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Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.

Ministry Mission

Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.

Peace, Justice, Creation

We work to discover through advocacy, healing and reconciliation, God's presence in our world.

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We are to be on earth the heart of God. God has no other heart but ours.

 

TOMMY MUNGULUNG NO LONGER GATHERS HIS SPEARS
By John Leary MSC
John Leary

FATHER John Leary MSC who died on January 19 2009 and was buried at Wadeye [Port Keats] in the Northern Territory, spent almost all his priestly life working among aboriginal communities on Bathurst Island, Wadeye, the Daly River and around Darwin. In the coming months, as to a tribute to this much loved missionary priest, Annals will re-publish a selection from among the many articles that he contributed over the years that he lived and worked in the Territory. May he rest in Peace.


TOMMY Mungulung was the police tracker at Daly River in Australia's Northern Territory when the MSC Mission began. As the small aboriginal community grew in numbers, Tommy joined them to become the hunter to supply meat in the form of wallaby or kangaroo and, in season, ducks and geese.

In a group of expert hunters Tommy was supreme. His reading of tracks was instantaneous and unerring. Returning from Darwin with me in a jeep, as we sped along, Tommy drew my attention to human tracks on the road, 'one man, two women, three children, not far ahead!' he announced. Sure enough, some minutes later we caught up with the group whose tracks Tommy had seen earlier so clearly on the bitumen.

Shortly after there were fresh buffalo tracks. 'He's running: said Tommy excitedly and, a little later, 'he's slowing down, he's walking, he's close up'. There was the buffalo around the next corner.

Emu on the menu

On another occasion an emu raced across the road in front of the jeep and into the bush. 'Stop, Father!' commanded Tommy as he jumped from the jeep, pulling from his head a large red and white spotted handkerchief, waving it wildly to the accompaniment of dancing and loud whistling. The emu, now some three hundred metres or so into the bush, promptly stopped and slowly retraced its steps to investigate the handkerchief, the whistling and the dancing. When it arrived within a few metres of the jeep Tommy reached for his shotgun with one hand while continuing to wave the handkerchief with the other. And so one emu was added to the menu that evening.

While walking with Tommy, until I knew better, I would often excitedly draw attention to many possum scratches on the bark of a tree. Just one quick look and Tommy would declare no possum at home. The most recent tracks were downwards, indicating, of course, that the possum had left the tree.

Two feller one bullet

It was the same with an array of tracks around a goanna hole. The last of them were outward bound. 'He's out hunting, Tommy would say with a smile. When Tommy became enthusiastic about such tracks a possum or a goanna was added to the menu.

When it came to hunting kangaroo, Tommy would assess how many were needed. Should it be four, Tommy would take four .303 bullets. Invariably he returned with four kangaroos. On one occasion he took four bullets and returned with five kangaroos. 'How come five, Tommy? I asked. 'I bin line `em up two feller with one bullet, explained Tommy. Tommy used infinite care and patience to position himself to snare his game. He would fade imperceptibly and silently into the bush background, becoming a part of it.

Duck or geese on a billabong would appear undisturbed by the slow approach of a patch of water-lillies shrouding Tommy's head and shotgun. Taken completely by surprise, there was always a maximum number of ducks or geese per cartridge. Leaving the dead birds floating, Tommy would quickly secure those only slightly wounded, and ready to take off, by wringing their necks. Others that had fluttered off wounded into surrounding scrub were carefully noted and later retrieved.

Aboriginal 'roads'

I well recall the days of the great flood in 1957 when the waters were receding from the airstrip. Magpie geese were everywhere. Tommy was out on the strip with his shotgun. Wounded geese were falling out of reach into deep water. He called on the services of three women to swim and retrieve the geese. I protested to Tommy about leaving the difficult work to the women and not doing it himself. 'Too dangerous, too many crocodiles!' Tommy replied honestly and with some traditional chauvinism. His gallantry was not equal to his hunting ability.

Each year, at the proper time, Tommy would take off to attend a ceremony at Timber Creek on the Victorian River.

Dressed in a loincloth, with a bundle of spears in hand for hunting on the way, he would follow the ancient 'blackfellow roads' used for thousands of years by his ancestors. I first became aware of these roads after they were pointed out to me by my aboriginal travelling companions on a walk from Port Keats to Daly River. They were narrow tracks no more than a foot wide, cleared and hardened over the centuries by the tramp of feet intent on trade or ceremony.

The memory of Tommy the hunter, Tommy the ceremony man, raised worrying questions in my mind when I returned to Daly River twenty years later. Tommy, still active, no longer practised his hunting; no longer gathered his spears or walked the traditional roads to Timber Creek.

No need for traditional skills

Young men had lost a model and a teacher. They, like Tommy, were caught up in a new system that was subtly replacing the need to exercise those intricate skills that made them the most self-reliant and independent of all peoples.

A cash economy, based in great part on social security payments and a local store, had replaced the need to hunt. Vehicles had replaced the need to walk and all those good traditional things that went with a simple thing like walking.

My concern was not so much with the loss of hunting and walking, but with the speed and nature of the change. It gave no time for authentic cultural growth and became destructive of basic cultural values. So it tended to strip people like Tommy of their independence, their dignity, their sense of responsibility, their self-assurance and, in fact, opened the way to many harmful consequences.

Pressures of White culture About this time there was a young man at Port Keats, Claude Narjic, son of a leading traditional man, who was deeply concerned about the destructive effects the many pressures from the dominant white culture were having on him and his people. Late one night he knocked on my door. He simply wanted to speak of his anxiety, his feelings of helplessness in a situation where there appeared to be no answers, where all his past, even his identity was threatened. The one-sided conversation continued all night.

Slowly, carefully

When I was invited on one occasion to a Government-sponsored meeting in Adelaide on aboriginal policy I asked Claude to accompany me. Claude addressed the meeting. He began by recalling that there was a word in his language very important to this occasion; it summed up all he wanted to say. The world was `thawait'. It had a double significance, namely 'carefully, and 'slowly' He spoke of the confusion and the damage done to his people by the pressures and expectations of the dominant culture. He gave examples and after each example added `thawait, thawait'. Aboriginal people, he said, before the coming of the white man, for hundreds of years, did not have to hurry with change. They absorbed the small demands of change slowly. They had time to become comfortable with it and make it their own. However, when the white man's culture arrived, so powerful and so very different from their own, demanding quick adjustments, they were completely exposed and totally unprepared. So, please, when you are dealing with us, he pleaded, let it be done carefully and slowly. The thing that hurts us most is when white people develop condemnatory attitudes by failing to understand us and the past that has made us. `Thawait, thawait, thawait!'

Leaving the 'old way'

Another prophetic figure at Port Keats at this time was Harry Pallada. After Harry received his first wage packet he became worried and called a community meeting. He saw the wage packet as representing a new way of living and as a challenge to the old. 'My old way of living,' he said, 'is part of me - living in the bush and from the bush, being secure and at home there, teaching my children to do the same. What if I leave the old way which is me and try to live this new way which is not me? I know I will end up makadu.' `Makadu' means literally a 'non-person', a 'nobody'.

Both Claude and Harry realised to some degree, the great distance between their traditional way of living and that of the dominant white culture about them; and the immense risks and difficulties involved in trying to make up the distance. They also know that many non-Aboriginal Australians are succumbing to the pressures generated within their own culture, and would want to demand with Claude - `thawait, thawait, thawait'.

From "Annals Australasia" January/February 2009