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459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

Jigalong, The Pilbara

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Jigalong, The Pilbara

Andrew Ryan

I’m on a trip. A working trip, a road trip up to the Pilbra to document music workshops and concerts and whatnot put on by a group called Desert Feet Tours. They travel to remote Aboriginal communities in Northern WA a couple of times a year. I’m only going to one community with these guys, a place called Jigalong, around 2 hours drive east-ish of Newman, which is where I’m writing this from.

It took 2 and a half days to drive out here, stopping when the sun went down, lighting a campfire, pulling out the swags, falling asleep early. I spent those first 2 days sitting in the passenger seat of a big ol’ truck that converts in to a stage, and the last half-a-day riding around in the little “troopy” 4wd so we could stop more easily for me take photos along the dirt road from Newman to Jigalong.

I kept something of a little diary as we drove north-east, my first time traveling in this direction from Perth, but it was very, very hard to write in my notebook in both these cars, so fkn bumpy, words scrawled so that they were almost illegible, so I spent most of the time just staring out the window, got a lot of thinking done, not a lot of good thinking for writing though. Two days of staring out the window, felt like I was in a dream, slight out of body experience, not quite all there, existing in the future, but one that was completely foreign, unexpected; my first time in a remote community, my first time in a spot where English was not the first language, my first time on the edge of this desert, hanging out with the descendants of the last of the Martu to be brought out of the desert.

Jigalong’s history is interesting. The Nyiyaparli are the owners of the land this community is on, but given that the Martu were forced out of the desert and placed here by white people during the 50s and 60s, the Nyiyaparli handed the land over to the Martu, traditional ways, granted them custodianship.

You can read more about it here, if you wish : http://www.wangkamaya.org.au/pilbara-history-and-culture

This is some of the stuff I’ve written in my notebook:

Bindoon is for fruit. The roads are bumpy, the town seems to be well off. Sheep too, and horses. Driving through a gash made through a hill, look left, out the window, and see the layered rock folding/folded, pushed up, an angle, tectonic forces or something, pretty.

New Norcia seems shocking in terms of history. I want to go back and explore. Slavery, abuse, stolen generations. Church. Ew. Church. Abuse. The colonial buildings proclaim themselves, overshadowing everything else. Imposing. Rigid.

Pithara looks like it’s close to death. Main road is tiny, shops closed. Looks like it hasn’t had a new building made since the 90s. May turn GhostTown soon.

Past wheat area, now in Mining Country, where native bush/shrub land flourish, looks untouched but it’s probably been grazed into something foreign to natural, introduced hooves trampled for decades, tiny white flowers carpet the red dirt, looks like snow, with a purple tinge, under the overcast afternoon light.

Mt Magnet after dark. The town name reminds me of my childhood, I don't know why, some distant association, not quite tangible, just like almost every other feeling or thought I've had since leaving Perth. Have stopped at the road house for ages, waiting for the others. I want to sleep in the truck but I can't get comfortable. There’s a cat creeping around, bit skittish, a Toll Road Train Driver who pulled in just after us walked by my table after getting himself a snack, so I asked him if the cat was his. “Nah he’s a local Moggy I think”. I texted Emlyn to tell him I could hear the capital M in the way the driver said Moggy. I made the driver smile.

~~~

Moving through those areas, and the areas in the time afterwards, and spending time on this little chunk of land, so far from anything I am familiar with both culturally and environmentally, I have been asking myself a lot of questions, have had lots of thoughts come in. It’s interesting. It’s challenging. It’s hilarious and it’s brutal, it’s hard and it’s easy. It’s weird. But it’s good. I have nothing proper to say about it all as yet, it’s all still floating unformed in the air above my consciousness. There’s always so much to learn. So much to consider. Here they take days to make a decision. Days to have quiet chats in comfortable space with trusted people to decide on what to do about a thing. Things here stay broken for a long time because it's too expensive to get anything fixed. The local people aren't trained to fix things themselves. I have thoughts but there's not much room for another white person to make comments about things they know little about. I sit and I watch and I think and I photograph and I smile at the kids and I let them use my camera and I appreciate the sky and the sunset and I kick the stones as I walk and I crave a cigarette but I don't smoke one and I hope to see the brumbies galloping on the edge of town again even though I know they're bad for the natural environment, and I remember the rabbit I saw just outside of Mt Magnet, it had myxomatosis , it's eyes are scarred and closed and it looked weak, pained, and my heart went out for it, even though it is a pest, the disease was introduced in the 50s to destroy the rabbit populations but it hasn't destroyed them, it's only inflicted pain on them for decades.

I'll go back out to the kids. Go back out to my job. Try not cry because of my nicotine craving. Try not to cry about how unfair it is that their grandparents were forced to leave their homelands, their country. Try not to cry about the death of the young man who crashed on the road to town last night. This is not a sad time though. It is just intense.

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