Back in the 50s and 60s, or even the 40s and 30s, right through to the 70s - we were living in humpies; collecting sheets of iron that were lying in the tip, or anywhere, to make humpies. They used to grab forked tree branches, six of them, and put a rail across, and put sheets of iron on the sides and up on the roof, and cover that with calico, to make those humpies tight and stable. During the rainy season we used to live in the humpy and hear the rain pouring down on the iron outside - it was so nice. The humpy kept us cool during the hot weather too. Sometimes we had a doorway and put a sheet of iron on the ground just outside, with wood on top for a fire, so that we could sleep outside during the cold season. That was really good. We had no lights, just firewood. Today we've got electricity and we have to pay for it with our power card - even the lights and power to watch TV, and we have showers inside with hot and cold water, washing machines and fridges. But in the old days there wasn't anything like that. The old days were better because we watched the fire burning outside, and the stars shining in the sky - no television - we went to sleep early, or told stories until we went to sleep.
In the 70s it started to change; we had streetlights along the roads, and they brought things to build houses and they started to build new houses that we moved into. That wasn't the way we used to live on the ground. It was hard on those floors in the house; at first I didn't like sleeping on the cement. We used to dig a shallow hole in the ground outside and put a blanket down to sleep - even in the cold weather you could feel the hot heat coming up from the ground. In the cold weather we moved the iron and the dirt around to keep the heat in. And we used the earth as a pillow, and made straight beds for ourselves so we could sleep straight, not on the cement.
Now we are used to the houses, and it's good too. We are living in a new way. It's a new lifestyle and way of living that we never had before - but we still think about the humpy, look back to our grandfathers and grandmothers, aunties and uncles, how they used to live in the bush. I feel sad to think about that because we aren't living that way anymore. Now we pay rent. New things came in - and even though I'm alright in my life, deep in my heart, I still think back to those days.
This YAMA project is a way for me to remember and honour those times when I was a young boy. I used to like it, and I still think back. Back then we didn't know about photos - even if the superintendent took a photo of us, we didn't know. We never used to know about these cameras. After, when they showed the picture to us, we used to think 'hey! how come? it was only a machine!'. Little things like that. Now that we understand about all this, it's good to use and to make more videos and photos to give to our kids. All those who are related to us - we want to give it to them, to show our relations about our stories. Or to show our grandkids their ancestors. It's about family, knowing your family lines and what you're related to - your jukurrpa (dreaming); we are all related to our country. I want to make this project for my community, so that they can support me and help me to keep culture strong.
We show it to kardiya (non-indigenous) to show them how we feel about our culture and our history and dreamtime stories, if they want to know about it.
We can't go back to the way we used to live. We can't go back. But when we look forward, we want to live in a house where we feel comfortable; maybe we have an air conditioner or fan to keep us cool, or have a shower in the light, and a mirror to comb our hair or shave our whiskers. We can't go back to the past anymore. We can get up and go to the toilet in the night - no snakes, nothing like that. Before, we used to feel the snake going past in the night. We can't hear the dogs anymore, they sleep outside, and we have television inside. We have a kitchen and everything where we can cook on the stove. We've got to learn to live like we want to be. But it's still important to remember country, how to live there.
That's all in YAMA.
- Neil Jupurrurla Cooke