Michael Christie’s personal history of Rapid Creek

Transcribed from audio file

Michael Christie  00:00

Hi. Here we are at the Yankee Pools.

The first time I was here was almost 50 years ago, before the cyclone. You could come for a swim here, but it was much better to be swimming a bit further down and even down at the mouth of the Creek, where the Lim’s Hotel is. There weren’t crocodiles down there in those days, so it was perfectly good for swimming.

I went through Darwin to Milingimbi in early 1972, and worked in Milingimbi for about 10 years. But I often found myself in Rapid Creek. It was actually the Milingimbi Yolngu who told me that this and the whole of Darwin was Larrakia land. I hadn’t heard about that before. But the Yolngu, I learnt, had connections with Larrakia people here. Old Yolngu ladies and old men when I was first at Milingimbi in the 70s, told me stories about walking to Darwin from Milingimbi in the 1930s. So we teachers from Miingimbi and other remote communities spent quite a lot of time when we were here waiting for the plane. Milingimbi had a dirt airstrip, and it used to get muddy and so we’d have to wait for days after days, weeks, in Darwin during the wet season when the swimming is good and you can’t swim in the sea. We would come to Nightcliff and come up to Rapid Creek and swim here, then go to Lim’s Hotel, a notorious hotel, now the respectable Beachfront. Lim’s had the ‘rage in the cage’ on Sunday afternoons. There were a lot of Aboriginal people from all over, mixing with Maoris from New Zealand, were hippies on the overland trail from Bali, motorbike gangs. Yeah, it was called Lim’s Hotel and it was named after one of the early Lims, Alexander Fong Lim, who was an early Mayor of Darwin. Lake Alexander over there at East Point is named after him. He was born in Katherine in the 1920s when for every European in the Northern Territory, there was something like five or six Chinese people and nobody knew how many Aboriginal people there were. He had a market garden down there.

So I learned to have a good time in Rapid Creek before I learned that it was Larrakia land and I was told that there were ongoing good connections between Larrakia people and Milingimbi people. And even still today. In the wet season, if you come anywhere up here and anywhere way down towards the Water Gardens, you often find kids swimming in here. Aboriginal families, and often Millner children, the grandchildren of people that I swam with here way back then.

So that’s the first stage of my personal history of Rapid Creek.

The second stage was in the 1980s, when I left Milingimbi and went to Brisbane to  study at the University of Queensland,and stayed at Saint Leo’s College,which is run by Jesuits. Over time I learned that Rapid Creek has a Jesuit history as well.

There was a Jesuit mission down there near where the horse farm is, downstream from McMillan’s Road, and a little bit further uphill on the Millner side. There’s a very interesting story about the Jesuit mission. It all started very well – bananas, pawpaws, pineapples but trouble broke out with the arrival of other Aboriginal groups from their own lands.  Father Donald McKillop, the Superior at the mission, (and the younger brother of St. Mary MacKillop, the only Australian Saint), when other Aboriginal groups, (he specifically named particular Aboriginal groups from surrounding areas), came to the Rapid Creek mission, he made sure that they were all treated equally. He treated everybody alike. And the Larrakia people were saying, hang on a minute, they need to talk to us first and then to you. This is our place. They know the protocols for visiting other people’s land. Together we can deal with those people and make some arrangements. As I see it now (and it has only recently occurred to me) Fr McKillop didn’t acknowledge (or even understand) the sovereignty of the Larrakia people.

So I often think about the Jesuits down there in the 1880s, and the Jesuits in Brisbane in the 1980s in the terms of Larrakia sovereignty. Larrakia sovereignty is something that we’ve only just started to talk about seriously in the last few years, and Rapid Creek tells us that sovereignty was just as much an Aboriginal commitment back then and a great source of misunderstanding.We need to learn to take sovereignty seriously.

In the early 1990s I came in to live in Darwin to start developing the languages program at NTU (now CDU). That’s when I first met Donna and I started working with Lorraine as well on a whole lot of different interesting projects. I lived in Millner, still do, and I got a bicycle, and started to explore Rapid Creek and joined the Rapid Creek Landcare Group. I’d already learned a lot about plants and animals working as a linguist in Arnhem Land, and was interested in  the ones that were the same here, the ones that were different, the names that Lorraine was telling us, their samenesses and differences. And we worked out which plants were weeds. Working on weeding, you start to look at the place in a completely different way. As soon as you see a weed,  ‘What are we going to do about it?’ And how do you worry about it? and which ones you’re going to prioritize? We have working bees where we work together.

But we often find each other just out here, roaming about, doing our own work, pulling out weeds, watching birds, or checking up on the latest developments and development consent applications.

Anon  05:47 Michael can I just ask a question on that… talking about weeds are those weeds, native and don’t belong here, or they feral plants?

Michael Christie  05:56

Mostly feral plants, the ones that are here, there’s almost none that are native to Australia and don’t actually belong here. Our weeds are mostly grasses, coffee bush, climbing things, and prickly things. But right here, it’s nearly all grasses grasses grasses and a few vines we just saw. If you keep on top of it, you can get rid of them. There’s also you might know recently been sighted an Indian mynah, somehow arrived from down south and escaped into the bush, so that in fact, feral birds are starting to come in.

So I guess the latest phase of my experience of this place is one of increasing paranoia, horror at the huge industrialization and militarization that’s going on around here. And the way in which there are plans to continue building this as a garrison city with increasing ordinance dumps over there somewhere, fuel dumps and refueling of major naval vessels, heaps of more military, military exercises. That big ordnance depot that we talked about on the other side there, you can only see it on Google Earth. And that looks very strange, circular formations. That will be I think, built up further.

And just finally, talking in terms of everyday militarisms, when you go past the hotel here on your bicycle at five o’clock in the evening, for the last nearly a year or so, just over there, about 100 meters, there were 15 refugees that are indefinitely detained there, without charge. Eight of them are still there.

Anon  07:39 Camp cruelty.

Michael Christie  07:40

Yeah. And I can’t say any more about that. But I have got some information about them here. And you’re welcome to follow up what’s there in terms of what who they are and where they are and what you can do about it. In fact, there’s a movie tonight, at the Deckchair Theatre, in support to raise funds for people that have been released from detention but that are in the community, but have no source of support whatsoever. So one of the horrifying things about learning from this place is learning about this militarism and its significance at the global level. But there is also an ongoing, beautiful Larrakia presence here. And a reminder of Larrakia or Gulumerrgin, sovereignty. I’m really happy that Lorraine and Donna were able to come today.

I did write a short history of this place for a student magazine and I’ve got some copies here if you’d like to take one. And there’s also a copy of issues to do with the refugees that are there.