If you wander approximately 2,932 km to the northernmost tip of Arnhem Land, you will discover the most delightful indigenous community in Australia.
Located on the farthest point of Elcho Island, Gäwa is an isolated Aboriginal community of around 60-100 men, women and children, with two (currently domestic) joey kangaroos, and plenty of friendly neighbourhood wildlife. From Monday 11th June until Friday the 15th, the community embraced 10 Illawarra Christian School adventurers, sharing rich knowledge and deep understanding of their land and culture.
The ICS mob experienced the similarities and differences between the two cultures, and were even given the opportunity to share our passion for the gospel with Gäwa Christian School.
From learning to weave intricate reed jewellery to sharpening 8-foot-long spears, the ICS adventurers never stopped experiencing the fascinating differences between our two cultures. Whether it was walking along the pristine shoreline collecting magnificent shells, or playing basketball with local children until it was so dark it became impossible to see the ball, each moment was soaked with the immense generosity and humility we received from the locals.
After beginning the eight day trip with two magnificent days in Darwin, exploring the Litchfield National Park, Adelaide River and the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, our team began the cultural exchange experience with a very rough four-wheel-drive trip between Galiwinku and Gäwa. One of my personal highlights from the entire trip occurred as soon as we stepped foot in Gäwa.
Adoption into the local indigenous families is often explained as a major highlight year after year, however it was not until I was adopted by a nine-year-old girl that I truly understood why it was so special. There are no words to adequately describe the beautiful, genuine connection formed through adoption, despite the cultural differences.
Wednesday, or picnic day, was another highlight for the ICS adventurers. The weather was excellent for ball games on the beach with the children, and learning traditional weaving, as well as stomping through mangroves to find and collect a crab and traditional mud-mussels. The later afternoon was incredibly special, as each ICS student was able to spend quality time with their adopted sibling or family. Personally, when my sister sat in the red sand and began to share her life so freely with me, it helped me understand my adoption was a true acceptance of new family.
The final major highlight was the Bungal, or traditional ceremony, that took place on Thursday evening. As the night progressed, we watched items varying from impromptu children’s singing, to a passionate dance performed by some of the women who live in Gäwa. Additionally, we learnt and attempted to complete traditional dances that passed down knowledge and teaching from the elder to the younger members of the community. This night was eye-opening, as it highlighted the expressive nature of the community. Whether it be through praise, laughter, sadness, anger or other emotions, the indigenous community is the most expressive culture I have ever experienced. By the end of the week I was inspired spiritually in response to the whole of life approach with which the Gäwa community engages with God.
I would like to thank the Price family for their hospitality while we were in Gäwa, as well as a special thanks to Mr Hewitt and Mrs Alexander for their hard work and dedication towards the organisation and running of the trip.
The 2018 Gäwa cultural exchange program was an experience that will continue to shape my character, and the decisions I make presently, as well as those I will make in the future. If you are given the opportunity, I highly recommend taking part in the Gäwa program. It may have only been a week, but the memories I have made will last me a lifetime!