Cheryl Thompson and The Desert Dreaming Centre



Cheryl Thompson is a First Nations Woman who left Barcaldine for University to obtain a degree in teaching after matriculating locally in 1988. She returned to her home town 25 years later where she has proved herself a true change-maker.


Thompson is the owner of the popular Ridgee Didge Cafe situated on the main road through town which employs indigenous students from remote towns who have come to Barcaldine for their schooling. Known as “Desert Murris” the School of the Air is not an option for their education because of lack of internet and other facilities. Cheryl not only runs the Hostel (without any Government funding) which accommodates these students but also offers them weekend shifts at the Cafe in order to teach the youngsters about responsibilities, work ethic, and managing their own finances. 


The students from the hostel are also involved in traditional Aboriginal activities and learn about the local Iningai history of the area through Thompson’s recently opened Desert Dreaming Centre, where they follow a curriculum that combines school work with learning about culture, art and tourism. A dedicated work room is strewn with artists’ materials where the students work on projects which are then sold at the Desert Dreaming Centre’s Art Gallery. Importantly, these students currently have a 100 per cent school attendance rate.


The Desert Dreaming Centre is also a tourist destination from which Thompson offers a variety of authentic aboriginal cultural experiences with the aim of “sharing the Dreaming”. Activities include Ocre Workshops, Boomerang Workshops, and creating artworks and message sticks. Sitting around a corroboree ring stories, song, and dances are shared, often involving the students, who are also being trained in other arms of Cheryl’s business activities such as the Barcy Base Camp (hospitality) and Trackers Tour Company. The latter includes the concept of Dreamtime Guides who are trained by Cheryl to present culturally appropriate and culturally safe information.


Cheryl is currently establishing a Bush Tucker Food Garden that will provide native Australian ingredients to be used during cooking demonstration classes with indigenous flavours added to dishes for their on-site restaurant.


Cheryl Thompson is a vibrant young woman who strives with passion and enthusiasm to  “close the gap” and “share the Dreaming”. She is most definitely another trailblazer.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.
#AtoZChallenge

Dry To Dry : The Seasons Of Kakadu – Book Review

Frank Sinatra popularised a song in the late 60’s that contained the lyrics “Regrets, I’ve had a few But then again, too few to mention”. My Way – can you hear it playing in your head now? – has recently been knocked off the top of the charts as the most popular song to have played at a funeral. As at last October the perennial favourite dropped to number two in the annual rankings, being replaced by Gerry & The Pacemakers’ You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Anyway, I totally get the sentiment. Even with Covid my life has been blessed. My only personal regret is not having made it to the Northern Territory to visit my daughter due to border closures, especially following the arrival of the country’s finest project, young Harry Kilom.

Kakadu National Park is in the Northern Territory, roughly 180 south east of Darwin, the capital city. It covers an area of 19,804 km2 making it the second largest national park in Australia. It is the size of Wales and nearly half the size of Switzerland to give you some perspective.

Our First Nations people have occupied the Kakadu area continuously for at least 40,000 years. Kakadu National Park is renowned for the richness of its Aboriginal cultural sites as well as the diversity of the fauna and flora. Its cultural and natural values were recognised internationally when the park was World Heritage Listed.

Dry To Dry : The Seasons Of Kakadu won an award in the 2021 Children’s Book Council Of Australia for “books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style.

Written by Pamela Freeman this book explores the changing seasons of Kakadu – the Dry and the Wet, then back to Dry – and how this impacts on the animals and plants that live in the region. Liz Anelli’s illustrations are simple though easily recognisable even by younger readers.

Each page includes a simple storyline about the environment in its various stages and in a different font at the bottom of each page is a paragraph of factual information, though still in language for younger readers to understand.

Interestingly, although we label the seasons of Kakadu the Dry and the Wet our Indigenous people believe that there are indeed six seasons. This is important because following the seasons is vital for their food supply.

One of the greatest dangers to the natural environment of Kakadu is the Cane Toad, imported in the early 1900’s to combat beetles hurting our sugar cane industry and which are poisonous to our native birdlife and marsupials. A note at the end of the book gives thanks to “the native water rats who have figured out how to safely eat cane toads”.

This is one beautiful children’s book and if you are unable to visit the NT it isn’t a bad substitute. Young Harry Kilom just loves the baru – crocodiles.

( For Gum Trees And Galaxies Gaia/ Nature Reading Challenge ).

World Wombat Day

Today is World Wombat Day and a little way back I shared some popular Australian children’s books based on these special marsupials. Go here : https://brizzymaysbooksandbruschettasite.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/wombats/

Firstly, five fascinating Wombat facts : 

  1. Wombats are stocky and close to the ground. That does not stop them from running at speeds up to 40 kilometres per hour which is just under retired sprinter Usain Bolt’s fastest recorded speed.
  2. A group of wombats is called a ‘wisdom of wombats’ a ‘mob of wombats’ or a ‘colony of wombats’. 
  3. The name wombat comes from the Darug language, spoken by the Traditional Owners of Sydney.
  4. The southern hairy-nosed wombat is the state fauna emblem of South Australia. And my favourite :
  5. Wombat poop is different to any other animal’s, because wombats are famous for doing cube shaped poop– pumping out around 100 of these a day. It’s all to do with their slow digestive system.

In recent months I’ve shared my developing interest in Aboriginal Astronomy and related artwork. Our indigenous could tell the weather for food finding purposes by watching the night skies. For example, moon haloes, or rings around the moon, are used by Aboriginal people as a weather predictor since ice crystals indicate high moisture levels in the atmosphere.

Many of the Dreamtime legends are depicted in the stars.

Here’s Ngarga warendj, the dancing wombat by artist, Mick Harding.

Warriin the Wombat is a solitary fella. He is a vegetarian who spends most of the day in his burrow and feeds at night. In our Taungwarrung creation stories, Warriin and Marram the Kangaroo were good mates. One day they had a fight because Warriin would not let Marram into his burrow. Marram cut off Warriin’s tail with his axe. Warriin was so mad he threw a spear at Marram and this became stuck in his back end and is now his tail”.

                 – Mick Harding  of the Yowong-Illam-Baluk clan.

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss – Book Review

This is the first novel that has broken through my brain fog, courtesy of Covid, for quite some time

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.”

Set in 1852, the Marrambidya – what we know as the Murrumbidgee – floods through the newly established township of Gundagai, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The local indigenous had warned the colonists though this went unheeded. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away.

Wagadhaany is a 13 year old Aboriginal lass and considered to be one of the lucky ones because she survives the flood and lives in a settler’s home as a domestic. When she is forced to move away from her “mob” her spirit is crushed despite forging a friendship of sorts with the new mistress of the house. Her heart slowly heals when she meets a Wiradyuri stockman and she dreams of escaping from servitude and returning to the river of her ancestors, though there is danger in escaping from the white man.

Beautifully written with a nod to indigenous language, the images of rural NSW with its flocks of noisy cockatoo and the swirling currents of the river and dry plains are almost lyrical. The ugly events of our past are covered, such as the massacres, payment to workers by way of rations, abuse and mistreatment of the women, and early days of mission life. It’s not pretty.

Wagadhaany’s partner takes their twin sons camping on their first “walkabout”
to learn many of the Indigenous ways and I felt as a reader that I too was being educated in bush craft. I will never again move a log with my hands until testing first with my feet ( in case of snakes)! I particularly enjoyed the lessons gained from looking at the night sky given my recent reading about Aboriginal Astronomy.

In Gundagai today there is a sculpture of Yarri (Wagadhaany’s father in the novel) and Jackey Jackey commemorating how many of the colonists were saved during the flood in those early days.

Though not an in-your-face, aggressive look-what-you-done look back at historical events which is so very prevalent in other recent publications, this story is no less forgiving. It in no way detracts from the appalling treatment that our Aboriginals suffered but rather confirms that you can ” catch more flys with honey than with vinegar”.

Great read!

About the Author

Anita Heiss (born 1968) is an Aboriginal Australian author, poet, cultural activist and social commentator. She is an advocate for Indigenous Australian literature and literacy, through her writing for adults and children and her membership of boards and committees.

First Nation’s Storytellers


It is only over recent months that I became aware of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy after having listened to Astrophysicist and Science Communicator, Kirsten Banks, on of all things, a home renovation show.

Of Wiradjuri descent Kirsten has a particular interest in how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have used the stars for over 65,000 years for navigation purposes, predicting weather seasons, and for determining when the best time is to hunt for certain foods such as emu eggs. “ Aboriginal Astronomy can teach us about the link between the sky and the land”, she said.

My interest was further piqued on my recent outback Queensland travels and in particular Winton. Winton’s small population, low humidity, and low light pollution make it the ideal location to stargaze and the area around the Australian Age of Dinosaurs is now one of only ten internationally recognised areas certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary.


Since then I have been receiving social media alerts regarding Aboriginal artwork related to the skies. ( see Aboriginal Skies)

With a daughter in Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory – which I grew up calling Gove – an area in East Arnham land populated for some 40,000 years by the Yolgnu people, we all have a new appreciation for the story tellers from our First Nation. Contemporary Australian Indigenous art often references astronomical subjects and their related lore such as the Seven Sisters.

Here are examples of some of the art works:

This fabulous artwork was submitted by Annette Joy. Annette is a Gourmanjanyuk/Wergaia artist and the painting represents Yerrerdetkurrk, which is the star Achernar. Yerrerdetkurrk is the ‘Nalwinkurrk’, or mother of Totyarguil’s wives. The ‘Nalwinkurrk’ never allows’ her son-in law to see her. Achernar is a bright, binary star system located in the constellation Eridanus, and is the ninth-brightest star in the night sky.

“Hydra the Water Serpent” from the ‘Shared Sky Exhibition’. This exhibition highlighted the connections between Aboriginal & contemporary astronomy. This artwork is acrylic on linen (70cm x 52cm) and the artist is Nerolie Blurton. “The Water Serpent, stretched across the sky with its many heads, was a monster until it was cut and killed. The red blood drips down from the clot. The browns and orange show that the Hydra can be seen best in autumn.”

If Aboriginal Astronomy intrigues you I recommend reading the story of The Emu In The Sky by Ray and Cilla Norris. Fascinating and guaranteed to give you a brand new perspective.

Dark Sky and Dinosaur Country at Winton overlooking Banjo’s “plains extended” and “vision splendid”.

Isn’t it bizarre how watching something on TV simply to learn how to stop bugs eating young eggplants can take you on such a convoluted journey ? * shaking head and muttering.

Barcaldine, Western Queensland

Barcaldine is a sheep and cattle town 520 kms by road west of Rockhampton, and over 1000 kms from Brisbane, on route to the popular tourist destinations of Longreach and Winton. 

Affectionately known as Barcy, most travellers on the road through town stop to peruse the Tree of Knowledge. The current tree is a copy, the original having been vandalised in 2006, and represents the trials and tribulations of the Great Shearers Strike, one of Australia’s earliest disputes between union and non-union labour, and an event that is today acknowledged as having led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It is a glorious sight by night and the original rootball remains under glass – even Liberal voters are impressed.

A recent addition to Barcaldine is the Desert Dreaming Centre.

Local First Nation woman, Cheryl Thompson, is a big believer in “closing the gap” and “sharing the Dreaming” and runs a hostel in town, with no Government funding, for children from indigenous communities who want to complete their secondary schooling. Remote areas do not have internet or other facilities so the School of Air is not an option. These students learn about work ethic and managing finances through weekend shifts at the Ridgee Didge Cafe, and are also involved in traditional Aboriginal activities and learn about the local Iningai history of the area through Thompson’s Desert Dreaming Centre, where they follow a curriculum that combines school work with learning about culture, art and tourism. 

There is a dedicated work room which is strewn with artists’ materials where the students work on projects which are then sold at the Desert Dreaming Centre’s Gallery.

The Desert Dreaming Centre is also a tourist destination from which Thompson offers a variety of authentic aboriginal cultural experiences. Activities include :

Ocre Workshops, 

Boomerang Workshops

Creating artworks and message sticks. 

Sitting around a corroboree ring stories, song, and dances are shared, often involving the students, who are also being trained in other arms of Cheryl’s business activities such as the Barcy Base Camp (hospitality) and Trackers Tour Company( tourism). The latter includes the concept of Dreamtime Guides who are trained by Thompson to present culturally appropriate and culturally safe information.

We enjoyed the Desert Dreaming Dance and Dinner Experience around burning log fires whilst being entertained by the young dancers who explained the cultural significance of each performance.

Cheryl’s partner, Paul Stumkat, is a renown palaeontologist with a passion to further open up the Queensland Outback’s Dinosaur Trail. Together they present a blend of palaeontology and living cultures in order that tourists gain a better understanding of both the past and present life of outback Australia.

Paul has developed workshops that he uses to this result which I found both fun and educational. Here’s my caste of a fossil footprint of a small dinosaur, and I’ve also gained some experience in identifying the tracks of both kangaroos and emus. For the Little People there is even a sandpit where they can unearth a dinosaur skeleton. I warned you : mega fauna freaks are everywhere in the outback!


Yeah, so artwork is not my forte……..

NOTE: The students currently participating in Thompson’s dream have a 100 per cent school attendance rate. Now that’s called ” closing the gap”!

LIFE LESSON :

A reminder to never dismiss a country town. You would be surprised by what lies lurking…..

Aboriginal Literacy

September 1st is National Indigenous Literacy Day, a day designed to bring awareness to the general community about the rate of literacy amongst our Indigenous communities.

“Only 36% of Indigenous Year 5 students in very remote areas are at or above national minimum reading standards, compared to 96% for non-Indigenous students in major cities.” –  2019 NAPLAN.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s approach to raising literacy levels starts at a community level with the supply of books. They have worked with many remote communities and published books reflecting up to 26 Indigenous languages from all across Australia.

These new and culturally appropriate books are gifted to schools and organisations operating in remote communities with an aim to develop familiarity and engagement with books for children under five through a daily dedicated Story Time session, so children can start school with some basic pre-literacy skills. 

The current COVID climate makes it difficult to raise funds for any charity especially after Australia’s recent frolic with bushfires, floods and drought. I can only ask, what’s next? Oh, yeah, a mouse plague.

What I have discovered is a range of picture books for the very young at my local Australia Post ( Post Office) published by Little Book Press. One of their projects is the Emerging Indigenous Picture Book Mentoring Project.

These books cost $4, have wonderful illustrations, and are written in both English and the local Aboriginal language. At the back there is also a QR code where you can listen to the author read the story in the Aboriginal dialect.

$4.

Just delightful for all kiddies, whether they be black, white, green or purple. Added bonus : light to put in the mail.


AFTERTHOUGHT :

My daughter who has been living in East Arnham land for over twelve months now – the one who gifts her hair to the local First Nation elders after a hair trim so that they can make new paint brushes – sent me a text over Easter. It said “ Mo, they caught a baru off the beach”.

Baru is a crocodile. By sharing communication, by acknowledging language, I hope that we can move towards closing the divide between our peoples.

AND ANOTHER AFTERTHOUGHT :

Watched the 2007 film Rogue on the weekend. Filmed in the Northern Territory by the same Director as Wolf Creek, the movie opens with some truly stunning images of the Territory. Absolutely gorgeous. Doesn’t last long unfortunately because it quickly becomes the crocodilian version of JAWS. OMG. Had to walk away but you’ll be pleased to hear it has a happy ending. But I‘m never, ever going on a Kakadu boat cruise.

Two Things : Magabala Books and the Little Library.

It was recently announced that Magabala Books won the Australian Book Industry Small Publisher of the Year Award.

Based in Broome, Western Australia, Magabala publish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors, artists and illustrators from all over Australia. An independent, not-for-profit Indigenous Corporation, Magabala is governed by a dedicated Board of Kimberley Aboriginal cultural leaders, educators, business professionals and creative practitioners.

Magabala publishes up to 15 new titles annually across a range of genres: children’s picture books, memoir, fiction (junior, YA and adult), non-fiction, graphic novels, social history and poetry.

What I found interesting was that Magabala also delivers a range of social and cultural initiatives, including providing books to parents in correctional centres so that they can record the stories for their children whilst in isolation. What a wonderful concept!


Restrictions were eased last weekend allowing parks and playground equipment to reopen. This called for a dose of disinfectant to the Little Community Library located in our local parkland which has been much utilised over the past months with our Council Libraries closed and only re-opening last week (for ten people at a time).

Many thanks to the Rotary Club of Capalaba who came to the rescue with much needed children’s books to restock our Library in the park. Little People aren’t fond of ebooks or kindles……as it should be…..

A Mother’s Day Story….

My mother had long blonde hair the colour of corn. My strongest memory is of her nightly ritual of curling her hair into little pinwheels which she would tightly fasten to her scalp with a collection of bobby pins. When this task was completed she would dampen the pinwheels and then cover her hair with a scarf ready for bed. In the morning, after she had removed the pins, her long hair would be wavy and beautiful – reminiscent of Rita Hayworth’s hair in Gilda.

I’ve generally worn my hair long over the years. Mousy in colour, or Rat Blonde by those more charitable, it is dead straight and totally devoid of any waves, bounce, curls or anything else to make it of any interest.  And I’m certainly not fussed or vain enough to try curling rods or the like.

Both my daughters have inherited my hair, though one is blonde as in creamy coloured, and the other is dark. Very dark. So dark that she believes her true ancestry to be Persian. (She’s also inherited her mother’s imagination.)

Over a lengthy phone chat with my eldest for Mother’s Day, my pearl-and-stiletto loving child who moved to rural and remote East Arnham Land earlier in the year, advised that her hair is the topic of much discussion within the community. Long straight hair makes for great paintbrushes for our First Australian artists apparently. She has been asked to donate to the cause.

This weeks task is to research Indigenous artwork. I’m wondering if there is a market niche that the three of us could satisfy.

Interestingly, my sister scored the naturally thick wavy hair with matching eyelashes. That’s how most sibling rivalry starts.


Rabbit Proof Fence

Indigenous Author Doris Pilkington was born Nugi Garimara under a Wintamarra tree in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. At four years of age Doris, her mother Molly, and her baby sister were taken against their will to the Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia. This is where many children of mixed race families were interred in the early 20th Century to be trained as domestic staff and which we now know as the Stolen Generation.

It wasn’t long before Molly escaped the Settlement with her baby, though Doris remained incarcerated until she was twelve years of age at which time she  was transferred to a nearby mission. Conditions at the mission were worse though she was given the opportunity to train as a nursing assistant in Perth. 

It took 21 years before Doris was reunited with her mother and some time after her Aunt Daisy shared the story of how her mother Molly had previously been a captive of the Settlement as a child and had escaped with her half sister, Daisy, and cousin Grace. These three little aboriginal girls trekked over 1600 klms following the rabit proof fence, a massive pest-exclusion fence which crossed WA from north to south, in order to return home.

Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence, released in 1996, is the true story of Doris’ mother and her Aunties. Three little girls pulled from their families, desperate to return to the only world they knew, walking across rugged outback terrain, often eating off the land and chased down by black trackers. The book includes copies of Government documentation and newspaper clippings from the 1930’s which confirm the story of these three brave children. It’s a confronting, shameful story and one which should be shared.

The film, Rabbit Proof Fence, directed by Hollywood-based Australian, Philip Noyce, was released in 2002 and is based on the book. Both the book and movie are worth while visiting – just ensure there is a box of Kleenex handy.

Interestingly, after having raised her family, Pilkington completed secondary education, going on to complete a Degree in Journalism. She was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for her services to the arts in the area of Indigenous literature, particularly through the genre of life-storytelling to raise awareness of Indigenous history, culture and social conditions.

TRIVIA:

Rabbits were an introduced species and were both devastating and destructive. The Australian Government decided to build a barrier fence from a point on the south coast through to a location on the north coast which became known as the No.1 Rabbit-Proof Fence. Completed in 1907, the Rabbit-Proof Fence was the longest unbroken line of fence in the world. Today, long sections of the original fence are still maintained as a barrier against wild animals, particularly the Emu.

Screenwriter Christine Olsen felt that the fence was very symbolic in that “the fence is always such an amazing symbol for the Europeans’ attempt to tame the land: to draw a line in it to keep out rabbits, the pests they had introduced. It is such a magnificent symbol for a lot of what’s happened to Australia.”

Rachael Maza , drama coach, said the three central young Aboriginal (untrained) actresses had an innate understanding of the story. “That’s one thing I don’t have to teach them. I don’t think there’s an Aboriginal in this country who doesn’t understand this story, if not them personally, their parents or their very immediate family. It’s something we all share.”