On Saturday fellow Pilot, Ian and I took two plane loads of local Yolngu people to participate in a “rally” in Baniyala (about 150 kms to the South East). Our principle role was providing transport and to help out or participate where we could with the rally. In hindsight, we could also add ‘and to drink as much coffee as one could without having to use the long drop over two days’.
The flight was uneventful (although I had to leave one passenger behind due to being overloaded).
In typical fashion here, arrangements for accommodation don’t usually occur until people arrive. So we had to pack to be totally self sufficient in case there was no where for us to stay. We were told that there was a particularly nice spot down near the beach and as neither of us hadn’t camped for ages, we decided we’d camp for the night.
So we set up camp near the beach under a big, shady Tamarind tree about 30 meters from the beach. Apparently the Maccassans
planted it there years ago in an attempt to aid navigation along the coast. Ian was happy enough to camp there until our friend told us that they keep the body only about 5 meters away from there when there is funeral happening. As there wasn’t any funeral happening at this time, we were content to pitch the tent there anyway.
Saturday was hot and we were joined after lunch by our passengers who, borrowing some grass mats from the Baniyala locals, also camped there for the afternoon. This involved sitting and chatting and (for most) having an afternoon nap in the shade of the tree. In the heat, there wasn’t much else one wanted to do. Ian and I did this also, and then tried fishing to pass time. This was largely a failure but I did manage to find some thongs which was helpful as I had forgotten to bring any other shoes with me other than my work boots. They served me well for the rest of my time in Baniyala, even though they were not a pair (see photo). Time for a coffee after fishing to forget our failure. We affectionately called the camping area the ‘camping store’, as it provided us with things we needed and had forgot: a bucket that we could have used for live bait but became our rubbish bin; a Willow water container that worked well as a tap; and the aforementioned thongs. Although we all know who it really was providing these things.
The rally was expected to start at night, although no time was set. Being ‘Balanda’ (white people), we naturally turned up early (not purposely – we thought that we’d actually be a little late), so we walked back to our camp site to watch a distant storm on the horizon and pray for the evening to come. I added a prayer at the end that we’d like some rain and respite from the hot sun.
The meeting started with about 10-13 kids performing actions to songs played over the speakers. It was great to see so many kids enthusiastically doing the actions and being involved in the local ‘church’. Singing for the rest of us involved lots of interactive songs which the Yolngu seemed to love, and had I been able to lose my inhibitions a bit more, I would have enjoyed them much more as well.
9:30pm rolled around and I started to fade since I was up at 5:30 that morning so I decided to hit the hay before the speaking started. The speakers were going to be some of the ladies that we flew down and one Balanda guy who is married to a Yolngu lady who lives at Gawa, at the top end of Elcho Island.
The meeting ended with more singing at around midnight and I slept reasonably well. There was going to be another meeting the next morning next to our camping spot because there was no shade where the meeting was held the night before. So we packed up our camp so there’d be room for everybody (there was about 65 people at the meeting the night before).
It was looking like my prayer from the evening before was about to be answered by a storm front coming from the East. So we busied ourselves shifting our stuff from under the tree to under some shelter nearby. The wind picked up so we covered all our stuff with a tarp we found nearby which kept our stuff well protected from the rain and 30-40kt winds, but somehow not the sand. As we ‘busied ourselves’ with our stuff, we forgot that the planes were at the airstrip parked the wrong way (planes should be parked with the nose into the wind) and not tied down. So when the weather finally let us go down and have a look at the planes, we found one facing the way we left it the day before but the other had weather-cocked almost 180 degrees and was now facing into wind! We were just glad that that was all it did, and that it had not collected the other plane, or flipped over.
So we then needed to call the Engineer on call (being a sunday) to sort out what needed to be done before the plane was flown out. Communication from homelands can be difficult. There is no mobile reception, so we have no calls and no internet from our phones. They have a community phone available (you have to find the right guy to let you in), but the service is most often restricted to a handful of numbers (MAF reservations being one of them, but being a Sunday, nobody was answering). We tried to recall the 1800 number for MAF reservations, but couldn’t. We had internet access by this time on the computer next to the community phone, so we could access weather, check out the BOM radar and try to look up the MAF 1800 number. Couldn’t find it on the internet either. Hmm.. hack into Kim’s Facebook account and post a message on her wall to call me on the phone here. It was only at that time that the guy who let us in said we could use the phone at his house. Knowing that would have been handy earlier.
Ian was eager to keep reminding me that the storm was my fault for praying for rain. I was eager to remind him that I only prayed for rain, not the accompanying cyclonic winds.
The Sunday morning meeting was held in the shelter of the school and we made arrangements to pack up and get going while the weather was still good just after lunch. We were told by our passengers that it was a very successful weekend. Yolgnu believers were encouraged and exhorted to move on from their individual Salvation to being participating believers in the corporate body of Christ (or the difference between the gospel of salvation and the gospel of the kingdom). Praise God that we are able to take part in His work here in Arnhem Land.
When all the passengers and bags were back at the planes, they realised that they were one passenger short and no one knew where she was. My solution to the problem: make another coffee while we wait for them to go and find the missing lady. This would cause the missing passenger to turn up quickly, at an inconvenient time. It kind of worked, she turned up just as the coffee finished brewing. Gulp, gulp, ahhh… Clear Prop!