One might consider the plane journey from Manila via Singapore to Perth a long trip, but it's nothing compared with the coach journey from Perth to Brisbane; particularly if the coach breaks down and your arrival is delayed by over 12 hours. Nevertheless, undaunted by this event, our Ayta guests Tubag, Orosco, Epang and their tireless translator Sister Menggay, went straight from the transit centre to Jagera Arts for their meeting with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Working Party.
When I learned of the coach breakdown, I rang Ricky Pascoe who was coordinating our meeting with the group and he gave me the best advice I've had all year: "Don't panic. Chill out."
The dates for this tour had already been changed by a month due to problems in getting Epang's passport. But, oftentimes events do conspire in one's favour. Had the original schedule been achieved, Bobby Anderson would still have been travelling in Europe and would have missed seeing how these youngsters had fared in the ten years since his visit to their community.
Organising tour itineraries won't exactly give you grey hairs though, and there is the added bonus of having more time to share and ask even more questions.
I was very curious to know why all three want to study law when they finish high school. "So we can fight for the rights of indigenous peoples internationally," they answered. My heart almost burst with pride. The Uniting Church of Australia can share in that pride too as these three are part of the group of Ayta scholarship students assisted by the UCA.
I did wonder, however, if mainstream schooling had drawn them away from valuing their forest hunting skills. But, an early morning walk in the rainforest put that thought to rest when they pointed out for me a very small quail moving through the distant underbrush. And, as we walked through this forest country they had never seen before, its medicinal plants, herbs, food and products were totally familiar to them. Later that day, with his hands surrounding a kookaburra so completely that he could have captured it - if he wanted to, Orosco chuckled about the birds at home being more cautious because they know the Aytas like to hunt.
During our visit to the Aboriginal Studies Section of the Queensland Museum, Tubag was very keen to compare the construction of arrowheads used here to their own. Without a doubt, mainstream schooling has not caused them to forget the skills of living in a forest environment taught to them by their elders.
Another line of questions I was able to pursue was about childbirth. The Aytas practice natural methods of contraception. And, as there were no medical services other than their own to rely upon, women give birth at home with assistance from family members; the father is usually the one to deliver the baby. Natural healing methods are part of common knowledge and practice. One particularly fascinating example is their use of vinegar and massage as a curative. During the eruption, three of their community were struck by lightning. The victims were massaged with vinegar and given a little to sip. Each one recovered.
I hope they don't all become lawyers, some will be needed to further the interests of indigenous science.
Salamat, salamat, thank you, thank you, a million times thank you to our guests and to all the friends who opened their hearts and homes in hospitality. Solidarity with the LAKAS program is an ongoing project of SPAN and CPCA, and your interest and ideas of how we can continue this work is always welcomed.
Dee Dicen Hunt