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Student blog: Friendships forged in the red dust of the Pilbara

Friendships forged in the red dust of the Pilbara - article

Author: Molly of Year 9

 17 Oct 2016 

I’d read about the West Australian town of Jigalong in Doris Pilkington Garimara’s book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. I’d even seen it on the big screen when the novel was made into a feature film to tell the story of the Stolen Generation. But never did I expect this remote rural community in northeast WA to be so different.

It was dark when our Service Learning group arrived at the Indigenous community located two hours from Perth, on the western fringe of the Gibson Desert. The lack of light masked the town’s simple, unique beauty. It had just one shop, a school, a red post box, a few single-storey tin houses, and a junkyard littered with battered old cars. Our tour of the town was over almost before it had started!

But the friendships and memories made with the children of the Martu tribe will last a lifetime.

For our service learning project, we worked as leaders for the Jigalong school holiday program; organising sporting games, craft activities and tie-dying t-shirts. We also assisted a volunteer organisation, Fair Game, with hygiene education – particularly the importance of washing hands. 

What surprised me most about the community was how welcoming they were, and how happy they were to have us there.

The Martu people have lived in the Australian outback for more than 60,000 years – they are considered to be oldest tribe in the world. Still today many have limited contact with the outside world.

The children spoke in their native Indigenous language, but that wasn’t a barrier. We were able to teach them sporting games, and they taught us games too, such as longball.

It was a privilege for us to spend time with the children of Jigalong. Many miles separate us; our lives are extraordinarily different but we laughed about the same things, enjoyed the same games and share a love for our country. We are all just kids – and that brought us together.

When Dorothea Mackellar described Australia as a sunburnt country, she must have been talking about the deserts of the Pilbara. The dust is red – so red, it gets into your clothes and an orange hue still remains wash after wash. The sky is clear blue, the land is so vast and the gorges so stunning they take your breath away.

From Jigalong, we drove for three and a half hours on red, dusty, straight road north to the Karjini National Park. Gorge after gorge, somehow, each one seemed to be more beautiful than the last. The towering cliff faces with sandy waves of colour from the layers of rock and turquoise waters creating a passage through their heart. Our time spent there was magnificent. We watched the sun rise and shared stories under the starlit sky. 

Ours was the first group from Wenona to go to the Pilbara pioneering the way – and we trust we won't be the last.