Parnngurr, or Cotton Creek (WA)

Parnngurr or Cotton Creek (WA)

– Less than a year ago, a white teacher from an Aboriginal school repaired my car. She left her phone number. Before the trip, I looked at the route and remembered it. I called and asked if we could visit her, Rocket rambled.

– Yes, I remember this conversation, I suggested to you that we could conduct a lesson about Poland for her children – I replied.

- She wasn't particularly thrilled, but she agreed - he continued.

White people were not allowed to enter the Parnngurr Aboriginal community for a long time. For several years, travelers lost in the Outback have been coming here in search of fuel. It is located near the Tallawana Desert Track, on the northern edge of the Little Sandy Desert. I was very excited as I approached the forbidden world. Rocket arranged the invitation through his own means. Cotton Creek was the first settlement from Wiluna on our Canning Stock Route desert trip. We drove for a week to get here. We covered about 850 kilometers in off-road vehicles in extremely difficult conditions. A few hundred meters before the settlement, we were greeted by barking dogs.

“Time doesn't move slower here, it's stopped,” I thought as I passed the gate. The first impression was depressing. The next one is not better. There was reluctance in the faces that did not crave contact. The hot air stood still. I sensed bad energy, sadness, suffering. The space was filled with a dozen or so buildings scattered chaotically, around which there were dozens of dogs that looked homeless, very emaciated or even sick. The older part of the commune's community did not seem thrilled with our arrival. Nobody is interested in us here, which is a classic. The building that looked like a school was empty and locked. Rocket went to talk but didn't find the teacher.

– Most of the kids went on a trip to Port Hedland, the nearest town, only six hundred and fifty kilometers away. There's nothing here for us, we're leaving, he said.

– We've been on the road for over a week. They should have a phone here. We need to call Perth and let them know that everything is OK here - I replied and together with Dingo I went to ask for a telephone number.

One of the Aborigines showed us a building that contained what we were looking for. It was noon - pure hell. The heat from the sky took away all of our will to live.

– We are here just passing through, without contact with our families for a long time. Can we call Perth? We only need a minute, I asked.

– Yes, please, no problem. "I'm Amanda," the blonde beauty replied hesitantly. I dialed the number and talked to Stenia, Rocket's wife. During this time, Dingo had a chat with Amanda, who revealed that in the afternoon she was going berry picking in the bush with disabled women.

– Is it possible for us to go there together? – I asked immediately.

– I don't know, probably not! – she replied.

The word "probably" left a glimmer of hope. I was bothering. Two hot hours passed. After consulting with the Elders, she agreed.

– I didn't even dream about it! – I said under my breath to myself.

Another two hours left until departure. I took my camera and went to the children's playground. There were swings, colorful slides, and a basketball court. However, it smelled of sadness, emptiness, nothingness. Three girls gathered, the oldest one had black hair lightened with coloring shampoo, she was probably twelve years old. She came with a bottle of Coke and a bag of chips. She didn't protest when I reached for the camera. She showed me tolerance that was suppressed by tribal orders. She didn't say a word, but I could tell she was enjoying posing. Two girls much younger than her were slurring nonsense under their breath. The dogs came. Rocket, meanwhile, was taming the Natives outside the store. It was a small, shabby barracks. There were over twenty dogs milling around the entrance. Two elderly Aborigines dressed in ridiculously long, worn-out polo shirts and... woolen hats were sitting in the scorching sun.

This time, the attempt to take out the camera was met with violent protest. The women didn't like our presence. The entire settlement was filled with misfortune, anxiety and reluctance. At two o'clock in the afternoon, Amanda loaded the willing participants into a Toyota off-road vehicle and sped away, with us following her. We were greeted by a pack of hungry dogs and no distracting glances. The sun was blazing hot, but I was enjoying the moment. Here, the ancient and only rightful owners of these lands were driving to their own bush in a car from the government that had deprived them of their eternal rights. Amanda stopped the car at the edge of a large clearing. Older ladies with obvious mobility problems got out of the car. She also took some boys. Immediately after leaving the car, they set fire to the pepper-dry savanna grass spinifex. In a few places. It was a prelude to hunting, an ancient custom of driving away game with a wave of fire. They had no practice, so they didn't catch anything, but they had a lot of fun. Aborigines collected Ginger Willy fruits in plastic nets, which we had previously avoided. The honey-bitter taste delighted the palate. They resembled dried gooseberries. Amanda pointed to another fruit – desert tomatoes. Indeed, their shape was similar to small, green tomatoes.

– You have to cut them in half and pick out all the seeds, which are deadly poisonous. The rest is healthy and tasty, she added coldly.

The tomatoes tasted a bit like an unripe apple, a bit like a bland melon. Other delicacies include witchetty grubs, fat worms dug from under the roots of acacia trees, and iguanas that were not hunted that day. Here is a taste of the ancient civilization of Native Peoples.

Harvesting and hunting lasted almost until sunset. We were heading straight back west, the sun was shining in our eyes. There was practically nothing visible, and the dust from under the wheels of Amanda's car obscured the world. By some coincidence, this settlement, isolated in the endless bush, became "Polish". In July 2014, following the Canning Stock Route, Valdi arrived here again. He was stopped by (another) car breakdown. He left the car in the wilderness near Durba Springs. He stuck a note in the window saying he was coming back and gave his cell phone number. Once in Perth, he received several calls from people driving along the desert trail that the car was still parked. When he returned to collect them after a few weeks, he lost his way and reached the settlement by accident. And he probably didn't regret it, because he was here for two days. He had time to build relationships with the First Nations and white administrators of Parrngurr. He wanted to instill another utopia in them - i.e. youth exchange with Poland. And to my surprise - not only mine - there was some unspecified interest in this project at the level of the Settlement Council. A few weeks later, Valdi got a call inviting him to work at the settlement. Thanks to him, "students" also came here: Piotrek and Eryk. The former participated in one of my expeditions in 2009 and a few years later he returned to Australia with the so-called the intention of education. Eryk, a motorcyclist, came to Australia by riding a motorcycle across Asia. They were both looking for a job and, thanks to Valdi, they found it here. They painted houses, repaired whatever they knew, and in his free time, Piotrek played bass in an Aboriginal band. According to Erik, whom I talked to in September 2015, the leader liked the Poles and sold them boomerangs made by the community for half-free. Polish words are recognizable in the settlement. For Aborigines, it is a language only slightly less exotic than English.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

Also check