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
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
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
Her arm disappears into the thick greenery of her overgrown garden, emerging a moment later with a fat green tree frog clutched tightly between her frail fingers. The frog eyes us with some level of concern, and Laila turns to me expectantly.
I stare back at them. Not an overly unusual sight to see this lovely lady with some form of wildlife wrapped around her, but I haven’t joined the dots yet. Finally I get it. 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.
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
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
Age old markings decorated their bodies, dust thickened the air as the dancers feet met the ground of the sacred meeting place and songs of language and dreaming stories hung on the air, drifting through the silently watching crowds and trees.
Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival celebrated it’s 20th Anniversary this year, with a gathering of Aboriginal cultures from across Cape York, each sharing their culture and heritage through song and dance. Three dance groups from the NPA made the 10 hour journey to Laura to be a part of the cultural celebration, sharing their own songs, stories and dance. Dancers, singers and supporters from Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon took part in the three day event, showing the cultural strength of their own communities, and the unity of our region, through supporting one another.
“It was deadly to see our communities represented at the festival,” NPA Mayor Bernard Charlie said, “to see our community members practicing their culture with pride, and supporting each other’s as equals. However, it was disappointing not to see all five communities represented this year, with dancers from Bamaga and Seisia troupes not in the line up.”
Images by Jess Saxton, copyright.
Full album PDF available for download here, proudly sponsored by Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council.