By KIERAN FINNANE
“When I look at my Country I see this story all around me.” Apmereke-artweye (custodian) Doris Stuart yesterday shared Ayeye Akngwelye Mpartnwe-arenye – the Wild Dog Story of Alice Springs – with the crowd of hundreds, Aboriginal and other Australians and no doubt some lucky visitors, celebrating NAIDOC on the Town Council lawns. Helping her do it were grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends.
We heard how long ago, “at the beginning of time”, Akngwelye, the local dog, lived here happily with his family – “caring for each other and playing in their desert home” – until a stranger dog came from the south. Climbing Alhekulyele – Mount Gillen, the peak of the range that towers over the town – the stranger came across a girl dog in a cave. He attacked her and left her to die.
He picked up the scent of Akngwelye’s mate and puppies and was coming for them when Akngwelye confronted him down on the dusty plain. They fought. Akngwelye ripped the stranger’s belly open, and left his guts on the ground. You can see this trace of their battle in the site known as Yarrentye (below right, photograph of site by Melinda Hooper)on the west side of town.
Neither dog died. The stranger, hurt and scared, went back through the Gap (Ntaripe) and fell asleep in the fork of a tree. Akngwelye limped to the shelter of a tree from where he had a clear view of his country and lay down, keeping watch.
He never made it back to his mate and her puppies, metamorphosing into a boulder embedded in the ground, where he is still, guarding his Country. This is the site known as Akngwelye Thirrewe. Today it is “chained, confined and surrounded by concrete”.
When Mrs Stuart was a child her old people still had ceremony at Akngwelye Thirrewe. Her father would tell her to stroke Akngwelye whenever she passed near.
Yesterday her friends held up large photographs of each of the main sites where Akngwelye’s story unfolds: “It is my job to protect these places,” Mrs Stuart (left) told the crowd in her recorded narration. “I inherited this responsibility from my Father’s Father. It is a hard job, you can see from these photos that a lot of damage has been and continues to be done to our sacred places.”
The re-enactment was a beautiful reminder of the way in which Mparntwe / Alice Springs is inherently an Aboriginal cultural centre. This is spelled out in the country itself and is kept alive by its Arrernte custodians.
As Rosalie Riley said in her opening remarks to the crowd, richly inter-mingling Arrernte and English: “In the 21st century we are still strong in our language … ceremony … still singing the country, still dancing the country, telling the story for the country, we are still strong, that makes us proud …”
Does the town as a whole do enough on all the rest of the days of the year to acknowledge this cultural achievement and legacy? How can the disrespectful situation at Akngwelye Thirrewe (right, photograph by Melinda Hooper) be tolerated? These are questions worth asking, especially as the bid to host a national Indigenous cultural centre here on Mparntwe country gathers pace.
Notes: The narration of the Wild Dog Story was adapted from the story as told by B. Stevens, 1988. The reenactment was directed by Mrs Stuart’s granddaughter Leanora Stuart. The cast included grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends: Djarrin Stuart, Eli Clarke, Cushla Murphy, Kealeigh Stuart, Nahvee Stuart, Jacob Clarkson and Dominic Richards.
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