies but is normally about 400. It would have been a three hour drive from Darwin. But the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Shane Stone, arranged for us to fly down in a chartered plane. It took about 40 minutes flying over pretty empty country: Nauiyu Nambiyu has its own airstrip which services the surrounding district.
Daly River had suffered from terrible flooding earlier this year. The entire community had been under water, and everyone had to be evacuated. The floods reached nearly 17 metres, a metre more than the previous record. The river had risen so quickly that the airstrip had been under water before a rescue could be organised, so half were taken out by helicopter and half by boat, leaving everything behind. There had not been much structural damage--only one house had lost its foundations--but the force of the muddy water had ruined almost everything inside people's homes.
Now, some six months later, you would hardly know it had happened. The houses have been repainted, the furniture replaced, the roads repaired. It required a huge team effort, but the strengths of the community came into their own. The Council has a strict policy of "no work, no pay" so that money received under the community development programme is not just unemployment pay by another name.
After seeing round some of the community--neat-looking houses mostly built by the local building force--we went to the school, headed by Miriam-Rose Bauman. An impressive woman: she is also currently the President of the local Council, as well as being involved nationally in aboriginal affairs. Lessons at the school are taught partly in English and partly in no less than five local languages. The kids in the class we went to were great. They sang a song for us and performed a dance, so Katie and I decided to sing some English songs for them, which went down very well!
We then went to see the art workshop there, where local women (mostly) are producing some impressive paintings and prints--mostly silkscreen but some lino. They sell for high prices and bring needed income to the community. Katie hopes to return to do some of her own work there and run some workshops.
In the afternoon we saw more of the community, including a 13 foot crocodile trapped in the river the previous night. It had been taking dogs and the Council had asked the parks and wildlife service to catch it. We met the people who had come down from Darwin to retrieve it and transport it to a crocodile park in Darwin - lots of jokes about volunteering to swim into the cage and tie it up!
Later we went out to a local bilabong to watch the birds--I'd said I'd never seen a brolga. It was very peaceful: no-one for miles and masses of birds (and wallabies)--though no brolgas. We saw a pelican and Miriam explained that we would never see brolgas and pelicans in the same place. The aboriginal legend is that a brolga had been promised in marriage by her parents to a pelican. He was rather old, hence the drooping neck, and she was not keen on the match. So she went off dancing on her own and was spotted by the storm wind. She danced ecstatically with him, but never revealed she was promised in marriage to another. When he found out, in his rage he created a terrible storm that separated the brolgas from the pelicans for all time.
Around the edge of the bilabongs were lots of lotus lilies. We'd seen pictures of the seed pods in some of the paintings, and Miriam waded in to collect some. So I rolled up my trousers and followed suit. You can pick the individual seeds out of the pods, peel them and eat them--a slightly nutty flavour. Miriam and Katie had great fun on the bank encouraging me to wade out to particularly juicy-looking pods in the hope that I'd slip and fall flat in the mud! They also delighted in pointing out the crocodiles swimming in the distance--but I reckoned that Miriam would have warned me if there was serious danger.
Darwin itself was a great place to visit. The temperature in August was about 30 degrees and not too humid. We had one very pleasant dinner outside by a marina in a new development close to the city centre. As well as calling on the Chief Minister, the Mayor and other Ministers we went to Crocadylus Park, which is run by Katie's brother-in-law Graham Webb. He's a great crocodile expert, and he has a breeding programme and a museum--as well as lots of crocodiles. Pretty spooky when they all come to be fed. Among the souvenirs were crocodile feet made into backscratchers: tempting! Graham is involved around the world in developing programmes for sustainable farming, including a research programme into turtles. And we saw our friend the crocodile from Daly River now safely in a pool there.
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