Thursday, December 08, 2016

Visiting Pulau Rote Ti'i people

The week before I went to Melbourne I was very fortunate to be able to accompany a delegation from the UCA Northern Synod visiting Rote Island for the dedication of the Ti'i translation of the bible.

Once again I won't be able to tell all the amazing experiences from this trip, hopefully my photos will convey some of the beauty I experienced.

Since there are no longer direct flights from Darwin to Kupang our group had to travel via Bali. I certainly didn't mind spending a day in Bali. While there we took a drive out to the temple at Uluwatu. A beautiful place to begin our journey. If visiting the temple keep your stuff stowed away, the monkeys are getting cheekier every year.

Rest area beside Uluwatu Temple

Reluctantly I had to accompany my colleagues to a shopping warehouse!

Bored shop staff in Bali. I think they send these kids up the ladder for their whole shift! Those are T-Shirts.... 1,000s

The next day we flew to Kupang, my first time in Timor Barat, very different to Bali but quite a nice place to visit. Our first night there was spent with the family of one of my travel companions, great people, I wished we had more time to travel to their town in the hills but it takes some time to get there and the next day we had to be on the ferry to Rote.

 
Kupang fish stalls. 100s of locally caught, very fresh fish

Kapal cepat (fast ferry)
There are two main ferry services operating between Kupang and Rote... We caught the fast one! Kapal cepat, it was airconditioned and takes about 2 hours. Climbing aboard this vessel was more like entering an aircraft it hardly felt like we were traveling on the sea at all. The other ferry, which I didn't happen to see is a regular passenger and freight ferry which can take 7 hours! 

 When we arrived on Rote we were met by a convoy of Government vehicles which collected every one (about 70 guests) and brought us to the main church for the region who were hosting this celebration. Rote is a small island but there are quite a few churches.


The Host Church preparing for festivities
Men at the church wearing traditional dress including the legendary Ti'i langga (a beautifully woven hat)

Main street is bitumen. Every street is very clean.


After receiving a very warm welcome and a delicious lunch from our hosts, in groups of three and four we were taken and introduced to the families who had volunteered to billet us. I cannot begin to express the humility I felt. Being invited to stay in someone's house is not something I've experienced very often. The family who took my two new friends and I into their home were extremely gracious and generous! They prepared their house for guests and gave up the best rooms for us! They prepared all our meals and made sure we were comfortable for the two days we were to be with them. I regret and am a little ashamed that I had allowed my Bahasa Indonesia to deteriorated so badly. Unfortunately our verbal communication was limited to absolute basics, but somehow between us, and with the help of our fellow guest from Kupang we were able to get by and had a very pleasant time meeting the whole family and sharing time together in their home. 







Special guests in full regalia preparing for the grand event (I'm the white boy in the back row)

On the day of the dedication drivers came and collected those of us who were 'special guests' and brought us to a special place by the sea where apparently the first Christians arrived. It was quite a hot day but the event was well catered for with shade tents and water for most of us. 


AuSIL and translator Choir

Main guests in the shade (there were many more people! A couple of thousand!)


The boys

Ladies dancing

Respect was paid to all the clan leaders of the region and they were each presented with a bible in their mother tongue. My secular or atheist friends might wonder what is so special about this, why get so excited about spreading the bible around? Well if you had been there on the day you might understand the importance of faith in these people's lives. But in pragmatic terms, think about how important to the people's identity their language is. A lot of indigenous languages have never been written and so people are forced to only read in the language of the dominant culture. 
By committing to the translation of the Bible (the basic text of the people's own faith) the work done will help these people to maintain their unique culture. It means that they will have material from which they can teach their children to read in their own language and hopefully using this translation as a tool, will people will continue to speak and use their own language! In an age when a lot of young people are only being taught in the language of the dominant culture (be it English or in this case Bahasa Indonesia) this is a huge gift to the people of this region. I was told that the elders of this region feel a great deal of pride and relief that there is interest in keeping their cultural heritage alive.

After the event I had a chat with a local man, who offered to take me for a drive around 'His' island. We invited one of the other guests from the house where I stayed and headed off in a cloud of dust. Off the main road there were quite a few potholes, I think the theory of our driver was to go as fast as possible and hope the wheels would skip across the gaps in the road. Not always successful.

Many goats on the road... go slow



Looking toward Pulau Dana

Boa beach break

I'm gonna have to wrap this up now but there's so much more I'd like to share about my time on Rote. I was only there for two days and had very little free time but it was enough to make a big impression on me.

Life on the Island is tough! The people are not tall but have big hearts! They manage to make the most of what appears to be quite a difficult landscape. It's a very dry Island, in the Wet Dry tropics, they experience several months without rain each year. While we were there they had not had any rain in a long time and the landscape was dry as a bone. 
As far as agriculture was concerned, there were a lot of coconut palms and another palm which produces a sugary liquid (you can drink it, it's super sweet), which they bottle and sell to be dried out as palm sugar. People grow some fruit and vegetables in their garden which must be kept alive with water they draw from a community or family well. There were dried out rice paddi across a lot of the flat land but the growing season is short. Not sure if they get much rice.
The island is full of animals. Goats and pigs roam throughout the villages and across the island generally. I believe they are marked so that people know who they belong to. There are small cows, occasional horses, water buffalo, and dogs. Pretty sure there were chooks around but they tend to blend into the scenery.

The beaches are amazing, I don't want to go on too much about that because there's already tourist developments which threaten to disrupt local life and will surely stuff up water supplies. Where I stayed nobody had running water. All water came from the well, which appeared to be shared between several households. People had to carry water in buckets to fill the mandi or use for washing or put on the garden. Water is used very sparingly, were were advised not to use too much for our showering or toilet. I imagine there must be some very careful negotiation between families about how much is a reasonable amount of water to take from a shared well. 

I'd love to thank the family who allowed me to stay with them, the staff and Moderator of Kupang Synod office and the AuSIL team from Kupang who do amazing work across Indonesia and in the Northern Territory aboriginal communities. Thanks also to Rev. Thresi for suggesting that I accompany the group on this trip, it has been a wonderful learning experience and has inspired me to continue my interest in learning and building relationships with orang tetangaku.


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Homeland calling



Yolngu friends tell me without hesitation; “The place your mother carried you, the place of your gestation and birth is your home”. (There are other lands you can belong to but that place has a special primacy) I have no idea where my mum went while she was carrying me but for sure I was born in the old Hospital at Greensborough On Wurundjeri land in Victoria, I lived in that area the first 26 years of my life, it is part of me. I grew up on that land and always wondered about the people who belonged there but in all that time I don't believe I'd ever been introduced to a Wurundjeri person. It's possible I've met some but with the shame put on Aboriginal people when I was growing up who would dare say!

My folks place... Once an outpost of native shrubs they now prefer the cottage garden. No lawn for 30 years!

When I was a kid I spent a lot of time playing in the earth around my family home, must have eaten my share too! Grass bomb wars with neighborhood kids in the paddock across the road were a regular event in primary school days, much soil and some stones were absorbed one way or another. Plucking raw food from my parents garden all that stuff.


As I grew I hit the dirt slightly further afield, sometimes literally (rough play and bike crashes), eating cherry plums from derelict fruit trees, cow pat mushroom picking along the old aqueduct, camping in local bush-land, eating roasted rabbit, greasy fried eel, swimming in the swollen Plenty Rive and swallowing too much of it’s muddy brown wash… 

Plenty River below Western Ring Road bridge

Whenever I return to my childhood home all those memories engulf me in a homecoming melancholic delight that is sometimes overwhelming, the angle of the sun, the scent of foliage in the heat or the rain, the wild grassy weeds, everyting! I want to share it all with my kids!

So regardless of how it happens, I have a very strong connection with my childhood home and I believe ‘it’ is quite literally in my blood. 

Roos in the Janefield paddocks, Plenty River

Visiting my parents last week was the perfect opportunity to share my ‘homeland’ with my kids, who were born on Larrakia land in the North. 
As I write this I know I must have told the same story before, here, maybe the same, maybe slightly different but most likely retelling the same basic narrative of my origins. I tend to tell over the story, as I recall it maybe as a way of affirming some kind of identity, belonging to somewhere....
 
Riding across the Partington Flat Swing Bridge

This visit was perfect, we cycled a lot of my old haunts and visited many of the special places. We breathed in the cool dry air, took note of all the different animals and birds, Rosellas, sparrows, roos, maggies, hover flies and bees... Rainbow lorikeets and starlings.


Invasive species trashing Feijoa flowers
Mum's Feijoa tree is in full bloom but has fallen victim to the latest wave of invasive species. The otherwise beautiful Rainbow Lorrikeet who appears to have replaced the Starlings and Minahs as usurper and thief of breeding hollows from the local species such as Red-rumped parrots and Eastern Rosellas.


Mid week we traveled down to Barwon Heads (Wadawurrung country), somewhere I'd always wanted to spend time. When I was young I used to pass through this way often, seeking excitement on my motorbike along the Great Ocean Road. I did happen to sleep in a cave on the bluff one New Years Eave but left at dawn. This was my first stay at Barwon Heads, during the off peak season it's a beautiful quiet place. We had a great time here and the kids got to chill out with their grandparents.


Barwon Bluff


Returning to Melbourne we had a wonderful day with my Nieces and Nephews celebrating three birthdays in one. 

Fishing off the jetty at Barwon Heads - Ship entering Port Philip Bay in the distance
Now I'm back in the NT and back at work. It's hot and feeling kind of foreign to me. I have a few connections here and have become fairly familiar with the land and environment. This place has it's own rhythm and pace, The bush is alive and Yolngu know it's seasons and ways intimately. I have learned only a little about these things but it equates to a lot more that what I know about my own country, yet somehow. Regardless of my ignorance, my heart and blood remains tied to the land where I grew up. 
Maybe one day I will live there again?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Hothouse Flowers - #NoDAPL



Yesterday The US Army Corps of Engineers has denied easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Water Protectors are celebrating this as a victory and it is in a sense, however this situation will be far from over since corporations have routinely ignored the law with regard to drilling with or without permission. With the world watching it seems to me we are at a threshold moment where the US Government will be put to the test to see if they defend the rights of the people over the ambitions of a corporation. Fining Energy Transfer Partners for noncompliance will not be an acceptable outcome. Knowing their intention to drill regardless of law, surely police should be deployed to stop them. What happens next will define the credibility of the US democracy and what level of action will be necessary for ‘The People’ to be heard.


This situation is very exciting!


Water Protectors, you have exposed the Achilles Heel of this and all corporations! This is important! This latest news is  a  victory but it will lay bare just how desperate and vulnerable their system is!

The corporation are desperate to flex their muscles but what you have revealed is that their Power is actually their weakness! They are a Goliath who can be brought down!


We see corporations functioning on an illogical model of perpetual growth that is ultimately doomed to failure.  They amass huge wealth by convincing people that they can continue to expand their wealth exponentially year by year, yet the resources they rely upon are finite and dwindling, they seek to cut costs by reducing environmental safeguards and lowering employment standards and pay.

Corporations depend on posting record annual profits just to maintain shareholder confidence. The problem is that they have often white anted their own value by reducing quality of service and overestimating the value of their stock. Although they are experts at shuffling resources around to cover deficits, I reckon it must leave them fairly vulnerable to a combination of loss of revenue and bad press (lack of consumer confidence)


The stock market is based entirely on consumption and is devoid of humanity, shareholders have no loyalty they are interested only in profit, the ideology is entirely greed based. Greed and amassed wealth has been the strength of corporations but is the very thing that will bring them down.


Through their investment in lobbyists and the favours they buy via political donations they have created an artificial environment which they depend on for their survival. Fossil fuel Corporations may appear robust and invincible but in fact they are like hot house flowers sheltered from the realities of the real world. The world which ordinary people inhabit, an environment which is much leaner, requires prudence, resilience, and the ability to survive on very little materially. We are hungry for change, and the cost of continuing with Oil has already proven far too costly!

 When we (people) stand up for our family, our friends and our land we find ourselves in a situation that we are compelled, no matter what our belief systems, to turn to a source of strength beyond what we can summon on our own. We draw on our spiritual resources which when accessed can withstand hardship beyond the discomfort any ‘shareholder’ is willing to endure.


Bravo to the Water Protectors at Standing Rock! With a disciplined and peaceful approach you have managed to avoid giving ‘Law enforcement’ officers a mandate to openly attack you, something I imagine the company, and government might have hoped to happen. You have delayed the progress of their pipeline adding unplanned expense to their project which will cost them the confidence of shareholders and affect the profitability of the company; It will make them look bad. You have disrupted their financial supply chain through divestment… and you have applied pressure to your elected representatives, which I imagine embarrassed the hell out of them and caused them to backflip in the face of huge public backlash.

You have stood toe to toe with men and women who would use violence against you and you have been a mirror into their own souls. Your courage has turned hearts and will haunt those who have committed shameful acts against you.

I am sure the corporation will do all it can to ensure the pipeline continues despite the declaration by the State not to approve the easement. The corporation may even turn on the Government since they expect full compliance from politicians to grease the tracks for them. What happens next could make all the difference. It’s likely Government officials are looking for every way possible not to upset the company. You have shaken the foundations of their towers! They now know how dangerous you are and they will likely retaliate and lash out in their desperation. Do not lose hope! Be brave! God bless you. We are with you!

(Disclaimer, I have no credentials or professional expertise in the area of politics or finance, everything I’ve written is from my na├»ve perspective as a person caught between the wheels of a corporatized world. I am just a human watching the world implode around himself, who has caught a glimpse of something miraculous!)

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Sitting

Sometimes I sit and think
Sometimes I sit and pray
Sometimes I just sit and watch
(But mostly I don't sit at all! Mostly I rush around like a frantic machination of expectant fury and distraction)
Sometimes my eyes and my mind are struck by a thing of beauty
Some.... Something... Grand! or Some Thing small.
Creation speaks.

Contemplating world events, Global warming, Earth systems under pressure, fresh water lost!
Spirits ignited into action at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation
The forces piled against truth met with the power of life!
Spirits ignited!

A call to action.

My mind glides across all these issues and conflicting emotions and responsibilities collide within me In my heart there is a constant drum beating! Find the dhukar! Find the right path! Act!

All this is going on as I work and eat and commute to work and try to be present with my family, constant thoughts of What I should do, where I should be??? 
Then, when my mind and spirit were at their most confused, depressed and disillusioned by the sham of politics and all that STUFF!, while riding to work one morning I sensed something large. I stopped and looked up and saw the most unusually tall and completely red Poinciana.



I stopped, got off my bike, I breathed deeply in and let all the air out of my lungs and I said a prayer of thanks. The answers will come.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Counting Birds

My family and I have had a great time participating in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count 

I installed the app on my phone and have really enjoyed trying to squeeze as many species as I can into the 20 minutes allocated for each count session.

The total number of species I counted, just within the immediate vicinity of my house was:


Three species of finches we've sighted in our garden
(drawing courtesy of D. Baxstar 'Outside The Box'

Having taken the time to sit for 20 minutes each morning and just look at the birds around me, I know I am blessed! Australia has so much wildlife but for a capital city (OK a very small one) Darwin has a lot more species diversity than many people would realise. 
During my 20 minute bird counts spending most of my time sitting on a chair at my front porch I managed to count 26 species of birds! 

Screenshot of my stats... unfortunately I couldn't include the full list.

  
I have learned a few things during this bird count. Firstly, in the long period between now and my enthusiastic days of regular bird watching my ability to identify bird species has diminished monstrously! My eyesight isn't what it used to be so I am having to get the binoculars out in order to correctly identify birds I should know at a glance and I have found that I can hear the very distinctive calls and songs of birds all around me, just out of sight which I can't for the life of me identify! It's a disgrace!

So! That's it! I've decided to get serious! I'm reading up on all my local species and am looking for a good birdsong database to download, apparently they now make some pretty decent apps to put on your phone! Oh yeh and for inspiration the whole family is going to sit down and watch that awesome birding movie The Big Year. COOL!


Thursday, October 20, 2016

As it is





"...As strange as it is, someday I'll rot away and leave behind these bones that my mother made..."

(Prophetic words from the irrepressible Phat Bollard

"...Coz one of these days you're gonna wake up dead!"

However in the sagely words of Snoopy the dog:

"...but on all the other days, we will not."