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A Staff Story From Arnhem Land: Ely Flynn

Story & Photos by Eliza Jasch

Ely moved to Arnhem Land with her family in January 2023. Ely is trained as an Occupational Therapist and has been supporting her husband, Josh, a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer, and their four children.

My family joined MAF and moved to Arnhem Land, Australia this January; we live in Yirrkala, a large Yolɳu community near the major town of Nhulunbuy. Our four children have been a bridge to form relationships with local Yolɳu children, and we have been learning a lot about the communal nature of Yolɳu culture. Our backyard is only partially fenced. It is a foot traffic thoroughfare for people walking from one part of the community to another. We regularly have local children walking through and coming into our yard to play. This has been a great opportunity for connection and relationship, but not without its challenges. We have spent lots of time trying to figure out how to play well despite the very different cultures; it's been invaluable gathering wisdom from others on our MAF team who live or have lived in Yolɳu communities.

The Yolɳu kids have really different forms of play, things that are normal and everyday to them seem so unusual to us. It must be the same the other way around too.

One time I saw young kids having unsupervised fire play: they had gathered some cooking utensils, pots and a fire grate from their home and were play-cooking dirt and leaves over a real fire they had built. Our 4 year old thought this was absolutely awesome and wanted to get right in there adding sticks and leaves to the fire.

Since we arrived at the start of the year I have been attending a Yolɳu-focussed educational playgroup run by the department of education called Families as First Teachers or FaFT. This little group meets daily at a special centre in the community. We sing, play and eat together. Sometimes there are special outings to learn on country. At one such outing we were gathered at a beach in Yirrkala and were celebrating the year so far.

We have been coming to this group for several months, it's a group specifically aimed at engaging Yolɳu kids with their mothers, and encouraging bonding and education through both Balanda (dominant culture) and Yolɳu ways. But it was on this day when, for the first time, I felt the mothers and grandmothers starting to accept me, and engage with me. By getting outside of my comfort zone, stepping into their space, their country, showing up consistently, and being ready to learn from them and their culture, I started to see barriers fall away.

Out of respect for the Yolɳu culture, we don't have photos of the Yolɳu people mentioned in this story.

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