This brief case study is included in the fourth chapter of my thesis.
Excerpt from my field notebook 3:61 from the 24th of May 2008: ‘Yesterday we drove out to Gi___ for the first time since the end of the wet – two yapa, wawa, waku, little gaminyarr and I.
We hitched the trailer on the back of the car to take the lawnmower, the whipper-snipper and a number of just-sharpened axes to clear fallen trees and debris off the track and long-grass we expected around camp. To ‘clean up’, to look after Country.
We didn’t get far along the track at any point before having to stop again to clear trees and saplings off the track. The sharpened axe (dakul) is something that women use almost everyday in and around camp (cutting firewood etc) but my muscles and technique still haven’t caught up. My arm hurt despite only contributing a little and when I did the axe-head still just kind of thonked ‘at’ the wood instead of cutting into it. At least we all found it amusing.
After our many stops and pauses to work and rest and smoke we approached what I recognised as the sandy stretch of track that rises and turns slightly before opening out into the clearing of camp. We drove up over the crest and everyone let out a cry of affection – “Yaaa marrkap-mirri wäηa!” as we caught glimpse of the refracted shimmering light on the sheltered water of camp.
I steered the car down through the now-tall grass toward the houses and we all spoke of how much we had been missing and worrying and thinking and crying for this place our beloved Mother’s country. It had been a long wet season (during which we’d been cut off by road).
I pulled up the car next to the Green house and we all tumbled out. Waku went to collect fire-wood and yapa to prepared the tea. Wawa made his way down to the waters edge with the fishing net to untangle and set it up. Once the tea was brewing on the fire we all followed wawa down to the shore to help untangle and set-up the net.
There is only a tiny window of opportunity when women and children can immerse themselves in the water along the coast in relative safety (from bäru, ηayi ‘crocodile’), and that is the moment after pulling up a fishing net.
When the net was completely untangled wawa took the farthest end (attached to an old star-picket) and waded out into the water. Waku took our end (attached to a broken old spear) and yapa and I slowly fed the net out.
When wawa was shoulder deep he staked his end into the sand. And this was our cue – fully clothed and all at once we dunked ourselves under the thankfully-cold water accompanied by gasps that, if my experience is anything to go by, were half in terror and half in glee.’