I was very lucky to travel to Elcho Island with my partner one New Year and experience how the most remote Australians party up. Similar to the rest of Australia, there were teenagers wandering the streets, boom boxes cranking techno and small children dancing bare-foot in red dust. Ok, maybe I haven't seen that last one before. It is also a dry (no alcohol) island which suited me well enough since I'm a pretty hopeless drinker.
Elcho is a tiny island off the north-east coast of Arnhem land in a cluster of islands called Wessell islands. The land is an amazing array of colours - rich purples and pinks on the beaches, lush green mangroves and red dusty roads.
The people of Galiwin'ku
There are many different tribal groups living around the island and most are transient, meaning that they move across islands and around the Australian mainland. The main settlement on the island is called Galiwin'ku where the airport, health clinic, three shops and police station are centralised.
You can watch videos posted by individual Elcho island residents through the Sharing Stories website here. Cyril posted a photo of a termite mound and the words below -
I like this termite mound because my mum told me that it helps to gather together all the clouds and form a rain. And all the rain drops and all the plants grow. The termite mound grows because it comes from all the sacred stories. The rains make the bush tucker and bush medicine grow new shoots.
Galiwin'ku health clinic
Elcho island health clinic is a bustling collaboration between remote area nurses and Aboriginal health professionals who work together to do endless health checks, immunisations and chronic disease management. There are also nurses travelling between outstations and homelands on the island who refer very sick patients back to Galiwin'ku. Retrieval of life-threatening cases is to Darwin by fixed wing plane.
Language is always a barrier working in Indigenous health and while many of the young people speak perfect English, some of the elders weren't able to talk to me. There are around 22 different dialects on the island.
Unlike many of the other islands I've visited, it isn't so easy to be healthy on Elcho. The island is hot, not conducive to running, unless you enjoy a pack of dogs running with you. As with most Australian communities these days, type 2 diabetes is rampant and while there's no McDonalds, the dietary influence of the deep fried take-away shop and Coca-Cola is indisputably dire. Food supply is limited to the shops that bring an over abundance of processed foods and sugary drinks. I believe there is a government sponsored shop that offers sugar-free alternatives, but even the best of us will choose the easiest option.
The ocean is crocodile territory, so only the local kids and some keen spear fishermen are brave enough to venture in. Traditional living does exist on Elcho, with people using what they source from the land. Some local women took me "hunting" for shell-fish in rock pools and there are many people living in the 'homelands' where hunting remains the way of life.
The island is most famous for the song "My Island Home" and Yolngu art.