I had been part of developing a project to assist Aboriginal students in the Pilbara region to complete Year 12. My next role was to regularly review progress as the project operated, using quantitative and qualitative information. The second area meant a lot of interviewing of teachers, Aboriginal adults and the students themselves. And part of the process, whether I wanted it to happen or not, my learning about another culture continued in leaps and bounds. In this story, Jimmy is an Aboriginal man and qualified teacher from the Pilbara, currently working with a mining company. Alice is his auntie and from his language group.

I arrived at the motel in the Pilbara on Sunday and quickly worked out my schedule for the week.karratha-visitor-centre1

I decided I’d work in the larger town on Monday with the project management team, then with family members of project children in the town and then with some students at the Homework Centre as it was known. On the Tuesday, I went to the smaller township and repeated the same process in terms of interviewing. I also wanted to meet with the old men who’d helped me with the original planning for the project and get their feedback. I couldn’t find either of them so that night, I rang Jimmy asking if he’d help me find them.

“No worries, mate. They may have gone country or to one if the inland towns, but we’ll check it all out tomorrow.”

We left the HMC offices at seven, Jimmy trailing my hire car in an HMC vehicle. As we entered the smaller township, forty or so kilometres up the road, he tooted and his left indicator flashed.l407b

I pulled over, parked and Jimmy called, “Come with me. I saw Auntie Alice go into the general store. She’ll know where the old men are.”

As we stepped on to the store veranda, Alice appeared, saw Jimmy, and held out a hand, rubbing a thumb over her index and middle fingers.

Jimmy felt his hip-pocket, looked abashed and contritely explained to Alice, “Oh Auntie, I’m sorry. I left my wallet at the office.”

Undeterred, Alice then gestured at me. While we had met several times, her direct approach flustered me. I saw it as begging, which wasn’t something I’d ever supported. But I knew in these circumstances I had no choice. So, after a pause, I took twenty dollars from my wallet and held it out to Alice, who took it without acknowledgement and walked into the store.

“Thanks, mate,” Jimmy said quietly without looking at me, rubbing the sole of his boot on the ground.

“Okay Jimmy, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never see that twenty bucks again.”

Python Pool trip 9“Kardiya way, true! Borrow, then pay back. But my way’s different.”

“What do you mean?”

Jimmy kept rubbing his sole on the concrete. “It’s like this. In my world, if you’ve got it, you share. There’ll probably never be a time you’ll be in this town cold, alone, hungry, scared and tired. But if you ever were, Auntie Alice would welcome, hug, feed and protect you, give you a bed and want nothing for it. And she’ll do it over and over again because of what you just did. You shared, mate. In my way, no one’s ever alone if they share. No, you won’t get the money back, but maybe you’ve gained a lot more.”

I looked down the highway, Jimmy’s words pealing as clearly as Sunday morning church bells.