Handy Fellas in Papunya
Do you have that friend who is just great at fixing things? Leave them alone for half an hour...
Haasts Bluff is a small community about an hour from Papunya, three and a bit hours west of Alice Springs and is framed by Kings Canyon (centipede dreaming). The landscape is breathtaking and the community almost idyllic. There were usually around 15-20 kids at school each day and on arrival we were warmly welcomed and taught a lesson or two in basketball by a few who were not-so-shy. Immediately, their passion for life, care for one another and enjoyment of being outdoors and playing sport was infectious.
Throughout the week we got to know each and every child, not just by name but by their dreams and their stories.
It was evident the school was the heart of the community, and a sense of pride for its members. From the moment we sat down to read the first story it was obvious that the principal was enthusiastic and an advocate for her students, and more importantly maintained a culturally safe and appropriate learning environment. English was their second language and even the youngest of children could talk to you in both Luritja and English. The school had employed four community members as teacher aides and each was a role model to the students. Our theme for the week was superheroes and these kids are the definition of ‘superhero’.
Daily, we would help out in class, provide valuable one-on-one time with the students (which is difficult with only two teachers and a wide range of learning needs) and then got to know them as the superheroes they are on the sporting arena in the afternoon. Coming from a hockey background I was overjoyed that one of their favourite activities was playing ‘ice hockey’ on the undercover basketball court…and these kids had skill! Some preferred to watch, talk to us or begged to do ‘Kungka club’ (Girls Club) where they showed off their artistic talents, face painting or beading.
It was difficult learning of the dynamics of the community; the long commute back to Alice if the community store didn’t have what you needed; the fact that high school education often meant boarding school and in some cases this meant a move to capital cities. As an Aboriginal woman though, I couldn’t help but be filled with both pride and envy at their traditional learning. Everyone practiced culture, their family systems still largely intact and their language and dreaming alive and flourishing. We were offered the privilege in our short stay to go onto country and taste some of their bush foods, an experience of profound meaning to me that I will forever be grateful for.
Surmising this opportunity is difficult, I felt lucky to have an amazing and supportive team leader who made our time in Haasts Bluff memorable. Whilst there are obvious hurdles that living in a remote community brings, my parting words would be to remove any preconceived thoughts, judgments or biases you may have about remote NT. It is a magical place, with inspiring people who are among some of the most respectful, talented and kind I have ever met; surrounded by a natural landscape, untouched and raw, with a night sky I will never forget.
Overall the experience was really special. It was such a unique feeling to be accepted into the communities. I felt as if us being there was a highlight of the month for the kids, parents and teaching staff. Personally, I was very humbled by how warm the communities were to us/me and a lot of that is testament to NASCA and the brand that they have built. If I could volunteer again or recommend volunteering to a friend I would time and time again – just a fantastic experience with fantastic people helping make young Indigenous kids realise how fantastic they truly are!
I think I have two equal favourites. First being the location – central Australia is so enchanting and has this quiet heartbeat from sun up to sun down. And the stars! The stars were so epic. The other favourite of mine were the kids. They are just so happy and see the bright side of life.
They were funny, smart, talented, confident, beautiful and caring. They took the time to learn about who I was and had no judgement and it allowed me to reflect on just how rare it is to be surrounded by people like that.”
The highlight from Canteen Creek was walking through community each day and being swarmed by kids from every direction screaming our names. We’d walk up and down the streets to round the kids up for afternoon sport, face/nail painting and beading.
In Ali Curung, the highlight was evening basketball with the community. Each night we went down to the basketball courts and played basketball with the community. The first few games were for the kids, followed by some warm-up games and finally adults only. I love basketball but to see the enjoyment and passion that everyone had for this gathering was really nice.
Help young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders stay strong in their culture and identity.