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Some Thoughts on Centre Trip

Some Thoughts on Centre Trip

Thursday, 14 April 2016  | Colin
It was in 1980 that we set out on our very first Centre Trip, with a hired coach, driver and cook, and very little idea of what lay ahead. Looking back over the 30-odd trips since, there are many specific and some general things which spring to mind.

Specifically, no-one who was there could forget the day we actually lost the back wheels on one side of the school’s very own coach a few dozen kilometres short of the bitumen, heading north on the Oodnadatta Track. That experience taught me that no matter how severe the break down, as long as wind and limb were preserved, we would come out the other side of the debacle intact. Members of the ‘Steering Committee’ on that occasion remember the young roustabout from a local Station who gave our mechanic a lift into Marla in quest of a new wheel hub. It seemed a forlorn quest, but God was good to us, and a suitable part was found.

Of a similar ilk was the day we pulled up for lunch on the ‘Victory Downs’ road short of Mt Connor, only to discover that the trailer was missing… only the ‘stump’ of the hitch, clinging to the ball at the back of the bus, remained. Well, back we went, found the poor trailer, chained it to the ball, and off to Mt Connor, where we prepared to weld the show back together by the good grace of the proprietors. I will never forget the question, “Where did you put the hitch?” at that point. You guessed it, gentle reader, we had left it back where we found the trailer!!!

There are many wonderful memories that do not hinge on a particular trip. There is nothing like the majesty of the starry sky on a bush camp. An alert observer could see the great dance of the stars as they wheeled their way around the sky each night. And so many of them! ‘Burrs in the socks’ is another unforgettable Centre Trip aspect.

Speaking of the stars, of course, reminds me of the Dreaming paths which are all around us on the journey. The Seven Sisters and Orion, and the story of Jakamarra’s attack on those seven Napaljarris in the Dreaming are up there in the sky from every spring until winter. The trip pauses for a bush camp very close to the place where the ancients believed the drama was acted out on earth, long, long ago. Then there is the Moon Dreaming on the road to Yuendumu, the Yeperrenye caterpillar Dreaming at Alice Springs, which was also where the Seven Sisters began their flight to the south. Dreaming pathways are all around us here too, but no-one keeps the stories alive now.

Speaking of traditional beliefs reminds me of the ‘Christian corroborees’ we used to witness in the early days. The whole community would gather, people would paint up and decorate their bodies with brush, and then dance and sing the stories of Christmas or Easter. Everyone was involved. Many people in the long preparation period, then everybody singing the stories and beating time. These ceremonies are still alive, and occur within the Warlpiri church, but the novelty of our visits has worn off somewhat, so it’s been some years since we were last involved in one.

The word ‘hunting’ conjures up such romantic visions, far removed from the long rambling walk under the blazing sun which was our experience so often. Still there were witchetty grubs, honey ants and sometimes goanna to taste at the end of it, and the mind-numbing tedium of that long walk helped us appreciate what it must have been like to live in the desert 300 years ago, when there was absolutely no alternative to surviving by virtue of your own skills. Yes, the memory of the sun on your hat and burs in the socks is very tenacious.

I must mention Darby Jampijinpa here, also Shorty Jangala, who painted two of the Dreaming panels on the north wall of the gym at MECS. That these wonderful old men took us into their hearts was quite overwhelming. To have them show us their country was a tremendous and humbling experience.

One night we pulled up and unloaded on the Victory Downs Road just over the NT border. We scurried about, looking forward to another night sleeping in the open. I remember that it was terrifically humid. When after our evening activity had ended and we snuggled down to sleep… the first huge drops of rain fell, and within minutes we were all soaked. We were wet, our bedding was wet, our luggage was wet through. The dusty red soil had become thick, claggy red mud, and with every step we became taller. We threw up tents and dragged our wet things and our wet selves into them to try to sleep. I have never spent a night like it, on a wet airbed and pillow, wrapped in a damp towel. But the sun came out the next day, we eventually dried off, and the experience became a very memorable talking point. No matter how severe the setback, God always brought us through.

The Yuendumu Community welcomed us year after year. As the old people became too old the hunting dwindled, and the corroborees too, but the warmth of the greeting remains. We have swollen the church attendance figures at Yuendumu every Sunday we’ve been there, a great deal of basketball and football have been played, Warlpiri songs have been sung and relationships have been established.

Looking back over three decades of Centre Trips I am very proud indeed that hundreds of our students can inject into any discussion of Aboriginal Affairs the telling ideas “I have been to an Aboriginal settlement”, “I know Aboriginal people, and the negative stereotypes are not true” and “I learned a bit of an Aboriginal language at school. I remember bits of a song I learned, and it goes like this…”
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