Funerary rites

A senior traditional owner passed away during the initial weeks of my stay and I was invited to the main funerary public ceremony which was held at his house in Banyan, Gunbalanya under a magnificent large Banyan tree with roots the wurdwurd (children) could get lost amongst. There was a lovely breeze and soft fresh sand to sit on. Huge hunks of bullikki (cow) were being cooked and a large djenj (fish) like a swordfish. Many bininj had come, some from saltwater kunbolk (country) so it was probably caught in the ocean. I sat with the daluk in my family as they painted themselves in delek, including their hair. I got more from the art centre for them. Many bininj throughout the week had come to Injalak for supplies, such as boomerang, clapstick and mako (didgeridoo). Young bininj were dancing to clapsticks and mako, many holding a shoe in place of the traditional implement to do the actions as it is referred to in dance and song groups. Then the widow with her head covered by a clothe or towel was led by a group down the street. My karrang explained she was being taken to the house of her family-in-law in order to be freed from the bond to them. senior bininj or clever men led the way painted up and gesturing away evil spirits and the spirit of the deceased. Once they returned to the house where the body lay in state there was much crying and shouting coming from within. Eventually balanda were invited in to pay respects. Inside everyone sat on the floor around the coffin which was elevated. I was overcome by emotion. When the time came for the coffin to be carried to the hearse the widow and other daluk began throwing themselves on the ground in a demonstration of mourning and then karrang got a large knife and began cutting her head so blood dripped down. The knife was shared around for the purpose amid wailing. It was impossible for me not to weep, but I guided karrang and my sisters and children to my troopy and became part of the slow procession to the gravesite at the base of arguluk hill, a significant site for initiations. Young daluk did the actions while singing often unable to hold back the tears and bininj hung their heads, it was a beautiful funeral. Some poems were read in English and Kunwinjku and a balanda priest did the Christian rites. Then his belongings including his mattress were placed in the grave too.

nabarlek guts and yawk yawk

A giant fibre work of a yawk yawk (young woman water spirit) which was made last year by daluk, the main artist being my karrang, has been accepted into the telstra awards. How to transport its huge and delicate mass to Darwin is another story altogether. It was my task to help neaten it up under instruction from karrang with the rdarda (younger sister) whose dreaming this particular yawk yawk Marrayka was hers. While we worked out under the trees as she swayed in the breeze, another scent wafted along which I was certain had to be human sewerage. The manager Anthony Murphy came out and immediately went on a hunt for the source. We discovered one of the daluk hosing out the intestines of a narbarlek (rock wallaby) in order to cook and eat it. After smelling it I decided I wouldn’t give it a go, but the duruk (dogs) were going wild and kept dragging away parts of the carcass to the anger of the daluk. Often at the art centre kunj (macropods), usually in the form of nabarlek (a small rock wallaby), would be dropped off to artists by bininj council workers who had run over them. After being gutted they were often put in the fork of this tree away from duruk, and meat would be cut off when needed, the skin being left on as a preservation barrier.

Kunwardde bim recording refresher

Have visited rock art sites on Injalak a few times and located various mayh (food animals) depicted, some in sites not recorded systematically before. Sally May, the archaeologist now from ANU who introduced me to Injalak Hill last year came for a week with 4 archaeology students including her assistant Meg Travers. It was great as I consulted with Sally as to sites not recorded (most) and watched them record one. It would be easier if I had at least one other person helping me (ideally a team of 3) as an IFRAO scale should be included in the shot and systematic descriptive notes taken. Although it is not a requirement that I make archaeological recordings for my dissertation and it requires more time and effort, I would like to contribute to the efforts of archaeologists like Sally, there is so much unrecorded kunwardde bim in Australia washing away and fading each year.

Visitors from home

My father Tibor, mother Maree and sister Ange came to visit. I set them up in the house with birndu (mozzie) nets. Mum and Ange climbed Injalak Hill and Dad and I sat with the artists, many of whom I know now. My favourite painter still being Graham Badari who I call kakkali (eligible partner) although the daluk in my family of the same skin as me often call him kanjok as he is not their actual spouse using kakkali when humbugging him. I love Glen Namundja’s work too of course, but he is my skin brother meaning I should avoid communication. All the artists have distinct styles and capabilities with several emerging or mid career painters exhibiting in the cities and entering the Telstra, an important prize for indigenous artists.

Although we went on a Yellow water cruise viewing a spectacular array of bird life and large kinga, the highlight of the visit for my dad was a very short but successful fishing trip at the crossing with karrang (mum). Within the hour had caught two fish which looked a bit like namarngol, but were called Narrgarl.

big mob of wakih

A second daluk (woman) who I call karrang (mum)has also become friendly with me outside my immediate kinship family. She is married to really down to earth senior man who I call ngabba (father) from Goulburn Island. He has impressive traditional scarring and is a skilled fisherman. I went with karrang, ngabba and their extended family on an action packed fishing trip at Cahill’s Crossing. Ngabba throws a net perfectly when catching yow (bait fish) and both daluk and bininj caught the biggest mob of wakih (shark) I had ever seen. There was about 9 and one namarngol (barramundi).

I couldn’t believe that the alligator river would have so many, although it is estaurine and the tide came up rapidly from the ocean and we moved from the sand to the bank. This is why so many kinga (crocodile) are seen here. Although I did not see one this time, when I crossed the river at a 70cm high tide in the troopy, there was one swimming across! When crossing at high tide (which is not advised) the rule is to wait for the tide to turn so the water becomes very still and less likely to push you.

Although ngabba said hot coal cooking in the sand is traditional, they cooked up one shark for me in another way. First cutting out large organs which they called fat, then chopping the shark up discarding head and tail and boiling it before removing skin and bone and straining the meat. Then the fat was chopped up and fried like liver to which the strained meat was added. It was really tasty and eaten with rice and salt, sometimes onion. Salt is always added to fish here, I guess being freshwater, the natural saltiness is reduced. I transported the sharks on the roof of the troopy so it was dripping with blood and required a big clean up.

Raining djenj (fish) and cheeky bullocky

The Mardam (whisling kite) have a feeding frenzy, and nesting in my yard, I have the djenj they catch in the nearby billabong raining down as mardam drop them half eaten. I awake to a mardam eating a large garlerrk outside the window and wish I had got to my camera in time. Missing camera moments has been a common situation for me.

Areas of country in Gunbalanya are fenced off for bullocky which the community have kept breeding since Cahill’s time. There is an abbatoir and the meat is sold at the store. There is alot of kunngobahn (pandanas) growing in the paddocks and so many times I have taken daluk there for harvests. They do not trust the bullocky calling them cheeky (dangerous) especially if their horns look long and will not get out of the truck near them. The other night after a big day driving with kakkak to bars in kakadu resorts, Jabiru town camp and an outstation called Mudginberri between Gunbalanya and Jabiru, we encountered a Buffalo near Cahill’s crossing. It wasn’t tall but it was round and well fed. It appeared like a giant pig with buffalo horns. This trip was hilarious, so many different bininj coming for trips in the truck and we ended up with a couple of huge freshly caught djenj too.

On another trip to Darwin to pick up the manager and shop for Injalak supplies (boy, what alot of tea and sugar!!) I spotted a Jabiru eating what looked like a snake, but I was told probably an eel. The bininj who paint at Injalak went hunting the other day and got a wallaby, I wish I had been there, they cooked it on the spot. While collecting kunngobahn, daluk often find manme (vege foods) and we have had green plums, and black plums. After I made a particularly good manmali (hook stick) from a paperbark tree all on my own to replace one that we lost off the roof on the bumpy road to the springs (another sacred place), The daluk began making a kuku (pipe) from the wood scraps. It looked like a chillum (Indian pipe). We often collect colours for dye as well, the mandjurndum (yellow root), wirdihl wirdihl (brown bulb) and leaves of a bush no-one knew the name of to make black. Ash is added to the yellow to make orange and green is made from boiling kunngobahn leaves.

I love taking daluk out on country and they love it too. We are always wary of nayin (snakes) and bang the ground. A small brown went under the car once as I sat in it and another reared up at us on the road. One night after the club taking bininj and daluk home, I was given a large cooked egg to eat on the spot, It was really yummy and turned out to be wilark (the egg of the magpie goose). This is the dreaming for Arguluk Hill.

Duruk Djang kunbolk (Dog Dreaming Country)

I now feed 3-4 dogs, they come with the house. Suitable really in dog dreaming country. A film of the dog dreaming featuring Balang the president of Injalak was being edited when I arrived. An earlier film was narrated by T.O. Jacob Nayinggul. The Rock you see featured in the doco is held up by three thin legs which translate as the female dog or ngalduruk who had a broken leg.

I was invited to one of the sites by a T.O. who I call kakkak (grandmother). It is a beautiful waterfall called Mandjaworlbidji in Mangerrdji. I make two trips there on the heavily flooded dirt track. I took my immediate kin family first, mostly daluk who I call karrang (mum) rdarda (younger sisters) and dje dje (our kids), then take kakkak’s family, many who I call berluh (auntie) or ngadjadj (uncle). We fish, first kicking the small bait fish called yow out of the shallows onto the sand to pick up. Using handlines djenj (fish) are caught quickly and flicked out of the water onto the shore. Shallow fires are made and the bordoh (small bream) are cooked in the coals without gutting. There are lots of Garlerrk (log tom) in the water and dje dje plays with one as it dies, so I draw it. He took it home in the car still playing with it, this garlerrk.

Traditionally, bigger djenj like namarngorl (barramundi) are buried in coals after wrapping in paperbark and some organs are eaten, we used the paperbark for plates and salt was always added to the flesh which was very tasty.