Just returned from a trip to Kudjekbinj. To the uninitiated (in more
ways than one) this is an outstation in NW Arnhemland, about 150 kms east
of Oenpelli, across the Goomadeer River and near Table Hill which is
marked on some maps.
The outstation is very well set up, and run by my two older sisters
Esther Maralngurra and Miriam Nganjmirra, bothin their late sixties.
These women not only take care of the country but they look after young
relatives whose parents are alcoholics or who have been in trouble with
the law. Both are master weavers of pandanus mats and baskets.
Unfortunately they don't have a vehicle which makes their work quite
The country is dominated by tall stringybark forest with patches of
monsoon forest, pandanus and paperbark woodland around the numerous
springs many of which are Baby Dreaming (Yawk Yawk). There is escarpment
there as well with waterfalls and plunge pools. It is beautiful wild
I attempted a bird list but as most of my time was taken up discussing
various issues with my relatives, fishing, collecting of pandanus leaves
and colour, I didn't get very far.
However birds included Common Bronzewing, Grey Butcherbird,
Yellow-throated Miner, White-throated, Brown, Dusky and White-gaped
A couple of highlights which have nothing to do with birds; my eldest
sister gave me another name - Lawangkurr. Secondly we caught and killed
Nothing special some might say except for the way we went about it. The
hastily conceived plan was that I throw my cast net over the young sow
which had been cornered by the dogs, and my friend Sue rush in with
Esther's metal digging stick and stab it. Then we'd both throw ourselves
on the pig and hold it down.
The first bit went well. However when Sue went in for the kill the metal
rod bent (the skin is really tough). I'll never forget the look on her
face! I thought about jumping on the pig while it was entangled in the
net but one of the dogs worrying its hindquarters had also been caught,
and I feared I might be bitten. Anyway we had no time to think further
for the pig charged me. I fell flat on my ba ck in the mud the pig only
feet away. Sue charged to my rescue with her bent rod while I fended the
porker off with my feet (thank heavens for steel-capped gumboots and
close friends) and an old pandanus log. It turned and ran, the dogs and
us in hot pursuit. In the end my husband Michael beat it over the head
with an ironwood branch, Sue and I joined in, and that was the end of the
We carted it back to the others who prepared a bed of hot coals in the
sand. Esther removed paperbark from nearby trees all the while singing
to our dreaming so that the Baby Spirits would know we were there and
understand what we were doing. Meanwhile the gutted pig was filled with
red hot stones. The paperbark went on top of that, and then sand. It
took less than an hour to cook.
Pigs are everywhere. They do terrible damage to these beautiful springs.
They muddy the water so that fish that have evolved to live in clear
water die. They damage the roots of trees and eat the fruit that falls
from them so that the trees cannot regenerate. Consequently they affect
birds and other wildlife. And now there is another threat. A mining
company is putting pressure on my senior sister to give them permission
to mine, and consequently creating divisions among the Ngalngbali (our
On the way back to Oenpelli we met a 4WD that had blown a tyre and
careered off the road into a tree. A group of Aboriginal men came across
the young occupant standing weeping and in shock by the side of the road.
Although going to a one-day ceremony and having a long way to travel
they immediately detached their trailer and sent their car back to
Oenpelli to get help. Some were trying to comfort the woman and her baby
while others were struggling to get her vehicle mobile when we arrived.
I couldn't help but think she couldn't have been better looked after if
she had been on a city road.
Denise Goodfellow (Lawungkurr Maralngurra)
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