Rice Mag Issue 2: Red Dust

Issue 2: Red DustThey stared at my skin, my freckles and strangely curly hair, they noticed my eyes were blue.

One of the girls gasped and came close, peering into my eyes.Gently, she put one small hand on my cheek and pushed my face toward her friend…

Sissy look, she has sky in her eyes.

The Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) is a group of five remote, indigenous communities sitting at the most northern tip of Queensland, Australia. I was lucky enough to join these communities, living and working in the region for 2 years. Continue reading

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Kicking Up Dust

After the first performance, we couldn’t get them to stop! If they were moving, they were dancing. The campsites would fill with dust as the children practised their ‘shake a leg’, dodging smacks and yells from the adults who were opposed to having dust in their tents and cooking. At night our tent cities would come alive with campfires, fluro lights and the smell of food cooking.

“This is how we do it,” Aunty Nandy would tell me, teaching me to make island scones or cook enough rice and yam for a horde of hungry dancers. Continue reading

Red Dust- Bright Skin and Sky Eyes

Our little white girl.

This is how I became known for the better part of 2 years, living in the communities of the NPA in far north QLD. In the communities, you will hear people refer to themselves as black or white skinned. It’s generally not meant in a derogatory way, but simply as a straight to the point way of speaking, common to the region.

Injinoo Culture Love Week 404One of the most beautiful descriptions I ever heard was ‘bright skinned’. People would often describe someone by pointing to my skin, saying ‘like you’ or to their own, ‘like us’. It’s not meant as an insult, simply a description. It seems that through our own political correctness we have attached these stigmas to personal descriptions that disable us from identifying race in polite conversation. Not here. Some of the descriptions I heard here will stay with me forever.

One day, I was speaking to Aunty Agnes Mark (who took to affectionately introducing me as her daughter, and gave me the name of little white girl) at the arts centre in New Mapoon. She was explaining a relative who she had seen after some time, as having ‘white man’s neck’. I didn’t understand what she meant, was his neck white? Was it sunburned?

She meant that his neck had wrinkled as caucasian Australian’s skin does when we age. She said that white skin, like mine, looked fragile to her. She was afraid to touch it, not because she disliked it, but because she felt as if she might damage us.

I held out my arm to her, palm up and she pointed to the blue tinge under my wrist where the veins could be seen. “It’s so fragile,” she said, looking at my arm but holding her own, “I feel like it would break if I touched it.”

Screen Print- totem tablecloth 030

At one event I was standing with some young girls on the sideline of the footy field, photographing the game. They watched me cautiously as I moved about taking photos, so I pointed my camera at them too and they began to giggle and pose. With the ice broken, they came over to see the photos I’d taken, sparking another round of giggles.

As they grew more familiar with me, they started to stroke my jeans and shirt, and as I knelt down to show them the photos, they began stroking my face and hair, twisting their fingers through my curls asking why it was curly and red. I pointed out that they had curly hair too, and they laughed, but kept hold of mine.

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As they stared at my skin, my freckles and strangely curly hair, they noticed my eyes were blue. One of the girls gasped and came close, peering into my eyes. Gently, she put one small hand on my cheek and pushed my face toward her friend, “look sissy, she has sky in her eyes.

That’s a description I’ll never forget.

Red Dust… the wet

In Queensland, it seems the further north you go, the slower things become. The people run on what we call ‘island time’. It’s a desperate attempt to find some sort of order we can set our watches to taking the form of a bewildering time management system with no visible regularity other than this. Things will happen when they happen. Never before, and rarely after.

Even the weather runs on it’s own special schedule. Continue reading

Red Dust – Sticky Fingers

Sticky, gross, covered in dust and altogether too close to your face for comfort… a description that might easily be used for a number of things that day, but in this exact moment it was the tiny, little dark fingers making their way through my hair.

The fingers belong to a little boy, aged 3 or 4, just knee high to a grasshopper and conveniently the perfect height to reach my face as I sat cross legged on the dusty red ground. Continue reading

Large as Life

Have you ever looked at a polystyrene esky and thought to yourself… I could make a dugong out of that?

Marsat carving 020 copy

Marsat Newman with Foam Carvings

Using only tools he had around the home and materials found around his community, Marsat Newman, a local carpenter from Bamaga, has found magic in the mundane. Wanting to create large scale sculptures that were also light enough to lift or hang, Marsat decided to utilise what light and malleable materials were already on hand. Collecting polystyrene eskys, he stacked layers of foam and carved them, using only his garden chainsaw, into the likeness of a mother and baby dugong.

Though the foam sculptures are not the only project this local carpenter has on the go. Using the offcuts from last years regional show wood chopping event, Marsat carved a hammer-head shark, dugong and a crocodile, each over a meter long, each taking between 3 and 5 weeks to create.   “I wanted to try carving on a bigger scale, this is my first try,” Marsat said of the beautifully detailed carvings sitting underneath his family home in the heart of Bamaga.

Marsat Newman Master Craftsman, Bamaga

Marsat Newman Master Craftsman, Bamaga

His art has long been influenced by the hunting culture and lifestyle of his home, on the edge of mainland Australia and the Torres Strait.

 

The sculptures are amazingly life-like, perhaps due to Marsat’s own familiarity with the animal. As a traditional saltwater hunter, Marsat hunts both turtle and dugong in the waters of the Torres Strait. The animals are not only a source of food and a cultural rite, they are also totems for local tribes, a link to culture and heritage. “The saltwater crocodile is my wife’s totem,” Marsat explains, “for me, these are the other animals are animals we hunt, they are a part of our life here.”

NPA art

Marsat carving 020 copyHave you ever looked at a polystyrene esky and thought to yourself… I could make a dugong out of that?

Using only tools he had around the home and materials found around his community, Marsat Newman, a local carpenter from Bamaga, has found magic in the mundane.

Wanting to create large scale sculptures that were also light enough to lift or hang, Marsat decided to utilise what light and malleable materials were already on hand. Collecting polystyrene eskys, he stacked layers of foam and carved them, using only his garden chainsaw, into the likeness of a mother and baby dugong.

Though the foam sculptures are not the only project this local carpenter has on the go. Using the offcuts from last years regional show wood chopping event, Marsat carved a hammer-head shark, dugong and a crocodile, each over a meter long,  each taking between 3 and 5 weeks to…

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The Red Dust: Wet Season

In Queensland, it seems the further north you go, the slower things become. The people run on what they call ‘island time’, a bewildering time management system with no visible regularity other than this. Things will happen when they happen. Never before, and rarely after.

Even the weather changes. The traditional four seasons have disappeared, probably off fishing, the number one cause of disappearances in the area, and we are left with a much simpler schedule. The wet season, and the dry season. Aptly named I might add. Straight to the point, half the year it rains, the other half it shines.

Thursday Island 065 copy

Language has taken on a simpler form too. For instance, the word ‘mob’ can be used in a myriad of ways, when referring to family, friends, work colleges, people who aren’t friends -or just to describe the group of people that happen to be standing closest to you when you utter, “this mob.”

I’ve recently become a member of the Snake Gully mob, of Injinoo. On graduating uni, I promptly packed my city life into vacuum-seal bags, stashed them under the bed in my parents’ house and moved to far north Queensland to work.

Having been in the area just under a week, I’d already planted a mango tree and in true blue North Queensland style, managed to get a lobstering sunburn in the process- despite not having seen even a hint of blue sky since my arrival. On the bright side though, I suppose if I ever needed to, I could lie down on my stomach and my back would camouflage perfectly with the red ground.

The weather here is unbelievable. Well, the rain mostly. You can feel the air being sucked toward the storm, like the ocean to a wave. Then a few drenching, heavy drops splatter the dust and you had better head straight under the closest roof before a wall of water falls across the road.  There’s a few moments where you can’t see more than a few meters away and then in a blink, the sun is peering cheerily out from behind a cloud and glinting happily off the puddles.