Three homes stood silhouetted against the darkening sky, marking the settlement that would be known as Umagico Community. There were already over five families living between the three buildings, but they opened their doors to new arrivals as more families were relocated from their homes in Lockhart River.
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
On the weekend, these local kids chased me down the beach, calling out, “Miss Jess, Miss Jess!” all the way until they reached me.
I recognized one, so I said hello and asked how she was…
… Silence. Continue reading
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.
One 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.”
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.
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.
Just kilometers from the most Northern tip of mainland Australia, on the white sandy beaches bordering the crystal waters of the Torres Strait, for the first time ever, nesting turtles are being tagged as part of an annual Turtle Monitoring Camp conducted by Apudthama Land and Sea Rangers.
Under the watchful gaze of a team of indigenous rangers, each nesting mother works slowly to scrape aside the sand with her rear flipper, digging away the damp sand to build her nest. It has to be the just right distance up the beach, the right depth in the sand and the right shape to properly incubate her eggs and provide enough air for them to breath when they hatch months from now. Continue reading
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.
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.