Kelp on the beach

This blog post[1] is dedicated to my Dad, for reasons that will be obvious to him and no-one else.

It resembles found objects on a beach, like driftwood, or seaweed, or abandoned clothes. There is no connection between the objects except for their proximity.

  1. Greeting

When I’m walking around the community, I try to acknowledge everyone else who is also out and about, walking the other way. Sometimes people call out to me, ‘Yo, yapa!’[2], but in most cases they say nothing aloud. There’s the wave, wherein the hand only lifts as high as the waist and doesn’t get more than horizontal before the closing[3]. Another silent greeting is the nod. And lastly, the eyebrow raise. This is a tricky one, though, and has to be kept neutral rather than threatening. There is a whole world of non-verbal communication in eyebrows in Yolngu culture that the dominant culture doesn’t have.

  1. Encouragement

I am trying to be a cheery person. I think I have a tendency to be contemplative bordering on moody, and also I’m way too quick to be judgmental. Something that I have noticed about people around here is that some are grumpy, and some are cheery, and often the contrast is in people who have been here similar amounts of time, facing similar struggles.

Everyone is grumpy now and then, but at some point you cross a line and become a Grumpy Person. I am wary of that line. So I fake cheeriness until it becomes a habit. I’ll probably feel better that way. Also, I want to be the kind of person whom others are happy to encounter. That sounds kind of needy to me, but I have been in the ‘I don’t care what people think!’ camp for so long that I think it will take a while to go too far in the other direction.

I am fortunate to have encouragement from other people wash up on the shore every now and then. A few weeks ago I was working in the library, cataloguing books. There was a class from senior primary in there, and some of the girls started coming up to me and asking me how to spell things. I gave them the spellings and they kept coming back for more words. They were writing letters in English to their teachers, mostly about how wonderful their teachers are. It was frankly quite adorable.

Anyway, Greta, a Yolngu lady who works in the library, asked me after the kids left, ‘Do you know those kids?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘Why did they ask you about the words?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘I think they asked you because they can sense that you’re good, they sense they can trust you.’

That just made me glow inside.

  1. Bible study.

I am on a bible study binge. Before this year, it had been several years since I was part of a bible study, because my church-going was transient. And now I’m regularly attending two bible studies. It is really fulfilling. One of them has a storytelling-based structure, where we take a passage or story from the bible and try to memorise its essence so we can tell it back, then we discuss its significance. It’s quite relevant to this oral culture.

In the other bible study, we did a six-week study leading up to Easter, all about the significance of sacrifice and Easter. More than half of the attendees have studied theology, and it’s always a highly intelligent discussion that usually gets off-track onto the big issues.

Last week, since we had finished Easter, we took a break from serious bible study and had a Youtube comedy party. My contributions were Lauren Cooper and the Doctor, and Bert and Ernie fishing. My favourite video of the night was trumpet trolls parade. But the highlight of the night was the group’s token toddler strutting his stuff in ludicrously huge work boots. What is it that is so funny about little kids wearing stuff that is way too big for them? The theoretical underpinnings of comedy elude me, but the laughs do not.


  1. Beach

Friday was a public holiday. I pottered around the house in the morning, and then rang a friend. Her husband answered the phone. “Emmeline! What are you up to?” he asked.

“Not much.”

“Do you want to go to the beach?”


“Okay pick you up soon. Okay bye.”

I was just about to hang up when I heard him speak again. “Wait! What did you ring for?”

“I just wanted to see if you guys wanted to hang out.”

“Right. Yes. Well, we do.”

“Awesome. See you soon.”

We had a really great time, ended up driving along a sand dune for a while with sweeping beach and cliff views on one side and mangroves on the other. I unclenched the way I always do when I leave town and spend time out bush. We spent so long driving around trying to find the place we were supposed to be, and running into people we knew along the way, that by the time we settled down in one place there weren’t many fish left nibbling. The fishers of the group still caught three, though. Not bad. We ended up on a rocky beach, some people fishing, some exploring, some playing. I found a little perch and sat crocheting. A couple of people really appreciated that for some reason. I was just taking in the serenity the best way I know how.

I collected some shells there as well, but not many. I was commissioned by Lacie, a Yolngu friend of mine in Gapuwiyak, to buy some little shells at the Arts Centre here for jewellery making, but the lady there said I have to collect them myself. So that is my task.

I love going to the beach, but usually I only go to mission beach, which is a four minute walk from my donga. There is a freshwater pool there where I can sit in and get cool. I only go to the awesome beaches out of town on such occasions like Friday, when a kindly friend offers me a seat in their mutika.

They went out again yesterday but I couldn’t make it because the sneaking sickness that I woke up with on Friday morning struck me on Friday night after the bush trip, and I had to spend the rest of the weekend convalescing. I dragged myself to work today, but only for the morning.


  1. Break

As mentioned above, school had a holiday recently. Most teachers flew out at the first available minute to take advantage of the one week off, but I house-sat for a co-worker and looked after his and his fiance’s pets. One of the dogs almost constantly humbugged me for food and the other almost constantly humbugged me for cuddles. The cat was just a typical cat. It was good to have some company though. And the unlimited internet was a real boon. I am in denial about being back on stick internet, and at risk of running out my recent top-up of $180 credit before I leave here. Oops!


So that’s what the sea has washed up.

1 It is the post I referred to in my last post, picked up out of the dust, brushed off, with a few tweaks for temporal relevancy.

2 Yo means yes but it’s used for hello. Yapa is sister and is used for a balanda woman with unknown relation.

3 Does anyone else find describing physical actions super awkward and difficult? I hope you understand my description.

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