Monthly Archives: October 2011

The book loses its power

Many of the actors that usually appear present on a weaving trip did not seem as powerful this time around. The book made an appearance but it too, was less powerful. This time, funeral business seemed to be performed like a bright strand of yellow pandanas, working its way through a bathi. It is uncanny that on my second weaving trip to Mäpuru this year, word came that another close relative had passed away in a neighbouring community. Grieving rituals were repeated and an exodus was made from the weaving shelter. People were heading to Gapuwiyak to be with family. M and M wanted to make sure that all of us Balanda women understood what had happened. Even though the person who’d passed was very close to M, she held us at the front of her mind. I wondered, would I wake in the night again to hear the cries of the curlew? 

I know very little about funeral time, I’ve only briefly been to one. I don’t really want to write about bäpurru, but maybe what was happening at Mäpuru when people went away to begin that time. I missed my waku’s when they left, they didn’t return to Mäpuru the following week whilst I was there working at the school. I felt their absence most on the last day of school during the assembly. M, D and I were acknowledging all of the families and how much love and encouragement they give the children. W was the only elder there who was able to hear these words. She loved it. So, maybe it was the absence of these strong women, my wakus, that I felt strongest during this week. 

On a completely different note, enter the pool table… 

My wäwa brought high drama to Mäpuru with the arrival of a mini pool table from Galiwi’ku. My märi’s house was the most popular all week with kids and adults coming over to have a go at this new source of entertainment. Sharing and turns were concepts that two wäwas in particular did not want to know anything about. It was a week of tantrums, pool cue snapping and tears!!! 

The other big news for the week was the arrival of B to assemble to solar power installation at Mäpuru. This was my first experience of having the role of gatekeeper projected onto me by a Balanda man. Although there were many people standing around when the B crew arrived, a b-line was made for me. All of a sudden, there were expectations that I had some kind of authority and would give permission for things and be a spokesperson for the community… a very uncomfortable experience and one that possibly tells a few stories about Yolŋu-Balanda relationships. I imagine this happens all the time. Do J and others from Mäpuru feel invisible when this happens? A small glimpse at ‘everyday’ life in Mäpuru when the weaving workshops take a break.

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Words from Karen

A little more on being with. I found this article, written by Karen after our visit to Mäpuru last year (see:

“But weaving is not the most important thing I’ve learnt on this trip. I’ve learnt that being here with Margaret may be the beginning of friendship. It has something to do with place, to do with an old culture and its vastly different worldviews and to do with relationship with land and its inhabitants – human and others.

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Men’s business

This is part of a story written by Dan who visited Mäpuru for a men’s hunting and bush survival trip in 2009: 

“We learn that we are the first group of white men to come to Mapuru who are not
Government officials (usually to assess their “progress”) or contractors engaged to undertake some maintenance. We are definitely the first group of white men to come with the intent to learn from Yolngu men. A lifetime of pressure to give up Yolngu ways, of being told that the white‐man’s way is better, smarter, faster has left our Yolngu hosts with an understandable hesitancy when attempting to share their knowledge and skills with us.

Dan’s story reminds me of some key questions I began to contemplate some months ago after a supervision meeting: What is distinct about the attitudes and agendas that are brought to Mäpuru with Arnhem Weaving workshop participants? How might these attitudes and agendas compare with those of the service providers who perform ‘policy’ in Mäpuru? What are the distinct relationship dynamics that form between Mäpuru Yolŋu and participants of the Arnhem Weaving workshops?

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Weaving and gurrul’yun – reflections from Kristina

Reading over visitors’ stories from the Arnhem Weavers website I was excited to come across the following reflection by Kristina (see:

Weaving and gurrul’yun
The connectedness of people with one another and people with place weaves itself into almost every aspect of daily life at Mapuru. This has been brought into greater relief since I returned to Melbourne. I realise now that, in some ways, I feel disconnected from the people in my neighborhood. This is because I rarely have the opportunity to interact with them when I go about my daily business.
Mapuru introduced me to a powerful word: “gurrul’yun”. Gurrul’yun means to drop in on people in your community and share time together- perhaps over a cup of tea, sharing stories and catching up on the news. At Mapuru, we did this every day, sitting in the shade of the work hut, from the time when the sun rose and the crows began to flap and cry around our camp watching us with piercing eyes to dusk, when we would, regretfully, pack up our weaving at the end of a full day.
Opportunities for sharing extended into trips onto Country. One hot afternoon, weary from collecting pandanus leaves and dyes that would replace the supplies that we had used, the women showed us a special creation place amongst the mangroves.
I still wonder whether Balanda experience gurrul’yun in the full Yolngu sense of the word. Even for those of us who do manage to spend time with friends and family, it seems to structured and controlled in comparison, and without the same depth, as that experienced in Yolngu life. Not that Balanda aren’t conscious of this: Balanda Councils and governments spend a lot of energy talking about wanting to add something akin to gurrul’yun to the lives of their communities: words like ‘liveability’ and ‘social inclusion’ litter policies around the country.
My impression was that the families at Mapuru appear to live meaningful lives because they live them to their fullest through activities inherent in practices like gurrul’yun.
The simple act of sitting together, sometimes in laughter, other times in silence, gave us threads of interaction that brought us all, Yolngu and Balanda, together at that place. It was this way of being together, communing while doing the simplest tasks, that was powerful and which I miss like nothing else.

While sitting under the broad canopy of the work hut on our last day, Marathuwarr graciously and eloquently said, “Just your coming here and travelling so far to be here, just sitting with us and being with us has important significance for us. By travelling to Mapuru you have respected us. We welcome you here with love.”

There is so much in Kristina’s reflection that has me nodding and feeling a deep sense of connection.The final, highlighted quote by Marathuwarr is an insight into the meaning which these weaving workshops hold for the Mäpuru weavers.

Until now I had not even thought about tapping into Kristina’s and other visitors’ stories as a source of affirmation for my own experiences at Mäpuru. More to read…

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Being with – a political act?


Can my being with (country, people) in Mäpuru be a political act, one that has positive impacts? Is so, how?

If I make the focus of being with political, does it draw energy away from the experiences of weavers at Mäpuru and put the spotlight onto my own experience or those of visitors?

Ideas anyone???

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What is the ‘issue’?

A question that goes to the heart of what I am grappling with at the moment is, what is the issue that my research seeks to address? Is it the recognition of cultural/philosophical and economic practices in a homeland community (through the Arnhem Weaving workshops), a place where Yolŋu are determined to live on country? Or, is the issue more about the nature and quality of relationships that are generated between weavers (Yolŋu and visitors) during these workshops… this idea of being with? Maybe the recognition of cultural practices and cultural survival in homelands is the broader context in which a exploration of relationships needs to occur.

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