We’re inspired by Julian Burnside’s latest idea, asking Aussie’s to show humanity and write to Asylum Seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island.
Here’s one of our letters
As a mother I have to say how sorry I am that you have not been welcomed to Australia. I am sorry that you have not yet been able to meet some of the wonderful and generous people who are Australian and who feel so badly about your situation. I arrived here from the UK some ten years ago with my two young sons. I miss my family at home in the UK, as you no doubt miss some of your family too. Hence I am writing this letter to welcome you, and hope to hear from you soon.
With best wishes
I wanted to share this beautiful email I received from Jean from Virgin Unite. Like her, we hope that the gift of moral courage Nelson Mandela gave to the world will now carry on stronger than ever.
Today, Madiba passed on the torch to each and every one of us to carry on his vision of leadership through compassion and wisdom.
His consistent integrity, love, compassion, honesty and wisdom will live on forever as signposts for great leaders everywhere in the world. Kofi Annan said it brilliantly, ”People often ask me what difference one person can make in the face of injustice, conflict, human rights violations, mass poverty and disease. I answer by citing the courage, tenacity, dignity and magnanimity of Nelson Mandela. If just one small part of what he sought to achieve for his fellow human beings is translated into reality, if we live up to just one fraction of the standards he has set for himself, then Africa, and the world, will be a far better place.”
With hope that the gift of moral courage he gave to the world will now carry on stronger than ever, Jean
"My Uncle always said, fire isn’t death; fire’s the start of life."
Our 3 days in the Top End so eloquently summed up by Peter Christopherson, the larger-than-life local Aboriginal land manager. Peter helps his family to manage the flood plains of the Yellow Waters area we stood on.
Indeed it neatly captured the trip’s essence, a brisk 3-day sally of 5 balandas (whiteys), under the warden-ship of NAILSMA's Joe Morrison. There was no pre-prescribed, or ordained outcome, but the typical Igniting Change “come and have a gander, then let’s chat.”
The itinerary was crafted to expose the contrasts facing Aboriginal existence in the Top End. From the urban community of Bagot, a par 4 distance from Darwin’s casino, to the
remoteness of Maningrida township on the far north tip of Arnhem land, a common theme emerged: hope through fire.
Fire makes country. Country makes us. I am Country.
To look after you, us, me, them, Country must be looked after.
And fire, or its management by experienced indigenous rangers and TOs, looks after the land. Flora, fauna, man all dance the fire dance, choreographed to perfection over millennia. Fire encourages new growth; flushes out prey for food; and is the centerpiece of cultural identity.
In the last few decades, government managed burning was carried out at the expense of the culture and ecology known to local mobs. New-age science had neglected the wisdom of locals, burning large tracts of bush at the expense of delicate, at times invisible goings on. How could the policy-approving man in the white coat know such things from his plush, centrally heated lab in freezing cold Canberra?
Ironically, this ham-fisted bureaucracy has opened the door to the Kakadu mobs reclaiming their land physically. Whilst native title was established decades ago, resettlement had been a slower process. But with the injurious effects of the Parks’ burning policy plain to see, TOs and local rangers have been tasked to “nurse the country back to the way it’s meant to be”, reestablishing the lost harmony.
No where is this more apparent than Kakadu, where balanda burning left fallow lands lie next to the verdant paddocks of success of Aboriginal-controlled patchwork fire programs. Non-indigenous grasses have been largely destroyed, inviting back native flora which in turn brings the grubs, insects et al. These see the mass repatriation of wild birds.
This cycle is repeated in the waters of the park.
In the impossibly harsh backpost that is Maningrida, the 20-year Djelk Ranger program is testament to success of the old and new conjunct. With over 30 indigenous rangers on its books, armed with powerful i-tracker units, the men, women and junior rangers are able to manage their country using not only their innate knowledge, but record and archive the same for future generations on their hardy PDAs.
Be it feral animal control, planned burning, documenting rock art or ecosystem analysis, local youth (in the new Junior Ranger program) and men are being educated as stakeholders in their country.
And their remit extends offshore, where Djelk Rangers often do joint ops on Border Protection Command vessels against drug, animal and people smugglers. A recent capture of a shark fin vessel netted over 35 fins and little flesh, a travesty for the Bawinanga mob who believe in hunt-to-eat.
The contrasts littered our journey. From the impeccably clean and air-con’d offices of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (looking after the interests of the Mirra clan in Jabiru region), run by the alabaster-toned, ginger-haired Justin O’Brien, to the middle-of-nowhere border cafe serving Thai tucker. Not just any thai tucker, but perhaps the best this world-traversed scribe has eaten outside of Thailand itself.
Just beyond this Jabiru corporation’s shiny headquarters, the
local mob have built a shiny new upscale holiday park.
Employing local men learning new skill sets, the other takeaway from our trip is apparent: all good projects have a social agenda too.
Outcomes are measured in people, not just moolah.
In Maningrida the Babbarra Women’s Centre churns out an array of printed garments of elastic quality, but they’re learning & earning. And passing on the story, in art.
Likewise the rangers were, until the creation of the Djelk program, recognised passively as custodians of their country. With a little of aforementioned science, a lot of the traditional skills, their worth is not only measured by the health of their Bawinanga country, but the socio-profit of them mentoring the next generation.
Like all stories, there are dark underbellies in the region, rancid images of alcoholism, subterfuge and decay whose shadow eclipses all the good being done up here. I, a known half-empty, was overwhelmed by this good. Folk like Joe Morrison are getting on with it in their quiet, outcome-driven way. Mixing education and a healthy respect of the ways of the elders is reaping material and social rewards, the pinnacle of which is the Carbon Program where TOs burn country and get
paid for it!
There’s an importunate will to succeed driving the programmes, and it’s across all parties, from NAILSMA, to local members and TOs. And they know time’s on their side, because this country’s been here for eons and nursing it carefully will pay back plenty-fold.
Dwaine Shrigley is one of Igniting Change’s amazing volunteers. His poetry is incredible, and continually inspires and amazes us. His way with words and interpretation of complex issues often brings us to tears!
Beneath is a link to a little poem he recently wrote about Igniting Change after spending a day in our office. Admittedly we are quirky and can be hard to understand at the best of times, but we think Dwaine has managed to say it beautifully in this piece. Our special thanks to Jaque Fisher who generously filmed and brought this YouTube together.
We’d love to hear what you think!