Firstly, I am pretty thrilled that around 600 people, people from every continent except Antarctica, have read my little poem. Amazing! It must have resonated with some of y’all, which is totally thrilling. Thank you for being such dears and passing it around. Secondly, it took 3 years to write so please don’t expect another of those any time soon. But it has given me the confidence to continue deviating from ‘dates’ and writing honestly about the ‘desert.’ Thanks for sticking with me. If you’re new, I work on an arts project in a small, predominantly Aboriginal community where the desert meets the sea, here is more context. Well, here goes…
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that what I’m doing here is doing anyone or myself any good. Counting the definite, measurable changes that directly result from my work is like clutching at straws. Doubting that in any small way this work improves the situation for those who are living with all the failures of the education, justice and health systems that are meant to help make their lives OK. When people fall through that many nets, you sometimes work with people on their way to the hospital or the prison. As my brother so aptly put it years ago when I started working in town camps in Alice, ‘So they don’t have proper houses and you’re teaching them to dance?’
Then there are tiny break throughs, small miracles in fleeting, hope-giving moments that no one else notices. There are strong and good people working in the desert, who have dedicated their lives to getting on with it while others argue and question. They command equal attention from a meeting room full of bureaucrats or a bus full of teenage boys. They know what to do and are doing it quietly, slowly. There’s more good here than what you read in the papers.
I have learnt:
That idealism and white guilt are useless. That integrity and gentleness aren’t.
Never fix or help. Never take myself or anything I do too seriously. Never think I know exactly why things are the way they are, exactly what’s going on, or any answers.
To just do what I’m good at and if that happens to benefit someone else then bingo, everybody wins. To skin and butcher a kangaroo tail, but not to eat it if I don’t want to. To know my place. To listen to people. To sit there, shut up and just listen. To binge on humble pie. To never expect thanks. To make the most of small miracles.
After three weeks in Alice Springs I rocked up as a dance instructor to a room full of kids in wheelchairs and thought ‘Nothing in my life has prepared me for this moment.’ I was petrified, but then I just… kind of improvised. I guess that kind of innovation still needs to happen here in Schmoebs, but cranking Michael Jackson on the boombox isn’t always the solution these days.
I moved here to make excellent art through an excellent community process. That’s what interests me. Art and stories.
I still haven’t figured out really how I can best be part of that process, still learning to trust in the change that happens indirectly. Still figuring out when I need to sit back and learn and when I should stand up and contribute or challenge. If coal face grass roots is even the right way for me.
Sometimes I count my blessings. Privileged and honoured. Realising that what I have is actually a rare opportunity. I learn, laugh, feel pride and hope and joy.
I work with funny, intelligent, caring, talented young people who might be on the path to prison, but are also on the path to Parliament House. In fact, they’re in there, shaking the hand of the Prime Minister, telling her about the art you’ve created together.
I’ve lived and worked with people with the biggest hearts, brains of endless capacity, boundless energy and hard earned insight. I think I’m learning from the best in the biz, this bizarre business of making good art with forgotten communities to tell the stories that need to be told.
That’s why I’m in the desert.