• Rachael Hocking (right) with fellow journalist Rowena as they film the opening of the National Remote Indigenous Media Festival in Lajamanu. (NITV)Source: NITV
Last week I didn't just head to the largest festival for remote Indigenous media in Australia, I went home.
By
Rachael Hocking

30 Sep 2015 - 2:48 PM  UPDATED 9 Oct 2015 - 1:44 PM

Thursday 8 October

Last week I didn't just head to the largest festival for remote Indigenous media in Australia, I went home.

Lajamanu was my home for about two years when I was still learning my ABCs. Lucky for me, I got to learn the Warlpiri equivalent at the same time, an Indigenous language spoken by my ancestors for thousands of years.

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A young brain can learn languages easier and speedier than an adult one, and, without continual practice, it can forget them just as quick.

A few years in the city moulded my tongue firmly into my first language, knocking out its Warlpiri kinks. Before I was 10, I'd lost the ability to roll my 'r's like I used to: words like ngurra (home) were beginning to sound more clumsy than poetic.  

Warlpiri is the main language in Lajamanu; a remote community located about 500 kilometres southwest of Katherine. Out that way, the land belongs to both the Gurindji and Warlpiri people.

Living nearly 3,000 kilometres from Lajamanu can make visiting my grandmother's country tricky. Being related to most of the community in one way or another means a short visit just doesn't cut it.

To learn that Lajamanu was hosting the 17th National Remote Indigenous Media Festival, and that I would join the NITV delegation, made me feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Though it was just one week, it was, hands down, the best I've had all year. Yet the greatest thing I've taken away from the trip is how hard it was.

"It was hard because I had to once again confront how disconnected I am from my Warlpiri language" 

Not because of work, the new connections and friends I made, and certainly not because of family. It was hard because I had to once again confront how disconnected I am from my Warlpiri language.  

In pictures
Gallery: NITV at the National Remote Indigenous Media Festival

On my first day in Lajamanu I walked up to a man I had always known from afar in Lajamanu, but had previously been too shy to introduce myself to.

Steven Jampijinpa Patrick is the son of Warlpiri elder Jerry Jangala Patrick. I know Steven is a relative through my cousin, and I know that he has been integral to many of the media endeavors Lajamanu has taken part in.

In Warlpiri way, Jampijinpa is the skin name for 'my son'. 

For Warlpiri people, a skin name is something you are born with. Warlpiri has four groups of skin names, and they inform everything from your relationships (who you can marry) to your totem animal. 

I am Nungarrayi. So when I waltzed up to Steve, stretched out my hand, and said my skin name loud and proud, I shouldn't have been surprised when he replied, "Hello, mother". But I was.

Over the next few days I walked into Steven's office whenever I wasn't working or visiting my aunty and cousins. I had read about the work Steven had done in explaining Warlpiri culture to non-Indigenous people. I thought, perhaps, he could do the same for me.

"Like with many things in life, listening alone is not enough. You have to understand"

Though I am very close to my direct family in Lajamanu, I still struggle with many of the concepts used to explain things. I can usually hear and translate what is being said when I sit and listen. But, like with many things in life, listening alone is not enough. You have to understand.

Indeed, being Warlpiri no longer means that thinking Warlpiri comes naturally.

I have spent the majority of my adult life using the written word to convey meaning, substance: knowledge. To be fluent in Warlpiri I will need to do more than simply re-learn how to roll my 'r's correctly; I will need to unlearn preconceived ideas about knowledge and how it is handed down. Learning oral history is just as valuable as western academia. And, I will have to practice it.

So here is the great thing about Indigenous media: at its most powerful, it can teach us that history.  

On the first night of the Remote Indigenous Media Festival, hundreds of us piled onto a basketball court to watch Songlines, a short film initiative funded through NITV and Screen Australia. It was the first time I had seen the series.

"Through recorded sound and vision, stories that inform and shape many Indigenous cultures are being kept alive and passed on"

It was exciting to see that through recorded sound and vision, stories that inform and shape many Indigenous cultures are being kept alive and passed on: stories about relationships to the land, understanding seasons and climate, and respect towards each other.

Unlike a museum exhibition, these stories are being documented by the people actively practicing and passing the cultures on. They are not still moments in time. They are knowledge expressed in innovative ways, reaching to and involving generations who may feel disconnected from a way of thinking.

For me, to be confronted with the truth that my grandmother's language cannot be relearnt through words and grammar, but rather, a complex system of intricate connections, has been overwhelming.

"To be confronted with the truth that my grandmother's language cannot be relearnt through words and grammar, but rather, a complex system of intricate connections, has been overwhelming"

That said, not everything is a challenge.

During the festival, Jampijinpa told me something that has stayed with me: home is wherever you feel it is. He said home changes like the seasons.

Though I might be assimilated into many western ways of thinking, my interpretation goes something like this: I can sit down with my brothers and sisters in Melbourne and feel absolutely at ease, I can chat for hours with my beautiful housemate in Sydney and not know where the time went. I can yarn with my mum in her yard in Dimboola, a small town I know little about, and feel like I grew up there.

"Home is wherever you feel it is. He said home changes like the seasons"

And, though I may stumble over the silent 'y's, stretch the 'u's too much and place too much emphasis on the r in ngurra, I'm still welcomed with the widest grins in the world to a place I'll always consider another home: Lajamanu.

So how poignant it was that when I sat down on my last night next to my aunty and told her about my talks with Jampijinpa, she turned to me and said, "Ah, don't you remember? Steven was your Warlpiri teacher when you attended Lajamanu School."

No, I didn't remember. But I heard his words from earlier in the week, for some reason louder and clearer than when he'd been sitting right in front of me.  And suddenly a small part of me felt like it understood.

"It’s all connected, Nungarrayi, all of it."


 

Thursday 1 October

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) called upon remote communities throughout Australia to harness the value of their traditional weather knowledge by participating in its ‘About the Indigenous Weather Knowledge’ (IWK) project, at the 17th National Remote Indigenous Media Festival on Wednesday.

The About IWK project involves a BOM website, built in 2002, that tracks Indigenous environmental knowledge in the form of seasonal calendars for communities.

Indigenous BOM graduate, Lizzie Donovan, spoke at the festival to urge communities throughout Australia to share Indigenous knowledge that has been used to understand the environment for thousands of years.

“The aim is to gather as much information as we can from communities about remote communities’, traditional knowledge of the weather and how that relates to things like food or community movements,” said Ms Donovan, who is based at BOM Hobart. 

“I’m from south-eastern NSW, and I know that I haven’t been there for a very long time. But if there was a seasonal calendar I would think that’s really cool, and I could reconnect with that.”

Each remote community that has been documented is marked with a red dot on the website.

So far, there are only 10 dots, the majority of which are in the Northern Territory.

Ms Donovan said that ideally, the bureau would like to have a red dot over every community in Australia.

The 'Indigenous climate, weather and culture' BOM site provides an overview of the relationships between language, culture and environmental knowledge and provides context for the website.

Indigenous BOM weather calendars vary, community-by-community, with some having more information than others.

The Maung community in the Northern Territory, for example, has a wheel that breaks down the seasons with the types of animals, plants and crustaceans available at that time of year.

For Ms Donovan, the calendars have a personal meaning.  

“I know it’s part of the bureau’s reconciliation plan, but I also think it’s just a good way to connect community back with the land and their country,

“I’m from south-eastern NSW, and I know that I haven’t been there for a very long time. But if there was a seasonal calendar I would think that’s really cool, and I could reconnect with that.”


 
WEDNESDAY 30 SEPTEMBER 2015

 

 



 

Wednesday 30 September

It took us one full day of bitumen and dirt roads to get to Lajamanu from Darwin, and nearly as long to connect to the Internet. Here are some of the things we've been doing at the National Remote Indigenous Media Festival.

The turn off to Lajamanu (NITV)

It's that time of year again - the 2015 National Remote Indigenous Media Festival, which brings together media professionals to build the capacity of media organisations in some of our country's most remote places.

After we were welcomed to country by the elders of Lajamanu, it was time to put our video journalism skills into practice and film the opening of the festival. 

NATIONAL REMOTE INDIGENOUS MEDIA FESTIVAL IN PICTURES
Gallery: NITV at the National Remote Indigenous Media Festival

Then we launched into some really informative workshops. Everyone has so many stories to tell and there is so much Indigenous knowledge to share - the challenge is how can these stories reach the world?

Our NITV intern reporter Karina Marlow put together a really useful article about the festival if you want to find out more about it.

WHAT IS THE NATIONAL REMOTE INDIGENOUS MEDIA FESTIVAL
Explainer: The National Remote Indigenous Media Festival
Indigenous media organisations headed to Lajamanu, a remote Aboriginal community, NT, in late 2015 to participate in the National Remote Indigenous Media Festival.

Rachael Hocking is an SBS journalism cadet.