|Shirley Deane/Midyett and Elder Mr. Ned Grant|
(photo by Graham Townley)
By Vic Midyett, in consultation with Shirley Deane/Midyett
[Author’s Note: Shirley has now done the work at the remote Spinifex Health Service center that we announced here on March 11, in “White butterfly...Aboriginal Australian symbolism.”
In all Australian aboriginal cultures there are strict and definitive rules around what is “men’s business” and “women’s business.” I have written this article in the hope that we have been appropriately sensitive to all. We wish to acknowledge and honor the Spinifex People as the owners and custodians of their land.]
It all started benignly with me driving Shirley to the Perth airport in the afternoon three Saturdays ago for her flight to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Australia’s largest “outback” city of over 31,000, in Western Australia. Her itinerary had her staying the night there and being collected at 5:45 the next morning by two ladies who were taking a four-wheel drive with supplies out to the Tjuntjuntjara community, a remote aboriginal community in the southeast of Western Australia.
Shirley was to bring water and something to eat, because they would pass nothing along the way. The contracted light aircraft (10 seats) did the trip only twice one week and three times the next, in rotation. Sunday was not one of the days.
So off they went, running out of paved road within a mile out of town. The rest of the trip was over dirt. Within 40 km of town a roo [kangaroo] hopping in the same direction they were, veered into the side of their vehicle but only scared itself and them, with no damage to either.
The dirt track started out wide enough for two vehicles to pass easily, but it narrowed to a single track. This didn’t matter –during the nine-hour drive, they met only one vehicle coming from the opposite direction. It had rained the day before and the only other vehicle they passed going in their direction had gotten stuck in the mud, and no one belonging to it could be seen anywhere.
Besides roos, Shirley reports seeing wild dingos and camels during the 680 km [422.5 mile] trip to what she found out later is considered the most remote aboriginal community in the entire country. Driving instructions for getting there included the statement, “At trip odometer reading 527 km, veer left at the red drum,” and there, finally, it was, at that reading: a red 55-gallon drum at the Y in the track. And two hours later their welcoming sign:
The Spinifex Health Service is staffed by registered aboriginal health practitioners, nurses, and, for one week a month, by a general practitioner medical doctor, who is flown in.
Patients needing a CT scan or the like are flown to Kalgoorlie. Australia has a Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is partly government-funded, but it also accepts donations. It is there for emergencies mostly.
Another service in Australia is Angel Flight, “a charity which coordinates non-emergency flights to assist country people to access specialist medical treatment that would otherwise be unavailable to them because of vast distance and high travel costs.” It was started in 2003 by a successful businessman who involved other successful businessmen who flew, as their way of giving back. They accept donations from anywhere, but the service continues primarily because of them. I love the video advertisement on their website:
Shirley’s accommodation was a quite well-appointed steel shipping container with a good, ensuite shower. The view from her window:
Growing near her suite was a Sturt [or Sturt’s] Desert Pea, one of Australia’s best known wildflowers, native to the arid regions of central and northwestern Australia:
The opportunity for Shirley to go on this outing had come through a highly respected associate and friend of hers, Louise Rabbone, who is well known throughout Australia and in New Zealand as a corporate psychologist. Louise & Shirley are two peas in a pod, professionally and personally, and they both have the honest wisdom to know their own strengths and weaknesses. Louise had been waiting for a chance to get Shirley more involved, so when the Paupiyala Tjarutja Aboriginal Corporation approached her for a workshop for all corporate staff members in the Community Development Programme’s training room in Tjuntjuntjara, she immediately thought of Shirley and her Cherokee heritage, which Louise thought would better facilitate Shirley’s acceptance in the community.
Shirley’s mandate was to conduct a two-day effective communication and team-building workshop. The health center wanted to achieve a more positive and cohesive working environment involving everyone, no matter what their role.
Aboriginal elders ordinarily get their message across nonverbally, using words only when they have to. On the second day, Elder Mr. Ned Grant came in and sat down at the front of the room where Shirley was, and proceeded to listen for over an hour. When he apparently thought it appropriate, he let the group of 23 know, simply with some hand gestures, that Shirley was a smart person to be listened to – the highest of honors!
Mr. Grant, who is also an artist, then looked at Graham Townley, the project manager and the community’s anthropologist, and motioned for him to translate any unfamiliar words for Shirley. Shirley says that Graham speaks this aboriginal group’s dialect beautifully and fluently. (Graham doesn’t live in the community, but goes there often for extended stays to record the Spinifex People’s history.)
Through research before conducting the workshop, Shirley had discovered that the people in the Tjuntjuntjara community are known internationally throughout the art world as exceptional. Shirley intuitively thought it might be appropriate to do a painting of her own to present to them, so she painted “White Butterfly,” which in our Cherokee heritage is a symbol of hope. I took a photo of the painting and printed 25 paper copies, which we inserted into individual envelopes for a gift to each participant in the workshop.
After explaining the painting’s symbolism and handing each participant a copy, Shirley held up the framed original and asked the group to which elder it should be given. They all immediately agreed that this decision needed to be made by a young lady who throughout the workshop had been the most interactive and available. She was involved in the age-care arm of the facility and would be the best one to decide. “White Butterfly” was emotionally and gratefully accepted.
Shirley left the community the following Wednesday, in a light plane that had originated behind schedule from Kalgoorlie, where a thunder storm was in progress.
For a short while there had been some doubt whether it could leave Kalgoorlie at all. When it did take off, the pilot radioed ahead to the community saying that all the passengers needed to be waiting on the runway, because he would not wait, but would load everyone immediately for the return flight before the runway got too wet and turned to mud. Anyone not there would not be going. All eight happily complied, including Shirley.
She told me that during take-off, the pilot was biting his finger nails and bouncing his leg nervously. But she made her connection back to Perth, where I was 20 minutes late picking her up! (This resulted in a hospital visit, just for observation – I’m kidding.)
One of the first things Shirley said to me upon arriving home was that her work in the Tjuntjuntjara community was the most professionally and environmentally challenging experience of her 47-year working career. But in the end, it was also the most personally and professionally rewarding. The outcome of Shirley’s workshop was indeed positive and the tone of the feedback progressive and excellent. With hope.
|Copyright © 2016 by Vic Midyett & Shirley Deane/Midyett|