Monday, 4 May 2009

as time honour of Rraywala mildjingi

i have been thinking about a book my great-grandmother gave to my father sometime around 1950. It was called 'piccaninny walkabout', by axel poignant. It tells the story of a couple of yolngu kids who get lost in the bush and shows how they survive. Amazingly, overtime, this book was given to me as a youngster, who loved it, drew in it, absorbed the black and white pictures of kids playing in another distant world.

And then, years later, i walk around the same beaches, meet the grandchildren, meet the old people who are in the book. Yesterday, here in Darwin was a small was attended by maybe 100 people but I think it should have been witnessed by the whole country! We were celebrating a man, whose face I have known for years, who appeared in the book and whose children I have lived with. His name was Rraywala....he was born here, in mildjingi land:

At the time he was born, most of his family were being killed, massacred and eliminated by pastoralists. When I lived out bush, here in central arnhem land, i was told stories all the time about the struggle to exist, how clans were wiped out, how only one or two men survived from whole clans. No wonder these people are warriors and fighters....anyway....this man, Rraywala had an interesting life. He walked around and befriended a white fella, Donald Thompson, who took photos, fought, lived and learned with the yolngu mobs in Arnhem Land in the 1930-40's. Rraywala fought against the Japanese, moved around, lived his life and ended up passing away here in Darwin in the 1060's. His grave has been an unmarked number amongst thousands since then. That was until yesterday....

It is a beautiful thing to remember, to see stories entwined. to be a part of something that connects us all, whether we be ballanda (white fellas), yolngu, young, old whatever....we all got stories. Mine began as a kid, with piccaninny walkabout...i remeber the tears on the face of the the little girl rrikili in this book and testerday i stood with her family, as they mourned and shed tears over an old man who was gone but not forgotten.

Donald Thomson's family was there, as were many of Rraywala's family,but especially his daughter margaret mayal and son jimmy burrinyila. Margaret is one tough old chook, she kept wacking me on the arm and she thought it hilarious...but i was like,man ouch. She tough. And old jimmy. It was a ceremony to remember, to acknowledge the past and a man who despite everything, just had a damn big heart and forged a connection that spans the country today. They placed, after nearly 40 years a headstone on rraywala's grave and finally his children could spill forth their songs and tears....ngarri marringi, ga nyuni ngadji ngadji ngajie...butdal

and these fellas....the wak waks, well they send it out there....

i will remember.
my feet have walked tthis red earth country
my heart has heard this song
i get goosebumps
i shiver
when i think of the bones underground
and the spirit in the silence.
i will remember things i do not know
i will feel what i cannot understand
maybe one day
i will go back
to where my feet
touch this land
i wail with tears for the dead
for the story untold and unspoken
but i smile
with love for the beginning
i get goosebumps


  1. Hi,
    Great post... I was also there on Sunday and came away inspired to learn all I could about the man and that particular moment in history.
    I found your post by way of the Google but was surprised that there hasn't been more published. First on my reading list will be 'Piccanini Walkabout'.
    Apparently there will be a seminar in Brinkin tomorrow! (05.04.09)
    Love the poetic Goosebumps.

  2. Connections and links and pathways
    and good people