By ERWIN CHLANDA
The launch of the Yuendumu Mediation Manual was nothing like the usual book launch, nor is this the usual book. The main story barely has 200 words in English and about the same in Warlpiri – a compelling lesson in how a few words can make a powerful point.
At right: John Gaynor (from the Central Desert Shire which helped with the publication), Thomas Rice, Cecil Johnson, Riley Oldfield, Robert Robertson and shire employee at Yuendumu, Madhu Panthee.
The book has been years in the making, following the formation of the Yuendumu Mediation and Justice Committee in 2006 in response to the extreme violence racking the community. People died. Houses and cars were burned. People were driven from the community. People hated each-other.
There are perhaps a dozen authors of this book, senior men and women with serious traditional responsibilities. They came to Alice Springs for the launch, to tell the town the troubles in their community are over now.
The little ceremony took place on the lawns opposite the courthouse, inside which “white” law, in its slow and cumbersome way, has been dealing with the aftershocks.
On the same spot earlier this year, groups were screaming abuse at each-other, broadcast by TV crews to the nation as Liam Jurrah, Yuendumu’s most famous son, was on trial.
So what does the book say? Well, here are the main parts of it, in English:-
Let’s come together.
Elders’ comment: We, the respected elders of Yuendumu and representatives from all camps, have made a joint commitment to work together to make Yuendumu a safer and better place.
To our families: We want full support from all our mobs and appeal to you to respect the elders of this community and respect each other Yapa [traditional Aboriginal] way. Please support us to come together to solve our problems in Yapa way as before.
Respect from visitors: If you are coming from outside please respect our culture and the elders and listen to our voices.
Proper sorry; conflict resolution in the old Warlpiri way.
1: The right way to do mediation is nguuru nyinajaku: Coming together as one for peace. The elders, mediators and the right people from the right families on both sides come together.
2: Both groups tell their stories. The people need to be listened to.
3: The group gathers and shares information to help each other.
4: Each group is able to express themselves again.
5: Groups may speak to the mediation group privately. The mediation group does not take sides.
6: The mediation group and the parties involved may have to meet many times. People may have to come from other communities. It can take time.
7: Wait. Proper sorry is achieved through talking with the right people.
Madhu Panthee, working for the committee, describes at the end how all this was put into practice. Nearly 250 people, young and old, were involved. Neutral elders and leaders passed messages between the conflicting sides. Eventually there was a meeting at the footy oval.
At right: Georgina Wilson, Maissie Wayne, Gracie Johnson, Angeline Tasman, Nellie Wayne and Enid Gallagher.
Everyone sat in a circle with mediators and leaders in the middle. Spokespeople and elders from both sides were given equal time to tell their stories and express their feelings.
A mediator dug a large hole in the sand and filled it with rubbish and sand, symbolising the troubles from the past that were now buried, not to be brought back: “Yuwayi (yes),” everyone agreed.
People from both sides apologised, shaking hands, hugging one another. Some cried; many were saying, “We are one family.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA