I stood in awe of the sunset over the beautiful red earth of the Banyjima people. I pinched myself. Perhaps, like the beautiful stories told by the traditional owners of the land at Peedamulla campground, I was, in fact, dreaming.
It was thanks to a recommendation from friends that we had found Peedamulla campground in the heart of the Pilbara, between Onslow and Karratha. This hidden beauty is a Tourism Western Australia initiative called, ‘Camping With Custodians’, which enables visitors to stay on Aboriginal lands and engage with indigenous members of the local community.
Just hours prior to writing this, Olivia and Mia had been sliding through expansive mudflats on the mouth of the Cane River. ‘Come on Mum, we’ll show you how to have some fun,’ Mia excitedly urged. ‘You need to make the most of this,’ she continued with wisdom that could only come from a four-year-old covered head to toe in mud. Given her age, there was really no way she could have understood the significance or complexities of what we were experiencing at Peedamulla. That we privileged white fellas were able to explore such significant country and hear stories about the history of the land through eyes so different to our own.
Earlier in the day, we had been bush bashing along 4WD tracks to the significant cultural site on the property where each year young Aboriginal men would complete their traditional month-long initiation into manhood. Our generous host was Preston Parker, whose family were the current owners of the campground and adjoining cattle station built in the 1880’s. Preston explained to us that up to ten tribes from the Pilbara region would gather on the land annually for Wardilba, a traditional celebration where singing, dancing and storytelling would continue into the early hours of the morning. This celebration continues to this day. This is most miraculous, and a testament to the determination of Preston’s family, given the context of devastating historical depopulation of the Indigenous people in the region. My heart filled with sadness when I viewed the General Certificate of Exemption under Section 18c of the Aborigines Protection Act 1909-1943 that actually prohibited speaking in native language; engaging in dance, rituals, and native customs; and associating with fellow indigenous people. Despite the near extinction of his family’s language during that time, Preston spoke with a gentle but fierce determination and hope that Peedamulla would become a place where Aboriginal people of the region would return to the land to share traditional knowledge, customs and language of their culture.
We were fortunate enough to also be taken through the ruins of the original Peedamulla Homestead built for the pastoral station pioneer Edmund Burt in the 1880’s and destroyed by Cyclone Vance in 1999. We also sat and listened to stories around the campfire each night, as well as visiting a culturally significant waterhole surrounded by the most incredible rock formations. The girls made new friends with some of the local kids, who gladly let them ride along on the back of their four-wheeled motorbike through the red dirt. While they may not have appreciated its significance, it is my hope that the opportunity provided our girls with an experience that will become a small building block towards their proper appreciation of the history and culture of country.
There is no doubt that the Peedamulla land is a place of restoration. Beyond the beautiful setting, the land provides a catalyst of restoration. May this be so not just for passing tourists, but far more importantly, for the future generations of the traditional custodians of this harsh but beautiful country.