If only you could have been there to see them go. Ninija’s tribe, leaving the disorganised collection of tin-roofed huts, each with its rubbish heap outside. All naked and barefoot, and now all truly indifferent to white man’s comfortable way of living! They are mostly advanced in years, weakened by a cultivated dependence on ‘Easy’ supplies of ‘civilised’ bags of white sugar, flour, pre-packed snacks, tea-bags and the like. Modern medical assistance and intervention were forced on to them at the settlement, their own natural remedies and healing practices kicked aside as voodoo.
Ninija was leading the exodus, tall and broad. Her sturdy frame stooped to carry the extra weight gained as a result of starch—an alien food to them—and lack of exercise. Her hair a flaxen thatch cropped short by sharp ‘white fella’ scissors. She carried a large grass dilly bag slung over one shoulder, a digging stick of the Pelican clan across the other. And held loosely down by her thigh the perfect wooden cylinder of her treasured bone coffin, distinctively that of a Traditional Landowner. This would soon contain the precious remains of her son Ginger.
At her side was small Gina, her granddaughter, Ninija’s successor to be. She had strapped herself up with her digging stick of the Porcupine clan. Her grandmother’s coolamon, carrying bowl, balanced perfectly on her small head. Gina spiked the sand as she walked with a black tightly-furled umbrella, outsized for her. The intense sun—hottest on the Earth—had badly flaked its crook and ferrule of lacquered wood.
The party of shiny black skins, with their blond and red topknots of wild hair, was joined occasionally by competing kangaroos. On one side, they were flanked by a flock of high emus, great scratching bird of the Lands; on the other, by a troop of wild camels. I had been so surprised to come across wild camels in the Australian Desert. Apparently, they were once imported by Arabian explorers and have now become naturalised. Finally, above the whole assembly, white pelicans flapped their slow wings through an indigo Sky, muttering to the full moon.
The shimmering tribe was walking away from civilisation, from ‘security,’ from ‘safety.’ Walking into the unknown without compasses. Apart from health care and education. Away from the culture of ‘the thinking’ stuffed with words and ideas. Following them, at some distance, was the party of newly arrived white workers adorned in multiple protective layers.
They were led by the tall blond Rifca, in her loose-fitting blood-red dress. Rifca. She was to help in much more significant ways than the practical work of building shade shelters to protect the tribe by day assigned to her and her group. Like me, she was to become a link between ancient desert knowledge and wisdom and modern people. But that’s another story for another ‘here’ and ‘now.’
The group members wore fly-nets and snake boots, carried heavy brightly coloured sacks on their backs, and various pouches fixed tightly around their waists containing ‘valuables.’ They walked slowly as one, like a huge civilised reptile of some kind. Behind them were two creeping land cruisers–Ninija calls them ‘silver geese’–transporting all their ‘convenient’ supplies.
Twenty years ago I spent some time with a tribe of Australian aboriginals who had requested help to move back into traditional life after living for many years at the settlement the Australian government had provided for them. Their tribal leader, Ninija, was a Great Traditional Landowner of thousands of miles of red desert: 'the Lands.' She and her council of clever-fellas had decided that the conveniences provided for them were making them sick, so she with a group of elderly tribespeople and their grandchildren left to go back to live close to their Earth to start again. Unfortunately, all the photographs I took of this departure were destroyed by unexpected flooding when the Wet came which washed away our camp: this adventure took place long before digital cameras were available. But the sight never fades for me. This experience changed my life and turned me into a passionate advocate for indigenous peoples. It also inspired this site's new image.