Story Archive

Elder-1

ALISON HUNT - SENIOR DESERT WOMAN

Posted on April 2, 2012 by
Raymond
on the road at
Areyonga, Northern Territory

 

 

The Desert Oak grows slowly in its first years, appearing to linger in an extended adolescence.      

Beneath the surface the tap root furiously seeks the water table.

 

Sometime in the late 1940's, Alison Hunt was born in the small mission community of Areyonga. While the country traditionally belonged to the Malbunka family, it became a refuge for displaced Pitjantjatjara people. Alison's mother had walked there with her mother, father and sister from the South-West Petermann Ranges, many hundreds of kilometres away.

As she gave birth to Alison, her mother died, in the bush, under a tree.

In accordance with law & custom she was buried quickly and her parents walked back to their tribal lands. The baby was left with extended family to be raised.

In that time of terrible upheaval for Aboriginal people, the sadness could not be borne by the family to whom the baby had been entrusted. They had neither food nor clothes. Beyond that their grief for the dead mother was too deep. In Aboriginal culture they were too "sorry".

Alison explained to me that "sorry" is more than grief. Aboriginal people become disorientated and emotionally helpless in the face of death. It might be that in a society that lacks a notion of individualism, death kills part of the clan itself, leaving the family in state of living death.

In any case they asked Wilfred Swift, a Western Aranda man who was working in the Areyonga mission store as a Lutheran evangelist, to adopt the child. Wilfred's wife, Lucy Malbunka Swift, was happy to accept the baby and Alison was raised as a Western Aranda woman.

At the age of 12 Alison was told the story of her birth. She had always wondered why the Pitjantjatjara mobs at Areyonga had called out to her.  "Pitja nuna na la kutu" ... "Come over here to us".

When the child was adopted there was a traditional contract agreed upon that one day she would return to her birth mother's family to be told the stories of her country. To become a Pitjantjatjara woman. As Alison explains this contract was beyond a promise. It was the deepest of obligations that went to the heart of Aboriginal spirituality, for people to "know" their country.

Wilfred was a strong man. He spoke English, Pitjantjatjara and Western Aranda [and understood a little German] and acted as a liason officer between both white and black tribes, translating not only the words spoken but placing them into a cultural context that people could understand.

This was the time of the forced removals. Children disappeared, never to be seen again.

"Never get in that whitefella's car" was a constant warning to the children.

Wilfred told the white authorities that this child was being brought up well and none of his children must ever be taken away. With his adopted child he had the extra obligation that she would one day return to her blood family.

Alison grew up watching her father speak confidently to white men. When her adopted father and mother died she left for her mother's country and learnt the stories. In obedience to the original arrangement she visited her mother's birthplace.

In Aboriginal society Alison has dual nationality, she is both a Pitjantjatjara and Western Aranda woman. Like her father she remains neutral in politics lest everyone gets lost in division. She has sat on the board of the Central Land Council and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. She speaks her mind as confidently as her father spoke his.

I have watched Aboriginal people around white authority figures and witnessed the change in character. Deep down and with good reason, there is a fear of what we are capable of. Alison, like her father, holds her ground.

As strong as she is, Alison is a gentle soul. Like most of the "nanas" her main concern is for her grandchildren.

I call her often, ironically to complain about whitefella bureaucrats. Experience has taught her the futility of outrage and she brings me gently back to earth like a kite in trouble.

Alison's English is perfect yet she can neither read nor write.

She has never told the story of her childhood to a whitefella before. I, and you, are privileged. Ultimately Alison is a teacher and I believe a great spiritual leader. You do find them out here in the desert.

As she spoke about Wilfred and Lucy the old woman broke down, "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them", tears flowing up as from a tap root deep in the earth.

When the sapling hits water it flourishes

and grows tall in the desert with limbs that whistle in the wind.

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PS. Alison would welcome a conversation with you. She believes that "we need to open the door .... to embrace and welcome one another."

Post a comment or ask a question and I shall read them to Alison. It might be that we use this forum to develop a culturally appropriate conversation between white and black women.

PSS. Alison runs trips for women south-west of Uluru with other traditional senior elders. If you would like to participate just call her mobile -  0427  522 743. She would welcome your contact.

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Comments
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Anne Looby
Reply
Privileged†indeed Raymond. Thanks. You have a great ability to swing between the extremes of great hilarity and sobering eloquence. Wow.
Raymond
Reply
Thank you Anne. Just pulled up at little Hartley on the way out bush. I am sitting in the forecourt of the Hartley Courthouse where the Rev Samuel Marsden dished our ruthless floggings to the Irish. Tom just took an enormous leak exactly where the Reverend would have walked in, robes flowing. Well done Tommie. Raymond xx
Sue
Reply
Raymond Once again a beautifully written piece that makes me pause and reflect on the richness of our indigenous history - so much of which would be lost without the generosity of Alison in telling her story combined with your wonderful writing skills. Sue
Raymond
Reply
Thanks Sue. Alison is so excited about me writing this story. Each word had to be read and reread to her until she was satisfied. She wants to take white women on a journey to her mothers birthplace. What a journey that would be. What we really need though is for people to call her and say hello. To make human contact. c ya Raymond xx
Sally
Reply
You are a fabulous conduit and communicator Raymond. For a city slicker like me, you provide a means of connecting with wonderful people like Alison, as well as an opportunity to learn a little of her story. Thank you.
Raymond
Reply
Hey Sally. I'll take conduit any time.Now that would be a thing to aim for. Alison ia atypical for a desert Aboriginal. She is very confident in her skills and mission. She wants to come to Sydney and talk. Wouldn't that be wonderful, Raymond xx
Shelagh
Reply
Thanks, Raymond this has whetted my appetite for what we will learn and participate in during our coming trip. I have met Alison, but not had the chance to speak with her. What a wonderful link she his between us and her people. I would love to take the chance to go on her women's trip
Raymond
Reply
Hi Shelagh. Yes. and she wants to build more bridges. Alison called me the other day to say that she would like to tell the next part of her story. The influence of her adopted father is incredible. Raymond
Felicia
Reply
gorgeous tale illustrated witht he mental vsion of our rich country. I too would love to join one of her women's trips.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Felicia I think they would be wonderful but of course I will never know. Why don't you give her a cal directly ... she is a great communicator. Raymond
Rae
Reply
What a rich story,and and so important for us as whitefellas to hear it. For sure I will phone Alison.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Rae.. great.. That is ultimately what is needed. Thanks for that. Lets start TALKING.
Cecilia
Reply
Alison reminds me of my own mother. Very little formal education but with a wisdom and knowledge about people and life that can not be learnt from books and that I deeply respect. Mum went to school for "six years and one winter" and, due to her father's death, had to help look after 10 siblings and a farm when she was only 14 years old. It took many years and emigration before I really understood, but when I finally did understand I came to the conclusion that my mother had what I would call 'calibre'. So to me, women like Alison are also 'women with calibre'. When one has a closer look we have much more in common than we at first may think. Links and bridges have always been there, it is just that some people felt the need to put gates and barbed wire across the roadway.Have a great day!Cecilia.
Raymond
Reply
Beautifully put Cecilia. Please tell us more any time. I imagine that was in Switzerland. Thank you. Raymond xx
Susan
Reply
Wonderful. Thank you Alison for sharing one of your stories with us and Raymond for posting it. Where did the beautiful quote about the Desert Oak come from?
Raymond
Reply
Hi Susan. I am so glad it moved you. Her story moved me when I heard it and Alison to tears when she told it. The quote is actually my words to find a parallel to her journey. I am glad you noticed it. c ya Raymond
Melody
Reply
It is a great privilege to be in the presence of an extraordinary woman and a man who is willing to let his heroine speak so profoundly - thank you.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Melody. That's a lovely thought. I am seeking other Elders but Alison Hunt sets the benchmark very high. Hope you are well. Raymond xx
Rosa Christian
Reply
Thanks Raymond for introducing Alison and her story to me. I also remember Mavis from the 2009 Desert Writers trip, with great affection and respect. I have long thought that instead of religious indoctrination in our schools we should have to study Aboriginal cultural and spiritual beliefs and history.
Rosa Christian
Reply
Hey Rosa. I just spoke to Alison and read her some of the comments. She is thrilled and wants to tell more stuff from her childhood. Ill see Aunty Mavis in a few days. Ill give her your best. Rxx
Catherine Horan
Reply
Hi Raymond. You've reminded me of the desert oaks and how they sigh in the wind; and you've reminded me of being in the desert that doesn't seem to move but if you stay still long enough you can feel it rumble. I am going to call Alison and organise a trip. Thank you very much for passing her story on - Thank you Alison for telling it. PS: as an aside Raymond - the Rev Samuel Marsden was the bloke who proposed a building for the reception of female convicts - yes, the Female Factory!†He was in to reforming people, no doubt to their factory settings. Happy Easter
Raymond
Reply
Hey Catherine. Alison would love to hear from you. I have spoken to her about what people have written. She is very excited and has started thinking about other stories. We might take the Nanas for a drive up the east coast.. God they could use a break. They hold the society together in my opinion. Marsden wasnt called the Flogging Parson for nothing. He hates the Irish, had no respect for the Aboriginals but loved the Maori people where he is remembered quite affectionately. People are strange. Raymond xx
Kathryn Fry
Reply
Thank you Alison for sharing your story and Raymond for writing it so powerfully. I know a little of your beautiful country and people Alison, after walking the Ilpurla last year - one of the highlights was hearing about womens' business from Mavis on the first afternoon. Sometime I hope to join you on one of your trips.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Kathyrn. I am seeing Mavis on Sunday and shall say hi. Alison is made of the same stuff that Mavis is made from. Hope you are well. Rxx
Julia
Reply
I'd love to walk with Alison, too... Jx
Raymond
Reply
I'll see what we can organise. Feel free to give her a ring. Raymond xx
heather
Reply
Thanks for sharing Alison's story. We are all interconnected and need to hear these stories so we can know more about the different families and the places they belonged to. Thank you so much for providing this opportunity.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Heather. My pleasure. I found it a fascinating story to write. It allowed me to understand a lot more about sorry business and family. Raymond
yasmin
Reply
Working in Mutitjulu, I had the pleasure of meeting Alison before coming across this article. From the moment I spoke to her, I knew she had something special in her. I feel very privileged to have met her.
Pasado
Reply
Gday Raymond, Thankyou for that illuminating introduction to Alison. I will be at Uluru in march 2016 for the Metta conference where Alison will be speaking. I look forward to experiencing her wisdom in person.  with love and peace Pasado
micy
Reply
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Susanne Calman
Reply
I had the pleasure of meeting Alison in Melbourne recently. Her spirit, kindness and gentleness was humbling. I would love to make contact with her as I bring groups to Uluru. Thank You for sharing her story.