The power of community and self-determination – A Garma reflection

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A personal perspective by Ingrid Cummings

As I flew over the NT and saw the pristine waters and lands, like I have never seen before, I instantly got excited. This was just the start of my Garma 2014 experience.

I have never traveled to such a remote location before, and was so honored to be invited by RA to not only attend, but to camp with some of the most inspirational, funny and amazing women I may have ever met. As a Noongar Woman from Perth, although we definitely have our special places of connections and spirituality, it was definitely an opportunity I have always wanted to experience, going to remote Australia. Not only this, but the place where the famous Bark Petitions were born. The first land rights claim in our history. A place of huge cultural and historical significance for the past and contemporary Australian society.

At our Glamping location (or glamorous camping) I experienced getting to know both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian women from across the nation, representing diverse backgrounds, careers and personalities, or as I now call them, my new aunts, nanas and sister girls.

What we experienced was more than we could imagine. Women’s healing circles, keynotes with some of Australia’s most prominent elders and people and the amazing Bungul performances everyday from Traditional Owners and Custodians from Yolgnu and surrounding nations, to name a few.

Personally I could not fit everything in. It was a great mixture of politics, culture and connection. I could not fault any element of the event. Apart from the fact there was way too much food (well more than enough, but if I see I eat).

Some of the highlights in particular for me, was my thong dance on the Bungul ground. A local man felt inspired to burst out on the ceremony ground (which was totally encouraged) and started dancing, thongs in hand, along with the other performers. As he looked to the crowd I was hoping I would be invited up, and I got my chance. So as I have learnt in my own country, I didn’t talk, I just watched and listened. I followed him from movement to movement, including my thongs. I earned instant legend status with some of the locals, which ‘broke the ice’ so to speak, and got me a chance talking with the local mob.

Being invited into Yirrakala was also amazing but quite reflective. From the croc infested waters that they lived on, which was one of the greatest teases of a life time (have you seen the water up there!) to the world renowned art gallery (state of the art I may add) it was a powerful reminder of the power of community and self-determination.

Coffees with Marcia Langton, chatting with Bill Shorten, hugs and kisses and words of inspiration from Nova Peris, fire side chats with Djarpirri, watching birthing ceremonies with the old women, dancing and grooving to Last Kinnection and Crazy J, listening to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, hanging out with the local kids…the list just goes on and on!

Leaving this utopian place, felt like leaving home. Why you may ask? Because the local mob, including the amazing Djarparri or Marri (grandmother) and the Yothu Yindi Foundation, made you feel a connection to the place, not just as a visitor, but part of their family that was far from tokenistic. It was real, as was the connection and experiences you experienced while being there.

One thing you learn at Garma is to take the time to reflect. I went home a new woman. I did not change who I was, or what I felt but came back with a renewed sense of purpose. That the work I and many others do in promoting reconciliation is a critical and important journey to continue, regardless of the barriers.

Thanks to the people involved creating, making and carrying out this event and amazing people I connected with at Garma, it is easy to see that there are more incentives and inspirations rather than barriers to reconciliation. I know there are many different views of what ‘reconciliation’ may mean, but in my mind, it is that constant reminder that spending time with each other, learning and connecting with each other, helps us to build a strong and unified nation, in which we are all understood, acknowledged and represented. We may have a long way to go, but Garma was just one of many inspirations to stay on course!

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