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Indigenous Australians taking the next step

  • 06 July 2011

I have just returned home after visiting friends in remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley.

This is the season of the 'grey nomads': older tourists escaping the cold and wet winter weather of the south; heavily packed and well prepared. It is a good time of the year to travel and explore the north. The weather in the Centre and Kimberley is ideal: cold nights and sunny days. The unsealed roads are dry and, while the cost of fuel can be high ($2.33 in one place), the land and people are warm and welcoming.

While one has to 'pay' extra to travel and experience what locals see as normal, much of the life of remote living can remain hidden.

I enjoyed catching up with families I have known for a long time, but had not seen for a year. As always, new babies, growing adolescents, long memories and old jokes.

In the beginning, time is put aside to pay respect for those who have died since my last visit. This takes the form of a handshake, sometimes an embrace, depending on my relationship to the deceased and their family. My friends gently remind me of those names I need to avoid repeating, in order to show respect for those who have recently departed.

Then we settle down to talk about football, local politics and the latest issues of concern. Their humour enlivens my spirit. Always quick, sharp and clever. Remote living may be tough, day following day and things improving far too slowly, but it always merits a good laugh.

At the same time, and despite the warmth and humour, this was a particularly sad trip. I became aware of the large number of young people who have died in recent years. Some were close friends; we had shared journeys, important ceremonies and special occasions.

So, before I returned home, I went down to the local cemetery to remember and let them know I had not forgotten them. There they were laid out before me: nicely tended graves, crosses, rosary beads and plastic flowers. They represented the painful trifecta of young peoples' deaths: car accidents, suicides and chronic disease.

I found myself quite sad. I have watched