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Mowanjum

Written on: Tuesday July 31st, 2007

A journal entry from: Elective

In contrast to yesterday, today (Tuesday) we visited Mowanjum community. Mowanjum, in comparison to Looma, has a reputation for being one of the worst communities, with cramped living conditions, and poor health, along with other issues. When we arrived, there were a couple of people moping around outside, and we stopped to visit women who had young children, to make sure they were doing alright. Angela is very good with the people in the communities, and they seem to like and respect her, which is one of the main important issues in improving health care.

Not long into our day, we stopped at one house in particular where Angela got chatting away, and then an older man turned up who she seemed to know well. That man was Donny Woolagoodja, the chief of the Worrorra tribe, and an artist in his own right - much of his work is displayed at the Mowanjum Art Centre, and available for purchase, should you wish to shell out 7 grand on a canvas painting!

It turned out that Donny was heading out to the marshes, on a fishing trip, so Angela convinced him to take us with him. After a quick dash to the shop to purchase water and hats (Sophie got a rather fetching hat for the bargainous price of 2 dollars!), we set off with Donny on our trip. Angela had told us a little bit about Donny while we were in the shop, and it turns out that he is a very interesting man indeed. Donny designed the wandjina that rose from the ground in the indigenous section of the opening ceremony at the Sydney Olympics. The wandjina was painted on a huge piece of silk, almost 30m across, and it was Donny's idea that it should be lifted from the ground, to give the impression that it was rising out of the Earth. So, we were in the company of a celebrity in the Aboriginal community! Donny has also co-written a book, with the help of Valda Blundell, called 'Keeping the Wanjinas Fresh'. It makes for fascinating reading, should anyone be interested.

First stop was at Donny's house, to pick up fishing gear, and also a friend of his girlfriend (the heiress to the Revlon industry, no less) who was joining us. This friend went by the name of Eric, and was a French guy, born in Jamaica, who had been travelling in Australia for 11 months. Once we had all our equipment together, we set off in the car, out to the mud flats.  Crossing the mud flats was a bizarre experience. The scenery all around is identical, and I had no idea how Donny knew where he was going, or how he managed to keep the car going straight without any road markings as we flew over the mud. Past the mud, we hit the bush, which was far more bumpy, and had far more vegetation to see, with plenty of boabs, and smaller bushes littered around the place.

When we got down to the marsh, I was really surprised at how nice it was. A river was flowing into the bush, that we would never have known existed had we not come out with Donny, as it's so hidden away. A white stork rested on one prominent branch in the water, but took to the sky as we grew nearer, obviously camera shy! Down by the river, the mud was thick, and slippery, and we carefully picked our way around the edge. Tiny mud skippers were darting around down by the edge of the water, blending in extremely well with their environment. For those who don't know, mud skippers are the creatures that feature in the Guinness adverts where everything is running backwards (see http://www.indian-ocean.org/bioinformatics/mangrove/MANGCD/Mud.gif if you have no idea what I'm talking about)!

We waded over to another area of mud flat, while Donny paddled out to a deeper part of the water, and began throwing his fishing net to catch us some bait. The fish were managing to evade him pretty well, and he was getting more and more frustrated as he went, throwing the net more erratically, but eventually scoring a catch of mullet. He threw the mullet over to us, as he planned to use it as bait for the more important fish in the waters - the barramundi. Once he decided we had enough bait, we went back to the other side of the river, and set up our fishing lines, then prepared for a long wait. The sun was scorching hot, and we were reapplying suncream constantly as we were sitting around by the water, which always worsens the burn if you get it!

After about an hour, and no luck, we decided that enough was enough, and headed back into town. It had been nice to see some of the scenery that Derby has to offer, as we wouldn't have had chance if we'd not gone with Donny, so we were happy. We made a quick stop off at Diamonds and Pearls for a refreshing, cool drink, before heading home to do, you guessed it, nothing for the rest of the day!