She’s crying for her country

By Adam Gibson

After spending a modicum of time in “remote Western Australian Aboriginal communities”, I feel I learnt a small part of the importance for people to be in communities that are at, or close to, their ancestral homes. In their “country”, as the phrase goes.

One small example – in 2007 I was in the community hall of a tiny community on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert when the sound of the mail plane overhead was picked up by Peter, one of the old fellas (I couldn’t hear a thing, by the way).

Peter quietly asked me if I’d drive him out to the airstrip, as one of the old ladies from the community was being flown back in the plane, along with the mail, after months in hospital in Port Hedland.

“Sure,” I said, and off we went, jumping into the Landcruiser and driving two kilometres to the strip in completely non-awkward, pleasant silence.

We arrived there, got out of the Toyota, and waited on the scorching hot windswept desert plain, watching as the plane glinted silver in the sun as it began to descend.

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Whilst waiting, Peter asked where I came from. “The city,” I said, “Sydney.” He paused and thought awhile, then said, “A lot of houses in the city?”

“Heh, yes,” I said.

“Lot of shops?”

“Yes, a lot of shops too.” I then told him that, as we looked out across the plain, if he could imagine houses and shops as far as the eye could see, he’d get an idea of what my home was like.

He thought about that for a good two minutes before softly repeating, almost to himself, “As far as the eye can see hey?”

The plane then arced to the left and aimed down at the pressed red-earth runway. It was an eight-seater, and after hitting the dirt, in no time it was “taxiing” (more like driving, really) over to where we were.

The door swung open and out jumped a smiling crewman, who lowered a small set of steps. He gave us a “G’day” then said, “Righto Doris, let’s get you out.”

Peter jumped up and the pair of them half-lifted old lady Doris out of her seat, and down the steps. I looked at her face and saw her eyes were completely milky blue with cataracts and by her uncertain steps it was clear that she was as good as blind.

But when her feet touched the red dirt of that runway – touched her country again after months away – she felt the land and began to cry, great big tears rolling down her creased old face. I immediately thought she was upset or sad and said to Peter, “What’s wrong? Is she okay?”

“Yeah, she’s okay,” he chuckled, as we led her to the vehicle. “She’s just happy. She’s crying for her country. She knows she’s back home.”

As we drove back to the community, Doris sat in the back seat, tears still flowing down her cheeks but smiling and laughing to herself.

Her tears weren’t about a “lifestyle choice”. Her tears were happy tears for being home.

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