MDFF 5 August 2017

Today’s dispatch is Watiya.  Dispatched on 19 December  2016 and posted 24 December 2016

Amigos,In previous Dispatches I have mentioned the Tree of Knowledge outside the Yuendumu Mining Co. store. Recently a pair of Tiyi-tiyi (mudlarks-Grallina cyanoleuka) built a neat round mud nest up high in that Athel pine. The pair take it in turns to look after their chicks and keeping a small murder of Kaarngka (Crows- Corvus) at bay.

Watiya is the Warlpiri word for ‘tree’ or ‘trees’. Warlpiri has quite a few words like ‘sheep’. The context determines whether the word is singular or plural. No doubt linguists have a technical term for such. My favourite linguistic technical term is ‘expletive infixation’ (e.g. ‘tele-fucking-phone’).

untitled-52Papunya is 130Km kurlirra (South) of Yuendumu (Yurntumu). On the way there, one gets into ngalyarrpa (sand dune) country in which many large and juvenile kurrkara (Desert Oak-Allocasuarina decaisneana) trees grow.

Nyirrpi, is a community of several hundred people located 150Km karlarra (west) of Yuendumu. Nangala has travelled to Nyirrpi and worked at the Nyirrpi School for decades (since its inception). At the kakarrara (eastern) edge of Nyirrpi there is a cemetery which features a forest of numerous prominent white painted crosses. Too many of our friends are buried there. It was therefore a most pleasant change for me to travel to Nyirrpi other than for a funeral, a Christian wedding!

On the way Nangala pointed out a grove of kurrkara trees, which had sprung up in the last decade. Is she jumping to conclusions, when she raises the possibility that climate change might have something to do with this?

At Nyirrpi School, they (I am told) had their best Christmas Tree ever. It was a Wakulpirri tree (Dog wood- Acacia coriacea). Wakulpirri is one of the more generous bush food trees. The plentiful beans taste delicious when the pods are roasted whole on hot coals. Not unlike freshly roasted peanuts.

Ernst Anschütz, who wrote the modern lyrics of O Tannenbaum (according to Wikipedia), in his wildest dreams, would not have been able to imagine the Nyirrpi School Christmas Tree

Athel Pine (Tamarix aphylla) is a declared ‘noxious weed’ in the NT. It has spread along a 400Km long stretch of the Finke River. It causes serious ecological damage, not least drawing salt to the surface. In Yuendumu there are some very large (and old) Athel Pines, which were originally planted as shade trees, a purpose they serve very well.

To the best of my knowledge unlike the Rubber Bush (Calostropis procera) which spreads rapidly and widely, especially at cattle bores and yards, not a single Athel Pine has sprung up in the Yuendumu region, only the planted trees remain. Yet the Vegetation Police have been trying and sometimes succeeded in killing these old trees. Why can’t they apply the “innocent until proved guilty” approach? When it comes to Aboriginal Australia that fundamental principle on which the whole western legal system rests, has been out the window for ages. They don’t even apply it to our trees!

Lately in Yuendumu we’ve had a tree lopping contractor who has removed some lovely gum trees , … watiyaju ngulaju jurlpu-kurlangu ngurra… (those trees are bird homes). The contractor also killed a row of large Athel pines. Trimming the trees where they encroach on electricity cables, I can understand, but really! Remove the whole tree? Definitely yet another case (of which Yuendumu suffers many) of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Over the years I have seen many instances of tree vandalism in Yuendumu, and not much evidence of consultation or discussion. It was thus, that I concluded that the row of Athel pines had been removed without permission. On checking I found out the trees had been removed by request from the residents of the nearby house. I do however note the neighbours (who shared in the enjoyment of the shade and privacy) were not consulted.

Let this be a cautionary tale for all those who have strong opinions on matters affecting Aboriginal Australia- for Heaven’s sake, seek out the facts and examine the nuances, before you launch your dogmatic beliefs and opinions at a wider audience, and never, but never, tar everything with the same ethnocentric brush.

Ponder the possibility you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Jurlpu ka nyina mi yurdingka… (The bird is up high in the tree)

….I wanna be free like a bird in a tree….

I wish you all freedom, happiness, health and wealth (in that order) for 2017