Global Research Assembly

Chicago Nexus

July 19, 1976


Oombulgurri is in the Kimberly in the northwest of Australia, covering about three and a half million acres of territory. That is one/six hundred and fortieth of the land area of Australia. It is about 200 miles southwest of Darwin, about 40 miles northwest of Wyndam, across the gulf and up the river. People say we are isolated, but if you look on a map we are closer to Singapore, to Kelapa Dua and the Sudtonggan than Sydney is. We like to point out that Sydney is isolated and we are right in the middle of things.

The Anglican Church founded the Forest River Mission in the 1910's. Almost all of the Aboriginal people within a 150­200 mile radius moved onto the Mission. The Mission operated until the 60's when they ran into some trouble with the water supply, supplies, and finances. That was a time when the Church globally was getting weak­kneed about its engagement and the Mission was closed in 1967. The 200 or so people who lived on the Mission were moved into the town of Wyndam and lived on a reserve on the outskirts. That Reserve was like any other in northern Australia. Almost everybody was unemployed. Housing amounted to a few tin shacks. Malnutrition, alcoholism' and prostitution ran rampant. The Elders of Oombulgurri moved about 12 miles away from Wyndam to another small camp and decided to stay and die there, letting the memory of their people die with them. They saw no possibility of passing on that memory or that heritage to the future.

In 1972, several of the Elders who had stayed with the community decided that the future lay with moving back to Oombulgurri to reclaim the land that was theirs. Three old couples and a few youth that the parole officer in Wyndam had agreed to release on good behavior to these old men and women, founded the settlement of Oombulgurri. The population grew to about 30, then 50, then 100, and then 140, and finally to 200. during a year and a half. As the story was heard and told, the vision of the possibility of rebuilding a settlement at that place caught on.

The Consult, signaling the launching of the Oombulgurri Human Development Project, in August of 1975, marks for the Elders the time when they were finished getting the community established. The primary issue had been simply surviving with such an exploding population ­­ providing the services for survival. The Consult marked a turn to concentrating on build­up, or development. The Consult focused on two key issues: self-sufficiency and self­reliance. For Oombulgurri, self­sufficiency meant, first of all, basic food production, providing the things that the community needed to eat. You should see the garden today. An acre and a half of vegetables ­­ zucchini and pumpkins, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, Chinese cabbages, kohlrabi ­­ row after row of vegetables, all in straight rows, with signs that say what the vegetables are.

Numa Horace is the leader of the garden guild. Numa is also the rainmaker of the community. That is helpful, if you are a gardener. Early last December it was 115° and so dry we just withered. There was not a cloud in the sky. The sun was burning down. Numa went out of his house and looked up and said, "Well, we better plant." We all said, "You're crazy! You can't plan now, you gotta wait for the rain." He says, "It's coming." We went out and planted melons, about an acre, and sure enough, the next day the clouds gathered and it started to rain. The rains last from December to March; after March, you don't see rain again until December.

A year ago they put in an acre of irrigation in the garden. Before then old Horey had watered the whole thing by hand. With his little pump and a hose, he would­go out and walk up and down the rows watering the vegetables. He was able to handle about half an acre that way. We didn't realize what a revolution irrigation would be. Of course, it was new technology, but what it meant for Horey was that instead of spending about 90% of his time walking around the garden watering his vegetables and a little bit of time picking a weed out here and there, with the irrigation system he only had to spend about ten minutes every morning turning on the pump, but he also spent all day weeding to try to keep up with the grass and weeds that came up with all that water. It meant that his whole style of farming was just turned upside down. What a struggle that was for him! All year long it was ­­ "Your irrigation system." Many times we wondered whether that had been the right move or not. This year on the first of April Horey and his sons announced that it was time to install the irrigation system again for the dry. He and those young men together, laid the pipes out and the runners and got a training session on how to run the pumps. Now, every morning it is Horey who starts the pump and who keeps the system operating. The irrigation system is "My irrigation system." Is he ever proud! You can watch him straighten up just as the vegetables go up out of that garden. That's the kind of change that every one of the Oombulgurri people are internalizing as they do their eighteen programs.

Geoffrey Mitchell is the gun of the small stock enterprises in Oombulgurri and Geoffrey has eleven pigs. He has two sows that were ready for a boar a few months ago. Since he didn't know where to find a boar he put an announcement out over the "flying doctor" radio service asking whether any of the stations in the area had a boar that he could borrow. One of the station owners telegrammed back that he had a great big boar, about 450 pounds, that he would be glad to loan Oombulgurri any time. That sounded pretty good because Geoffrey's sows are both pretty big sows­both about 400 pound sows. Geoffrey and one of the auxiliary went out on the barge to Wyndam and managed to find themselves a truck and a trailor. Karunge Station, where they were going, is about 100 miles away over a dirt track. It is hard to distinguish where the dirt track ends and the desert starts. With truck and trailer, they headed off over this road and about twelve hours later arrived at Karunge Station.

Karunge Station is managed by an old bush wrangler who came out of his homestead and said, "Oh, yeah, the boar. Well, let's go find him." It turned out that this man's piggery is just his property and that all of his pigs run wild in the bush. The way he finds a boar on his property is to go off down the road a little way, call "Piggy, piggy, piggy, piggy," and the pigs come out of the bushes. The day Geoffrey and Bill were Olive Evans and Mark Mitchell were in Chicago for the Fifth City Consult. The first thing Mark said when he came back was, "You go in that building and there are pictures of Oombulgurri all over the place. Everybody knows about us. And they think about us all the time. People asked me, one after the other, 'How's Oombulgurri? What's happening in Oombulgurri? What's going on at Oombulgurri?' Everybody knows what we're doing!" When the Bulletins come from Fifth City, Mark is the one that grabs them out of the mail. He will take them around end make sure that everybody reads them. "And here's what's going on in Fifth City right now." Olive sent a gift to Ruth Carter for the Fifth City Preschool, a bright orange Oombulgurri School tee shirt with a great big crocodile on it. When Olive came back, the first thing she did was grab Jo Richardson and say, "Now, listen, I want you to buy me four yards of dark navy blue material. I want to make myself a blue dress." She knows what that means. That kind of participation has given the globe to Oombulgurri and has allowed Oombulgurri people to see that the decision they are make is to give themselves to the globe.

Just a few weeks ago, Norman Horace from the garden guild and Jennifer Eura, one of the school teachers, went to the ITI in Kuala Lumpur. Jennifer was ecstatic over the intellectual methods ­­ spent hours charting papers and was able to get up and star in pedagogy. She has come back now to that school with a brand new grasp after what it is going to mean to do education, not only of the children in Oombulgurri, but of the whole community.

Every Thursday night between twenty and thirty people gather at the House in Oombulgurri for what they call Guild Night. Guild night means great singing, and great meals and reporting what is happening in the guilds, that week, hearing the report on what is happening around the world and celebrating it all. They do a workshop, sometimes on "ridding, or studying the document, or grounding the principles of economic and social development. It is always a great celebration. One week, when Rob Duffy came to visit from Sydney, he was to be there on a Saturday night. So we said, "Well, what shall we do to celebrate Rob's being here?" The council said with one voice, "Let's have a guild night." They grasp that form as a significant way to gather and celebrate. Olive Evans and Sam Albert led it. I have never heard such singing. They sang "Building with Demonstration" for twenty minutes. That was the first night after we had changed the wall sign from Trastevere to Lapu Lapu. (We did not know then it was Sudtonggan). They had a brand new set of names to learn, and they sang that song for twenty minutes.

There is a new human quality to life in Oombulgurri when people can sit down like that and share a meal and a celebration. The eighteen programs in the book have become a symbol to the whole community of the new resolve, the new decision, the new determination that they have as a people to move into the future and to build. We get a perverse kind of pleasure from listening to some bureaucrat tell us that eighteen programs are just impossibly complicated, that Aboriginal people would never be able to read them, let alone understand them. Then to have him walk out of the house and bump into Chrispin Mitchell, who grabbed him by the arm and took him over, showed him the chart of the eighteen programs, went through each one, told him what they were doing in each one and how they interrelate explained how you cannot do one unless you do them all. You begin to see the power of the sign that a community like Oombulgurri is.;

You and I have colleagues in Australia that I don't think he know about yet. The consult was really the occasion for the Guardians to come to their feet, but their follow­up from the Consult happened all over Australia. They showed slides, told stories, to spread the word about what was happening. Vanne Trompf who was there at the consult is an architect; he came back in >larch to sped a week with the community and work through their housing plans with them, seeing to it that the housing program got off the ground.

Sr. Liz Callen came from Newcastle and spent a week working with the Education Guild on school curriculum. She has so excited her Order about demonstrations that they have said that any member of the Order who wants to be assigned to a Social remonstration anywhere in the world can have the assignment. Sr. Liz is first on the list and has asked to be assigned to Oombulgurri next year.

One guardian from Brisbane had a rough time: he is a churchman and an old movement colleague. He was billed as a mechanic. We had been without a mechanic for a couple of months, and held a little backlog of mechanical work that needed doing. He was anticipated as the mechanic from Brisbane. It turned out that he is a school teacher. He did do a little clectrica1 work on his own house one time. But he as great. He took it all in stride went into the shop and did fantastic work. He got a Toyota running again, and the generator for the power plant fixed. His comment when he got back to Brisbane was, "You know, that was the most painful three weeks I've ever spent." Then he added, "But you know, somehow, when you're there working with those people, you get the sense that you are changing, history." Now that is the kind of thing that is happening to people in Australia.

We elected a new government in Australia last December. That meant that several of the friends we had made earlier are no longer there. The job had to be done again, with the new government. When the community got the word that the new minister for Aboriginal Affairs was coming to visit in early June, they sat down and did a lot of thinking about what he needed to see. One of the things they had noticed about politician's visits to Oombulgurri was that they came with a speech, got off the planes and immediately gave their speech. The people of Oombulgurri decided that that was not what he needed to do; he needed to see the place first. I he second thing they decided he needed to see was people working, not standing around listening to him. All the guilds got themselves organized and had their plans for his visit. When his plane came, nobody quit working: everybody was still on the job. A couple of people went out with the Toyota and picked him up. Instead of taking him into the center of town where he could give kits speech, they took him straight to the stockyards where men were breaking horses. Then they drove him down the road to the goat dairy, around to the school, where he saw the construction guild. Young men were working to finish the night school building. He saw a preschool class going on, the brand new preschool. Over in the market garden, the Minister of Lands who was a member of the party, commented that it was the finest garden he had ever seen in the Kimberly. They went to the store and bought a coke. They saw the town plan that the consultants and the construction guild together had laid out on the ground during the consult, showing where all the new houses and new buildings were going to go. They saw the workshop where all the vehicles were lined up in straight rows. Finally after all of that, they took him to the dining room where he was served tea. One of the men rang the bell and everybody came in from where they had been working with their guilds and met with him. He was profoundly impacted by what he had seen and his speech was totally different from the kind of speecl1 he would have given had he been fresh out of his plane. lids evaluation was that Oombulgurri was the kind of project that the Australian government can and must support.

There is another. He is our local member of Parliament. About every week now we get a letter from him with a copy of a letter he has written to someone, the post office department or a bank or the Department of Agriculture, trying to find some other way he can help Oombulgurri. Some of you know another friend of ours in Wyndham. He is a plumber, shopkeep, and member of the Shire Council. He went with Olive and Mark to Guardians meeting in Sydney in April. His comment after that meeting was, "Well, now, my lease on the shop is up in six months. You wouldn't have one of these communities where you need a plumber, would you?"

The local meat inspector at the Wyndam Meat Works, who has never had a word to say for us, flew in on a plane and said, "Well, I have heard you are doing a cattle muster. If you need any help, you just let me know. I will come out for a couple of days and give you a hand." The loca1 men from the Department of Agriculture and the Public Works department have bent over backwards to see those guilds and industries get off the ground.

Global Social Demonstration is not plans, or vision, but it is seeing. It is seeing Georgie Mitchell go around town at 7:30 in the morning and roll his mates out of bed, so they'll be on time at the construction site. Or hearing Hilton Gove start up the Toyota at 5 a.m. so that the stockmen can get out early and get a full day's fencing before the sun sets too hot. It is seeing. It is seeing the transformation in the place and in the people.