YANIMA February 2022
It was November 2017, and I was in the Anangu-Pitjantjatjara-Yankuntjatjarra Lands (APY Lands). In many places the roads were covered in water and some roads were cut, even to four-wheel drive vehicles.
I was out, west of Kalka, in a four-wheel drive full of people. Our driver was the then Uniting Church, Education Support Worker for Anangu, a bloke named Wayne. Our guide was Yanima, Darrien Bryant. Yanima’s partner, Renae Fox, and her family were with us on this day, too.
Yanima is a Pitjantjatjara man. His mother’s grandfather’s country is around the South Australia and Western Australia border, near Irrunytju (Wingellina). As we drove through that deeply spiritual place, Yanima pointed out various landforms and told us stories about waterholes and ancient people. We stopped at one place and Renae gathered some berries and brought them to me. “These are good.” she said, “Here, try them.” Indeed, they were good. “Palya.” I said, “Wiru.” (‘Good. Beautiful’)
A bit further on the car slowed and old man Albert Fox, signalled to pull over. He had seen a Tinka, a large sand-monitor lizard, like a goanna. Old Tjilpi climbed out of the car and together with his wife Yangi Yangi they split up and then circled around and tracked the lizard into a burrow in the desert sand. I made some silly comment to one of the other daughters, about it might be easier to drive to town and go to KFC. She laughed, rolled her eyes and nodded her head in agreement. About 40 minutes later Mr and Mrs Fox emerged, old Tjilpi holding up the now dead Tinka. It would be their dinner for the night; and no doubt everyone would get a share. A delicacy.
As we drove on again, I marvelled at the resilience and resourcefulness of the people, who were so in tune with the land and all of God’s good provisions. I gazed out the window at the passing country.
“This is good country.” I said to Yanima. He smiled his wide smile that lit up his face and the whole situation. “Uwa. This is good country,” he replied. “We got everything here!”
There was something in the way he said ‘everything’ that caught my attention. He was telling me something very important. The land provided, plants to eat and animals for food. There were water holes in the hills for those who knew where to look; and stories, old stories, good stories, (tjukurpa palya), that spoke about a sense of belonging and connection.
Yanima grinned again, “Uwa Palya. We got everything here. Not like Darwin; there’s nothing in Darwin. But here, we got everything!” Wow. That’s what you call perspective. I happen to think that there is quite a lot to be thankful for in my home-town, Darwin, but Yanima was telling me something profound and important. This place we were in had sustained his people for thousands of years, with all their physical needs and all their spiritual needs; and it was still sustaining and nurturing the people. They saw God’s good hand reaching out to them and providing all they need, now and into the future.
Over the years since that day, I have met with Yanima on the Lands, in Alice Springs and in Darwin. He has continued his theological study and been approved to be commissioned as a Pastor. We have become friends. Between us there is a delightful understanding about the country of Yanima’s ancestors that provides everything. We retell the story of that day together and when one of us says, “We got everything here.” we smile at each other and our eyes sparkle. It is good to be reminded that our Creator God has been in the land and with the people for many thousands of years before the Piranpa (white people) came, providing everything needed for life to flourish.
In October 2021, I found myself again in a Toyota 4×4 driving through that wonderful country. Yanima wanted to show me and my travelling companion Mark Kickett the sunset from his mother’s grandfather’s country. Mark is the National Chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and we were visiting to listen to the people about their challenges and their hopes for the future. Standing on top of a hill and looking westward as the sun set behind a mountain range, Mark said, “This is good country, Yanima.” to which Yanima replied, “Uwa. Palya. We got everything here.” We laughed together and we all knew that it was true. The extraordinary beauty of that sunset and the serene peace and deep joy on Yanima’s face, is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
There are many challenges for the people in the western parts of the APY Lands. Health challenges, economic challenges and the challenges of the ever-encroaching Piranpa with his lust for land and minerals. Nevertheless, on that balmy evening with a cool breeze coming across the valley and blowing through the desert grasses and our hair, time stood still; and I saw before me, a humble and faithful man right where God wanted him to be. A man called to lead and care for his people.
It’s good to name and recognise these moments in our lives.
It’s good to thank God for the people in our lives.
It’s good to remember the stories from the past.
Yanima is one of our people. This is one of our stories.
Thanks be to God.
– Rev Tony Goodluck (Nangarridj) – written on Larrakia land