A group of Sydney teenagers visited the remote reaches of the Western Desert in Australia’s Pilbara region recently for a cultural exchange with the local Martu. The eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth represented World Vision’s Young Mob youth leadership program in partnership with First Hand Aboriginal Solutions. The Martu were from World Vision’s Martu Leadership Program; a program run in partnership with local organisation Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ). The eight day exchange saw the young cohort travel more than 1000 kilometres to the heart of Martu country, visiting local cultural sites and remote communities. Along the way they met with Elders, shared stories and learnt how to care for the land, plants and animals.
Young Mob Project Manager Sophia Romano said the purpose of the exchange was to build participants pride in and connection to culture, and strengthen their respect for self and others.
“The exchange is designed to help young people develop their cultural learning in a new and often challenging environment, away from home and in a very remote part of Australia. For many of them the sheer remoteness and size of everything was a complete culture shock; the distances, scant services and limited internet and mobile reception,” Sophia said.
The idea for the exchange followed a visit by members of the Martu Leadership Program to a Young Mob camp on the NSW south coast last year. There, the Martu visitors shared stories about their country, their journey and goals for themselves and communities.
Martu Leadership Mentor Butler Landy said that “both Martu Leadership and Young Mob provided a very warm welcome to each other when they visited each other’s country”, and that he “really enjoyed sharing stories about the very different country in WA and NSW. Sharing with them was one big respect. We told those young fellas to look after country, make themselves strong and to listen to their elders”. Butler hopes that there will be further exchanges in the future “I would like to see more of them and their country, and for them to see more of ours. We have a lot more country out there to show them.”
The Martu are the traditional owners of a large part of central Western Australia which extends from the Great Sandy Desert in the north to around Wiluna in the south. Across this country, Martu share a common law, culture and language.
The Martu were among the last of Australia’s Indigenous people to make contact with European Australians, with many migrating from their desert lands into neighbouring pastoral stations and missions in the 1950s and 1960s. Sometimes this migration followed the Canning Stock Route north to the eastern Kimberley or south to Wiluna and then east to Warakuna and Warburton.
World Vision has been working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities since 1974. It currently partners with 18 communities across Australia to deliver early childhood, leadership and development programs designed and led by community members.