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Immersion – Northern Territory

Posted on August 15, 2016

Four hundred kilometres south of Darwin, where the crocs are plentiful and the eagles soar high under a blazing sun, is the largest Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, known as Wadeye. Cut off from the outside world for 5 months a year by floods, the dusty red bundle of houses gives new meaning to the word ‘remote.’

Upon approaching Wadeye, we sat tightly in our seats inside what felt like a Fisher-Price toy aircraft, while we looked out over vast mudflats and wilderness unspoilt by civilisation. At that moment I was painting a picture in my mind of what I expected to experience, a painting influenced by stereotypes and preconceived perceptions. The painting was narrow and naive, full of dark colours representing violence and substance abuse. Colours that society and the media handed to me.  However, in the back of my mind, I knew the true painting was far more colourful and comprising of many other parts that formed a ginormous collage. That was the sole reason I chose to go on the Northern Territory Immersion… to find and witness the true painting of contemporary indigenous Australia. On this journey, I was accompanied by Oliver Manning, Sando Papikian, Alex Butler, Sebastian Hughes, Lewis Watts, Sebastian de Luca, Max Emanuel, Juan Gallardo-Galan, Ms Conde, Mr Heiss and Mr Versteegh.

As we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac that was so hot you could fry an egg on it, the baking air surrounded us with a feeling of uncertainty. Uncertain of how we were going to be viewed and treated as white people entering an indigenous community. Uncertain of what we were going to experience over the next two weeks. However, the uncertainty faded that night when we were greeted by a crowd of smiling kids jumping on our shoulders, bouncing on trampolines and shooting hoops with us in their holiday camp hall. The kids we met that night followed us around Wadeye for the next two weeks like we were the ice cream truck. It was the relationships that we formed with the kids that held some of our fondest memories, as we spent countless hours chasing them around streets, kicking AFL balls with them and swinging them around until the horizon turned wobbly with dizziness. Apart from listening to their contagious giggles, it was especially rewarding when at night we would hand out hot meals to them at the local AFL matches. With their meal in one hand, they would jump and jeer at men and women playing barefoot in a grueling match that displayed natural athletic ability. Firecrackers popping, dogs barking, red dust kicked into the air and squealing women supporting their team at each end of the oval all combined to form a memory we will never forget and more importantly showed us a brighter part of the bigger picture. The pieces were revealing themselves.

The rich experience of playing with the children and being immersed in the oldest living culture in the world was matched with the eye-opening aspects of contemporary indigenous Australia and the issues they face. Before embarking on the Immersion journey we knew we were going to face another side of Australia, the fact that we were able to go an Immersion in our own country told us this. To what extent we could only speculate but in all honesty there were times during our stay where we felt like we weren’t in Australia or at least the Australia that we knew. Issues surrounding health were apparent just from observation, but even more so, when we became aware of statistics that were significantly below national average on birth weight, mortality rate and mental health. Furthermore, skin infestations thrive due to poor sanitation and overcrowding in housing with an average of 18 people per house. Barricaded garages and houses spray painted with gang clan names hinted at a past riddled with violence and crime. We experienced the result of a society that has survived thousands of years by way of their own culture. A society that has developed their own rich system of values, traditions and beliefs, only to have recently clashed with a polar opposite society. Consequently creating countless circumstances that have ultimately led to the condition of contemporary indigenous Australia. This immersion allowed us to experience the richness of indigenous culture while also opening our eyes to the issues in our own back yard.

Lachlan Mitchell

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