Balgo - episode 3

Published: December 25th 2008
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Pound FeaturesPound FeaturesPound Features

Drove back from Old Balgo Mission through the Pound and got a good look at the landscape here.

Bits & Pieces

The first couple of masses I experienced at Wirrimanu were held immediately outside the church as it was hot & the numbers were expected to be a little bigger than usual. They were nice services combining the community language of Kukatja & English. A lot of singing, too much for my liking, as it excluded me somewhat from the celebration. An interesting aspect to these masses was the number of dogs that attend! So there are a couple of exchanges between dogs that seem as though all those surrounding will suffer a horrible savaging. The next, almost as interesting a feature, is the behaviour of the kids. Up & down, in & out, kick to kick footy on the sidelines, unknown kids climbing up on you knee for a couple of minutes before they race off to join other kids. They are completely oblivious to the proceedings with the volume of their chatter frequently making it hard to follow things.
Some very nice features are the sprinkling of the congregation with the water blessed at the start of the mass; the opportunity to have a personal request at the prayers of the faithful; the gift of peace at the conclusion of the mass when all gather round, hands raised in the air, and bless one another. The homily is always interesting too, being pitched at the community, with some unusual analogies and metaphors to impart the message.

The Trio from Sydney
(Fri 02/May) Balgo is visited by three office staff, Angela, Heather & Mentie, from Sydney’s Provincial’s Office. As they deal with matters relating to where De La Salle has a presence in this part of the world, it was thought judicious that they visit some of these to gain a greater knowledge & understanding of the places & the works involved. So here they are in Balgo & they will visit PNG & elsewhere in the near future. Angela is involved in vocations/recruitment & has been working with web people about a new website to help achieve this end. She has a still & video camera to capture material that can be used for this website. I first met this mob at the ‘shared meal’ the brothers hosted & to which school staff was invited & the church personnel - Fr Eugene, Joseph, Fred. They were going out to the Old Balgo Mission the
Lazz enters the 'Jesus Cave'Lazz enters the 'Jesus Cave'Lazz enters the 'Jesus Cave'

The cliffs around the Pound have a lot of air pockets & caves. This ladder takes you down to one of the larger caves that has an altar-like set up in place.
next day so a few of us tagged along as well. Angela was busy with her cameras and organised an on-camera interview with Rick & myself after our day trip.

Travelling the Tanami
Fri 30/May/08 Nick & I drove the 4.5L V8 Toyota Land Cruiser the 10hr trip to Alice Springs from Balgo. (We did the reverse journey, from Alice to Balgo, on Mon 02/Jun/08, a public holiday here in WA, Foundation Day.) An exciting drive, quite an adventure, really, on the famous, or infamous, Tanami track. (I refuse to call it the Tamami Road like the road sign said as it loses so much mystique.) 30min till we hit the Tanami, then the first of our two right turns. Travelling east, the first couple of hours of driving gives you a feel for the road surface and how to handle it. You soon learn to read the indicators. You will mostly follow the tread tracks of a previous vehicle that looks as though it achieved a straight smooth line. But you will see a track disturbance, or perhaps a mess of tracks at spots where there is a pothole or dip. This first section of the Tanami was quite a bit rougher than the Balgo road. Stopped at the NT/WA border for the obligatory photo shoot & then ventured on. The road seemed to improve a bit from here on with less of those potholes. The surfaces varied in colour from the red, purple, fawn, white and texture from soft, rippled, hard & was sealed surfaced at times. There was an inordinate number of road kill kangas, the frequency of which increased as you get closer to Alice. There was also plenty of road kill tyre treads, evenly distributed along the length of the drive, well & truly putting you off the use of retreads. There was quite a bit of road signage warning of the fact that you are crossing a ‘floodway’ but you have to wonder how serious these claims are, with the dryness of the surrounds, surely we don’t have to stoop to these levels to amuse the tourists. I must admit, however, there were frequently tracks leading from the Tanami off to the road sides, like minor exit ramps, which I believe are for water to run down from the track - so maybe it does cop a bit of water out here after

No, Old Balgo Mission. Abandoned back in 1965 as the water was an unreliable thing here.
all. Quite a few dumped & burnt out cars to be seen on or near the road. Quite a few road trains throwing up an incredible amount of dust making the passing from opposite directions a difficult task & the passing from the same direction an extremely scary thing.
As a bit of an unfortunate postscript to this little tidbit is the fact that Fiona, Tendayi and their three children were involved in a rather serious accident on their return journey from Alice Springs. On Tue 03/Jun/08 in the mid-afternoon they were travelling the Tanami & were forced off single lane surfaced section near Tilmouth Well by a truck that did not yield any of the blacktop. The car was going at ~110kph when control was lost & it rolled 4 times. A passer-by stopped & helped get them transported back to Alice. Fiona had to be cut from the car & scored a broken femur that needed pins. Tendayi received a bad laceration near his ear & needed some surgical repair. Brenton copped a broken arm. The other two kids came out unharmed.

The paper plane lesson
One of my favourite lessons, so far, was the paper plane lesson delivered Fri 16/May. Using material from a book Maggie gave me, “Experimenting with Science” by Rob Morrison, we started by using an A4 sheet to make a traditional glider & taking it outside to throw it a few times. Then, back inside, another A4 sheet to make a roll-nosed glider & back out to test fly. Back in again - Which was better? Of course, better meant different things for different students. We then got to talking about the differences in designs & fold lines make & decided to see how the wing area of the traditional glider effects its flight distance. One design but different last fold to make different wing sizes. Got to talk about hypotheses, variables, fair tests, data collection, data table, all in a pretty real, & interesting context. The schoolyard has been strewn with paper planes ever since!

Old Balgo Mission
(Sat 03/May) An excursion out to the Old Balgo Mission today. Two vehicles going as there are 10 of us on tour. Br Michael in the lead car, a Landcruiser troopie, with Joseph, Angela, Mentie, Heather and Patricia. Br Geoff driving the second Landcruiser, with me, Robert and John. I had thrown a water bottle & cheese & vegemite sanger but Geoff & the Sydney girls had done a much more elaborate picnic lunch for us.
An interesting drive on tracks that looked infrequently used. Spotted a herd of wild horses having a gallop. The ground cover changed a bit - at times, crops of termite hills, then there would be sections of earth that you’d swear had been asphalted. Clusters of tree, here and there, no doubt signifying a local creek (in season).
It was an hour’s drive on tracks, rather than roads, to the abandoned site. This was where the St John of God Sister’s first established their mission. When you first sight the mission on cresting a nearby hill it looks a little Stonehengey, with uprights still in place supporting some roofing stones. The ruins of several buildings are still evident; a church, bakery, dormitories, convent and some others, as well as a stockyard. This complex was abandoned in about 1965 because of the unreliability of water here.
After all of us walking all over the property, snapping photos galore, we gathered at the cars for the luncheon. I nice little spread. I had a bit more than the lowly vegemite sanger as ample supplies had been provided. The return journey had us driving past a water hole that had quite a few corellas & drove up the Pound toward the lookout area to return to Balgo.

Water supply
Despite the large areas of WA that look to be desert, it is well served with its artesian water supply. The wet season recharges the aquifers and there is no obvious need to be water conservative. This was a bit weird for me, coming from drought-struck Melbourne, to see the school perpetually watering its lawns & to find dripping taps around town that just don’t turn off. The water here has a slight metallic taste and, in fact, is heavily laden with calcium. Took me a little while to realise this. I have routinely boiled my drinking water in the electric kettle & then refrigerate it for later consumption but hadn’t noticed the white floaties that occasionally appear in your drink. On closer inspection you find the element in the kettle encrusted in this white material. I’ve since noticed hot water services that are oozing a similar white crust from their upper extremities. I hope it’s not too bad for your health. But no-ones felt the need to caution me against it. Apparently you just don’t completely drain your glass or cup, you give the water a minute or two to settle after a boil & decant carefully.

Silk Painting
Lisa visited Wirrimanu for a 3-week stint as an ICV (Indigenous Community Volunteer) to show & teach the art of silk painting to the community. A different sort of thing to be coming out to remote communities with! But, with a bit of luck, some of the locals may take to it & thereafter be a mentor for others who may have an interest. Lisa is an office worker with a bank, an accountant perhaps, in Sydney, who has always had an artistic bent and does this sort of thing in her spare time. She had done a business related remote stint in Cape York and very much enjoyed the experience, so much so she sought out other opportunities for remote posts & found out about ICV by just google-searching ‘volunteer’ organizations.
Lisa provided two afternoon workshops (Tue 20/May/08 & Sat 23/May/08) for school staff that were interested in checking it out, so I was one of the four that went along. There was some great stuff hanging up, the products of workshops with the community. My efforts were a little sad by comparison, but it was fun to have a go & see some of the steps & techniques involved.
A scarf was what most were trying to produce. The silk material is strung out from a wooden frame with elastic held prongs. You apply the dye colours to the silk &, depending on how wet or dry it is, the colours will migrate to different extents & blend with neighbouring colours perhaps. You can place rock salt on top of the wet satin & it will draw the water & colour toward it giving some impressive looks.

The Manual Arts Visitation
Two blokes, Peter & Michael came to Balgo for a week from La Salle in Perth. They were trying to establish links with Luurnpa and were here to teach some Manual Arts skills to the Luurnpa Senior class & the Adult Ed kids. On offer were the opportunities to make your own jewellery - rings or bracelets out of silver or brass, or some carpentry to produce a fold-up footy stool, or a small (jewellery) box. These guys were pleasant folk & well receive by the kids - in fact, in the course of the week, I saw some senior kids I hadn’t met or had hardly seen before! They worked pretty hard & had the usual problem of late arrivals mucking up the flow & delivery of the lessons.
Peter & Michael had flown into Kununara and driven from there to Balgo. They had brought quite a bit of stuff with them to cover many contingencies that could arise in the workshop. Nick & I had been to Alice Springs to buy some materials & tools for their visit as well. They brought in a sizeable amount of foodstuffs as well for their weeklong visit & were practically force-feeding each other to get through the comestibles. I scored a roast meal with them & was supplied LaSalle take-away in the week.

Warlayirti Arts Centre
The Arts Centre is a very busy place, apparently, with many visitors, domestic & international, who will drive in, bus in, or even fly in, to purchase some indigenous artworks. The place has a turnover of 2 million dollars a year.
I visited here one afternoon to see if the personnel were interested in hosting a school group in some of the skills & techniques involved in Aboriginal painting. Fiona had the belief that our senior students were pretty ignorant with regard to their people’s art & thought what a great opportunity for these kids to see & maybe experience this style of painting. Well, they weren’t that interested in the class group as, they said, it just creates a lot of work & mess for themselves with some kids doing things they’re not supposed to. They told me, however, that the kids are probably much better informed than I thought. They are not likely to speak to me, a new-comer, a white fella, a male, about this aspect of their community life. They told me they had been encouraging painting amongst the community & that the canvas(?) would be taken home & the painting done in the family atmosphere. I was shown a few pieces of art that had the artist names on there reverse side & they included girls from the senior class. The painting is a very special thing with complex rules and protocols involved. The family of an artist, who had died some 8 years ago, had only just allowed another family member to continue the painting in deceased artist’s tradition.

At the start of my time here I was going for early morning walks. It seemed like a good idea, a good chance to have a look around, take a few photos, without being too obvious to the community, and I’ll avoid the heat of the day. Trouble was, though, the bloody dogs. They are plentiful and loud, especially for this time of day. I’m basically strolling around to check out the place and would like to be quiet and unobtrusive but then a couple of dogs start barking, enlist a few more and quite a cacophony ensues. Not a good way to endear myself to the community. I’d been told to look out for the dogs but had thought little of it - all you need to do is show no fear or, if pushed, take on a more aggressive approach. This morning though, I walked done one particular street and a couple of dogs over to my right start barking, big deal I think, then a group from further up of maybe 8 others charged my way, then to my left, 10 or so dogs barked and charged from this one house! OK, this was pretty hairy. Surrounded on all sides by yelping dogs. My usually tactic is to walk on at my same leisurely pace as if no dog is there, but watchful with my peripheral vision of the dogs and their shadows to fend off any would be ankle biters. This seemed a poor option at this time. I had to stop still, look aggressively at the closer dogs, even let out a guttural roar to show them I was not one to be toyed with. An aboriginal bloke appeared to my left, from out of the house where many of these dogs had emerged, was looking straight at me, and was holding a rock in his raised hand. I thought he was going to lob the rock at me but he let fly into the midst of the dogs to scatter them somewhat. The crisis was over. I could adopt my usual tactic and move on.
I soon found it easier to do my walking in the arvo - the dogs just seem so much more territorial in the early morning. There was often this chunk of time in the arvo & since there was no bowling alley or cinema here, it seemed a good way to spend the time. I suppose I felt I knew the layout of the place by now anyway, so my walk were usually out of town to the Lookout & back alongside the airstrip, a good 1½ walk. I had brought along with me gear with which I could go jogging but haven’t managed that & with the rugged roads, etc, I think a good solid walk will get me by.

Wolfe Creek Crater
Sun 18/May/08. Lisa (silk painting) was bold enough to ask Rick if a car was available for a trip out to Wolfe Creek Crater. The Adult Ed troopie was made available & a full load headed off on the 2-hour trip. The troupe in the troopie were Fiona, Tendayi, their three kids Brenton, Kagan & Kia, Robert, Trish, Nick, Chas & myself.
There were some very interesting, streaky clouds on the horizon, which turned out to be wind-blown smoke as lots of burn off was taking place. 30min to reach the Tanami road across flat land that is speckled with those skinny termite mounds, Spinifex, a pampas-type grass & the odd spindly tree.
The Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater is 31km off the Tanami through 3 or 4 closed gates. European man first discovered this crater in 1947 when some aerial mining surveying was being conducted. A circular impact crater was created about 300,000 years ago; it’s 800m across, 40m deep, with the raised circumference giving that bowl look to its overall shape. We walked into, across, out of it, & then did the half lap to get back to our start point. A flat, salty interior.

Quite a busy place, Balgo Hills, considering its remoteness. In the time I’ve been here there seems to have been so much traffic through the place. Let’s see, there’s been the coming & going of the 3 girls from Lasallian Office in Sydney; the provincial, Br Ambrose has come & gone; the “Share the Mission” supervisor, Br Gary is here at the moment & leaving next week; the Indigenous Comunities Volunteer, teaching silk painting, Lisa has only a week to go; the NZ boys were out to Broome for a week, then back; Br Rick has been out & back probably 3 times; Judith, the new Adult Ed teacher has arrived; Robert the PNG IT teacher has arrived; Br Geoff has been up to Kununara & back; the two man teacher house maintenance crew have come & gone. Two teachers from LaSalle, Perth came for a week (starting Mon 02/Jun/08). Peter & Michael were here doing some reconnaissance and to teach he seniors & adult ed kids some manual arts stuff by doing some jewellery making & some small construction tasks like making a stool or jewellery box.


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