Tag Archives: Yuendumu

Stories I (don’t) tell …

4 May

There are some stories I tell all the time about my experiences as a volunteer in unusual places.  They become rote stories that have the same intonation and wording from repeated tellings.  They belong to the collective consciousness of my friends and family, who have heard them so many times they know when they are coming.

This is one story I tell that has become part of a body of stories I no longer own but have been told so many times they exist in the collective mind of my family and friends.

This house was opposite mine, and every morning and evening when I left and came home the ladies who lived here said hello.  One day in the middle of winter I stayed inside all day.  The next day, on my way to school one old lady called, “Nakamarra, you lazy one!  You didn’t go anywhere yesterday!”

I tell this story because it reflects the extreme belonging I felt during my time in Yuendumu and the everyone-knowing-everything-about-everyone feeling that existed in the community.

But there are some stories I don’t tell.  I don’t tell them because I still can’t make sense of them in my mind, or because I worry about people’s reactions and my ability to enter into the resultant conversation, or simply because they are precious memories.


This is a Voicethread of photos and stories I don’t tell.

Are there stories you don’t tell?

Honey ants on a chip packet

9 Apr

A friend put this photo on her facebook profile the other day (don’t worry, I asked her for permission to use it!).  For me, it epitomises my initial impressions of Yuendumu, an Indigenous community 300km Northwest of Alice Springs.  Yuendumu shocked me – I had been to majority-world countries, I had seen malnourished and diseased children, and I had waded through streets full of rubbish – but I had never done these things in my own country.  A country, furthermore, that has one of the highest standards of living, lowest maternal mortality rates, and best educational oppurtunities in the world.  Except for Yuendumu of course,  and other Indigneous communities like it.

Experiencing extreme culture shock in one’s own country is a nasty, insidious experience.  Many people can’t cope with it, and this is one of the (many) reasons there is such a high turnover of staff in community organisations.  We prepare ourselves when we travel overseas, we breath deeply and vow to help, we look at it straight on, knowing that acknowledging this poverty and inhumanity is all we can give people.  And then (most of us) go home.

Yuendumu, and any other majority-world place in our own country, does not allow us to do that.  It sticks with us, under our skin, in our nostrils.  The air and dust and dirt stay inside us, and the names and faces of the people waltz through our heads.  It has been more than four years since I lived and worked in Yuendumu.  And then Shaurita’s photo pops up on my newsfeed, and the juxtaposition of culture and modernity, of majority-world poverty and 21st century iphones, of honey ants and a chip packet, draws me back into my culture shock.

And I am home.

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