Henna in the Desert


Recently I was asked to help support the coordination of an Aboriginal women’s bush camp hosted by the Ngurrara traditional owners in the Great Sandy Desert, South East of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. More than 80 women from six different traditional groups (Ngurrara, Walmarjarri, Mangala, Bardi Jawi, Bunuba and Nyikina) attended the event, which aimed to foster respect

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and understanding between young Aboriginal women and senior elders.

I was profoundly affected to see firsthand how physically being on country is key to ensuring the safekeeping of Aboriginal identity, traditions and culture; something many politicians and bureaucrats seem to struggle to understand.

Ethnocentric communities, like the Indians and the Chinese, travel home to their motherland regularly, introducing their Australian-born children to relatives, country, and way of life –to ensure the cultural connections which deepen and enrich their relationships with their offspring: Why would it be any different for aboriginal people?

While I was working on this project I received calls in Broome from working aboriginal mothers, excited at the prospect of going to their ancestral lands and taking their children with them. These opportunities are so few for so many aboriginal women who have now made the successful transition to towns and want their children to be able to navigate both worlds; the white world and their traditional heritage.

Another observation that struck me was how easily aboriginal women understand cross culture.

Often I found they were just as interested in my culture as I was in theirs. For example arranged marriages,  kinships vs extended family, our many languages and dialects, our practices for sorry business, natural dye henna and hair care, and cooking using Indians spices.

It dawned on me as they were listening to me share and explain my ancient culture that they felt affirmed that traditions and customs play an important role in society and should be preserved. I often wished the white majority showed a similar respect and dare I say curiosity to my culture.

I found that Aboriginal women are just like Asian women: you get a group together for a yarn, and topics of discussion are invariably to do with family, health and cooking.

The first step to cross culture is to develop a non-judgemental understanding of different belief systems which have strong cultural roots for any tribe or ethnic community. Then you begin the journey of moving to mutual sharing of your own culture and that’s when this amazing cross culture fertilisation can begin which will really enrich relationships. I hope we see more funding and effort directed to women ranger groups who can ensure these kind of bush camps continue for aboriginal communities who yearn to connect to their past.


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