A few hours south west of Darwin, sealed roads slowly turn to straight red dirt paths, wild horses and brahman cattle roam and feed on roadside fodder and the trees and blue sky span deeper than the eye can see. We were heading to the town of Wadeye, a remote Aboriginal community settled by the Catholic Church in 1935.
It is described by mainstream media as a place of violence, theft and gangs based on traditional cultural groups. A town left and forgotten, hidden and too remote to be of concern to the rest of society or our government, instead leaving efforts to the Church, large charity groups and local heroes to create a ‘normal lifestyle’.
Yet, the town of 2,200 appears to be growing. A new sports building, a tea house and an art store with local print designs define the main street, suggesting a new beginning of local empowerment and of promise.
It is the week before Men’s Business, secret cultural ceremonies to teach our people their roles, responsibilities and the way of traditional life. It is a practice now lost on the land of my people and many tribes across Australia. And despite the jokes of being taken away for potentially months to be earthed in the spirits of our people, I am left wondering what our ceremony would have been and what we as society are missing.
It was in the late 70’s that my tribe conducted their last initiation, an opportunity now lost amongst the shopping centres and fancy houses on the beaches. A culture lost to the new society and culture of modern technology, money and the pursuit of finding what our purpose as people truly is. Somehow the key to life that mainstream society desperately seeks was once found in what was forced out over 200 years ago.
With the thoughts of our lost culture flooding my mind, the red dust of Wadeye earths me once more, sharing the wisdom of what is still left of our Indigenous culture in Australia.
I find this knowledge again in the Wadeye Museum, just before leaving town. Despite my fascination of story and reliving the words of actions within my mind, there is one photograph that instantly captures my mind and soul. It is the image of a recent Men’s Ceremony, the men together standing proud, painted, spears in hand, with their eyes piercing and demanding respect and promise.
The image makes me freeze inside- captivated and fascinated by the hope that all is not lost, that just maybe we can recreate our teachings by connecting further with our people around the country. Could this be the opportunity to ensure that our culture lives on and thrives for 40,000 years into the future?