Featuring: Diane Young, Mark Hodge and our wonderful Yolngu hosts
The story as it unfolded:
‘It’s all about life and a love for the land’…The music kicks in. Feet stomp on sandy ground. We tilt up to see a powerful traditional Aboriginal dance. It’s the Lirrwi mob in East Arnhem Land. Mark and Diane get painted up too. Timmy greets them warmly, ‘now you are welcome in our country’.
They pull up to the stunning Lonely Island and Mark is shown how to throw a spear by an elder. On the beach, one of the local ladies takes Diane’s hand and beckons her to join them. They teach her the craft of basket weaving. Laughter breaks out as Mark attempts to spear a fish guided by the skilful Uncle Waka.
Local kids frolic around them. Moments later one of the kids is wearing Diane’s large, shady hat. She bursts out laughing at the cheeky girl. Mark sees Diane laughing with the women and he smiles. This has been a truly transformative experience. It’s the end of a perfect day. In the afternoon light, bags are packed, and it is time to go home.
Timmy gives them a heartfelt goodbye, ‘you are special in this country now’. He motions around to the land, ‘take this feeling with you’. Diane is moved by the power of Timmy’s words and looks fondly at him. Mark smiles and takes one last look at this country.
Behind the scenes…
“It’s all about life and a love for the land waking up to the sun. It is a paradise. It’s where we belong”. These words are from the song Bayini written by Rrawun Maymuru for his cousin Gurrumul Yunupingu (sung by Gurrumul on The Voice with Delta Goodrem here). To me the lyrics really bring out the essence of the feeling of being here. The women cried to the country at dawn and the community danced goodbye to the day at sunset. I just love how the people here are in the moment and how connected they are to this land… “this land is sacred, it can feel you when you walk through it. All living things can feel you”.
It was an incredible day, watching Mark spearfishing in this heavenly setting, and seeing Diane learn basket weaving before being massaged on a bed of paperbark using an endemic healing leaf soaked in water. Later we watched the community say goodbye to the day, standing on the beach as the palms swayed and the sun set. Warwick and Dylan even found a spare minute to catch a quick fish… and the evening BBQ was sensational!
We finished the day sitting around the campfire on the beach chatting with our wonderful hosts and were so privileged to be serenaded with an impromptu performance of the song, ‘Bayini’ (as per the lyrics I opened with). Rrawun Maymuru performed the song with Djakapura Munyarryun and Aran Burrawanga. The song is about Bayini, the spirit woman at Bawaka. Rrawun is the front man for a brilliant East Arnhemland band, ‘East Journey’. Arian Pearson, another band member, also sang me a song called ‘Bright Lights Big City’ while I was sitting with him around the campfire on the recce. Music is clearly a big part of their life, and being able to hear them sing whilst sharing their ‘country’ was an immensely immersive experience! See the links below to find out more and listen to some of their music:
Bright Lights Big City – East Journey featuring Yothu Yindi: The Genesis Project (EP will be out soon)
East Journey Website – check back for their new version of ‘Song of Arnhem Land’ released November the 7th, 2014
Diane was in tears when I interviewed her about her day and Mark was just blown away with his experiences. Here is a little of what they had to say.
“I love that the women have something that’s so much for themselves and that the men have their things, and that the men and women seem to respect each other equally as much. The men painted Diane’s and my face and enjoyed giving us the experience of what they’ve done for thousands of years. The whole process is quite involved with the grinding and adding of water to make the ochre to paint our bodies with. Then the clay is put through the hair and outlined around the ochre, which when it dries is incredibly soft and feels like velvet to touch.
They made a fire to welcome us to their country and I was given branches with leaves that we put on the fire to heat up and we were hit with the branches to ward off evil spirits and to cleanse us from what we had bought from far away.
Watching the dance and understanding what it represents was wonderful. They all had done these dances a thousand times and they were all in sync with each other and it had been handed down for centuries. Seeing the dances where they were intended to be done gives them a whole different meaning.
I remember Timmy saying when he welcomed us that the Aboriginal people didn’t know the word ‘stranger’ and it wasn’t until white man came that they had heard of it”. The fact that they don’t use the word shows that everyone is welcome and they have such pride in making people feel welcome and part of their extended family. This was clear when we had our welcome ceremony and were accepted not only by those who are living, but by their ancestors. Being around that camp fire with all their extended family, listening to their music was one of those rare moments in life and gave Di and I both goose bumps. I consequently went out and bought Laklak’s award winning book ‘Welcome To My Country’.”
“I really feel so privileged to experience what most people would never have the chance to. It is deeply resonating with me and tears keep streaming down my face. And I have so much gratitude to the people who are so beautiful. And the land and the music and everything is just stunning. It touches my heart in a big way. So it’s been quite emotional for me again.
I started crying while watching the crying to country because I was so touched by seeing just how close they were to each other and to the land and I don’t think you see that very often… I’m tearing up now. It was nice to see the daughters with their mother’s and they were very close, it was very special. There’s such an appreciation for what’s around them. It brings you in as well.”
To read more about the behind the scenes shooting at Bawaka homelands from our location scouting, visit here.
Next we are off to the west Kimberley, stay tuned for the next shoot update … Kristi!