Global Research Centrum, Chicago, JM, Social Methods
On St. Michael's Day, September 24, 1919, a group
of Anglican missionaries journeyed up the Forest River and established
a mission on the only bit of flat land in the district. They camped
and met aboriginals in that area. The group received permission
to set up a mission for the purpose of teaching Christianity to
the aboriginals. The aboriginals did not take much notice at first,
and perhaps thought the missionaries were a bit mad.
Eventually, however, the aboriginals began to bring
their children to the mission, since white people could teach
the children how to deal with the outside world in ways that the
aboriginals could not. Soon a dormitory was constructed. Most
of the children from tribes in the area would stay in the mission
while their parents would remain in the bush. Some children, who
became fond of the taste of flour and sugar and tobacco, came
into the mission, and were paid for the work they did there.
In 1926, I think in June, a white man riding along
on a horse went by an old black man with his wives and dogs. They
were all out hunting. Suddenly, the white man shot the black man's
dogs and took his younger wife. Now, it offends me that the old
man became very angry about the shooting of his dogs. They were
his only hunting animals. The old man was angry about that, and
because the white man had dishonoured him. So one day the black
man speared the white man, and killed him, starting a massacre
the likes of which you have never seen.
The Oombulgurri people lived on 31 million acres
of reserve country. Every single black man, woman and child in
that vast territory, except the people in the Mission, were killed.
They were taken away, chained around Boab trees, shot, and their
bodies were burned. The Mission Superintendent, J.J. Gribble,
saved several groups of people. He went out on horseback and simply
collected chains of people from the policemen. He brought them
back to the mission. An old woman who taught me some songs was
the child of someone in that chain, saved by the Mission.
So, the Church was the only thing that gave people
life out there. The only people alive today are descendants of
aboriginals who lived in the Mission, and people who are within
the Mission. Their culture disintegrated because in those days,
the Church did not preserve the culture of the people. The children
were brought up in dormitories. Now that they are grown, they
have no idea how to be parents. That is the background against
which Oombulgurri was born.
In 1968, because of financial difficulties, the Anglican
Church pulled out of Forest River Of the aboriginals at the station,
about 250 went Into Wyndham, a town 40 miles away, across the
water. Once they went into Wyndham, there was absolutely no reason
for them to live. They became completely and thoroughly debauched,
drinking to excess and killing each other in fights on the Reserve.
There was just no hope for them. So, a couple of old people, Louise
and Robert Roberts who had been at Forest River before, decided
to return and to agitate for the return of the people to Forest
River. Sam Bailey, one of our colleagues in Australia, helped
them to do that. They spent five years agitating through political
and local circles for the return to Forest River. Finally, on
September 24, 1973, St. Michael's Day. the exodus from Wyndham
to Forest River began. The area was renamed Oombulgurri for the
clan that lived, owned and hunted on the old Mission land.
Mimi Shinn and I were in one of the advance parties
on September 24. We had all the packing boxes on a boat 23 feet
long and piston powered. It goes pretty fast but the tides up
there are awful. There is a 26 foot difference between low tide
and high tide. If you do not get on top of the tide, you get stuck.
So, we were dumped unceremoniously out on the side of a mudbank
with all the boxes while the boat went back for others. We really
did wonder if the boat would get back to us. We eventually arrived
at the settlement after walking three miles. We began by using
all the old equipment and buildings of the old Mission.
Now I am going to put up a few maps and grids so
you can see the geographic relationship.
You can see Australia and Oombulgurri, and the reserve
land, about 31 million acres that is claimed by the Oombulgurri
people. You see the coastline, the Cambridge Gulf, Wyndham, and
how Forest River curls aroundOombulgurri is right
there. The unofficial grid includes the school, the church, the
workshop and the kitchen. The housing, built around 1920, is fairly
solid, but not satisfactory In that climate. We expected about
40 people and ended up with 225. The people who came have lived
In tents under trees or anything they could build until a new
housing settlement and village can be developed.
The Boab tree under which all the old Jarups, or
meetings, were held, still stands. On one side, there Is a hill
called the "JumpUp." On the other side is the
Forest River, and the air strip. I do not think you have ever
seen an air strip like this. It Is bumpy and grassy. I used to
go out every week on the motor bike to check it for dust holes.
The dust is very fine and gets very deep, so you have to be careful
not to fall in.
There is a large, beautiful dam in which we used
to do our washing. Over the hill six miles is a beautiful pool
of water for drinking. Six miles of rusted out pipe carry the
water, and every time you want to start the pump, you have to
walk six miles in the heat, over sharp stones.
The weather is beautiful from April to November;
80 to 90 degrees but never a drop of rain. It is very dry. It
gets very hot around Christmas120 degrees and raining. Last
year we had 80 inches of rain in two monthsenough to allow
the waterfalls to flow. We used to clean our teeth in the waterfalls.
Ever since I was a little girl and saw Dorothy Lamour movies,
I wanted to clean my teeth under a waterfall.
The structures in being at the moment center around
the guild. In Mowanjum, the economic guild encompassed the entire
economic sphere. We did the same thing in Oombulgurri. The first
of the guilds, the husbandry guild, is trying to make money with
cattle raising. Two thousand head of cattle were left in Oombulgurri
by the Anglican church. They had become very wild. The difficulty
was in finding the estimated 5000 cattle now roaming on 3' million
acres. We had to buy horses, build yards, break in the horses,
and so on.
We accepted a helicopter as a gift from a mining
company that was interested in Oombulgurri because of the copper
on the land. We used the helicopter to determine where most of
the cattle were. The next day, we gathered twenty head but they
broke out of the yard. We decided to take six cattle to market
just to prove that it was possible to transport them safely on
our barge. So we took the cattle to a portable yard in the community.
The cattle jumped in, we roped them and lugged them to the barge.
When the cattle were safely locked into the yard, we cut the ropes.
The cattle went mad. The little boys watching outside all cheered.
We had to watt until midnight for the high tide. We finally succeeded
in lining up the yard and the barge. Someone cracked the whip
from behind and got the cattle onto the barge. They had a good
trip in about six hours. On the other side, we just shoved the
cattle up a ramp and into the truck. We could see that It was
possible to transport 500 cattle next year.
When we arrived in Oombulgurri, we decided that a
miracle was needed in the form of a guild. We sold watermelons,
and people ate watermelons, more than anything else. Then we decided
to grow peanuts. The Kimball Research Station encouraged us to
try, and donated some seeds. We handplanted the peanuts,
using a tractor to dig up the ground.
We planted in teams of three. One person dug a hole
with a stick, one dropped the peanut in, and the person in back
would stomp on it. The peanuts grew very well. We reaped the four
acres by hand. Next year we are going to have 120 acres, but not
planted by hand. The Research Station gave us a machine that with
a lot of dust, noise and "chunka, chunka, chunka," produces
peanuts at the other end. Ed Shinn worked on the peanut machine,
oiling it and keeping it runningand we produced two
tons of peanuts. We were going to use it for seed. but the kids
ate the peanuts.
I was asked to teach 15 children, before I arrived.
But when I reached Oombulgurri, there were already 45 children
to he taught. Of course, I could not teach all these children
on my own. So, I went around the community, grabbing anyone who
looked as if they liked kids. We ended up with a staff of four
aboriginals and renovated the old school building until we were
proud to take pictures of it.
We were invited to an interschool sports day, held
annually in Wyndam. We held a raffle to raise plane fare, since
the barge was not big enough to hold all the children. We raised
the money the day before the event. All the children wore uniforms.
We made a flag; an artist painted a beautiful green crocodile
with a blue background. We made up a war cry. The children, wearing
their orange shirts and black shorts, carrying their flag, looked
beautiful. People Who had previously known the children said they
would not recognize them. The children used to swear. Now they
were able to carry on conversations.
I think the school was our big miracle, but the first
miracle was the water. We got a water pump that provides enough
water for the whole village. The government offered to pay for
a helicopter to move the pump and install it, but the people decided
to use horses instead. Forty-four gallon drums of fuel were hauled
down there, the pump installed, and water came through the cracked,
dirty old pipes and poured out the other end. That was the signal
for people to come from Wyndham to Oombulgurri. So many people
came that we had to install a larger pump. Sometime in the future
we will fix the pipe system. Now we have water every day, which
The other guilds are social development and the symbol
guild, which sells bark paintings, bows and arrows. Anyone with
black hair can always get a haircut at the guild store. The hair
is thinned, teased out and rolled onto a bowl. The hair is then
used for totems, with the hair wound around sticks, painted with
Ochre. They also make bark, paintings and clapsticks for the store.
The symbol guild has always existed in Oombulgurri.
A trained sister works with the health guild. The
people have almost completely taken over care of the community.
Several women check for sick kids every morning and dispense tablets
and medication. We have healthy children now, although we didn't
have any to start with.
The chickens arrived just as I left. We have had
a coop waiting for a year. We also have a pig house waiting for
pigs and one waiting for goats. We did have goats, but they ran
away. The chicken house is better than most of the people's houses.
It has been painted five times with loving care by the people
in charge of the chickens before the chickens were there. Now
that the chickens have arrived, these people are very happy.
I think I have gone over most of the community structures.
There is a "beautification" group which consists of
old ladies with brush brooms who go around sweeping all day. They
plant trees and water them. They have created a little postage
stamp park. They cultivated it with old wash water and lawn seed.
It is a sign for what could come when water is more abundant.
We cannot have lawns because we do not have the water. But everybody
washes clothes at the base of the trees. We have quite a few trees,
including four coconut trees from Darwin. We will have quite an
orchard some day.
To close, here are the words of an Oombulgurri song,
"Run to Meet the Sun."
Run, run, run, run, to meet the sun.
Our ancestors have wisdom we must share.
The people of the world will know we care
To run, run, run, run, to meet the sun.
For we are black and beautiful, And we have gifts
to give, To all the future and to all.