Friday is funeral day in Kununurra. Every month or so on a Friday morning there are more than the usual number of dark figures under the trees in the park and along the green road verges. The whites who work with blackfellas pass the word, and the town uses “There’s a funeral on” as an excuse for everything.
Some funerals are bigger than others, and people have been gathering all week because tomorrow a young Aboriginal woman will be buried. A student told me they found her hanging at ‘The Ranch’, a community within Kununurra. The dead woman has left 4 little kids. It may have been suicide or murder – the girl telling me didn’t know. Suicide probably – homicide is uncommon here, but self-destruction is almost the norm.
The funeral notice in the paper said “Please attend in a sober manner”, but the drinking started yesterday.
A graffiti artist, here for only 2 weeks, organised a mural painting in the park with our high school kids for this afternoon. It was cancelled – the school decided it wouldn’t be right to take a group of students into a park full of drunks, even if the students are related to many of them. Sadly, the drunks in the park are family groups, with toddlers, babies and young kids as well as men and women.
I had a whole day of literacy assessments with unemployed people arranged for tomorrow at TAFE. They wouldn’t have turned up necessarily, but even me, a newbie, knew there’d be even less chance now. I explained to the agency woman. “There’s a funeral on.” She got out the appointment list and spoke formally to the Aboriginal woman at the next desk.
“Mary, with your knowledge of the community, will you tell me which of these people will be at the funeral on Friday.”
Mary nodded yes to a couple of names. Then another Aboriginal guy was given the list so he could visit each person and check whether they’d be coming or not. This morning an email told me all the appointments were postponed until next week. No pay for me, tomorrow. There’s a funeral on.
At the end of today I thought I’d break my weekend-only drinking rule and get a bottle of Rose` at Liquorland. I drove past the people staggering in the park and thought “the last thing this place needs is more alcohol,” but I still wanted it.
“I hope you’re just browsing, ma’am”, the shop guy said. Browsing in a bottle shop? But it was a formula he’d been given to help break the drastic news.
“Restrictions on. You can only buy light and mid-strength beer until 5 pm. Then you can buy one bottle of wine.”
It was 4.10 pm. I was so looking forward to a glass of pink bubbles after a big week, but I wasn’t desperate enough to wait, or go back later. The abuse of alcohol is constantly in my face here, and it makes me consider my own drinking– that, and calorie counting, is why I’ve stopped drinking during the week.
This is the first time I’ve experienced alcohol restrictions like they’ve had in Hall’s Creek for a few months now. The results down there have been spectacular – a huge decrease in crime and truancy – but the local bottle shop owner has maintained his rage and last week blamed the bans for the deaths of two people in a car accident. He claimed there were more car accidents because people had to drive to Kununurra to buy grog.
Of course, not all Aboriginal people are out drinking in the park. The woman next door took her children inside just after dark, as she does every night, and they won’t be sitting on the fence before 6.30 am. The thirteen year old I was working with this afternoon says her parents would never let her go to the park at night. The people who live in the house to the left of us are inside watching TV – I can see their screen flickering.
“You people just don’t get it.” That’s what the student said to me this arvo, after we’d moved on from the funeral news. I’d disagreed with her that punching someone who deserved it was the best way to get on in school. ‘You just break yo arm” she scoffed, and flounced off cheerfully to get another colour Texta for her “Walk to School Wednesday” poster.
Outside now is the biggest storm I’ve seen since we lived in Goroka. The sky is lit up non-stop and the thunder is making the dogs walk round in circles. Big drops of rain are smashing on the roof and the garden smells of cloves. There’s no guttering on the roof so the eaves are pouring waterfalls that have flooded the veranda already. I’ve got earplugs in my ears so I can type, but even so I’m jumping with the huge crashes right overhead.
I can’t imagine sitting drunk in a park in a tropical storm, and I can’t imagine having young children there with me. I can’t imagine punching someone and I can’t imagine hanging myself from a tree.
I don’t get it – but that’s irrelevant.