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Cultural Tours 2008 - June |  October



June in Mapuru – Kristina’s reflections
It has taken me some time to fully understand the influence that my time at Mapuru has had on my life. The experiences and impressions of that place continue to influence the way I live and reflect upon my daily life in Melbourne.

My hope for my visit to Mapuru was that it wouldn’t be an ordinary cultural tourism venture. Many cultural tours seem not only disrespectful, but destructive, of the cultures they expose. Such ‘ordinary’ tours are shallow and their effect is to make the visitors and the hosts feel disconnected from one another. Through this, these tours remain in the category of ‘tourism’. I didn’t want Mapuru to be like that. And it wasn’t.

The women and their families made me and the other Balanda women feel something more than what Balanda culture would call ‘welcome’: they invited us to live with them as they lived their daily lives and, through this, allowed us to feel a special connection with them.

Weaving and gurrul’yun

The connectedness of people with one another and people with place weaves itself into almost every aspect of daily life at Mapuru. This has been brought into greater relief since I returned to Melbourne. I realise now that, in some ways, I feel disconnected from the people in my neighborhood. This is because I rarely have the opportunity to interact with them when I go about my daily business.
Mapuru introduced me to a powerful word: “gurrul’yun”. Gurrul’yun means to drop in on people in your community and share time together- perhaps over a cup of tea, sharing stories and catching up on the news. At Mapuru, we did this every day, sitting in the shade of the work hut, from the time when the sun rose and the crows began to flap and cry around our camp watching us with piercing eyes to dusk, when we would, regretfully, pack up our weaving at the end of a full day.

Opportunities for sharing extended into trips onto Country. One hot afternoon, weary from collecting pandanus leaves and dyes that would replace the supplies that we had used, the women showed us a special creation place amongst the mangroves.

I still wonder whether Balanda experience gurrul’yun in the full Yolngu sense of the word. Even for those of us who do manage to spend time with friends and family, it seems to structured and controlled in comparison, and without the same depth, as that experienced in Yolngu life. Not that Balanda aren’t conscious of this: Balanda Councils and governments spend a lot of energy talking about wanting to add something akin to gurrul’yun to the lives of their communities: words like ‘liveability’ and ‘social inclusion’ litter policies around the country.

My impression was that the families at Mapuru appear to live meaningful lives because they live them to their fullest through activities inherent in practices like gurrul’yun.

The simple act of sitting together, sometimes in laughter, other times in silence, gave us threads of interaction that brought us all, Yolngu and Balanda, together at that place. It was this way of being together, communing while doing the simplest tasks, that was powerful and which I miss like nothing else.

While sitting under the broad canopy of the work hut on our last day, Marathuwarr graciously and eloquently said, “Just your coming here and travelling so far to be here, just sitting with us and being with us has important significance for us. By travelling to Mapuru you have respected us. We welcome you here with love.”


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