Jane Kelly reflects on her recent journey to Gudanji Country and the deep and important call for us to care for God’s beautiful creation.
On the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the Northern Territory tablelands, with the Carpentaria Highway now snaking its way across the surface, is Gudanji Country. For a cityslicker like me, it is a remote area of the continent, full of raw and fertile beauty in its plains, rocky outcrops, gorges and rivers.
During the July school holidays, I was blessed to be invited by Rikki Dank (also known as Tika to her family and friends) and her family to visit Gudanji Country, as they graciously opened their hearts and home to a small number of climate-engaged advocates. Tika; her mother, Debra; and sister, Ryhia, are Traditional Owners of the Gudanji nation.
I first met Tika at the CANA (Climate Action Network Australia) Conference in June 2022. At one of the morning tea breaks, Tika shared the seed of an idea just beginning to germinate. She was considering taking people in the climate movement out on to Country to show, not simply tell them of, the magnificent land and its people who are fighting to protect it from the current scourge of overgrazing and mining, and now fracking and the impacts of climate change.
Thirteen months later I pinch myself as I, along with six others from various climate organisations are escorted by Tika; her father, Rick; and her husband, Sanjit; from Larrakia Country (Darwin) to Gudanji Country.
It is impossible for Tika to hide the immense pride that wells up in her, as we crest the jump-up that reveals her Country, and exclamations of awe echo around the minivan. She tells us that she believes Gudanji Country is the most beautiful country in the world, and our words of admiration at the sight before us of bright green trees and spinifex, deep red soil, and a brilliant and wide blue sky only serve to confirm this to her.
Throughout our week, the Dank family warmly embrace us, trusting us with their stories; old and new. They also share their deep knowledge as they show us how to hunt for sugarbag; craft coolamons and didgeridoos; feed us with campsite-made damper, jonnycakes, local freshwater redclaw crayfish, and corned beef (corned beef never tasted so good!); and guide us to their favourite fishing spots.
We visit Caranbarini Conservation Reserve and walk among the impressive rock outcrops of Garambarini. We all sigh and breathe in deeply the cooler air, finding respite from the heat within the steep and narrow chasms of the rocks. Under one of the rocky overhangs Tika finds sugarbag, reinforcing to us why the local Gudanji regard this place so fondly: shelter from the weather with sweet treats at hand.
Throughout my week on Gudanji Country, when I stop and listen, I can feel the great age of this land.
We also take time to stop on the roadside of the McArthur River Mine. From the road its impact is minimised with a non-descript long wall of reddish brown dirt on either side of the highway, blending into the countryside for the casual traveller. On one side of the road the dirt wall hides the tailings dam; a toxic and potentially catastrophic risk to the land and the people. On the other side, the mountain of extracted dirt conceals kilometres of land ruptured and overturned, as zinc and lead is gouged from it.
Sitting by the meandering McArthur River, listening to Traditional Owners share their grief and frustration at being ignored and removed from the decision making process about their land, the torment of their powerlessness is visceral.
The Dank women, Debra, Tika and Ryhia, each spoke of the responsibility they have to their Old People to protect their traditional country. This responsibility weighs heavily upon them; if overgrazing, mining, and fracking continue the land will not be in a healthy state and will not be here for their children and grandchildren. It will be dug up, contaminated, shipped off, destroyed. They are keenly aware that fossil fuel extraction on Gudanji Country will also contribute to our rapidly increasing climate crisis and they don’t want their precious lands to be complicit in that.
On our last night together, Deb shares a beautiful vision of the future. As her grandchildren play and sit at her feet, she speaks of a future where her grandchildren’s grandchildren sit on the same ground around a campfire with our children’s grandchildren. What a sublime invitation for us to walk together with the Gudanji people in their fight to protect their precious country. I simply cannot refuse such hopeful graciousness.
I want to express a deep and abiding gratitude to Tika, Sanjit, Rick, Debra, Ryhia and Aaron, their families and all those at Little River and Borroloola who shared so generously with me. I’m eager to deepen relationships and am looking forward to returning to Gudanji Country, hopefully with my family next year, to hear and learn more. I continue to reflect on how I can share more with our Common Grace movement; how we can pray for, stand in solidarity with, and take action to protect God’s beautiful creation for the flourishing of all, deeply listening to the voices of Traditions Owners like the Gudanji as we walk alongside them in their fight to protect their unique lands.
If you are interested in learning more about Gudanji Country, I highly recommend “We Come with This Place” by Debra Dank. Since returning home, I have devoured Deb’s book; I’m not the only one who loves her writing, it has swept the literary awards including the Australian Literature Society's Gold Medal and NSW State Library Book of the Year and a record four awards at the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards
Prayer and Reflection
Read Psalm 19 and join us in pray led by Jane Kelly
Great Creator God,
Thank you for your wonderful creation, a gift and revelation of knowledge to each of us. May we learn to truly hear creation’s voice as it goes out into all the earth. We pray you would honour the Gudanji people for their keeping of your statues, despite the adversity and injustice they face. May you direct the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts; may we join in solidarity with the Gudanji people to bring true justice to these lands.
Jane Kelly Photo Credits R to L - Image One: Gudanji Country, Caranbarini Conservation Reserve and Turkey Bush (Calytrix exstipulata). Image Two: Jane Kelly with Debra and Tika Dank making coolamons and McArthur River Mine.
Jane Kelly is Common Grace's Creation and Climate Justice Coordinator where, among other activities, she's had the privilege of overseeing the 'Knit for Climate Action' campaign - gifting climate-stripe scarves knitted by Christians to Australian and international political leaders and sending a gracious and strong call for urgent action on climate change. Jane is passionate about connecting with people, hearing their stories, and coming together to see positive change in communities. She lives on Dharug land in Western Sydney with her husband Simon and their three children, Elise, Finn, and Eamon, and the black labrador, Bailey. Her studies include theology, ministry, ethics, and legal studies.