I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and am posting it now because reasons. Since I wrote it I have got a part-time job at the school library. Also, as you might have gathered from my last post, I didn’t blow away in the cyclone. In fact it didn’t hit at all, went way South!

I haven’t been posting much about my life here because everyday life doesn’t offer much to talk about. It’s always when you do things out of the ordinary that the good stories happen. Here are a couple of stories about me doing exactly that.

On Friday the teachers had a strike and I took the day off in sympathy, even though a pay rise of 100% would not increase my salary. It was good timing, some ladies organised an International Women’s Day event around lunchtime. I was glad to have heard of it, too, even though the woman who told me didn’t end up going. I am getting into this oral culture thing.

I was surprised to see passed around a laminated copy of a story I’d spellchecked the day before. Alice, a balanda worker at FaFT (1) had come into LPC (2) asking to have this story checked. One of the Yolngu ladies at FaFT had written it in Yolngu Matha. One of the Yolngu translators was sick at home, and the other one was already busy doing three things. So I went ahead and checked it, made some corrections and brought it back. The lady who wrote it, my Gurrung (3) looked kindly condescending when I said that I learned Yolngu Matha at uni and I’m better at writing than speaking. I was inclined to agree: it is ironic and vaguely embarrassing to have better literacy than oralcy skills in a language that has only been written down for 50 years.

The story was about FaFT, and it was laminated along with a few pictures taken at FaFT. Gurrung called me over and showed me the story, pointing out where I had incorrectly corrected her spelling, in ways that changed the meaning from her intentions. I was abashed, but glad she had shown me. That will show me to think I can correct Yolngu Matha.

For lunch, there was a massive spread, including heaps of fresh shellfish. I normally don’t like any kind of seafood, but someone offered me the gooey insides of the cone-shaped shells and I thought it would be unadventurous, not to mention rude, to refuse. “This is good sugar for if you have diabetes, and it’s good for your heart,” one of the ladies told me.

It tasted alright, when I got past that seafood taste. I grabbed a couple of shells for myself, but I didn’t know how to open them. I asked Sandy, a balanda lady, and she told me to watch the experts, gesturing to all the Yolngu ladies who were cracking them open.

The trick was to use two of the shells, bashing them against each other at the top until enough crumpled away that you could get a hold of the creature inside. Pulling it out was immensely satisfying, because it was tucked away in a spiral inside, and spun out when you pulled it. I tried not to think about the fact that the first one I pulled out had some vulva-esque features. It tasted good.  The second didn’t have any uncomfortable remindances, and was incredible. I stared at it for a good two minutes before I ate it. The top was squishy, and the tail spun out, liquid bubbling inside thin membrane, cobalt blue and shining in the light. When I finally did eat it, some of the liquid spurted out a little, but that only added to my enjoyment. It tasted so delicious.

When I went home, I felt happy in my stomach from eating the maypal. It was as if all the food I had been eating was a pale imitation of what food could truly be. This food made me feel not only full, but deeply satisfied inside.

My second recent adventure was on Sunday morning. I went with Mary and Pam for a vigorous morning walk, leaving at 7am. Mary works in scripture production and Pam is a teacher. I hate to guess people’s ages, but I would say they are both older than my mother but younger than my grandmother.

Sunday morning walks are becoming a very healthy tradition for me. Last Sunday morning Mary was camping, so just Pam and I met. Highlights were: the tide being super high, so that we had to wade through a waist-deep creek that is normally a jumpable stream; also, getting caught in heavy rain – I crawled into a thicket but Pam was less willing, and braved the rain while we continued our conversation, with me yelling through the bushes so she could hear.

This Sunday we had access to a car because Mary was amongst us, so she drove us to a beach ten minutes out of town, and we walked from one beach, via the land, skirting the rainforest and mangroves, to another beach with a tiny homeland, and walked back along the shoreline. On the way back, Mary pointed out a patch of beach where she used to go with a group of people to do workshops, when they were translating Collosians. They took a boat, which they moored in the water and kept an eye on, and they occasionally went out and got fish when they were hungry. They stayed there the whole day.

This picture seemed so idyllic, such a preferable option to doing exactly the same work while pent up in an airconditioned office, that I couldn’t help but be nostalgic for an event that has no connection to me. Except, of course, that that translation of Collosians is sitting on my bookshelf, in my Djambarrpuyngu bible.

There were a lot of streams in the walk, and Mary and I both ruined our sneakers by failing to jump over them (4). Pam was more sensible and took off her shoes for each crossing. The most exciting stream of the walk was what Pam called a ‘freshwater soak’, a little trickle of water coming out fresh and feeding into the ocean. The stream was just dribbling over the sand, there wasn’t enough depth to scoop and drink it, but Mary fixed that. She stood leaning over with a foot on each side and dug it out, like a little kid at the beach digging to the centre of the earth. The water bubbled up, filling the hole she was making, but it was murky, dark yellow with sand. I was skeptical that this water would be drinkable. Pam waited for the sand to settle; I doubted it ever would.

Within minutes of Mary finishing her digging, though, the sand did settle, and the water that flowed looked delightful. We could even see the little bubbles where it was coming out of the sand. Mary made some last-minute adjustments – a path for the stream to flow on down – and the only thing left to do was sample the water.

I scooped it up and drank. It was truly the most delicious water I had ever drunk. Like the platonic ideal of water. Sorry to wax poetic, but it was really quite wonderful. Pam said it was how water used to taste when she was a kid.


(1) Families as First Teachers, a pre-preschool type program.

(2) Literacy Production Centre – where I work.

(3) Poison cousin.

(4) When I got home I chucked mine in the wash and they came out okay, but the sole started to come off Mary’s, so hers might find it harder to recover.


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