In early January this year 14 young women from across central Australia and I were invited to take part in the inaugural ‘Standing Tall’, a youth camp for young women facilitated and run by Mission Australia.
S/C/1/C Jenny Hamilton Papunya C.E.P.O
It was designed to be culturally appropriate and gender specific to provide meaningful activities for youth identified at risk and or in need to re connect with culture and country.
The adventure playground of the heritage listed Hamilton Downs Youth Camp was our base which is located about an hour and a half North West of Alice Springs at the end of a track which is best suited for 4x4. The homestead is surrounded by rugged outback terrain, red rock, hardy vegetation, a dry (when we arrived) river bed nestled beside the spectacular backdrop of the Chewing Ranges.
The atmosphere was set during the smoking ceremony which was part of the welcome to country, welcome to camp. Over the next six days we participated in a full program of activities providing benefits and underlying messages of positive peer relationships through healthy recreational activities like art and craft which was based around connection to country, culture and identity. There were daily presentations and discussions from the Young Women’s Community Health Education Program (YWCHEP) which increased the knowledge on a broad range of topics that mainly focused on personal health, sexual health, teenage pregnancy, safe sex and puberty.
We were privileged to have on staff a Western Aranda elder Jean MACK who was born raised and then worked at Hamilton Downs when it was a cattle station. Jean was invaluable in telling the stories of the white history of the area but more importantly the dreamings of her country.
The eye catching red and ochres of the land combined with the endless blue skies soon disappeared putting a conclusion to the young verses old volleyball match in the dry river bed. There was 47mm of rain that afternoon and the river was now in full flow lapping at the bottom of the volleyball net.
With the weather alternating from hot/dry to cold windy with torrential down pours activities were restricted to indoors. Fortunately the Christian Community Church needed to have an inside venue to conduct their ‘Shine’ program which was designed to instil self worth and pride in all the participants, encouraging and enabling them to see them selves as valued and important. They also taught the women how to care for them selves and the fine arts of nail care and face masks.
We went on two hour walking treks up a trail that was built by Youth Diversion in 2009. The simple act of walking was transformed into something much more when one of the young women was able to identify bush medicine and other plant species. She then became the trek leader guiding us to the summit along the way pointing out plants, animals, ridges, gap and bluffs in the ranges around us.
Of an evening we would sit around the fire, weather permitting, and pass around the ‘yarn stick’ that each person took turns to hold and exchange a few words about their day or them selves to the rest of the group.
All too soon the camp came to an end. I was part of a team and was proud and excited to be involved with something that can only get bigger and better.
I would like to thank Deanella MACK for inviting me and making me feel welcome in participating in the camp, I believe she should be applauded for being so passionate and dedicated to organising something that was a unique experience that was unquestionably beneficial to all who attended. I know all that participated will now feel stronger and revitalised and definitely have something to talk about for a long time to come. I look forward to being involved again next year.