Jamey of the Jawoyn People
Jamey of the Jawoyn People
With his raggedy beard and toothy grin and twinkling eyes I could tell Jamey was going to give us rail travellers a good time.
Sitting aboard the flat bottomed aluminium river boat, warming up after the chilly coach ride, it wasn’t long before Jamey who had the rare skill of finding that common ground with strangers upon which a fun and meaningful relationship develops in seconds started telling us about the history of the park and its people.
Since arriving in Aussie I have started to use the video facility on my little camera. Not that I can use it in the blog, which is why I haven’t used it much before but more so I can show family, especially grandchildren things about this big country like the animals and unusual things we have done and of course the Ghan trip.
So I was playing this cruise back to Henry and Ruby and what came over was not just Jamie’s friendly story telling but the warmth and humour we all enjoyed with him. “Not much has changed with the way of life here, apart from woman foraging in Woollies with a trolley for roots, fruit and all that sort of stuff!” (Aussie Woolworths is a big national supermarket)
He explained the struggle they have had to retain custody of their homeland after losing it to the federal government in the sixties. How they fought and eventually won title back only to have to lease it to the government again so they could run the park on it. Even when Jamey described the arrival of the missionaries who with their callous zeal stole a generation of young aborigines to bring them up the white way at mission stations and then putting them out to work “for low wages, well actually none at all…” there was no malice or anger in his tone. He said himself that they did not hold grudges over the disruption caused by white man.
He explained their creation story, we know as the dreamtime, where everything around them was in spirit form and all they knew and know came from the spirits of the past. How their ceremonies are held to appease the spirits who taught them everything including what plants and animals they can eat including “the big ugly ‘file’ (it sounded like) river snake but he’s quite tasty and even croc is on the menu.” They taught them marriage laws to prevent marriages within clans “that would become a bit dodgy...” Jamey showed how the river level is lower than is normal at this time of year because the tropical monsoon is late in coming, we had that to look forward to on our second day in Darwin. But the river level was high enough to submerge the jetty that is used in the dry season, so we moored where the front ramp of the craft could be lowered onto a level rocky surface. Our guide book said we had to be fit enough to embark and leave our craft and one lady struggled and was then given lots of help to make it to the paintings. Hats off to her and the guides. The support my foot had from my laced up walking shoes meant I was able to do the walk with little discomfort.
Our muddy river journey through the bendy first and second gorges of the Nitmiluk Gorge revealed towering sandstone cliffs of warm ancient rock which have for over 60,000 years provided a tabula rasa of rock faces, a blank hard canvas ready for the artistic hands of the male indigenous creators.
After a rocky scramble the short distance to the gallery we would explore, Jamey explained the practice of an adult spraying an earth based paint from their mouths over the hands of a child so their past and future would be preserved. The depiction of the powerful serpent and what looked like the tentacles of a jelly fish but is in fact the roots of an edible waterlily. “Still today 20% of our food we collect from the country, 40% we forage from shops and the rest, well on Fridays that’s a takeaway!”
Rainwater can stain the rock a dark charcoal colour and damage the paintings so silicone has been applied to the rock in long strands above the paintings to deflect water. Underneath we saw beautifully preserved images of turtles, men hunting, women with their woven bags and a kangaroo complete with a joey in her pouch painted by ancestors of the Jawoyn people while other parts of the world froze during the Ice Age. Such a powerful pictorial link with the past took me right away from where I stood to the sights and sounds of families through millennia living a lifestyle that barely changed for so long, until something bit me on the leg and brought me whizzing back through my time warp to see what looked like a pale yellow dung fly having lunch on me.
By this time we were all well warmed up, in fact we were baking, even Jamey had to remove his sunglasses and wipe the sweat from his eyes with his short sleeve. So we started on the short walk back from the gallery in a meandering line. A lady infront of us wearing thick trousers, city shoes and no hat or sunglasses suddenly stumbled, losing her heavy handbag in the process which tumbled and opened on impact, she bent a nail back and her finger started bleeding, poor thing.
Two guides helped her to a sitting position while I gathered up all her essential bits and bobs. It reminded me of my big handbag days when I carried everything including a screwdriver. I felt not only for her but also the guide who was busy completing the Incident Report. Paul, our skipper on one of our Challenger Sailing Trips once said in his initiation chat “If you are going to have an accident please make sure you die as there is so much more paperwork for an injury than an accidental death!”