"The story of a life is not in how did they die, but how did they live. Not in what did they gain, but in what did they give"
Aunty A Punguatji defined courage...
Back in 2016 Aunty E Orsto was in Darwin receiving her medical treatment. A constant visitor to our space, whilst grateful to access care, she bemoaned staying at the hostel isolated and without company, engagement or activities.
She used to come and sit and humbug me for a cuppa and cookies and just wanted to chat.
The power of healing is in the doing she taught me and then one day when I asked what I could do to make things better, she got up the courage to ask me if she could use our space to teach others. She was simply isolated, used to being surrounded by all her sisters, and wanted to share. In this way she was teaching me kindness is the best kind of currency. I know now, it helps strong women with courage fight cancer.
So in 2017, Aunty E. Orsto held up a sign, "Come Weave With Me" and we took a photo and posted it and people showed up and she showed them. With heart and stories and laughter, she wove her magic for 2 hours and forgot she was terminally ill. After the first 'Crafternoon' session, she cried, "I feel alive again, I feel like myself again". We talked and she said to me "Maka, Maka, when I'm gone you need to continue this on". We lost her within the year.
A few years ago Aunty A stepped into this space. She too had to travel to Darwin from the Tiwi Islands to face her cancer, alone. During Covid this was even worse, especially in a time of grief after losing her own husband.
We bought her as much raffia, needles and supplies as I could find. I knew the medicine is in the doing, maybe we could help her healing I thought.
Over the past few years she weaved and sang and travelled and many of our community have experienced the joy of her baskets, wall art and earrings. When I showed her the photos of Holly Ringland, renowned author turned TV host wearing her earrings she bundled up with laughter and joy. "Pupuni" she said.
But she was also a visionary...she wanted to work with young people again. A big believer in our principle of invitation, we awaited to see what would come.
Slowly but steadily via Fiona at Ludmilla School we grew a collaboration where Aunty A could sit with the mums and bubs at the Families as First Teachers program. This grew to outreach visits at Bagot community and weaving demonstrations at community health sessions. She shared her wisdom with those families and they shared their energy with her. I held hope.
From seeing this in Darwin, she wanted to do something similar back home, in her own community, so we partnered with Xavier Catholic College and received a Artists in Schools Grant for the Wangatunga women to work with the senior girls and teachers to Learn the Art of Weaving.
And then as time grew on, she knew she wanted this to continue and asked to teach the next generation. We hosted a Women's Business Circle in 2021 and she led this with joyful singing and weaving and storytelling. From this she then spent time teaching Karina Kassman and Sharniqua Oxtoby, two of our collective workers, enabling Niqua to establish her own creative enterprise ReTelling Country and for Kreative Karina to mentor her.
Niqua this year ran her own Learn the Art of Weaving sessions at local schools across NAIDOC Week. The ripples flowing...
Sadly Aunty went to the Dreamtime a few weeks ago. This Friday is her farewell ceremony. It will be a humble affair. But she was a one-of-a-kindness queen to me and I want people to know how much her life meant.
Her courage lives on. It's interwoven into the lives of all she touched. Our Vision Statement for 2022 was born from her teachings.
I implore you, take time to listen to your elders. They have all the wisdom and knowledge you need.
Social enterprise / impact models ask you to measure profit and purpose. In the business of helping, I have no ways to do that...our investment and the impact these kind Aunty's made in all of our lives is immeasurable. That's why we stepped away from this 'industry' and focused growing our own model - a Made with Kindness Economy.
We have to do better in supporting these strong women with their medical treatment. My daughter has lost so many of her amawus (grandmothers) in this same way in her short life. Who is counting the cost of cancer and the way it is wiping out elders and subsequently the loss of deep cultural knowledge at a time when our nation and our little ones need it more than ever?
How can we create safe places and cultural spaces that care for these women in the way that they care for us, our community and our children?
What I know, the medicine is in the doing...that's what courage is. Defending your joy in the darkest moments, by being kind enough to light the way for others and in turn, feeling able to fight for life is what they showed me best.
We need to follow that lead.
Deep gratitude to Aunty A for all the lessons she brought to my world. We love you eternally.