Rest in Peace Amala.

 

Bree Blakeman Preexam Thesis Sep9 2013_V2

 

Rest in Peace amala, my old Mummy, who always told me that I didn’t treat my husband right, whose company I adored. (If one could explain the art of witty, acerbic conversation in Yolŋu-matha, and the skilful play on words, switching across and back between languages.) Countless hours together in company under the mango tree, weaving, talking, smoking and drinking tea (and amala would often break into song, so quietly, half facing away). She taught my dhuway what it meant to be a son-in-law and he duly avoided her as his mokul, sending gifts and care through his galay, my brothers and sisters. She was my amala and I was her waku.

It was amala’s Mother’s country that I came to call my own. It was her father’s country that we footwalked to, to scour the rocks for oysters. To stop in the dry and rest. I was never the most adept hunter, or gatherer, for that matter, and so often stayed behind to look after amala (her brain already slightly gapu-mirri). Chattering away even when I dozed off. Sometimes amala mistook the shower for a toilet and sometimes I’d wake up just in time to catch her trying to light a fire inside to keep the sandflies from biting me as I slept. One could only half sleep, but I so loved this time that we spent together.

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Marrtji yukurra wetlands-kurru

 

 

 

 

 

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Nhulunbuy and the future of a remote township: an open letter to State Capitalism

 

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Dear State Capitalism,

You are sneaky and very shit. I knew this already, of course, but have recently learned it anew in my concern for the future of a certain remote township in north east Arnhem Land. It is everywhere and always implied that the State imposes taxes on citizens so that the government might provide them with services. This is a catchy tune. The Australian constitution certainly implies this – that people pay taxes so that the government can ‘perform all of its functions’, or something to that effect. However, this is not – and has never been – the case. I want to tell you a bit about the history and import of Nhulunbuy.

The historical relationship between Yolŋu people and mining in north east Arnhem Land has been of National significance and formative in terms of the nature of such intercultural engagement, policy and legislation. It was the excision of land from the then Aboriginal Reserve for the purposes of a mining lease and the subsequent Gove Land Rights Case (Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, (1971)), instigated by the Yirrkala Bark Petition, which eventually laid the foundation for the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (as a result of the Woodward Commission). More specifically, it was the Yolŋu response to the excision and the decisive action taken by Yolŋu people which forged new and innovative intercultural possibilities in their engagement with their ‘supporters’ (predominantly Methodist Missionaries), as well as the Federal Government and the Courts, in their determination to have their system of land tenure and rights over their estate recognised by the State and Federal Governments and the Australian legal system.[1]

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An incidental post-it note

 

 

sometimes1

 

 

#morningbikeridethoughts

 

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Bin thinking.

 

 

 

 

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A fieldnote from home

 

20bal1

Charles Blackman

 

This evening I nearly saw a man drown. I run the same route most afternoons, over the bridge and along the foreshore. This evening I was about to cross over the bridge when I saw something or someone splashing in the water. I stopped. It was a man, only a few metres from the banks of the river, and he was drowning. He kept trying to stand up before falling over, his head going under the water for a longer period of time each time he fell.

As soon as I realised what was going on I ran to the shore. I called out to him but didn’t get any response. His head went under again. I waded in and instinctively grabbed his chin to hold his head above the water. I told him it was going to be okay. I asked him to sit down. The water was shallow enough that I could hold his head above the water while he was sitting. He coughed and spluttered and struggled to reclaim and regulate his breathing. I asked him if he could stand up. He shook his head. Ma (ok, I understand). I told him that I was going to try and help him, to drag him out of the water. Yo (ok, yes, agreed). Standing behind him I hooked my arms under both of his armpits and in quick lift-and-drag motions we slowly edged our way to shore.

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Head + ghost + dog = blunt ears: a curious language note

 

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One of my few PhD fieldwork regrets is that I didn’t take the time to learn Yolŋu sign language. I had the great fortune of having a beer conversation with two long term researchers in this area last night, Dany Adone and Bentley James. Adone and Maypilama (2013) define Yolŋu sign language as  both an alternate and primary sign language. It is used on a daily basis on the Homelands, as a way to talk to each other from a distance (when out of hearing range), as a way to communicate when out hunting (when you want to be quiet for obvious reasons), and as a means to communicate things you just don’t want others to hear. Children also often use it just because. My little gaminyarr, for example, tells the most hilarious stories in sign-language, made all the more funny on account of her overly exaggerated manner of signing.

Anyway, the other day Bentley shared with me the hand-sign for the idiom buthuru-dumuk, and I found it a little big bit more than curious. Buthuru-dumuk (literally ‘ears-blunt’), is a Yolŋu-matha idiom used to refer to people who behave in an unthinking or unfeeling manner (and who upset or affront others as a result). It has connotations of being insensate, ignorant and unaware. The hand-sign for buthuru-dumuk, however, is comprised of three separate hand-signs: the sign for liya (head), the sign for mokuy (ghost, evil spirit) and the sign for watu (dog). Head + ghost/evil spirit + dog = buthuru dhumuk. How could one not find this impossibly curious?

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A tiny little fieldnote in an otherwise ellipsis.

 

Jörg Schmeisser. Mangrove and Notes, Etching, 2010.

Jörg Schmeisser, Mangrove and Notes, Etching, 2010.

 

 

Warrnyu mala

Bats

 

yukurra butthun

flying

 

dhawutthun,

out of

 

larrtha’ŋuru.

[the] mangroves.

 

 

 

 

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February 20, 2014 · 11:01 pm

Personhood, relatedness and social organisation on the Yolŋu Homelands

 

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Apparently you’re not supposed to share and or circulate your PhD thesis until after it has been examined. Oh well. I would like to share the second chapter on personhood, relatedness and social organisation. You can find a pdf version here. (I’ve put a ‘draft’ watermark on the document as a caveat of kinds.)

This chapter contributes to the body of literature on Yolŋu ‘culture and society’ with a slightly unconventional approach to (the description of) social organisation. The chapter is structured around a series of five drawings, drawn by my close yapa (Z) and waku (wC) to help me to understand why my questions about social organisation were always met with further questions – rhetorical questions about raki’ (strings), luku (foot[-print]), anchor, root of a tree) gamunuŋgu (white clay) and lirrwi’ (ashes, shade). This series of diagrams illustrate the outline or form of Yolŋu social organisation – the relationships through which expectations about morality and value are articulated – and also give a sense of the local terms and concepts through which these social forms and relations are articulated, and how they reflect or express local understandings about the self, others and the relationship between them.

I would love any feedback you might have on this chapter as I’m hoping to rework it into a journal article soon. Meanwhile, I’m hoping to hear back from the examiners before the end of the year . . . .

 

Oh, and I haven’t included a bibliography. Suffer in your jocks!

 

 

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No cheek is an island: Body parts in Yolŋu-matha

 

YMmedical-anotomical-vintage-diagram-illustration-17616617

 

One of the things I love about living in Darwin (Northern Territory) is being surrounded by so many different languages on a daily basis. I’ve noticed over the past week, for example, that Kriol and Yolŋu-matha seem to be spoken almost as much as English on the buses. (It would be amazing to do an ethnography of the buses up here actually.) But with re-immersion has come self-consciousness about my own spoken Yolŋu-matha skills. I have been out of practice for so long! All this is to say that I’ve been doing some good old fashioned language practice, and along the way thought to share a few body parts. Continue reading

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