Why teens off screen surprised everybody

Di Westaway | Chief Adventure Chick | Wild Women On Top | Life Changing Adventures

Sitting in red, dusty, prickly grass by Standley Chasm tourist car park in the central Australian desert listening to a local Arrente woman’s cultural conversations was not what I signed up for when I joined a Larapinta team trek with my son.
For me, it was about getting us both off screens with a bunch of mums and their teens for a few days in the school holidays.But this experience irrevocably changed the way I think about our country, our history and our indigenous community. 

What started as a health enhancing wilderness walk with Wild Women On Top became a watershed experience. 

Local indigenous woman Deanella Mack and trekking guide, Wes Moule explained why and how indigenous tribes had thrived on our great continent for over 40,000 years. They loved nature as their first priority. They were completely devoted to their roles as custodians of the land, owning nothing and sharing everything. 

Their tribal and individual "purpose" was aligned: not just conservation of nature but thriving off nature was the goal of life itself. Every single ritual, habit and activity were focused on this goal. 

As custodians of the land, they developed extraordinarily sophisticated systems to guarantee their own survival and that of the flora and fauna that fed, clothed, watered and sheltered them. 

Through a complex education system based on stories in song, art and dance they knew how to support and enhance nature, perfecting fire-stick farming to turn bush into parkland and wilderness into gardens helping all living creatures thrive and making hunting easier and more efficient. 

It was us, the white man, who stuffed it all up turning their parks & gardens into hazardous scrub in less than 200 years. 

They spoke of Bill Gammage's ground breaking book, “The Biggest Estate on Earth – How Aborigines Made Australia” and shared secrets of kinship and skin-ship. We learned that before 1788, there were 390 indigenous countries all working together through consensus to manage our vast land as one estate. Our indigenous people worked hard to make plants and animals abundant, convenient and predictable. 

As our group of six mums and six teens trekked the red earth teeming with wildflowers & birdsong, hopped over ancient pink and purple rock art, glamped out under the stars & dined on exotic cuisine cooked over coals under the dusty trail of the Milky Way, we felt humbled. We were privileged to be able to walk in the amazing West McDonnell ranges while being pampered by our World Expeditions guides in architect designed semi-permanent campsites that resembled a scene from the Arabian Nights.   

Anybody who knows how to survive in this harsh, vast, stunning, dry, caterpillar-dreaming wilderness has extraordinary skills. Thriving here, like the Arrente tribe did, is pure genius. 

Magic moments, like pressing your ear up against the smooth cool bark of the giant Red River Gums listening to the sound of gushing water being sucked up the tree to feed the leaves from the underground rivers below, are not easily forgotten. 

Nor is plunging into icy green billabongs from a sandy beach surrounded by burnt orange jagged cliffs supporting the bleached white athletic ghost gums which bravely clung to tiny cracks sucking invisible water from the vertical walls of the gorge; or sitting around the campfire watching whacky Wes scamper about roasting butter chicken, naan bread and barramundi over the red glowing coals, telling stories of how he helped cure his cancer by carrying 40kg backpacks across the Tasmanian wilderness to keep his body in tip top shape in between bouts of chemotherapy. 

Wes is a living legend. A former diesel mechanic turned trekking guide, anxious and dyslexic as a kid, you can see it in his eyes, he is a man that has found his true purpose. Wes now devotes his life to teaching kids about “nature deficit disorder”, raising money for charity and sharing his love of the wilderness with everybody he meets. 

Wes and I agree. Nature heals but only if we take care of it. 

Not only did we succeed in getting our technology-addicted teens off screens. We also tapped into a culture so extraordinary that it knows how to sustain nature. 

If only the rest of us were so clever. 

I hope it's not too late to capture the secrets of the Australian indigenous tribes who have been stripped of their purpose and are now lost in a world of political bickering. I now have a greater understanding of why our indigenous people are so completely lost. We have given post-traumatic stress disorder to an entire race. 

But trekking immerses us in local cultures and connects us to nature and nurture in the most fundamental way.

It's also bloody good for our minds and bodies. Let's share the benefits boldly.

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