How Two Years At The Rock Changed My Views Of Indigenous Australia

By Josh Quarmby on 10 January 2016

At the end of 2009 I left the comfort of my cushy office job in Canberra. I boarded a plane to take on a job as the Workforce Development Coordinator at Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock) working within the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu in Australia’s Northern Territory. My role was to increase the number of local Aboriginal people, the Anangu, working in Australia’s iconic park.

I never had real desire to visit Uluru, let alone work there. I had no experience working with Aboriginal people, was out of my depth and miles away from everything, and everyone I knew. Who would have predicted that the next two years would be among the greatest and most memorable experiences of my life?

The Cultural Shock

No amount of study and research would prepare me for the cultural shock ahead of me as a result of taking on this role. Who am I kidding? I didn’t do any study or research on what life was going to be like at Uluru.

English is not the primary language of the people of Mutitjulu. In fact, English was sometimes their third or fourth language. In order for me to even be able to better communicate with the local people, I was going to have to learn the language. Secondly, the community of Mutitjulu was like something I’d never seen. The community consisted only of a small community store, a dusty old footy field, broken down cars and a roaming pack of camp dogs. Camp dogs everywhere. My first thought was disbelief. How do we allow a community to exist like this in our own backyard? I’d travelled through Asia and witnessed the poverty there; but this? This is Australia.

Building Trust

During my first week at The Park I was introduced to a few of the Anangu men who I would be working with. Most memorable of these was a fella by the name of Neil. I tried engaging Neil in some conversation and he was having none of it. I knew what would get him talking. Footy. One thing I did know was that the Anangu men all loved their AFL. As a keen Swannies fan I knew I could hold my own in some footy banter. “So, Neil. Who do you support in the AFL?” Surely this will spark some interest, right? “CATS. Everyone in Mutitjulu supports the Geelong Cats”. That was it. Good chat. Lesson one learnt. Aboriginal people, unlike us White Fellas, build their relationships on trust, not a love of footy. I was going to have to work hard to build trust in order to be accepted by Neil and the community.

Mana Pulka

After a couple of months of getting to know the community, I was starting to be accepted. I joined their local footy team, the Mutitjulu Cats and was even roped into coaching them. The guys also decided to give me a nickname. Mana Pulka. Translated to English, it’s FAT ARSE. They didn’t miss a beat. That was my new name, and it stuck. Nothing boosts the confidence like having the fact you’ve got a big butt being pointed out by an entire community. To this day my colleagues and friends from Mutitjulu still call me Mana Pulka. I like to think of it as a term of endearment. This, to me, was further evidence of my acceptance in the community.​

Call Me Kuta

Most important to me are the friendships I made during my time at Uluru. Before living at Uluru, I knew nothing of Aboriginal people and their culture. Like all cultures, they have their flaws and have certainly seen their share of hardship. Anangu also have amazing qualities that we could all learn from. They have a strong sense of family and community, all underpinned by Tjukurrpa – an Aboriginal (Pitjantjatjara) word that describes their lore, knowledge and belief system.​

Before leaving Uluru, I was fortunate enough to be given a skin name. A skin name is a name Anangu give to someone; establishing their place in to the social and family structure. Upon learning my skin name, my good friend Craig, a senior Anangu man shook his head… “Faarrrk. You’re now my brother. But I’m you’re older brother, so you can call me Kuta.”​

It was eye opening and heart breaking to see first hand the ignorance and intolerance Aboriginal people in Australia are subjected to. Intolerance stems from a lack of knowing. Not understanding. Spending two years living and working closely with the people of Mutitjulu, my views are changed. I have a deeper understanding of what it meant to be an Aboriginal person. I have a newfound respect and knowledge for them as a people and as a culture.​

I encourage all Australians to take a trip to the Northern Territory and, if you can, visit an Aboriginal community. Sit in the sand and learn their stories. Their stories are captivating. My life is richer as a result of my two years at The Rock.​