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Australian Aboriginal Culture & Didgeridoo News and Articles:


Dreams come true in Jarlmadangah, an enthusiastic Aboriginal
community from the Kimberley in North West-Australia


When they come, the Kimberley rains will wash over the sacred red ranges around Jarlmadangah Burru, and from them will spring a hundred glistening waterfalls.
To the Nyikina-Mangala (desert and river) people south-east of Derby, the natural phenomenon has for countless years signalled the end of one season and the start of another. But it could also be a methapor for a new beginning in Aboriginal affairs throughout the vast homelands of northern Australia.

Jarlmadangah's kids.














( fresh hopes: young residents Geneva Watson, 4, and Zaraiah Muller, 5, behind the counter of Jarlmadangah's Mul Ga Yi Di store)

In a whitefella's world awash with negatives about Indigenous matters, the changes under way at Jarlmadangah, started by elders John and Harry Watson a few years back and now enthusiastically embraced by their offspring and a group of volunteers, can only be seen as a positive step by a community determined to reclaim its heritage and traditions.
And in a landscape so rich in Dreamtime stories yet soaked in contemporary tragedies, Jarlmadangah has also emerged as an example to other Indigenous communities desperate to find a formula to help them emerge from a fog of grog, drug abuse, mismanagement and dispossession.
Since the Watson brothers created the community in 1987, the outpost now has its own cattle company (which runs nearby Mt. Anderson Station), a fully equipped school with computers and access to the internet, a clean medical clinic, a progressive women's centre, and is now experimenting with community development programs and business ventures such as aquaculture.
The community is led, among others, by John Watson's daughter Johnene, 23, a quietly spoken yet determined young woman who, with her cousin Kimberley, 21, make up the youngest leadership team of any Aboriginal community in the Kimberley.
They are working on the old adage that from little things big things grow. It seems to be working.

Jarlmadangah Community. At the centrepoint of their community's success is their strict drug and alcohol-free policy.
Johnene and Kimberley show off the Jarlmadangah store which not that long ago was poorly run and devoid of any proper supplies or fresh food.
As part of their plan to move forward, the community contacted Indigenous Community Volunteers, a Canberra-based organisation that places qualified people, many of them from the big cities, in remote communities to pass on their skills. ICV believes throwing money at a problem doesn't fix it.

With help and training and for the first time in their lives, the Jarlmadangah women and young girls, among them Lesley Butt, have a job (running the well stocked store), which they look on with pride and a sense of responsibility.
Francis Bellou, a young man who sits on the Jarlmadangah executive, is in charge of the settlement's power supply and supervises the dozen or so young men who must turn up for work eight hours a day, five days a week if they want to receive their unemployment benefits; real work-for-the-dole. "They need to know. We have a meeting every week and we set goals for what should be finished by the end of that week.
No bludging. If they don't work, they don't get paid," he said.

The recreational centre is another area where kids congregate and let off their steam with punching bags, speed balls and weights that fine-tune strong young bodies. Off to one side is an almost completed music studio where some electric guitars and a new drum kit are used by Francis and his mates most Tuesdays nights. One day they hope to form a band, maybe like Warumpi Band or the Pigram brothers, musical legends from the north. Francis dedicates a song to John Watson and sings it loud and unashamedly in Nyikina-Mangala, his native tongue.
A recently laid concrete basketball court is the kids pride and joy but they can play only when they've finished their school work for the day.

Having a well adjusted community also attracts tourists who want to witness indigenous life but have been scared off by horror stories of drunken brawls, sick kids, heart-breaking poverty and roaming packs of dogs, many of them true.

But what makes Jarlmadangah community special is that it is focusing specifically on things that money can't buy and others can't give them:
self-respect, their traditions and culture.
Every weekend without fail, the youngsters go hunting and learn the way of their fathers. "The bush is our shopping centre," explains Kimberley. "We take the younger ones to hunt wild emus, bush turkeys, blue-tongue lizards and goannas. Sometimes we go down the river, it's all there," he said.

"We teach them that if you look after the land, the land will look after you!"
This is a great example of an Aboriginal community where, with concerted guidelines and involvement of all the members of the community, self-respect and personal achievement represent one of a real concrete solution for a positive future.
Good on the author, team and Jarlmadangah community members to bring such a positive story to the media.
It really shows how the initiative and hard work of only a few can really change things and make dreams come true!


© 2003 Australian Newspaper. All Rights Reserved. Acknowledgements: Tony Barrass. Photos courtesy of John Mokrzycki.



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