The Big Issue : Edition 515
26 THE BIG ISSUE 1 – 14 JULY 2016 “THE AFTERNOON RAIN is incredible,” says David Maurice Smith, the awe in his voice evident as he recalls his time on location shooting in Arnhem Land, that top right corner of the Northern Territory. It is as unique a place as can be found on this continent of unique places. “It was November, December, January, and you could just see and feel the storm coming in off the ocean, building to a crescendo. It was real drama.” That drama is captured in Smith’s photo of three young Yolngu men. They look like they are dancing, but it’s an illusion – they are actually leaning their bodies into the howling wind, seeing if it can keep them upright. The area has been inhabited by the ancestors of the Yolngu people for at least 40,000 years. The white man arrived in 1623 – long, long before Captain Cook – in the form of Captain William van Colster, of the Dutch East India Company. Colster named Cape Arnhem after his ship, which, in turn, had been named after a town in Holland. The Yolngu also had regular contact with Indonesian traders (then known as Makassars) – who came annually for the local sea cucumber. In the 100,000-odd square kilometres of the region, three-quarters of the 16,000 people belong to the Yolngu language group. In the 1960s, the Yolngu people kick-started the land rights movement with a bark petition to stop a bauxite mine. The petition is on display in Parliament House; the mine is on Yolngu land, in Nhulunbuy. Smith, a Canadian who has lived in Australia for seven years, was a guest in Arnhem Land not only of the traditional owners, but also of OneDisease, a not- for-profit set up to eliminate preventable diseases one at a time. In Arnhem Land the disease being targeted is crusted scabies, a nasty infection in which mites overrun the body, leading to crusted skin, social exclusion and even death. The mortality rate is 50 per cent over five years. Smith had spent time in remote Indigenous communities before, but acknowledges that he is still very much an uninitiated outsider. “I’d be lying if I said I understood the complexities of [the Yolngu] culture,” he says, referring to the intricacies of kin relationships and totem groups, just for starters. Then there is the food – including a flatbread, not dissimilar to old-style damper. And stingray. Not that you should eat stingray unless you know what you are doing. As Smith was shown, the liver has to be the right colour. If so, the ray is boiled, then the liver thrown in with it. Smith also recalls his time with Randy, a Yolngu man who accompanied the photographer on various trips. Randy’s demeanour would change dramatically as he passed a boundary – imperceptible to outsiders – into different country, all his senses and intelligence alive to the changes around him. For his part, Smith just can’t wait to get up north again. by Michael Epis » For more, see davidmauricesmith.com. NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’LL FIND LOOKING ON THE SEA FLOOR.