There’s so much more to say about our time in Pukatja. The festival, the waterhole, the card games, the team getting to know each other, the Jesus stuff, the donkeys…
Or the time the kids found out where we were staying. They decided to stay too. There was a whole afternoon that we had our own little fan club waiting outside our front door, yelling our names.
“Phiona!Phiona!Phiona!Aidan!Aidan!Aidan!Chris!Chris!” And so on. For a few hours.
One even burst through the toilet window, surprising the occupant. Ah, fame.
But the real reason we were in the community, and why we were spending time with the kids, was because of Easter. AKA, the Jesus stuff.
The Uniting Church workers of the region invited us to come and help out at the APY Lands Easter Convention. Four days of celebrating Easter in a distinct style – a mix of Anglo tradition and what the Anangu call Inma (celebration). One tradition that the whole community came out for is the Good Friday Inma. A good hour was dedicated to dressing up – the kids as tiny Roman soldiers, the women as Mary and Mary, and a young Anangu man as Jesus, carrying the cross. He was whipped (by kids with leaves), nailed to his cross (by long red fabric), and placed in a tomb (a small tent). Come Easter Sunday the women would visit his tomb, and find him gone.
Sunday morning we resisted the story at dawn, with a 5:30am start. The area around Pukatja is rich with hills, and the one behind the church has a particularly spectacular view. In our tiredness we joked and laughed with each other, only to be told that this is a sad time. No laughter during this Inma.
So in silence we climbed our hill, and waited for the sun to rise. We sang old hymns, and said prayers for the young people of the region. We continued praying until we saw the sun reach the top of a distant mountain.
Once the sun was up, the hot cross buns were eaten and the tea was served. Our intrepid leader found herself in a conversation with a local Anangu man, who was talking about life for the young people of Pukatja. He was so passionate and sad, that soon all of us were drawn into what he was saying.
“What will happen to our young people? We old people grew up with tradition, but where are our young people? And how can you help? You must help.”
That last question was a bit of a shock to our collective system. How can we help? What do we have to offer? We’re under no delusion that spending a few days playing games with the kids will have long term positive impact. So what will? And here we are, about to leave. Carrying the faces and names of all these children who we may never see again, and who’s future is uncertain. What have we left them with that will last, other than yet another group who’ve come in and out of their lives?
Last year in nearby Indigenous community Amata, we spoke with an elder named Leah. We wanted to know if it was ok to take and publish photographs of our time there.
“Oh yes. Tell people about Amata. Show them our community, help others to see us”.
The truth of Australia’s remote communities is that they are easy to ignore, and with some of the things that we don’t quite understand we’d prefer to turn a blind eye. Or we try to force our way in to fix what we see as the problem. The biggest challenge I take away from Pukatja is to not turn away. To see all the unanswered questions and to feel the pain of not knowing the answers. It’s not for us white fellas to solve; it’s for us to listen to people like Leah, people like the man who talked to us on the hill, and to not forget the questions. To bring the questions out into the open and make others aware that these kids exist. Maybe we have some of the answer, and through more conversations with more Aboriginal leaders we can find a new way to do these visits and to tell this story.
But right now we can only say ‘wampa’.