In 2003, when I was teaching at Oakhill College in Castle Hill, Sydney, two teachers, twenty-five boys and I ventured out in a Snowy Mountains coach to Balgo Hills (aka Wirrimanu) in WA (7 hrs north-west of Alice Springs), where De la Salle Brothers operated a primary school.
We were there for only 3 or 4 days. It was an illuminating, enthralling time. The indigenous people in Balgo Hills were having to contend with many things: youth suicide, alcoholism, petrol sniffing, domestic violence, dropping school attendance rates etc. While we were there a man was cut up badly by another man and flown to hospital, the school was broken into, a man set his wife's car on fire so she couldn't never drive away from him and a spinifex plain was lit up during the night. Teenage kids would drift around after dark sniffing petrol from modified 1.25 litre soft drink bottles.
On the flip side of all this, many indigenous people were coping. Older women were the backbone of the community, setting rules in place, pushing their wayward and desperate menfolk to get it together. Balgo had a thriving art scene: vibrant, startling works, often incorporating oranges and pinks, made big money internationally; I met Helicopter, a relatively famous painter, when he and others were out gathering bush onions.
Two poems now published with WA's online poetry blog Uneven Floor stem from that trip in 2003 and feature towns nearby to Balgo. The first, Yaka Yaka, is almost entirely drawn from reality. Lake Gregory (what a stunning spot - there were brolgas, yellow chats and pratincoles!) is fictitious, yet believable.
Many thanks to Jackson, Uneven Floor's editor.
LJ, July 9 2014.