Three times a year our members and Directors come together from across the Central desert communities. Waltja has members from the WA to the Queensland border and down as far as Areyonga and up as far as Wilora. It’s a huge area over 900,000 kilometres and about 13,000 people.
When we come together, we camp out under the stars and during the day the Waltja staff look after us so we can relax and concentrate on the things we want to talk about. Our members always do things together to have fun and to learn from one another. During the year we don’t go to each other’s communities unless they are close, or we have a sports carnival or cultural reasons. As Indigenous women we don’t have a chance to come together in big groups like we do at Waltja, with different language groups. When we talk and share out stories, we always feel stronger from that and go back home feeling calmer and ready to try out some new ideas.
At Waltja all the work, the programs, the activities are centred around culture, language and relationships. We communicate a lot through our art, and we talk in our own language first. This helps us to think clearly what we want to say before we share our thoughts in English. There are nine main languages spoken by our members, but we find common ground. What makes Waltja special is our directors and members have a strong presence on the ground where the work is being done, in their own communities. As leaders they can help with and monitor Waltja’s work. They can drive the direction of Waltja.
Waltja had a cultural workshop during winter. There were lots of artwork made, storytelling in language and plenty of laughter as well as serious thought. We continued to think about the impact of culture on our lives and how it keeps us mentally and physically strong. Culture is the way to keep people connected to country and community.
During the meetings we take the opportunity to talk about things impacting on community life, on aged and disability support needs and how the NDIS might be able to help, difficulties young people face around education, gender and identity, the different ways we can support the staff at Waltja to do good work out bush. We also talked about the hard things like suicide and the sadness it brings. We saw that young people need help with suicide awareness and with using social media responsibly.