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Tiwi historical acccounts; Australia; Aboriginal Tiwi historical acccounts  

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Clementine; Aboriginal woman  







Tiwi historical acccounts; Australia; Aboriginal Tiwi historical acccounts  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
20 Mar 2000

  • Australia
    Northern Territory
  • Tiwi Islands
  • -11.53333   130.43333
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Stereo

Show: Australia - Clementine, a Tiwi Woman
Log of DAT #: I-1
Engineer: Manoli Wetherell
Date: March 2000

ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good

March 2000
Interview with CLEMENTINE (a Tiwi woman)

41:53 AC: We're doing stories about Australia and we wanted to do stories about the aboriginal people here as well. So, we've come and asked people to tell us ...

Clem: You mean about aboriginal history?

AC: Yeah, about your history, about your beliefs ... About your life here on this island ... Your children ... and what you think your children ...

42:22 Clem: I'd like to talk about my belief.

AC: I'd be happy if you would. One of the stories that we're doing ... this is not just about the Tiwi people. We're doing this for people all around the world in different beliefs. We're talking to people about their beliefs about the after-life -- you know, what happens to people after life? You know they believe in Heaven.

Clem: I think you heard a story about an old lady named Mootonkullah (sp). I think she's a first creation that made this to an island.

AC: Mooton ...?

Clem: Mootonkullah.

AC: Mootonkullah?

Clem: Uhm.

AC: Mootonkullah?

MAN IN BACKGROUND: Mootonkullah.

Clem: Nobody knows where she came from. And she had three children ... carrying her three children behind her back. And as she was crawling, then the water came from under and made these two islands. So after she made the ?Epson Strait -- so we don't know where she went.

AC: Did her children become the Tiwi people?

Clem: I think so. I think it's Polikapolli (sp), Kapara (sp) and Wey-eh (sp).

AC: That's the three children?

Clem: I think. But we wasn't told the story about the name of the children ... the old blind lady. But I knew the mother's name is Mootonkulla. That's all we know.

AC: Okay. But those were three children she was carrying on her back?

Clem: On her back.

AC: Yeah.


AC: And how long have the Tiwi people been here? Do you know? Forever, I guess.

Clem: Two thousand years, I think. Forever. Or 40,000 years.

AC: Or maybe longer.

Clem: Maybe.

45:45 AC: Do you have children here?

Clem: Yes. I've got seven children.

AC: Seven children? And what do they do here? I have three children.

CL; My oldest son, he work for Breck's.

AC: Yeah. Breck's is the ...?

Clem: Tape and video.

AC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, they had the game on. They had the game on -- the grand final on ... at Breck's.

Clem: And ...

AC: How old is he?

Clem: He's 31 years of age. But the other son, he live in Darwin. And the other daughter ... other son is not working, and he's got children. And the other daughter living in Darwin. And my other daughter, she's doing study about skill and knowledge. And she's gonna go to ? and do her course.

AC: How many Tiwi children stay on the island and how many go to Darwin?

Clem: I don't know. But we got more population here than the other island -- Garden Point and Snake Bay.

AC: More people here?

Clem: Yeah.

AC: Yeah. You have a good school here.

Clem: Uhm.

47:50 AC: We were at the Tiwi Design today. Do many of the children go there for work?

Clem: Yes.

AC: We were very impressed by the designs and the things that we saw there -- that were produced by the people there.

Clem: You know, after when they leave school and they go to a place called ... Wait now ... [a pause] Let me think now what they call music program here.

AC: It's not tayf (sp)? Not tayf?

Clem: Bett.


Clem: Bett. That's where they go to school after when they finish. And they do more study there. So they can learn more to do anything like mechanic or office ..

AC: But they have to go to Darwin for that, don't they?

Clem: Here.

AC: Oh here. They have it here? Oh, that's pretty good. That's good.

Clem: And after that, they go to ?, learn more. And they get their certificate ... graduate.

AC: Yeah. Same thing with my children.

Clem: Uhm.

AC: We have big hopes for them.

Clem: This what my children doing.

AC: Yeah.

Clem: My children went to Darwin school and one went to Montebay School in Melbourne -- the eldest one went to Montebay. And the other four -- one ... two went to Darwin High school and three went to St. Mary School -- Catholic School.

50:14 AC: If we want to tell people a story about the Tiwi people or tell people in our country something to know about the Tiwi people, what do you think we should tell them?

Clem: I want you to explain more about it.

AC: We're strangers here. We don't know the Tiwi people and we don't really know much about the aboriginal life. And we want to go [50:54 - DISTANT SOUND OF AN AIRPLANE'S ENGINE] tell people in America about what the Tiwi people do and what they're like, and maybe tell them stories about the Tiwi people. If I were going to tell the story about my people, I would say that a long time ago, my family -- my early family -- came on a ship from England and they landed on a rock in a place called Massachusetts ... a big rock! Bang! That's where the ship lands. Everybody gets off the ship and they start to ...BRIEF PAUSE AS ROAR OF SMALL PLANE'S ENGINE GETS LOUDER]

51:37 FX Plane roaring overhead

51:45 AC: ... They start to have a ... they've brought some food with them and things, but it's fall when they land there. And winter's coming on. And they spend a long and hard winter. And then they start to plant in gardens -- they have gardens. And they really don't know what they're doing with their gardens. They're not doing too well. The Indians -- the people who are living there, the people who are maybe like the aborigines -- they come and they help these people, the people called the pilgrims. The Indians came and they helped them, and they made friends with them. And in that fall, they had a good harvest. They brought in a lot of food.

Clem: Oh, you mean something like my ancestors used to live in their traditional land ...

AC: Yeah.

Clem: Before the white man came?

AC: Yeah. But, also the story about my people is that they threw a big feast with the Indians. And ever since then, my people have had a feast every year. At the end of the harvest season, they have a harvest feast and they call it Thanksgiving Day -- the day for giving thanks for the bounty and the garden and the way people can work together. So, I tell that. That's a little story about my people.

52:25 Clem: Well, I'd like to tell you about Tiwi. You know, in early days, our ancestors used to live in their traditional land like Tikkalotto -- a place called Tikkalotto.

AC: Tikkalotto?

Clem: Yeah. And Rancur (sp), my father ... grandfather's country. ? ? That's their country. We're from Mahlow (sp). And ? ? Rancur, ? and ? so that's where the people used to live in their traditional land. Tiwi people, you know (coughs). And then one day, this Frenchman came. He sailed with this boat and landed here. (coughs) And he only found two people was ... they were living at Pawlo (sp) -- the place, the other side. But they came here to hunt. And the other side, yeah, at ? So, this Frenchman came. He was a missionary. A ? He came and he found there's only two people. And he said, "Where the other people?" he said to him. And they didn't understand 'cause he was speaking English and half-French language, you know?


Clem: And he gave them his eyeglass. Go and tell the people in their traditional land. Tell them that I am here. I brought good news. So, husband and wife, they went and traveled with eyeglass. They went to Rancur (sp), I mean to ? Tikkalotto, a place called Tikkalotto and then to Rancur, Mahlow (sp), Manupee (sp), ?, ?, Komlumpee (sp). And the people from the traditional land -- they all came down and met him.

AC: They went and met the French priest?

Clem: Yeah.

AC: Yeah.

Clem: So, he told them, "I came here to bring good news for you." And the people sat down and they said, "We can't understand what this man say." So, he started to make his first mass this right down here in the ?.

AC: He starts to make ... ?

Clem: First mass.

AC: Oh, the first mass.

57:28 Clem: Yeah. And they said, "Something really special," people said. And after the mass and he give them flour, sugar, tobacco. And people didn't know. They didn't know how to make that ... you know, that flour, they thought that was white clay and paint themself. And tobacco -- "What we gonna do with this?" ? And Father had to show them to make roll. Roll it. Cigarette. He taught them how to smoke. "Oh, I like that, eh?" they said. And then all the people came then by canoe, travelling ... leaving their traditional land and came here. And they started to ... He taught them to cut all the trees, to build a church, his house. And people was living this here, along here ...

58:55 AC: Right along this beach here.

Clem: Yeah. Along here. This place was really jungle.


59:18 Clem: That was in 1911.

AC: 1911?

Clem: 1911.

AC: And before that the Tiwi just lived a traditional life.

CL Yeah before the people lived in their traditional life. And they left their land when Father ? came. The only time we go back to our traditional land when we have a holiday. We take our children back to the traditional land and show them how to hunt.

AC: You know how to catch a goowanna (sp)?

Clem: And the men go get wallaby. And us women, we go in the mangra and get crab, ? , ?


AC: Do you get that mud crab?

Clem: Mud crab.

AC: It's too big.

Clem: Too big?!

AC: Yeah. It's too big. I mean the mud crab is as big as a plate. And the claws are huge on those things. That's not good -- too dangerous.

Clem: It's good ? .

AC: It's good to eat, but too dangerous to catch.

Clem: No.

AC: Yeah.

Clem: I'll show you one day.

AC: No!

Clem: How to catch ...

AC: How do you catch a mud crab?

1:01:03 Clem: Yeah -- how to catch mud crab. [AIRPLANE NOISE IS LOUD; PROBABLY DIRECTLY OVERHEAD] And men used to go out at nighttime fishing. But they used to have mulawinya (sp) . You know paper bark?

AC: Yeah. Paper bag.

Clem: Paper bark.

AC: Paper bark.

Clem: Yeah.

AC: Yeah, yeah.

Clem: They used to make fire, you know [MAKES RUBBING NOISE], this thing we call ... today, we have lighter.

AC: Yeah.

Clem: But my ancestors used to make fire with ...

AC: With a stick?

Clem: Yeah, with a stick.

AC: Stick, stick. Yeah.

Clem: Mulawinya.

1:01:58 AC: Mulawanya? That's what you call it? You rub the stick between your hands and the point ?

Clem: Yeah.

AC: You don't know how to do that though?

Clem: No.


Clem: But not today because we got lighter ... matches. But whenever we haven't got anything like that, we do it when we out in the bush.

1:02:31 AC: So why did the Tiwi come down to be with Father Gazell?

Clem: Because they never met a white man.

AC: So they gave up the traditional life to come down here because he told them to come and what?

1:02:59 Clem: You heard ... Yeah, people was working here. And Father said to them ... Ancestors used to have seven, eight, nine wives ... So, he said, "It's wrong to have seven, eight, nine, ten." And that's a traditional law -- one man, one wife." And the people said, "No." My grandfather had 14 wives.

MAN IN BACKGROUND: My grandfather had five.

AC: Your grandfather had five wives?

MAN: Uhm. Five.

Clem: From different country.

AC: Different area? Different community?

MAN: ? ?

AC: So, how many wives do people have now?

Clem: Huh?

AC: How many wives now? One?

Clem: Still ... two. I think two is now. Some, just only few. But not ... not much.

AC: Not too many. Yeah.

Clem: Not too many. It's only few people.

1:04:34 AC: Boy, I'll tell you. It's hard to keep a wife. I think it's hard to keep a wife, you know -- hard to have a wife.

Clem: One wife. You have to go like two, three wives you have to go out hunting, get ? ? and food.

AC: Oh, so you need two or three wives to go hunting for you?

Clem: Yeah. And 'nother wife have to stay with husband.

AC: Yeah -- keep him happy?

Clem: To keep him happy.


AC: You know, it doesn't sound too ... It sounds pretty good. The Tiwi way sounds good to me.

Clem: You know, they've taken ten.

AC: Yeah.

Clem: So when during the night he have all his wives there and children, he's in the middle. Husband in the middle.

AC: Husband's in the middle?

Clem: Husband in the middle, and all the wives and children surround him.

AC: Yeah.


AC: Well, that's good for him.

Clem: Hmm?

AC: Yeah. 1:06:01 So, what do the Tiwi think now? You think you should have gone with the father or stayed in the traditional way?

Clem: I think ... Today, now we're talking about going back like it was before.

AC: Pretty hard to go back.

Clem: No, it's not hard. But there's some thinking .. they want to go back like it was before.

AC: But the Tiwi had a hard life too.

Clem: Yeah.

AC: Because you didn't have a home ... did you have a place to live in? A shelter from the storm or ...

Clem: No. They used to make shade.

AC: Oh, they did?

Clem: Shelter, yeah.

AC: Big shelter?

Clem: Paper bark ...

AC: Oh yeah?

Clem: Uhmm. ? They had shelter too.

1:07:10 AC: Yeah? So, the country was good? And to eat? What to eat?

Clem: Bush tucker.

AC: What is bush tucker?

Clem: Like wallaby.

AC: Wallaby. Yeah.

Clem: Benegoot (sp).

AC: Benegoot.

Clem: Gowanna.

AC: Gowanna is big lizard.

Clem: Lizard -- langud (sp) lizard.

AC: Yeah.

Clem: And copper snake.

AC: Copper snake, yeah.

Clem: And 'possum.

AC: 'Possum

Clem: Geese.

AC: Geese? Catch geese?

Clem: Fish ... ? ... periwinkle ... mangra worm.

?1:05:18 AC: Mangra worm?

[CL coughs]

AC: You had me up 'til there.

[CL coughs]

Clem: That's what they used to eat ... and sugar bag.

AC: Sugar bag? I don't know what a sugar bag is. I know what a ...

Clem: It's like honey.

AC: Oh, yeah?

Clem: So when we go out in the bush we haven't got no sugar. We got honey there. We gotta look for sugar bag, fill them up full -- 'nough to treat the children, family.

?1:06:13 AC: You're married now, yeah?

Clem: I just lost my husband a couple of months ago.

AC: Oh, I'm sorry. Sorry. I'm sorry 'cause I know there's something about the Tiwi ... You're not to supposed to mention the people who have departed. [pause] I apologize.

?1:07:03 AC: I think the thing that Tiwi people must know a lot about the forest and about the country to be able to live in the country. That's pretty good. That's a lot of skill.

Clem: You know when we're out in the bush, we haven't got watch. We only look at the sun and we follow the ? and we tell the time.

AC: You know time that way?

Clem: Uhm.

AC: And weather?

Clem: And direction where we're going now, if we're lost, we know. We have to look at the sun and take us right place.

?1:07:48 AC: Ken told me things, he said that Tiwi people can talk on the wind. He says he knows people can send messages to each other on the wind. Of course, I don't understand how you can do that. But he says he's seen it, he's seen it a lot.

Clem: (coughs) If you live long way, if something happen to the family now and the family they long way out. If anything happen, something happen like a person pass away (cough), the person that die, his spirit go back to the family and let them know that he's gone.

AC: So you know that way?

Clem: Uhmm. You will be sick.

?1:09:17 AC: You'd be sick? From someone who died far away and that would be their message to you and it would make you sick?

Clem: Uhmm.

AC: Yeah. This is your belief?

Clem: Yeah.

AC: You said you wanted to talk to me about your belief.

Clem: Yes. That's how I believe.

AC: That's good -- I think.

?1:09:43 Clem: But anyway, you have telephone to ring, you know. But us, it's only spirit. We believe in spirit.

AC: And your ... so your family would know spirits maybe from like your grandfather? Is your grandfather's spirit around?

Clem: That's ... It's happened here in Tiwi Island. All Tiwi people, we believe in that -- our spirit gone back. If we die, our spirit gone back to original land.

AC: Back to the original land?

Clem: Hmm

AC: and then stay there and live with the ancestors?

Clem: Yeah (COUGHS). I'm coughing a lot.

AC: That's Father Gazell's fault for teaching you about the cigarette.

Clem: Yeah.


?1:11.15 Clem: That's why we Tiwi people we struggling, I think.

AC: You think you're struggling

C: Because the white man came and gave us everything.

AC: They came and

Clem: And gave us everything.

AC: They gave you everything/

Clem: Tobacco, beer, television, radio. Kids ? ? radio. Anything.


?1:12:03 AC: So, how do you struggle with that? What do the Tiwi people do with that?

Clem: Like young boys committing suicide.

AC: In the Tiwi? Young? How old boys? [pause; CL is coughing] Tiwi boys are committing suicide?

Clem: Yeah. Hang themself. Breaking. Wanting money. [PAUSE] If a mother or father don't give anything what the child want, you know, they can do anything.

AC: A child can do anything?

Clem: Yeah.

AC: Yeah. (pause) What do the Tiwi do to try to struggle with that?

Clem: If we would have ... our ancestors would have still stayed in their traditional land, we wouldn't have that problem like today. That's how I think. We would have lived happy.

?1:14:04 AC: But, you didn't have clothes or modern medicine ... no air conditioning.

Clem: No. You know, people used to get sick. They wasn't sick before.

AC: They didn't get sick before the white people came?

Clem: No.

AC: 'cause you lived a healthy life.
Clem: Yes.

AC: Now I think about people, their health is not so good. A lot of aborigine people get sick -- young.

Clem: In early days, before the white man came, they were really strong. healthy. No one was sick. cause they used to live on their own bush food. But today we have sugar, we have beer, restaurant, greasy food. junk food. some that make us sick.

AC: Yeah. Makes us sick too.

Clem: Uhm.
If we would have live in our traditional land and lived on our own food, gone out hunting, get bush tucker, no one would get sick. Like today we got kidney problem, diabetic, heart failure ... rheumatic fever ...

AC: But what's most upsetting ...

Clem: . . . cancer

AC: But what's most upsetting for me as an outsider to hear these stories about these young men Tiwi men killing themselves, committing suicide. what can you do about that.

CL It's hard to say. but when we have got problem ,you know we come and talk with skin group and we talk to a people relative .

AC: I don't know skin group.

Clem: Like me I'm ? and he is ? and if anything happen to him, so I have to go and talk to a skin group and we come together for meeting. we got for skin group here to solve the problem and then after we finish having meeting and then we talk to a counsel and the counsel make decision.

1:18:00 A it's important for the Tiwi to take care of each other.

Clem: We can't get interrupt with other skin group and that's a law here.

AC: You can't interrupt another skin group?

Clem: No.

AC: Yeah. But you take care of your people. You take care of your own people.

CL: But if the other skin group like won't agree, then that family skin group can come and talk to us and we can come together and share to solve the problem. so everything is okay. That's how we do. if another skin group come and ask for support Can you help?

AC: Do they do that very often?

Clem: Yes.

AC: They do?

Clem: That's what we do ... every day of our life.

AC: Yeah?

Clem: Hmm. That's work. [pane overhead pause] So what we gonna do now?

AC: I don't know.

Clem: So what do you think about the ...?

?1:20:02 AC: I think it's hard, you know. You know, what does your daughter think who's gone to Darwin? She's gone to live in Darwin. So how can she move away from the people? What does she believe? She does not believe the same thing any more?

Clem: Her boyfriend took her there.

AC: Her boyfriend? Is he Tiwi?

Clem: He's a Tiwi. But she had ... today, we can't stop young people from things what they want to do. It's up to them. It's them to make the decision.

AC: Yeah. It must be hard for you to see that, see her go away ... You believe in the tradition -- the old way.

Clem: Yeah, but I guess I was there for a weekend with her. And she said, "Mommy, I'm going back."

AC: She said she's coming back here?

Clem: Uhmm. "I feel, you know, feel like bored."

AC: Bored?

Clem: Nothing to do, you know. "And I wanted to go back home and be with you and family and with my people."

AC: So did she come back?

Clem: Tomorrow ¿ she's coming back tomorrow

AC: She's coming back tomorrow?

Clem: Uhm.

AC: She's gonna be on the plane tomorrow?

Clem: Uhmm.

AC: What will you do? You'll have a big dinner for her?

Clem: Yeah.

AC: You'll get her brothers and sisters ...

Clem: We're gonna have party.

AC: You're going to have a party.

Clem: Uhmm. Singing and dancing.

AC: To bring her back?

Clem: I think she's gonna bring her boyfriend too.

?1:22:11 AC: what do you think of that? It's okay?

Clem: It's good. (pause) I can't wait to see her back.

AC: How long has she been gone/

Clem: Just after when she lost her dad.

AC: Oh.

Clem: She wanted to go away for a little while, you know, to forget everything, you know.

AC: I have a friend who's a ? ? And he's not really a friend. I just met him. But I like him. And his wife is .. he's a white man ... his wife is ...

Clem: Aboriginal ¿

AC: Aboriginal.

Clem: Uh. Met him where?

?1:23:15 AC: And he said ¿ [PAUSE - MANOLI IS SAYING SOMETHING ABOUT THE EQUIPMENT] ... I said have you ever traveled outside the country, he said, "naw." I asked him if he had ever come to America, he said "Naw." He said, 'cause my wife, she just doesn't like to go away from her family. So, I think the aboriginals, they don't like to go very far away. You gotta be with a group.

Clem: Yeah. You can just go for short while ... and then come back. That's what we do here.

AC: Does your daughter know how to catch a gowanna?

Clem: Yes.

AC: She does?

Clem: She's a really good hunter.

AC: She is? So you're able to pass on your skills.

Clem: Well, my skill, I pass it on to her.

AC: You teach? Are you a good teacher?

Clem: Even my grandchildren.

AC: Yeah?

Clem: I've got 14 grandchildren. 14. Another one coming up.

AC: And you can teach them all skills?

CL; I will always do that when we go out. ? we go out, teach them to ? crab. And the boys they always take the boys with them hunting ... how to shoot wallaby.

AC: Yeah. So, you teach those ... you think the Tiwi people can survive/ the old ways can survive?

Clem: Can I tell you something? For example, if we have war, yeah. War.

AC: War.

Clem: War. We can survive.

AC: The Tiwi can?

Clem: Uhm.

?1:25:33 AC: Because you know how to live. You don't need cars.

Clem: Naw.

AC: You don't need air conditioning. You don't need television.

Clem: No.

AC: You can walk out in the woods and survive.

Clem: Yes. We know where the water.

AC: You know where the water is?

Clem: Uhmm.

AC: Good, fresh water to drink.

Clem: Fresh water ¿ lovely running stream water.

AC: and what happens to the white people if there is a war? How would they do?

Clem: They'll probably follow aboriginal people to show them the way -- where the water is and how to take food.

AC: Would you show them?

Clem: Yeah. If they don't like it, then that's bad luck for them. But still we can, you know, help. Show them how to, give them something to eat. If they don't like it ...

AC: Keep looking.

Clem: Uhmm.


SKIP to:

?1:28:59 AC: So, you must be waiting for the dry season, huh? It'll be nice when the dry season gets here.

Clem: Yeah. Dry season. We go bush.

AC: You go bush in the dry season? It's too wet now.

Clem: Too wet, we can't go ? We can walk, go ? like crab, ?, ?, periwinkle and bring them back for the kids, you know, family.

AC: So you go bush on the weekends? And then, in the dry season, you go for a month?

Clem: A month.

AC: Yeah. You stay out for a month?

Clem: I take all my grandchildren -- my children and my grandchildren -- stay out in the bush for one month

AC: Yeah. You know what happens? You take your grandchildren out there and they complain oh grandma, I can't watch television I can't see cartoons."

Clem: No. I make them sit and talk to them about in early days. tell them story what our people used to do, and they just sit and listen. And after telling story, I sing song, make them dance.

AC: Is dancing good?

Clem: Yeah. I get up and dance with them, and then they get up and dance too.

AC: Are you going to sing when your daughter comes tomorrow?

Clem: Yeah.

AC: You're gonna dance?

Clem: Singing and dancing all night.

AC: All night?

Clem: We'll be up and party all night.


Clem: Making ? .

AC: Yeah? What time does the party start? When does she come back?

Clem: Tomorrow she'll be back.

AC: Tomorrow morning?

Clem: We'll start about eight o'clock, I think.

AC: Eight o'clock at night or 8 o'clock in the morning?

Clem: Eight o'clock night.

AC: Yeah.

Clem: From 8 to one. And then we go sleep.



?1:31:35 AC: How many Tiwi people know the culture like you do?

Clem: Few. Few are learning. But me and Simon, we the only one know ... really deep culture. But we try to teach the others so if I passed away, they're the ones who'll carry on. But more, I'm teaching my grandchildren.

?1:33:53 AMBIENCE - Water, distant voices, birds chirping.

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