The journey began at the Darwin airport, where I camped out the night before flying to a tiny airport called "Gove". My travel tiredness was whisked away as we sailed into the clouds of the Northern Territories and over the red and brown dirt below. I met a lovely girl called Trudie on the plane, who works with Aboriginal Law, and on the bus to the festival grounds I met another rock star named Louise, who teaches in Melbourne.
One thing that surprised me straight off was how many whitefellas there were. It turns out that the Garma festival is owned by one white man, even though there is ostensibly a board of directors (with, believe it or not, not much black representation). It was like splitting into two people then, one for my experience as a white person, and one to observe as an Aboriginal person. Thus began my true learning.
The panels of the key forum became an exercise in colonization and patriarchy- not just words that are heard in a book, but the truth you feel in your gut. The authentic experience for me came around the campfire and the tea station. The first night I met Annie, who I'm staying with now on the Central Coast. I asked about her story, and it was the first of many who casually started off with, "I was taken as a young child...". Another woman, told of how she was taken but her darker brother was not, and that every day while playing outside she and her sisters would notice a black man hanging around crying. They didn't know it was their father.
An incredible moment for everyone came did come during a panel though. Daisy Ward got up to tell the story of her brother- but this wasn't ancient history, this was early this year. Her brother had been arrested for drinking, but then was put into a prison transfer van (of course no one was called), and sent up North. It was an old van, and the air conditioning was broken. No one bothered to check in the back. The temperature got up to 118 degrees, and Daisy's brother was cooked alive.
There was a moment of silence, but the heart was cut out of everyone there. http://www.nit.com.au/breakingnews/story.aspx?id=18395
Another woman spoke after that about her experience being taken to the notorious Palm Island, and eating out of a bin as a child. Last month she spoke with the Prime Minister about Aboriginal health issues.
Words really don't seem adequate to describe the experience. I wandered over to the fire circle, without finding tissues and felt empty. I started crying and a sweet guy named Bernard gave me a handkerchief. Turns out he works for an Aboriginal radio station and he wanted to interview me. It was really the most healing thing that could have happened, because while talking about the project, I was able to see a way through all the violence and painful histories.
But it's not about my privileged self coming in to fix anyone. I'm here as much to learn as to teach. After Bernard finished the interview, his mate Matthew came to sit down. When I first sat down, Matthew had been halting in his speech and super shy. As we started talking story, he became animated and eloquent as he explained the creation stories of his family. He is a dancer, and come to find out, his father is Djalu, the keeper of all the Yidaki songs (didjeridu) who I had met the day before. At the end of the festival, Djalu adopted me as his sister ("Yapa") and did a Yidaki healing on me.
The idea of family here is more than a complex systems of names and rules. I'm only beginning to understand what community can mean.
There were so many fun and happy moments too, and laughter equalized the tears. I didn't spend very much time in my tent (but I'm pretty proud of myself that I did, indeed "camp"- that's big for me), but it was close to all the action, so I was in the thick of it most of the time. Those who know how much I love a starry sky can only imagine what it was like staring through the gum trees at night as the night diamonds spilled over me. They were healing and hopeful, and so important as a balance for all the lessons in the glaring light of day.