07 December 2022

Cape York Immersion

Article by Melody Davidson and Alana Clark

Cape York Immersion

Year 10 Cape York Indigenous Immersion

To put the once in a lifetime 10 day Indigenous Immersion into words is quite nearly impossible. We were blessed with the opportunity to learn about Indigenous culture from the traditional elders of the Cape York Peninsula. On our journey we met elders of Thiithaarr Warra Country, Willie and Robbie, and elders of Bana Country, Uncle Pete and Aunty Marilyn, as well as many other incredible people in their communities. Their knowledge of the land and its resources gave us a new perspective on Indigenous culture. We were fortunate enough to participate in many cultural activities on each homeland. At Thiithaarr Warra there was spear throwing, story telling, didgeridoo playing, coconut eating and the construction of tables for our community project. At Bana there was painting, language lessons, preparing a kup murri and damper making. Through these activities, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in their culture while understanding their way of living.

We came into the experience open-minded which allowed us all to have many insightful chats with the elders who were willing to answer any questions we had about causal topics and the important political conversations. A memorable quote was from Willie who stated that ‘the only thing that prevents mediation is expectation.’ These conversations allowed for everyone to connect with the elders, homelands and each other. In both homelands, the elders stressed that education was the key to closing the gap. Robbie and Willy strongly enforced the importance of not only educating Indigenous children to improve the livelihoods of future generations, but also educating non-indigenous people on their culture and ways of living. Many elders, such as Aunty Marilyn, were working on writing books to teach people their traditional Yalanji language. Through the Red Earth immersion program, we experienced first-hand just how life-changing educating non-aboriginal kids on their customs can be.

However, it wasn't just the connections with the elders that made the trip amazing; it was also the connections with our classmates and teachers. It was some of the simpler moments of mucking around with the footy and joking with mates that allowed our group to connect and make the most out of every second. In only ten days we went from a group of people that barely knew each other to people who screamed Dua Lipa’s ‘One Kiss’ together on the bus and people who played slightly aggressive games of boys v girls river rugby with the star player Hodgey. We became our own community who looked after each other. It was something very special.

Being in the remote Indigenous communities allowed for deeper reflection as we learnt to connect with the environment. Each day we would journal, reflecting on all the wondrous things we experienced and learnt. One thing that stood out was that everything in the environment serves a purpose. For example, the firewood tree on Bana can be used for medicinal purposes, as well as to create instruments and weapons. It was this same tree that was used in the Welcome to Country Ceremony by Aunty Marilyn whereby the spirits would look after us during our stay. We learnt the value of basic things that we often take for granted. The shock of cold water, the two-minute showers, the odour of the drop-down toilets all seemingly ‘unenjoyable’ aspects were only unusual to our own life and culture. In fact, it was being in nature and having time for each other that bonded us and made us closer to each other and the communities we were staying with. We also learnt what is truly important. Technology, while missed, was not necessary; rather, something as simple as a fresh orange and playing card games was vital to the everyday routine. We learnt to appreciate the small things that we wouldn't think twice about at home.

The experience was invaluable and it would not have happened without the support of many people. A massive thank you to everyone who was involved in making the trip possible, especially the organiser of these Immersions, Ms Hodge, who kept up the enthusiasm for over a year. After this lengthy wait, our patience paid off. Thank you especially to Liv Whitehead and Deb Hodge for always looking after us, keeping us smiling and learning to enjoy our music. To all the staff who were flexible and supportive in helping us catch up on work, allowing for extensions, our thanks. To Red Earth and support staff for organising the trip and enabling it to run smoothly, we extend our appreciation and gratitude. To all the parents who sacrificed so much and let us travel to the top of Australia for 10 days with little communication, we express our deepest thanks. To our fellow Cape Yorkers, it was fantastic to travel with you and we hope you get to go back one day. To potential future Cape Yorkers, if this opportunity comes up, we highly encourage you to go. There will be no regrets for this once in a lifetime experience. Yundu Yalada!

Melody Davidson and Alana Clark