Spring break 2014, the kids and I headed out on an adventure to The Stirling Ranges.
We travelled to Mount Trio with camping gear and a tomahawk for our first ever participation in the annual Djilba Camp.
Story by Lydia Kenyon
The Djilba Camp is among the activities run each year by Niah Kartijin Coolingars: Listen, Learn Children, which is a committee run initiative working to promote…
‘respectful acknowledgement and celebration of Noongar country, language and culture.”
We were asked to bring the tomahawk for a spear-making workshop. The program also promised art, craft, music, a guided bush-food walk, and a trip to a sacred Noongar ochre pit.
As we turned off the Albany Highway, just north of Mount Barker, and headed out towards the Stirlings, the blue misty ranges came into view.
When my 4 year old sang out her faithful ‘how long until we get there?’, I took great delight in chiming back ‘keep your eyes on the mountain and you’ll see it getting nearer’.
It was not long at all before the bluish mountain silhouette turned to lush, textured green, and the grey smooth road turned to a crunchy red that we could hear and taste.
A few more rounds of ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes’ and we were at the campsite.
We had just been wondering what other rainbow colours we might see on this springtime expedition, when a magical pink mist of everlasting daisies sprung up all around us.
We stopped in our tracks to ‘smell the flowers’ and were surprised and amazed that they smelt and felt like paper!
We saw lots of familiar Denmark faces at the camp. The kids soon sorted themselves into age groups and ran off and played. The parents chatted as they fussed about the camp kitchen, and finally settled around the fire pit.
The next morning after breakfast everyone gathered to meet our esteemed teacher and guide, Noongar elder, Aunty Avril, and her family from Albany. We sang a welcome ‘Kaya Kaya’ song, before heading out in convoy to the sacred ochre pit.
At the ochre site, again it felt like my invocation of Rainbow Spring was singing back to me in colour. Parents and children alike marvelled at the swirling shades of the ochre strewn ground. The yellow, orange and purple formations were warm and soft under foot, then wet and squelchy between our toes as we waded in the ancient milky lake. Inhibitions were set aside as we painted our faces and bodies with the freshly crushed and emulsified chalk.
As we took the 2km walk back to the road, the littlest children of the group were tired. Mums bringing up the rear with little ones pooled resources of strength and ingenuity to coax the little legs to make it the last bit of the way. There were bribes of raisins but no carries. For my daughter it was the longest walk she had ever done by far. An initiation. Only made possible with the support of community.
Back at camp the hot yellow of the day sank into a cooler green afternoon of bushcraft. Bushels of gladioli weeds and other green cuttings lay in bundles, for us to weave into baskets.
On the other side of the camp, Kunzea (Spearwood) branches were piled high. We picked the branch to be our spear, then sawing it into the right length, peeled off the bark, then tomahawked it into a spear shape. The children used their proudly-made spears to bring down an emu made from broom handles and a leaf stuffed hessian sack.
The Djilba weather tossed us gently, between warm sun and light-as-nothing but chilly rain, and finally brought us an actual, though very faint, rainbow. My children and I have invented our own lore about faintly painted rainbows. They are actually extra special because only the extra clever rainbow spotters can spot them!
That night a wonder-filled day was topped off with a delightful shared meal by the red burning coals of the fire. We ate the vivid red, and very spicy Koortinj or bloodroot, gathered from the bushfood walk. It is like a ‘native radish’. We also enjoyed quandong kernels, which tasted like macadamias; spear-roasted apples, kangaroo stew and many other surprises.
The stage was perfectly set for the night’s star attraction, the early evening eclipse of the season’s Hunter Moon. Known as the Hunter or Blood Moon because of its unusually reddish hue, I actually thought it looked more ‘Mulberry’.
‘And they danced by the light of the Mulberry Moon’ is a line from our favourite picture book, ‘The Quangle Wangle Quee’ that we’d read at bedtime the night before. Mulberry stains are, back at our Denmark home and thanks to the generosity of our neighbours and the abundance of their most lusciously verdant tree, the most significant, memorable and delicious colour of all our spring-times.
We headed home the next day, to our purple mulberries and turquoise coast. We were busting with pride as we packed up our spears, and freshly weaved baskets and dream catchers. Our hearts and bodies were filled to the brim with warmth, energy, connection and accomplishment.
I even felt brave enough to take on the longer scenic route home. Scenic routes of course not being something you take on lightly when you have little kids. The Stirling Ranges Drive was amazing.
The green hills on either side seemed almost close enough to touch. We stopped at the Mondurup Peak Lookout and found a wonderful 30 minute round-trip-walk, up and down two rocky peaks. This perfectly balanced our need to scale some mountain, with our limitations on time before sunset. It also was a perfect match for our ‘little legs’ – her ability and staying power.
I drove into Denmark town in the black of night, the kids asleep in the back. They awoke full of life, but only long enough to share their rainbow coloured stories with their Dad before falling back to sleep. What colours did they dream?
Many thanks to the Niah Kartijin Coolingars: Listen, Learn Children committee members past and present for this fun-filled and enriching experience.
Local teacher, Regi Peppin and Denmark elder Joey Williams founded the initiative 9 years ago, with the help and support of other parents and staff from the Spirit of Play Community School. Melissa Howe, Angela Dickinson and several other NKC and community volunteers took on the co-ordination and facilitation of Djilba camp this year. Hopefully, with the support of the Denmark Community, the organisation will continue to grow and thrive.
If you would like to support the organisation by becoming a NCK member or signing up for their newsletter, please email your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more reflections and ideas about how to make springtime special and memorable for your family please click on the image below.
Golden Hill Steiner School are keen to host a story about what spring or Djilba means to you. Email email@example.com, if you are interested in contributing to Rainbow Spring or any other of our seasonal blog idea and story segments.
* Many thanks to Shiralee Buczac for sharing some of her lovely photos for this post. The ones with thumb shadows are my own hasty taken snaps.