Spiritual quest takes seekers to their homelands

Hands across the ages: Jules Dumoo says getting out to Perrederr on what he calls a ”bush holiday” is a route towards greater spiritual meaning, especially for the young men of his mob. Photo: Justin McManusIt was late in the day and food supplies were getting low when the wallaby arrived, already dead. It had been shot by a mob on another nearby Northern Territory Aboriginal homeland out in the harsh, remote plains south-west of Darwin.

They brought it to us as a gesture.

As it came in, one of the boys here, Jules Nganbe – his ”language” name Nimit – hoisted it on his shoulders in a hunter’s stance, even though he was nowhere near the animal when it was shot. Then the eldest of the Dumoo extended family, Jules Dumoo, or Kingirinh, quickly cut off the tail and threw it on the fire.

His brother Willy Dumoo, or Dirrinin, strung the rest of the animal up on an old clothes line, gutted it, skinned it then started chopping meat out for stew. Bones and meat in the billy with spuds and onions and water and salt.

There’s plenty of bush tucker around here on the Dumoo traditional land at Perrederr in the west of the territory, out of Wadeye; red lilies, snakes, roos, the wurlil or pumpkin-sized ”cheeky yams” that grow underground.

The flood plains nearby host wild horses, buffalo, crocs, pigs and incredible birds.

Then there is the rock art, all but unseen by ”white fellas”.

We walk through gums and pandanas up a steep hill and along a sheer ridge to find sequences of ancient dots and an extraordinary series of hand prints in caves under the ridge.

The Dumoos wanted to show us their traditional land, their homeland, and the culture that lives within it. Perrederr is only accessible in the dry season, the 30-year-old outstation buildings are derelict and there is no power and limited water, but however humble it is theirs. And it was their ancestors’ long, long ago.

The family live most of the time three hours away in Wadeye, the troubled territory indigenous shanty town that is now home to 2500 people and expected to grow exponentially in the next decade.

Wadeye is notorious for gang violence; Lenny Dumoo, Jules Dumoo’s nephew, is in jail in Darwin for killing a member of a rival clan last year, which he claimed was self-defence.

For his uncle, getting out to Perrederr on what he calls a ”bush holiday” is a route towards greater spiritual meaning, especially for the young men of his mob.

”We want to keep our culture going,” he says. ”As long as people respect us and respect what we want.”

In Wadeye, he says, he and many others from other places in the western territory can only ever be ”guests”.

The NT government recently introduced a new homelands policy that gives $200 million over 10 years – with a large portion of federal government money – to some homelands to rebuild and maintain facilities. About 10,000 people live on 500 NT homelands but the vast majority are like the Dumoos: traditional owners who have limited access to what they own and little knowledge of funding and how to get it.

The NT’s Minister for Aboriginal Advancement, Alison Anderson, said: ”Some homelands are not places of permanent residence, they are places of respite or cultural ceremony only. So people may spend time there, but not make it their place of permanent residence.

”The new policy makes it easier for people to do that by ensuring that funding for municipal and essential services is based on actual inhabited homes.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.