Imanpa and Mutitjulu Communities
Three teams with over 20 Red Dusters arrived at the Voyages Alice Springs Resort, the heat quickly making the statement that it would not make the next five days easy. During our poolside lunch we caught up with past team members and got acquainted to the newcomers on the Red Dust team, corporate partners and athletes alike. As usual, we had a cultural training and education session; however; this time Red Dust took cultural awareness to another level. It started with insights from our cultural advisor, Ray Minniecon, and a short film “Kanyini” which is presented and co-produced by indigenous elder Bob Randall, one of the listed traditional owners of Uluru and keen supporter of John Van Groningen and the Red Dust Role Model program. If you wish to have a better understanding of Australia, our history and where our future in indigenous affairs lies, this is a great beginning: www.kanyini.com.
Following this powerful film, we were then guided through a fascinating cultural orientation by Jacinta and Majella, who provided the group with a greater understanding of indigenous law and history. Fatigue kicked in as we settled into our rooms for the night, but this luxury of beds and service would not last long.
With a 7am start for last-minute shopping and packing, we loaded the back of the Troopy and stacked the roof rack four swags high, with Dave Callow showing me some boy scout knots to keep it all down. By this time the red dust had already begun to integrate with our new white Nike socks…just as the culture had started making its way into the new Red Dusters’ hearts. The transformation had begun.
The three teams split up and departed to their destinations – one off to Yuendumu, another to Areyonga and we the last and smallest of the teams headed just down the road about 260km southwest to Imanpa. Our team consisted of Tim Maloney-Basketball, Maddie Fitzgerald-Softball, Bree Colbert – multi-disciplined team support from Voyages. As team leader, it was exciting for me to see a veteran in Tim, second-timer Maddie and first-timer Bree begin to experience a new phase in the understanding of remote indigenous community life. Similar to Tim, I have been on many trips – into the teens – and each community varies in structure and needs; this trip would prove challenging as it was to be the first visit for Red Dust to Imanpa. Imanpa is in the Pitjantjatjara language group, which includes Docker River and Mutitjulu. Other languages spoken are Luritja and Warlpiri, where English may be a third or fourth language. As we drove into the community the sun was beaming and there was no one in sight. Tracy in the council office pointed us in the right direction to the school. On the way I saw teens from the Nyangatjatjarra College, where Maddie and I visited in May – we would catch up later during our stay and talk about what they’ve been up to. Some were the older boys who I have seen grow up into men over the last five years of my visits; it’s good to see them working in the community. Over at the primary school we met Sarah, the principal and head teacher, who had organised a barbecue with the community. The turnout was amazing and it was extremely welcoming, and it really set the stage for the day to come.
It was to be a challenging stay – sleeping on swags in the classroom, Timmy having to get his wheelchair across the dirt to a handicap toilet without a ramp, and the constant closing of doors in preventing the dogs from getting into our supplies. It wasn’t long before the day was done and we settled in for the night.
The morning sun had us up at 6am and before we knew it, the kids began to arrive, full of life and ready for an exciting day. We started with softball so that we would not catch the heat in its peak. Maddie put on a clinic and the rest of us joined in playing games, getting bat and ball speeds with the speed gun and getting sprint times between bases – a great numeracy session. The sun began to scorch the back of my neck and between breaks the kids hid in the shade. When the heat became all too much, we headed back to the classroom for our LEP (Lifestyle Education Program). After lunch we went to the Recreation Centre – more like a tin shed, but good enough to run some basketball drills with Tim and I. To finish off we had a game of indoor soccer. Sarah, their teacher, could not believe their behaviour and focus, and decided to reward them by taking them to the dam (which was more like a mud hole). Tim stayed back choosing not to battle the elements and I took some of his advice by not jumping in. Of course, I encouraged Maddie and Bree to join in…otherwise it would have been bad manners, of course. That’s when the mud hit the fan. Bree copped a face full of mud and then it was on! Maddie thought she escaped until I shoved her back in (the photos say it all). I saved them hundreds on a mud bath. Showering was a challenge and cleaning the shower was even more of a challenge. We all chipped in for dinner…Jamie Oliver look out! Our tip: All-purpose seasoning – can’t beat it. We finished the night watching a weather front coming in, giving us little lightning show.
In the morning we were packed and ready to go. The kids were great, and like all kids they have all the potential in the world. Sarah! The one-woman band, keep up the great work.
Off to Mutitjulu.
On the road again and ‘budgie bladder’ Bree had to stop us a few times. We got into Mutitjulu and straight to the school. This being my fifth trip to the community made it familiar, but it was ghostly during the 40-degree heat. When we got to the primary school the teachers, Maureen and Ann, greeted us warmly. Once again we got situated and the following day, started a similar program as in Imanpa. Softball and Maddie’s clinic were once again a hit. LEP and goal setting with the older kids was awesome and we added some story writing. Tim showed his Paralympic DVD with double-below-knee amputees (baloney – for more info ask Bree) and passed around his gold medal. We finished it off with the basketball and indoor soccer over at the recreation centre at Ayers Rock Resort. The kids enjoyed the luxury of playing indoors in air-conditioning and I think we all appreciated it, as the temperature outside was hitting record highs for this time of year. It was sad to say goodbye but once again, seeing these kids grow up and creating relationships with them gives us hope. Hope in humanity and unity. Every time I come out here I get a better understanding of my own life and I take home my Red Dust socks knowing they will never be the same as when I came… and the imprint of indigenous community will never leave our hearts.
To celebrate this cause the corporate challenge – Red Desert Dust Up – rolled in after a night in the stars and we were entertained by Adam Thompson and Glenn Bidmead, a delicious feed and a nice wind down at the Voyages Ayres Rock Resort. Congratulations to John and the team on yet another successful year!
The group travelled to Yuendemu and quickly set up camp in a great house supplied to us by the school. Our day started at the school with the breakfast programme that saw the local kids slowly drift after the school break. We were pleased to see that the numbers attending steadily increased with each day we were there.
Whilst Adam, Glenn, Chris and Priscilla worked hard in the music programme, Santo and Gavin created a busy soccer and football programme under the shade of the basketball court roof. Temperatures reached around 42 degrees on two of the days of our visit there.
We had great team support from Nicki and Georgie from Macquarie and Shelley from Vodafone. They assisted with the programme delivery and helped with the logistical support on the ground. Matt organised a very competitive basketball game that saw the girls take it up to the boys.
Our cultural advisor Ray Minniecon was busy around the town re-establishing relationships with elder groups and family.
All in all, it was great to get back to Yuendemu after some time away. It is a great community that is going through a difficult period, as most communities are at the moment with the Government intervention process. We have great faith in their ability to endure this current period of turmoil.