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eSwag-46

NO MANS LAND

Posted on October 29, 2013 by
Raymond
on the road at
Sydney
ILPURLA GUIDES johnny & Raymond Nicholas & Raymond Marion & son Tjilpa Camp Malcolm Mavis Malbunka The Ilpurla Trail current photos »

 

Over many years I operated walking tours into remote Aboriginal country. In that process I slept in desert mission communities, spent months travelling with Aboriginals onto their homelands or ferrying them to funerals and jail visits. Like a stranger in a strange land I would wonder how my life had worked its way to this point, my daily vision populated with ancient black faces and red dirt. 

I visited and became family to some remarkable Western Arrernte people around the old mission town of Hermannsburg, witnessing both the daily struggle of the dispossessed and the joy of living simply. I met people like old Mavis Malbunka whose dream of bringing a future to her family, despite the impossible demands placed upon her as one of Central Australia's leaders, was unrelenting. One season, as chemotherapy stole her hair, she visited us on her country with a bandana around her head.

I became a brother to her daughter Marion who spoke as softly of her culture as her mother did forcefully. I became a son to her 'old man' who has recently passed away [ I can't repeat his name out of respect to Mavis and Aboriginal culture] and whose dementia robbed the world of the old stories that, if we are honest, no one really wants to hear anymore. 

 

 

For five years, flying eloquently under the controlling gaze of white authorities who "represent the interests of Aboriginal people"  we were successful.

Artists, writers, meditators and singers visited the community. We slept at a camp at Ipolera where warmth trapped in a sandstone bluff by day waged a nightly battle with the icy desert cold. Our camp had previously stored sacred objects [Tjurunga] and was a place of power and mystery to local people.

Then I got greedy. I saw a great big mountain range begging to be walked and a great big opportunity beckoning for my company and the local people. 

We called it The Ilpurla Trail. We designed it, built it, walked it, and in the tradition of everything that is touched by the white authorities and the devastated clan based factions in Central Australia, it now lies overgrown and defeated. Stage Two of the genocide proceeds uninhibited by fancy notions of self determination..

Yep, amongst the child abuse, the alcoholism, the gambling, the lack of jobs, the drug invasion, the diabetes that leaves blackfellas blind and legless without touching a drink, the trail failed. Not because it wasn't great, or because its beauty wasn't mesmerizing, or it's business case so perfect.  Within the DNA of white bureaucrats and Aboriginal culture lie forces that counter any move towards health or independence.

 

 

There is a parallel universe between white and black Australia  that is separated by a bridge too far. I got caught in No Man's Land, between desert Aboriginal people who can't count and white lawyers who can only count; between an ancient law lost and a white law that draws its power from the same font that stole children and allowed the shooting of Aboriginals as vermin. Yep, they are the ones protecting Aboriginals, negotiating royalties from mining companies that leave people wasted and hopeless, a perverse alchemy that turns dreaming stories into welfare entitlement. That the trail excited so much support is extraordinary in a culture so decimated and hopeless. 

In the No Mans Land everyone shoots at you. The welfare dependent Aboriginal clans fighting for a piece of something not even completely built and the white lawyers for whom 'right' is what can be proved in court, not what might create a future for children.

Slowly the experience is forming in my head such that I can write it down in an open letter called Why Nothing Works. I write about a line a day because each memory, both good and bad, is like freeing myself from barbed wire. I move carefully lest I be lacerated by my own anger and the knowledge of what is really happening in this country. 

I have been urged to "let it go" and I will, but not before I know what it is that I am letting go of. There is the deep sadness that spinifex grows over the Ilpurla Trail right now. There is the knowledge that as each generation tut tuts about the errors of the past we are blind to the ones in the moment. I am still incandescent with rage with what I perceive as deeply flawed bureaucratic process verging on the insane. I am still in shock that so much ineptitude can be left unchallenged.

Some answers are coming. More will come with the published Why Nothing Works. On a personal level I have realized people's capacity for love is like a camera lens. My focus, crystal clear on far away things, can be blurred to those closest to me. I see children in a desert from a thousand miles away. Most people focus only on what is close to them, to the immediate concerns of loved ones. That is what makes society possible. What happens on the other side of no mans land is a blur and it is in that blur that the madness of Central Australia works its daily poison into this and future generations.

I rang old Mavis the other day. She said:

You are still my son

You are still my daughters brother and

You are still her children's uncle.

 

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Comments
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Cecilia
Reply
I still have the illusion that, one day, the trail may be re-opened. I know that it is an illusion. I still remember the pictures of the film that did not advance and the photos that were lost. Sometimes the best memories are lost photo opportunities and lost photos. Someone in my art class is painting a scene that so reminds me of the second remote camp that it is almost painful. Ah, the sadness and the madness of it all.
Raymond
Reply
Yes... the sadness and the madness. The women of course are heartbroken but they have no real say in things. They are the ones who raise the children, get them to school the best they can, protect them from the molestors. Yep. Cant have anything like a walking trail owned by Aboriginal people to upset the power structure. Lets just gamble and eat sugar.
Clarissa
Reply
As a Brazilian I had never met an Aboriginal person and loved meeting Mavis. She was a wonderul and gentle soul. Everything she did was about her children and grandchildren and I am sorry that her future plans have been destroyed. 
Raymond
Reply
She worled tirelessly to create something on her homeland. I am glad you had the opportunity to meet her.
Daaaaaaaave
Reply
Emotive writing. I can feel much of your pain because I know how much "The Ilpurla Trail" meant to you. Not so much the trail itself, but what you wanted it to be - a new way for young Aboriginals to embrace their heritage, to walk their land and create employment and income for themselves. To get off the welfare nipple and interact and educate those, like me, who no nothing of the ancient culture of the first Australians. To embrace what the West has forced upon them. It was, and still is, a great idea. It's loss might yet be a stepping stone to something better. A mighty effort on your part Raymond.
Raymond
Reply
I think you hve nailed it Dave. Think of the kids who could have walked and shown their country. You know not one officer came and walked the trail. Stayed in their 20 million dollar office. Yep TWENTY MILLION office. It is more kuxurious in my opinion than the Macquarie Banks Sydney office. They look after the interests of people who live in creek beds. 
Rob
Reply
Hi Raymond. Sadly I missed the actual Ilpurla, but I did have the pleasure of meeting Aunty Mavis and her wonderful man, on the trip I did with Paul Wilson (The Quiet). I was saddened to read your story today. He left an impression. I bought a copy of the film 'Tnorala: baby falling' which has Mavis telling the story she told us that night. It is a wonderful reminder of some of the experiences I really value from that trip, including a visit to the men's place which shifted my mental frameworks quite a bit. I have a vague feeling one reason why Ilpurla failed is there in your title 'No Man's Land' - the walk can never be to them what it is (or was, or had potential to be) to you. Again it is incredibly sad, because for you it was a clear vision of an empowering future for others, and essentially they walked away from it. I was so pleased to see Mavis's words at the end of your story today - you are still related to them and that is a beautiful thing. I think we find meaning in three ways - through engaging with people (and maybe dogs!); with places; and with tasks. You still have two of those. The engagement with task at Ilpurla ended, despite the strength of your vision. I'm sure another task will take its place if you keep the relationship and the connection to place alive. Thanks again for your wonderful stories through the swag - I need a regular dose of red dirt to keep me sane! Cheers Rob
Raymond
Reply
No Mans Land refers to the gulf between the two worlds. Truly, the kids loved being on the trail. Never saw anyone as happy as when they were there. The women of the community wanted it, the kids wanted it. Certainly aboriginal people didn't understand the notion of owning the trail but they would have in time. Or felt the pride in any case. Kids would have walked it at school, AFL footballers would have promoted it.
Sylvia Kompein
Reply
so sad and true
Raymond
Reply
The story of Central Australia I am afraid.
Cisco
Reply
Hi mate, I will always remember the first time I saw that country, we were driving out to Hermannsburg and you pointed out Mt Hermannsburg and said “I want to take people out beyond that mountain and let them really experience this country”. Mate I have to tell you I looked at it and thought he’s really lost the plot this time, that’s the bloody middle of nowhere, but one year later you had the embryo of a track snaking through quite literally No Man’s Land. Taking that first group through it became obvious that this was going to be one of the world’s unique walking tracks. For me that country not only tears at your heart but sets the spirit free so to witness the bureaucratic incompetence by the whites and the greedy back stabbing by certain blacks that you had to endure was disturbing to say the least. I consider it a privilege to have helped you out there and I was horrified to see the way you were treated by the so called guardians of the outback, black and white. It’s always the few who spoil things for the many. Mate Australia has lost a great asset with the overgrowth of spinifex on what was “The Iplurla Trail”, it’s heartbreaking. Regards Cisco
Raymond
Reply
Yep ... such beauty .. a treasure for a thosand years.
Margarita
Reply
So different from the Australia we know here in Spain.It is heartbreaking .Sad but brave your writing,Raymond.I wish things could change.
Raymond
Reply
Thank you Margarita. I am going to start tellig the story in depth.
Julia
Reply
Perhaps, in the long run, it is the story in depth that will prove to have even more impact, more importance, than the dream of the trail itself... the Illpurna Trail DID exist, for a short while, at least... and it has a story to tell, not just "the old stories that no-one really wants to hear", but the very current story of what is happening in Australia, right now. We need to listen. We need to hear...
Raymond
Reply
I will be interested to see what happens in response to the essay. My underlying fear is that the purpose of white bureaucrats is to hide things from us, their fundamental role to patrol the perimter between white and black society.
Anne Looby
Reply
I can't begin to express the importance of this trail and the positive impact it would have had on the local indigenous communities. What Raymond did in pouring his heart and soul into creating this trail was a golden opportunity for local people and the broader community to experience a connection to our great land in a deep and profound way. To create a source of enormous pride for young aboriginal people to own and share... I sincerely hope that one day I, as an Australian, am able to experience the Ilpurla trail and see it through the eyes of young aboriginal people. 
Raymond
Reply
Yes .. the plan was that young school kids from all over Australia could have walked with young Aboriginal kids. 
Jenni Willis
Reply
How many stories remain untold, how many wrongs go unchallenged because people "just let it go".Perhaps the telling of this story will prove to be just as important as the actual trail, and once the story is told you may be able to let it go. I for one thank you for putting this story to page.
Raymond
Reply
Yes I agree about that letting go option is a cop out. I know what is happening in Central Australia and my eyes arent blurred to that. They might be to other things but not that. I have started sending this to politicans and Aboriginal leaders and we shall see what happens. 
David Strang
Reply
G'Day Raymond, I have been following your site since the early days after  seeing this tiny add in theAustralian  newspaper. I then ran into you by chance at Hermansberg probably three or four years ago. I was wondering what had happened to "Into The Blue" and "Ilpura Trail Walks" When i saw you at hermansberg you were just about to start your walks to Uluru. I hear and share your pain. I have to tel this story which is probably old hat to you but made light bulb come on in my mind for the wrong reason. A couple of years ago I was in Darwin and had to get back to the Blue Mountains (Little Hartly), To fix a mess that a burst pipe had caused.I. Then had to get back to darwin quickly and was a bit knackerd by the whole episode so hang the expense and go Business Class on qantas. The flight from Sydney went Via Canberra and then to Darwin.I looked around the FirstClass/Buisness Class cabin and quickly came to the view that I was the only bastard who had paid for my own ticket. It was full of  public servants/ beautraocrats. The overweight , well made up woman sitting next to me revealed to me upon starting up conversation that she was from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. What staggered me was her total lack of knowledge or understanding of what was happening In aboriginal land. I shook my head with some of her statements and came to the assumption that no wonder it is all so much of a mess. She probably worked in that $20 million office block you refer to.
Raymond
Reply
I remember you David and hello. When below average Public Servants are sent to the NT they arrive in superannuated heaven. They are not expected to achieve anything and there is a veil of secrecy over their dealings with Aboriginal people. It is my feeling that they sup on the carcass of a decaying corpse. It sounds extravagant to people who haven't witnessed the situation in Alice Springs. I cant really talk of other areas but they seem to be universal issues. The complete lack of skills they bring to the unholy mess that cries out for innovation and change is heartbreaking. The amazing thing is that they remain unaccountable. I am sending my extended report all around the world and will see what comes of it. Thank you for your words.
CHRISTA WALSH
Reply
You write from the place of a heart broken . . . and still pumping, must be a lot of love from the people there for you and for country nourishing all who dare to travel to No Mans Land. That you can return , carrying the message stick, writing the joy and pain of such a seeming stillborn dream is your gift to them and us. warmest regards and thanks for that. c