The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 58 : 58


56 when a project strives for cross-cultural understand­ing. Margaret uses “tjukurpa” to describe the Greek myths introduced into a workshop about addiction. “Working with the doctors – they have their tjukurpas too … The one with the grapes, they made them into wine. And the one where she goes undergroun­d.” Craig San Roque, a local psychologi­st with many years’ experience working with Aboriginal people in Central Australia, told the story of Dionysus, with props, to show how European culture had ancient instructio­nal stories, and how the effects of alcohol permeate the present day. The women were enthralled to learn that white people had a form of tjukurpa. They discussed the impacts of addictions on their own families and communitie­s, and a visiting doctor suggested they might explore a relevant tjukurpa story during the painting session the following day. What happened next is now Uti Kulintjaku folklore. Overnight, five women – Pantjiti McKenzie, Rene Kulitja, Nyunmiti Burton, Maringka Burton and Ilawanti Ken – identified the story as the tjukurpa for addiction, made telephone calls to seek permission to tell it, and gathered the materials with which to make a miniature version of the trapped man and his grieving wives. This was produced with a flourish after the painting abuse, and all Anangu trapped by cultural breakdown. The wives who refuse to abandon their trapped husband symbolise the women in the Uti Kulintjaku project who refuse to give up in spite of the scale of the challenges they face. To escape can’t be accomplish­ed alone. It’s a heroic task, requiring the combined resources of doctors and culture and family. Embedded in cultural memory, the story of “The Man in the Log” provides a psychologi­cal traction that’s missing from Western approaches to Aboriginal mental health. That the women immediatel­y made the connection between the European myth and an equivalent tjukurpa suggests that there are vast metaphoric resources in their culture, waiting to be tapped. Digging into their tradition-rich past to discover what has made them strong and resilient, the women also identify the aalpiri, the name of the instructio­nal wake-up call that began the day of the desert-dwelling Anangu. Aalpiri – jokingly called the morning rooster – gave a dawn bulletin of how things were travelling in the Anangu world, re-enforced right behaviour and outlined the activities for the day. A performanc­e of the aalpiri has been filmed out on the lands, along with a recitation of “The Man in the Log”. The plan is to broadcast them on Indigenous “This is one of the most exciting and encouragin­g and hopeful developmen­ts that I’ve seen in Central Australia for the 21 years that I’ve been here.” Community Television, the channel watched throughout the Western Desert, with the aalpiri commencing daily programmin­g. The film is still a work in progress when I see it. The intended setting of sensationa­l desert scenery was washed out by a flash flood, and Ilawanti Ken declaims the tale of “The Man in the Log” against a backdrop of crumbling demountabl­es. She is enthroned on her mobile walker, and accompanie­d by Pantjiti McKenzie singing the eerie song of the trapped man trying to attract the attention of his wives. With the developmen­t of “The Man in the Log”, the Uti Kulintjaku team decided it was time to invite Aboriginal men into the project. The women chose the men – effective leaders and individual­s of status in their various communitie­s, ranging in age from 25 to 70-plus. The facilitato­r of the men’s group, Martin Toraille, says that having been chosen by the women, the men feel pressure to act. Faced with a challenge so vast, and seeing men as a significan­t part of the problem, they want to get out and start fixing it – stop the violence in their communitie­s, keep people safe – but don’t know where to begin. It’s early days, and the concepts and processes are very new. It’s the first time a men’s group has been establishe­d within the NPY Women’s Council, and the first opportunit­y these men have had to talk together session, accompanie­d by the telling of the story and a discussion of how it applied to contempora­ry life. A good man, a husband and provider, goes hunting one day and chases an animal into a hollow log, where he becomes hopelessly stuck. While wailing and singing, he manages to hobble back to his two wives, who are baffled by the sound coming from the advancing log. When they realise their husband is inside, they fling themselves about in grief and try to free him. Failing this, they squeeze water-soaked grass through a small opening so he can drink, and then lead and carry him in search of a ngangkari powerful enough to set him free. After much difficulty and the efforts of several ngangkari, the log is cracked to reveal the shrunken, emaciated, excrement-fouled body of the husband. With the care of his wives and the advice of the healers, he is slowly restored. Whatever the ancient meaning of the tjukurpa story, the metaphor of entrapment has resonated with modern Anangu. It has been variously interprete­d to mean that men are trapped in their shells, unable to communicat­e their problems; that they don’t know what their role is anymore; and that they are trapped in cycles of alcohol and violence. The women lament that “when that man is trapped, he hasn’t got his full potential”. The metaphor is extended to young people trapped by substance the monthly — essay

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