Finding home in unexpected places
By Poh Ling Yeow.
Poh’s interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures was first triggered at University when she chose Albert Namatjira as an essay subject. By studying his story, her ideas of what it meant to be Australian, were indelibly changed. Learning about the mix of Aboriginal and Asian descendants living in the Broome area also had a profound effect on Poh. Knowing that two disparagingly different cultures, Aboriginal and Chinese uniting, began to take on a new layer of significance. This is her story.
Through ‘Poh’s Kitchen’ I’ve been able to travel to the most precious parts of Australia and thanks to my Aboriginal mate Elton Roses, I’ve been able to have some amazing experiences. Elton has given me some great memories.
The first was in Darwin and everywhere we went, Elton and his old friend Jacko had childhood stories, dreamtime stories and it made me understand better than I ever have that intense, spiritual, relationship with the earth and land that Aboriginal culture is absolutely about.
It’s not an exaggeration to say I was shocked at just how much Aboriginal and a myriad of Asian cultures have fused, particularly in food and this of course comes from Asian migrants who came over for mining, pearling, farming and intermarrying with local Aboriginals. Jacko, or Geoffrey Angeles, is in fact of Aboriginal and Fillipino heritage, and this was evident by his use of Asian seasonings and ingredients in his cooking.
A brilliant dish he showed me was numus, which Jacko tells me, has its origins in Malaysia – never in a million years would I have ever thought an Aboriginal man would be teaching me about the food of my ancestors – it was so exciting!
The Kimberley was also one of last year’s highlights, where I met JR and Cyril, a fourth generation Indigenous stockman. They swore to look after me if I would muster cattle with them. They wedged me and Mr T, my horse so safely between them that I really had nowhere to go and then when I felt braver, they let me round up the stray cattle at the back of the herd – my Australian experience was complete.
At the end of the year, Elton invited me to visit his community, the tableland Yidinji. Once again, I found myself feeling at home amongst complete strangers. I had an immediate affinity with all of Elton’s family, in particular, the aunties. I quickly discovered that nearly all the the elders I spent time with, come from partly Asian descent, which immediately made me feel bonded me to them. Aunty Jean in particular was clearly part Chinese. When I commented she reminded me a lot of my Grandma Mary Yeow, without missing a beat she quipped “Well, she must’ve been good lookin’!”
I had terrible time fishing. I had absolutely no knack for a hand line, at one point nearly taking my own eye out with a hook which I later snagged on a rock and broke, but it provided some comic relief for the relies.
At the end of the fishing trip, I interviewed one of the Elders, Uncle Eddie, who confessed to me he was so addicted to belachan, (a potent fermented shrimp paste that Malaysians love) that he even had it with salami which made me laugh so hard. He also mentioned ‘haam haa’, Cantonese for a Chinese style of shrimp paste. I have to say it hugely amused me to hear an Aboriginal elder speak cantonese!
I had such an amazing time, we laughed a lot and it was very sad to go. It made me ponder for a long while how you can find home in the most unexpected places.