Many years ago my husband and I went to live in Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Fitzroy Crossing has a large Aboriginal population. I had two young sons and pregnant with my third son.
I was unsure how to involve myself in the community and, as I had a strong Christian faith at the time, I prayed for God’s guidance. After some time in reflection I saw that my greatest strength was in my English language skills (I based this on the fact that I always got good English results at school and I loved the subject.)
An opportunity arose for me to teach English to a group of Aboriginal women. They had classes before however the teacher had moved on and there was no-one to fill her place. There was no class-room and no facilities. I had no prior training apart from High School. The women were really keen to learn and didn’t give up encouraging me to be their teacher. I finally agreed and committed to doing the best I could with what I know.
As it turns out, I really loved that time working with the Aboriginal women. They were an incredible group of women who already spoke 3 or 4 Aboriginal languages (not dialects – but real complex languages) and were very keen to learn English.
We first started meeting under a shady tree in my back-yard. Later an old house became available and we moved there for classes. I used all sort of strategies for teaching: phonetics (they didn’t have some of the English sounds in their languages eg d and t); we used to do activities together and then write a few sentences about what we did (this worked really well); and we used newspapers as resources as well. Real progress was made and I loved every lesson.
A friendship developed with the women and we shared other aspects of each others’ lives. I was the only one of us that had a vehicle and they asked me if I would go “out bush” with them so they could go hunting. I agreed and the day was arranged.
We drove several kilometres out-of-town and then we stopped and everyone was out of the vehicle. I was given the job of collecting wood to start a fire to cook our dinner. Now that is what I call optimistic!
It wasn’t long before I heard yells and screams (not in English) and several of the women were very excited. They had found a hole where a King Brown snake was quietly minding its own business. They poked and prodded until it had come out to see what all the fuss was about. And then it was attacked with sticks from all angles until they were happy it was sufficiently dead. It was brought over to me and put on the ground in preparation for cooking. It was the biggest, fattest snake I have ever seen, and it was still wriggling. They giggled at me for being concerned but to keep me happy, they cut its head off. I felt a little better after that.
Later they came back with a big goanna. It was decided that we would cook the goanna and take the snake back to town. They asked if I would keep it in my freezer but I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing it every time I went for the ice-cream. The most precious part of the goanna was the kidney fat – it was like something really special. This would have been very important in their traditional lives to sustain them for long periods where they may go without food.
The goanna meat was surprisingly tasty – a bit like chicken. A few months ago I had some crocodile at a restaurant and that tasted like goanna as well. What a day! Such great memories to hold onto. I would love to go back there one day. Those women were amazing and I am sure they still are today.
As an aside to this story – my marriage broke up when I was in Fitzroy Crossing. These women were a great support to me during this period. I learnt so much from them.
cheers for now
Photo source: Zamphour 22 June 2007 via Wikipedia