Learning an Aboriginal Language: A Quick & Dirty Guide to Learning Vocabulary

This post explains the method by which I’ve exponentially increased my Arrernte vocabulary in a matter of weeks rather than months or years.

The method I’m about to describe allowed me to go from understanding only half of what I was hearing, to knowing 70% of what was being said in very short time.

As part of my long term strategy to create real resources for Aboriginal language learners, I’ve also included some PDF files which may serve as models for other language learners.

As you might have gleaned from my first post, Arrernte is very different from English and other European languages. If you were to apply the method I’ve used to learning ‘world languages’ i.e. German, French, Spanish, you’d experience the same, if not even better, results due to many words having some similarity between European languages.

The Magnetic Memory Method

Whilst looking for other courses, I stumbled across an online course on the website, Udemy, called ‘How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language’. The course shows you how to use the Magnetic Memory Method system, which is based on the ‘Method of Loci’. There’s a quote on the Wikipedia page which explains this technique eloquently:

“’The method of loci’, an imaginal technique known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and described by Yates (1966) in her book The Art of Memory as well as by Luria (1969). In this technique the subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject literally ‘walks’ through these loci and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any distinguishing feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by ‘walking’ through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items. The efficacy of this technique has been well established (Ross and Lawrence 1968, Crovitz 1969, 1971, Briggs, Hawkins and Crovitz 1970, Lea 1975), as is the minimal interference seen with its use.”

 This technique has been expanded and enriched by Canadian academic, Anthony Metivier, who used it to improve his German vocabulary.

Anthony has gone on to create the course on Udemy I’ve linked to above, as well as a number of books on specific languages. He has branded his version of the system the ‘Magnetic Memory Method’.

As I was taking the course, I also read his How to Learn and Memorize German Vocabulary
book. Reading and thinking about the method actually helped me more than the online course, which I used for revision. Others may find watching the lectures helps them more than reading.

I should state here that this technique is not for lazy people or those who want a ‘quick fix’.

The Magnetic Memory Method system involves creating complex mental imagery and undertaking a series of higher-level cognitive processes to get the words and meanings to ‘stick’ in your head, which is in fact why you’re able to recall the words and their meanings as you walk through your mental journey.

The system can be summarised in these steps:

  • Identify a place that starts with a letter of the alphabet in the language you’re learning (places like shopping centres, streets and highways worked best for me) – this is the ‘palace’
  • Identify 10 (or however many) words starting with this letter that you wish to remember
  • Within your palace identify 10 ‘stations’ or locations along the way – take great care NOT to get into a dead end, though. Backing yourself into a dead end means that you won’t be able to add additional words/locations to your palace, and you’ll need to come up with another location to add more vocabulary
  • Create mnemonic images (the more outrageous the better) to help you recall your words. For example, to remember the word for Victoria Wattle in Arrernte –arlepe (pronounced ‘a leper’) I imagined lots of lepers running naked through this prickly wattle! For the word ‘arrakerte’ (which is ‘mouth’ in Arrernte, pronounced ‘aRR-ar-kurt-uh’), I imagined a big mouth holding a tennis racket.
  • Place one image at each location within the palace
  • Then take the trip from beginning to end through your imaginary palace, visiting each of the stations
  • Rinse and repeat for each letter of the alphabet in your target language.

There is a fair bit of work involved at the outset of this method: you need to identify a place for each letter, create stations and images; however, I found that once I’d done this several times, I could memorise a list of 10 items in about 10-15 minutes.

If you’d like to learn more about this system, I recommend that you start with Anthony Metivier’s website: http://www.magneticmemorymethod.com/

Applying the Method to Arrernte

I was able to grasp the nuts and bolts of the method quickly though watching the lectures and reading the book.

However, when I sat down to create stations for the Arrernte alphabet, I was immediately confronted with a problem: about two-thirds of the words in Arrernte start with the letter ‘A’.

This might not seem like much of a problem until you think about the implication for creating memory palaces: I would need an absolutely GINORMOUS palace for the letter ‘A’!

My immediate fix for this problem was to then use the second letter (or letters) of the Arrernte alphabet and simply create more palaces.

I ended up having something like 39 palaces, 25 of which were ‘A’. After writing to Anthony Metivier and then thinking this over, I looked at how Arrernte alphabet was organised.

The sounds of the Arrernte alphabet:

a, e, h, i, k ,kng, l, lh, m, n, ng, nh, ny, p, pm, r, rl, rn, rr, rt, rtn, t, th ,thn, tn, tny, ty, u, w, y = 31 potential palaces!

A look at the main Arrernte Dictionary didn’t really help, as two thirds of its content are in the letter ‘A’.

However, the Eastern and Central Arrernte Picture Dictionary was organised in a much more ‘memory palace’ adaptable way, and I was able to instantly adapt it, solving both the problem of the letter ‘A’ and the 31 sounds:

Ah, Ak, Al, Am, An, Ap, Ar, At, Aw, Ay, I, K, L, M, N, P, R, T, U, V, W, Y = 22 memory palaces.

Whilst Metivier recommends that you use a place starting with the same letter as the words within the palace, I had to be a little more flexible when it came to all the A’s in the Arrernte language.

For example, I used ‘Alice Hills’ for Ah (a journey along the ranges and gaps of Alice Springs), Alice Mall (Todd Mall) for ‘Am’, Alice River (the bike path alongside the Todd River), etc for to deal with the large amount of ‘A’s’.

To assist you to in learning how to do this, you can download the PDF file or the editable Word doc I created for Arrernte:

Arrernte Memory Palace Master Sheet.pdf

Arrernte Memory Palace Master Sheet.docx.

The actual creation of stations within each palace I found pretty easy. There were times when I adjusted the station, because when I tried to remember the journey before adding the words, I found that some places wouldn’t stick.

Generally, however, I found stations easy to create. I have to say that I much preferred trips along roads and streets than trips though houses I’d lived in or shopping malls.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the method for me, and the one which takes the longest, is the creation of mnemonic images.

When you’re learning a European language like German or even Indonesian, it’s fairly easy to find words that correspond to English words, (even if they have a different meaning) and sounds that are like words in English.

However in Arrernte, apart from the ever-increasing array of English loan words, there are words that sound NOTHING like any English word at all and you really have to stretch your imagination.

For example, the word ‘utnenge’ (oot-NUNG-uh) means ‘a person’s spirit’ in Arrernte. When I came to create an image for this word, I really, really had to stretch the sounds and meaning. In the end, I came up with a ghost wearing a plaster cast and the sound ‘foot numb’ to recall the Arrernte pronunciation.

Yeah, silly image, I know, but it works for me!

I will forever recall an archetypal ghost with a plaster cast on its foot when I drive across the Hugh River crossing just before the Old Owen Springs Homestead! (The Arrernte name for the range which runs through Owen Springs Reserve is ‘Urenhe’ –thus it’s the U memory palace).

So that you can see exactly how this works, I’ve attached the Urenhe/U memory palace spreadsheet .xls file.


From time to time, however, I have struggled with finding a mnemonic and this part of implementing the system has taken me much longer than I imagined it would.

The Results and Some Reflections

You can probably guess that I’ve been very happy with using this method to increase my vocab. In only ten days, I was able to add 200 new words – which is a phenomenal result!

Have I been able to recall them?

By and large, yes, I have.

You do have to take the journeys through your palace a few times, and to help me remember, I also learn the journey, then go do something else, and come back and test myself by writing down the Arrernte words and their meanings.

Once you’ve sorted the mnemonics, it’s really only a few minutes a day to walk through your memory palaces to keep them fresh. You can schedule this maintenance for each letter on one day of the month (1st = A, 2nd =B, 3rd= C).

When I haven’t remembered images/words, it’s usually because the image isn’t distinctive enough. Metivier recommends making the images as graphic (yes, in every sense of the term) as you can.

I’ve never forgotten a location, however.

When I’ve decided to add new words, I’ve simply added more stations on the end. So far, I haven’t ran out of stations, however, it is quite logical that you would run out of stations, so you would need to create a second memory palace for that letter.

My success with this method probably comes from following Metivier’s instructions exactly and using his sample docs/spreadsheets to organize myself.

However, if you’re impatient or you’re not prepared to do the preparation, then I wouldn’t recommend this method of vocab memorization.

Again, this is a long post, but one I hope you’ve found it interesting and useful. If you’ve got any experience using this method, or you’ve got your own methods for vocabulary memorization, please share in the comments below.

The next post will be about my aims and strategies for Arrernte over the next few months using language hacking and uncommon language acquisition methods.


Learning an Aboriginal Language – Some Reflections

I’ve been prompted to write a series of posts on learning Aboriginal languages for a number of reasons:

  • There’s not a lot of information online about how to go about learning an Aboriginal language
  • I’ve found a few techniques that have really helped me to progress
  • Big name polyglots and language learning sites by and large ignore Aboriginal (and other ‘unwritten’) languages in favour of ‘world’ languages. One such person rather dismissively told me that no one really wants to learn these languages. Guess I’m no one…
  • There are very few resources available to learn these languages online.

This post is the first in a series that aims to provide tips, strategies and resources for learning Aboriginal languages.

In using the term ‘Aboriginal’ I am not only referring to the indigenous people of Australia, but to all First Nations peoples, who either currently are (or until very recently were) hunter-gatherers or agriculturalists.

This first post explains the trajectory my own language learning has taken over the decade I’ve been learning. It may or may not serve as a trajectory for others in similar language learning situations.

Beginning Arrernte

regionmapWhen I first moved to Central Australia in 2001 to take up work as a field anthropologist, one of the most exciting things about the job I was taking on was the opportunity to learn an Aboriginal language.

You see, I’m fortunate enough to live in Alice Springs (capital of outback Australia), where you can walk down the street and hear at least four or five different Aboriginal languages spoken every day.

As the bulk of my fieldwork was either with Arrernte-speaking people in and around Alice Springs or with Western Arrarnta speakers around Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and the West MacDonnell Ranges, I chose to take a week-long Arrernte beginner’s intensive.

The beginner’s intensive was run at the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD). IAD is well known within Australia for its publishing house, which has for many years specialized in publishing Aboriginal language dictionaries, learners’ guides and other books with an indigenous focus.

At the time (2001), IAD also ran regular language courses in Arrernte, Warlpiri (I later took a beginners’ intensive in this language), Pitjantjatjara and Pintubi-Luritja. Sadly, IAD ceased teaching language courses about 4 years ago when it underwent a dramatic restructure. There are now no Aboriginal language courses being run in Alice Springs.

A former school teacher, Barry McDonald, ran the course with the assistance of senior Arrernte speakers, Veronica Dobson and MK Turner. MK can’t use her names because they are kwementyaye – a term of respect used in place of the names of close relatives who have passed away.

This is probably a good time to explain a few things about the Arrernte language and the way in which its written alphabet (orthography) has been developed.

Arrernte is often considered one of the most difficult Aboriginal languages to learn, as it has a number of sounds which English speakers find very difficult to master. For example, it’s got the ‘rr’ sound, which it trilled like the ‘r’ sound in Spanish and Indonesian. It’s also got nasals like pm, th and the one which most people find really hard, kng. With these sounds, you need to force a little puff of air back through your nose.

The other reason people find Arrernte confronting is its orthography (its system of writing). Although Arrernte uses the standard English alphabet, several linguists in the 1970s decided to try and create a way of representing Arrernte sounds based on the position of the tongue, teeth and mouth. This rather short-sighted decision has resulted in words that look impossible to say, and sound nothing like they’re spelled in English:

Akngwelye – (akng-WOOL-yuh) – dog

Untyeye – (oon-CHIA) = Corkwood Tree

Alhekulyele (ah-LEK-ul-yilla) – Mt Gillen

Mparntwe – (mm-BARN-doo-uh) – Alice Springs.

I say ‘short-sighted’ above because the difficulty of learning the Arrernte orthography not only discourages many English speakers, it alienates Arrernte people from the written form of their language as well.

Over the years, I’ve lost count of the Arrernte speakers who have bitterly complained that learning to read and write their own language is so difficult, they don’t bother with it at all.

At any rate, the week long beginners’ intensive was enough for me to be able to learn the Arrernte orthography to the point I could spell Arrernte words in order to enter their names into the sacred sites database (I was working for the sacred sites authority at the time).  It was also enough for me to get an idea of how the sounds of the language were made – and to practice getting my tongue around the kng, tn, rt, rn, rl and pm-s!

Beyond that, I could ask what things were (Iwenhe nhenhe? –What’s this?), say my name (Ayenge arritne Amanda), say where I lived and a few other basic phrases.

Finding the Music of the Language

I was lucky enough to be able to continue on with an intermediate Arrernte course almost straight away. This was an evening course held for about 3 hours every week for a term. About a year later, IAD held an advanced intensive, and I was one of a handful of people who took it.

Whilst my understanding of how the language worked increased, my vocabulary and memory for the language did not improve a great deal. As my work was mainly focused upon the protection of Aboriginal sacred sites and later, the joint management of national parks, once the language intensives were over, I largely stagnated.

This was due to my own busy-ness, the availability (or lack of) self-study resources, and an absolute dearth of TV shows, movies, spoken recordings and podcasts of Arrernte.

It was also due to my lack of a real strategy to help me use the resources which did exist and a real lack of confidence to seek help from language speakers.

I plodded along with A Learner’s Guide to Eastern and Central Arrernte and the tape which went with it, and the (thankfully VERY good) Eastern and Central Arrernte to English Dictionary for a few years.

LearnersMy progress was very, very slow throughout the years 2003-2008, when I went to work with the NT Parks and Wildlife Service, before returning to the sacred sites authority in 2008.

By this time, I could have a basic conversation in Arrernte, enough to be able to acquire directions, ask about kinship and sacred sites, where things were, and to name common foods, clothing, plants and animals.

It wasn’t until I began to spend longer amounts of time with Western Arrarnta (yes, it’s spelled differently) speakers that I finally got my ‘ear in’ for the language. By this, I mean that point in learning a language when you can understand the ‘gist’ of what a conversation is about, and you develop a ‘memory’ and a music for the language – you can learn and retains words with a lot less effort and you have a feel for how sentences are put together.

Probably the best thing about spending time with Western Arrarnta people was that they speak a lot slower than many of their Eastern counterparts, and they have a slightly different word ordering structure for their language that’s a little easier to follow.

The other good thing about Western Arrarnta is that there are a few fabulous, but hard to get resources, created by the Lutheran missionaries who founded the Hermannsberg mission. I was able to obtain some of these materials and studied them off and on for the next few years.

Stagnation and Revitalisation.

By the beginning of this year (2013) I’d been learning Arrernte for 12 years. I’d got to the point where I could have a very basic conversation, and still only understood about 50% of what was being said. What’s more, my ability to speak was waaaay behind my comprehension.

I’d done very little with Arrernte since 2010 as I’d been promoted beyond the level of field anthropologist and was managing managers. I did no fieldwork. My language had stagnated whilst I’d returned to brushing up on Indonesian instead.

Fast forward to April 2013. I took a contract with the Aboriginal Interpreter Service as a trainer –training interpreters. Everyday since then, I’ve been surrounded by language. My work colleagues are Arrernte (plus every other central Australian Aboriginal language) speakers.

I’ve been immersed, forced to speak, and soaking up language like a sponge. In a way, this was similar to my first experience with Indonesian in 1996, when I spent a semester in Java and had to speak Indonesian everyday.

Over the past few months, I’ve actively sought out more Arrernte resources –few and far between, but I’ve uncovered some beauties- and have implemented a strategy to increase my vocabulary swiftly and intensively.

I’ve also sought out the accounts of other unwritten language learners and discovered the strategies of uncommon language learners, especially rogue polyglots and language hackers.

Last week, whilst co-running a training course for NAATI paraprofessional accreditation, I sat with the Eastern/Central Arrernte group and for the first time, really understood what was being said and shakily was able to participate.

After so many years treading water, this was a major breakthrough – one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in what has been an amazing year.

Where To From Here?

As I’ve said, this is first in a series of posts I’ve got planned:

  • My next post will focus on the memory strategy I’ve used to expand my vocabulary quickly and exponentially
  • The third post will outline the strategy and my aim with Arrernte over the next three months
  • The last post in this series will address the dearth of resources which learners of First Nations’ languages are faced with –including where to find and how to develop your own resources.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful. I’d love any comments and experiences you’ve had learning Aboriginal or other uncommon languages.

Bess Price’s Speech to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly

Go Bess Price Nungarrayi. 863051-120519-twam-dave-and-bess

In case you DON’T know who Bess is, she’s a Warlpiri woman from Yuendumu (in central Australia), who’s now been elected to our Legislative Assembly (that’s the NT’s parliament, in case you’re not sure). For many years, she’s been an outspoken critic of those who ‘fetishize’ culture, and place it before the rights of women and children.

Bess RIGHTLY takes aim at what I’ll call CONSERVATIVE lefties – the tired-old has beens still ‘fighting the good fight’ from the 1970s land rights battles, whose views have become solidified in Australia’s national consciousness, Indigenous policy from both sides of the political fence, and much of what passes as ‘debate’ in Australian anthropological circles. It’s also a blind-sider at middle class urbanites, who’ve probably been to Bali or the US more times than they’ve poked their heads into Australia’s inland.

If this offends your sensibilities, then it’s done its job.

There is a new generation of progressives rising – and it’s not coming from the tired old lefties who are now the conservative status quo – it’s coming from disaffected Aboriginal people, sick of seeing people dying, poor and segregated in the name of ‘land rights’ and ‘culture’.

Bring it on.
Madam speaker,

I take this opportunity to talk about an issue that has always been close to my heart. Within the last three months two more young mothers, related to me, have died in Alice Springs town camps. One was injured mortally in public. Nobody acted to protect her. Dozens of my female relatives have been killed. Convictions have often led to relatively light sentences. I was told by a senior lawyer that no jury in Alice Springs will convict an Aboriginal person for murder if the victim is also Aboriginal and she is only stabbed once. And we all have done nothing effective to stop this from happening. It has been going on for decades. Why hasn’t there been the outrage that we would have heard from feminists if they had been white? Why is there such a deafening silence? I believe that we can blame the politics of the Progressive Left and its comfortably middle class urban indigenous supporters.

Because I have spoken out on this issue and others close to my heart I have been routinely attacked. Professor Larissa Behrendt claimed that what I say is more offensive than watching a man having sex with a horse. Her white colleague, Paddy Gibson, told the world that I was only doing it for the money and frequent flyer points. The Queensland educationist, Chris Sarra said that I was a ‘pet Aborigine’ who only said what the government wanted me to say. Chris Graham, the white editor of Tracker magazine called me a grub. A white woman in Victoria, Leonie Chester, calls herself Nampijinpa Snowy River on the internet. She tells the world that my people, the Warlpiri, are ‘her mob’. She and her friends have obscenely insulted me on the internet over and over. Marlene Hodder, a white woman from Alice Springs, and her friend Barbara Shaw, have called me a liar several times. The Crikey blogger Bob Gosford calls me Bess “Gaol is good for Aboriginal people” Price and accuses me of ‘vaguely malevolent and populist buffoonery that is designed to capture the attention of the tutt-tutterers and spouted by politicians that inevitably have a short tenure in power.’

But I am in good company. When Mantatjara Wilson, a wonderful, strong woman I called mother, told the world about the crimes against our children on national TV, back in 2007, with tears streaming down her face the left-wing activists moved to undermine her. They went into the communities, not to protect the kids, but to find women who would oppose Mantatjara. They talked about outrage and shame, not because of the crimes we all know about but because somebody was brave enough to tell the world about them and ask for help. That was what they called shameful. They worry about the shame felt by perpetrators not by the agony of their victims and their families. It’s easy to find women who will support their men even if they are killers and rapists. Families always stand up for their own.

Some few others have stood up and faced the vicious criticism of the Left. Here I acknowledge the wonderful work of Dr. Hannah McGlade in Perth and Prof. Marcia Langton in Melbourne. Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson have also spoken out. A conference of Aboriginal men in Alice Springs publicly apologized to Aboriginal women and kids for the violence and abuse that men have inflicted on them. None of these people have received support from the left or from Labor governments. So the Left have tried really hard to call us liars, to put us down for speaking the truth and for wanting to stop the killing and the sexual violence. But they have put no effort, none at all, into protecting our kids and our women.

I recently went to Sydney for the launch of a book called ‘Liberating Aboriginal People from Violence’ by a wonderful, caring friend of mine, Dr Stephanie Jarrett. My words are on the cover of her book ‘We need to support those who tell the truth”. Dr Jarrett does that and she cares, maybe too much for her own good. I have seen the tears in her eyes and heard the passion in her voice when she talks about our murdered and bashed ones. I trust her completely. But of course those who aren’t interested in the truth are out to bring her down. She has been attacked in the Monthly magazine by its editor John van Tiggelen in an article called ‘Thinking Backwards’.

Dr Jarrett is saying that there are elements to our traditional culture that we must change if we are to stop the violence that is destroying us and she is right. Things are much worse now than the old days because of grog and drugs and the awful welfare dependency that is sucking the life out of us. There are elements to our culture that are good and should be kept. But we should be prepared to do what everybody else in the world has done, change our ways to solve the new problems that we have now and that our old Law has no tools to solve. Some people call this ‘integration’, others ‘assimilation’ because they want us to continue to live in poverty, violence and ignorance so that we can play out their fantasies of what the word ‘culture’ means. They have their own agendas and liberating our people from violence is not part of those agendas. I call it problem solving and saving lives.

Van Tiggelen talks about the book ‘Black Death – White Hands’ written by Paul Wilson in 1982. In that book Wilson argued that when a man called Alwyn Peters killed his girlfriend it was actually because of white colonialism and racism. It wasn’t the killer’s fault. It was the whitefella’s fault. This argument worked. Peters was given a very short sentence.

Dr Jarrett started to worry about Aboriginal women’s rights when she saw David Bradbury’s film ‘State of Shock’. This was made in 1988 and was based on the same case. Bradbury brought the film to Alice Springs and brought Alwyn Peters with him. In the film Bradbury gave only the story of Peters and his family. Nobody from the victim’s family was given a chance to give their point of view. They would not have backed Bradbury’s argument so they were ignored. I remember Alwyn Peters telling us that ‘she has ruined my life’. He was talking about the one he killed. ‘She comes to me in dreams’ he said. This made me feel sick. When my husband asked David Bradbury ‘why didn’t you talk to the victim’s family, you would have got a different point of view?’. He said ‘Alwyn Peter’s family are victims too’. In other words all of our sympathy was meant to be for the one who killed and his family and not for the one he killed or her family.

Back in 1991 Audrey Bolger of the ANU’s North Australian research Unit wrote a wonderful little book called ‘Aboriginal Women and Violence’. At last somebody was taking notice, at last a white woman was trying to get governments to act. She was ignored and, as far as I know, nobody tried again after that. Her voice was drowned out by the politically correct who took their lead from Wilson and Bradbury. Just keep blaming the whitefellas and every thing will be fine.

Audrey Bolger said in her book, way back then, that;

‘in the final analysis the problem of violence against Aboriginal women will only be solved by Aboriginal people themselves’.

The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody said the same thing. In a way she was right, my people need to act now to stop our own violence. But in another way this has given governments and the wider community an excuse for the big cop out. OK, we whitefellas caused the problems but only blackfellas will solve them so we’ll sit around waiting for that to happen.

She also said:

– ‘the problem is a complicated one, bound up as it is with other issues connected with changing lifestyles. Working through these issues towards satisfactory solutions is crucial to the future well being of all Aboriginal people’.

She was right but in the twenty two years since she wrote that there have been no satisfactory solutions found and things are much worse now. It hasn’t happened and I’m sick of sitting around waiting while my loves ones are killed. We have had committees and research projects and advisory councils and ATSIC and now we have a National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. Billions of dollars have been spent. We have had visits from United Nations Special Rapporteurs and Amnesty International indigenous officers. Not only haven’t solutions been found but none of these have even bothered to raise the issue. I want to work through those issues and find solutions.

For the Left and for many Aboriginal politicians on the national stage it seemed that the only issues worth talking about were the Stolen Generation and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. These are real issues that had to be addressed. But they weren’t the only issues. In the meantime women still died, children didn’t go to school, epidemics of renal failure, diabetes, cancers and heart disease grew worse, young men went to jail. We kept killing each other and ourselves. Australians were not told that the death rate amongst our young men was higher outside custody than in and that more Aboriginal women died at the hands of their menfolk than Aboriginal men died in custody.

Since then so many more women have died and been sexually assaulted and many killers and rapists have been given very short sentences. And many more men have gone to jail. This has come from this whitefella sense of guilt, the fear of encouraging racism and the fear of changing our culture. All of the victims in these cases were Aboriginal. There seems to be a very different attitude displayed in the rare cases where the victim is white and the perpetrator Aboriginal. My people now feud much more than they used to partly I believe, because they doubt that the courts will punish the guilty enough.

The message to our young women is simple. ‘Our fantasy of what your culture is about is more valuable than your lives. Our fear of racism is much greater than our respect for your lives. We ask you to sacrifice your lives for our political agenda. You will only hear from us when we can blame a whitefella for the crime’.

The message to our young men is also simple. ‘If you kill your women we understand, we will take the blame and we can guarantee you our sympathy’. Since Wilson wrote his book and Bradbury made his movie the weakest and most vulnerable in our communities have suffered immensely, with no sympathy from the Left. Things are much worse now.

Bob Gosford, the Crikey blogger, is typical of the middle class white man who knows us better than we do and who ignores our suffering to push his own agenda. He regularly insults me and my people. He lived for a while in my community. In that short time he came to know my people, in fact my own family, better than I do apparently. He has waged a campaign against me for several years now.

Last week we saw this man freely discussing, in his blog and on radio, cultural issues in a way that has brought shame on all of the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. Although he takes his pay from Aboriginal people he has shown that he has no respect for our culture. He is willing to publicly insult and shame us to push his personal agenda. He has never tried to discuss the issues he writes about with me. He has never spoken out against violence in our communities and spends all of his time trying to destroy the reputations of those who do. In his wisdom he calls me an ‘intra-racist’ because I am sick of the nonsense coming from those in the south who call themselves ‘indigenous’ but look, think, act and live their lives like whitefellas and, like Bob Gosford, think they know us better than we know ourselves.

I have even been warned by a white human rights lawyer from Melbourne that I could be charged with racial vilification under the Racial Discrimination Act. I have never heard this human rights lawyer speak out against the violence that is killing our women and girls. He wouldn’t even know about the deaths of the two young women in recent months and I doubt if he cares. There was no whitefella that could be blamed so he’s not interested. The hurt feelings of southerners who don’t like the truth are much more important to this human rights lawyer than the lives of our women and girls here in the bush. His priorities are obviously different from mine.

But what would I know. To this white journalist van Tiggelen I’m an ‘Aboriginal politician’. To the member for Barkly I am an ‘Aboriginal Liberal’. This implies that I shouldn’t be listened to. Only those on the Left know what a real blackfella is. Only they know which Aboriginal spokespeople can be trusted to tell the truth. The ones who agree with them. The Left decides for us but get angry when we refuse to let them put their words in our mouths. Even when the Labor government had Aboriginal members – ‘Aboriginal Labor’ I guess the member for Barkly would call them – I didn’t see them get much support when they tried to make a difference. And we in the Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council were used as a token, not taken seriously, except by Minister McCarthy alone and she was ignored.

If you read van Tiggelen’s article you’d think that Dr’ Jarrett’s book was launched in a room full of evil geriatric racists. I am obviously their tool and plaything. According to him, Dr Jarrett was half their average age. That would make their average age 120. Van Tiggelen is one of those whitefellas who call every Aboriginal person they meet with grey hair an elder and insist they should be respected. That is except, of course, Aboriginal people like me – Aboriginal politicians on the wrong side. Yet they despise their own elders. I would call Dr Jarrett an elder of her own people who genuinely knows and cares about mine.

To these on the Left, political Conservatives are a bunch of geriatric, racist conspirators who want to take away our rights even though they gave us:

• the vote in Commonwealth elections for the first time,
• equal pay,
• the 1967 referendum,
• the very first Aboriginal parliamentarian, a senator,
• the NT Land Rights Act,
• the first Aboriginal MLA in the Northern Territory,
• the first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives
• now five Aboriginal members of the current NT Government
• and the first ever Aboriginal leader of any Australian Government.

Forget about Dr. Jarrett’s tireless scholarship and her deep concern for the lives and welfare of the most weak and vulnerable in our communities. Forget about the fact that she has never voted for the Liberals herself and doesn’t belong to a political party. She doesn’t echo the thoughts of the progressive Left. So, according to this white man, she can’t be trusted.

There were many in that room in Sydney who I would disagree with. I don’t like or use the term ‘integrationist school’ that is used by Gary Johns. I certainly don’t agree with everything Keith Windshuttle says about our history. I am not their puppet, and they have never treated me that way. I am nobody’s puppet.

But these people ask me to speak to them and tell them what I think. They listen respectfully. They don’t ignore me in the first place, then attack, insult and vilify me when I do speak out like so-called Left progressives do.

I joined a Liberal party because I believe in the right of free speech, because I want everybody to be allowed to join the debate. Like our new Chief Minister, yes I’m indigenous, but first I’m Australian. Like him I want the Northern Territory to be one community working together in harmony. The Left wants to divide us from other Australians. The Left would never have allowed Dr Jarrett to publish her book. They are about censorship and denial of free speech.

I know about the frontier violence. Relatives of mine were shot in the Coniston Massacres in my parents’ lifetime. I know about the Stolen Children. My own sister was taken from my mother and given to an Arrernte family at Santa Teresa. Those who were taken and given to Aboriginal families in different language groups and different communities are never mentioned and don’t get apologies even though their mothers grieved as much as the others. I know about the jailing of our young men, almost all of my young male relatives have spent time in jail. I also know what it’s like to bury our children and young mothers, their lives taken in public, while the Left looked the other way.

I don’t have to be lectured to by the likes of Van Tiggelen and Gosford about the trauma my people have been through. I wonder how many of their own loved ones have been murdered. No matter that I achieved an 18½% swing in an electorate with a 73% Aboriginal population. These whitefellas don’t believe in democracy. They are saying that my people are stupid to have voted for me. I am a populist according to Mr Gosford. I don’t need to be told by these white men what needs to be done. I know my people. The politics has all been about blaming whitefellas. We don’t need more of that. It has meant that many good whitefellas have done nothing out of fear of making things worse, while the racist, the ignorant and incompetent keep doing damage. And the Left keeps blustering and lecturing and doing nothing.

Those who insult me will not close me down. I will keep speaking out until our women are no longer killed because they are women. I will speak out until they have the same individual human rights as Larrissa Behrendt, and all other Australian women have. I will keep speaking out until our kids have the same rights to a safe and healthy life, a good education and the same access to jobs as everybody else’s kids. Conservative, Progressive, Left and Right, and intra-racist – these words mean nothing to me. They are whitefella terms from their political history. Whitefellas made them up, we didn’t. I want a conversation with my people on our terms in the words we use. We are not politically correct.

I want to keep our women and kids alive, I want our kids educated and confident, I want to keep them out of jail, I want them to work and to be paid equally for their work. I want them to be able to choose how they want to live themselves and to be able to tell us what they want in good, educated English as well as their own languages. I don’t want them to be condemned to poverty, violence and ignorance in the name of a white middle class male blogger’s idea of ‘culture’. I will work with anybody else who wants the same thing regardless of the political labels attached to them by others. Call me whatever names you want it won’t stop me from helping to make this happen.

Thank you Madam speaker.

It Just Wasn’t Me, Was It?

Upward BullyingIn my previous post, I wrote about the diagnosis of Bipolar II that I’d had, and a few of the reasons I’d left a workplace that I’d loved, and the dreadful story of what unfolded last year.

Now it’s time to tease out the centre piece of this story, the underlying, undeniable root cause of the malaise: the workplace bullying I endured from a subordinate.

For three of the four and half years I was employed, I and others in the workplace, including the CEO, were subjected to constant tirades, drama, intimidation and histrionics by a workplace bully.

The behaviours included:

  • Constant personal crisis and melodrama –which had to become everyone’s melodrama
  • A daily declaration of sleeping patterns
  • A daily declaration of, and insertion of, the details of home life into the workplace so that the entire office became caught up in (the relatively minor drama of) this person’s home life
  • A constant need for lavish, public recognition
  • Taking up extraordinary amounts of time at meetings (i.e. dominating the meeting)
  • Using physical size and bulk to ‘stand over’ people
  • Using minute detail and verboseness in reports to apparently alleviate perceived ‘risk’ to justify poor time management and prioritization skills
  • In daily core business, rarely completing core duties on time – whilst at the same time, demanding ‘creative’ freedom for side projects
  • Scheduling and booking holidays several years in advance and subtle threats of ‘I’ll have to leave’ if these demands weren’t met
  • Documenting everything that everyone said, and holding them to their words – even if these were tentative, flexible, plans – or simple speculative ‘what if?’ type statements
  • Tears and tantrums when one’s own way was not forthcoming – and at times, upward bullying of the CEO to ensure that it was forthcoming.

I could continue this list, but I’m sure you get the picture.

It. Wasn’t. Me.

Do you want to know the really, really, stupid thing about this? For all this time, I thought it was my inadequacy as a manager that was the cause of this…

It’s taken me almost a year to understand that this was not the case.

Indeed, the proof is in the pudding: I was asked to manage the head office and pull it out of its chaos and morale-sapping state of fear of executive management by the CEO, and get it happy and functional again.

Which was done.


I will not take all the credit for this. The people in the head office had previously had a very rough time with a manager from hell who’d been quickly let go due to their poor performance and appalling people skills.

As a result, the head staff had a deep mistrust of ‘management’ – and so they should! They’d been through utter horror! They needed organization and respect from their manager, as well as guidance and someone who’d stand up for them in the management team.

That was what I gave them.

Previously, I, and the team in my office, had pulled the local office out a similar kind of mire – successfully.

None of this is insignificant. I had some major achievements to my name.

So how is it, then, that this bully had me so convinced of my own failings, that I failed to see my own achievements?

 …that I thought this was MY FAULT?

 Truly, it was not until recently when someone outside of my old organization had a similar experience with this person, and named them as a ‘bully’ that I started to think, and understand, what had happened.

 Even worse, as I’d noted in my previous post – other people within the workplace had come to me reporting this person’s bullying – but had decided not to go ahead with the formal grievance process once I’d explained it to them.

Several of these incidents were recorded by myself, confidentially discussed with the HR manager, and are on file with HR.

So it wasn’t ‘just’ me and some kind of personality conflict with this particular individual.

This persons’s behavior is well known to everyone on the senior management team, however, the hierarchy live in fear of ‘…causing World War III’ if any kind of punitive measure was brought against this person. (This was an actual conversation that took place with the CEO about the bully’s behaviour. I kid you not).

Yet I, being in a senior position within the organization, failed to recognize that I WAS BEING BULLIED.

Strangely, I thought that managers didn’t get bullied!

AnthroYogini Discovers Upward Bullying

This is all extremely uncomfortable for me to write about.

I am still suffering mental and physical trauma from this person, even though they’ve been gone from my life for over a year.   I avoid going into town, and steer clear of anywhere that I might encounter this person.

If I see them –even from a distance, I feel physically ill and threatened. Thinking about them increases my anxiety and makes me feel scared. Actually, it gives me diarrhea (sorry about sharing my bowels with you!).

I avoid any contact at all with my former workplace.

Quite simply, this person has affected me so much, I would run away rather than face them.

And I was a Director, apparently in charge of a division within a government department.

I’m supposed to be immune to this stuff, aren’t I?

And when you leave a workplace, it’s supposed to stop affecting you…

Clearly, my bipolar comes into play in some of this – I find there’s a few key events and people in my life that continually affect me –even though they’re long in the past.

I obsessively replay and reenact certain scenes in my mind.

One day, I’ll write about coffee culture manager as an example of this – this event happened in 1997. It still makes me anxious today.

However, all of this made me question whether it’s possible for a manager to be bullied, and if so, how common is it and what should one do about it.

As I investigated the possibility of upward bullying, I came across Margaret Kouht’s book The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling and Stopping Bullies and Bullying at Work … and FOUND the person I’d been bullied by exactly described within its pages:

 The HPD* subordinate’s manner of bullying is covert, compared to an HPD boss’s overt, attention seeking behavior. The HPD subordinate bully gets her way by needing constant attention from the manager. If she fails to get it, she will plunge the workplace into melodrama by pouting, crying at her desk where others are sure to see her, throwing temper tantrums in the break room, and otherwise disrupting the flow of doing business. The weary manager quickly learns to lavish praise upon this bully, even if it is most undeserved, jus to keep him from planning the work day into trauma. This is an unwinnable situation for the manager of an HPD bullying subordinate; the higher-ups want productivity, not excuses about historionic, unmanageable subordinates. To maintain productivity, the manager is bullied into keeping the office at peace by smoothing the HPD subordinate’s need for admiration and praise. 

*HPD stands for histrionic personality disorder.  It’s a real disorder within the DSM-IV.

OK. I’m not a psychologist.  However, Kohut’s description is so accurate, I’m sure she based it upon this person.

I should have looked up workplace bullying of managers and found the solution – or at least made it clear that this kind of behavior would not be rewarded and was UNPROFESSIONAL… but the person’s physical size and bulk intimidated me.

Yes, I’m small. And this person used everything at their disposal – height, obesity, verbosity, taking up huge amounts of time – to expand and overwhelm me.

And the constant drama, the subtle, smouldering conflict made me think it was me.

Will It Ever Be Over?

Truly, I guess only time will heal this, and even then, time doesn’t heal some wounds where I’m concerned.

It’s not that I want to hold on this toxic set of memories and their damning effects.  But it just stays with me – not so easily forgiven or forgotten as the self help or therapy crowd would have you believe.

These are real wounds. Real, psychological and physical wounds, that even now, a year on, are still as raw as ever.

I honestly believe that there are some things which scar you for life. For which, at times, there is no real healing.

Something of the magnitude of this – which brought an end to my career with an organization I loved working for – I simply have to acknowledge is a wound I may carry for the rest of my life.


Yet Another Year

DIngo…Has Passed

And this year, so much has changed in my life.

Some for better/some for worse.

In many ways, 2012 was an annus horribilis – right up there with 1983, 1992 and 2005.

Is there a discernible pattern there?

Not really, except that the years 1992 and 2005 are actually the worst years in cycles of bad years (2004-2008, being particularly awful).

So what was it about 2012 that made it so damned wrong?

I guess most of it stems from a deep dissatisfaction with my work. I had been promoted to director of research in 2010  – a job where I was expected to be largely office-bound, concerned mainly with strategic management and the Quest For Ever More Efficiency in The System.

For someone who thrives on being in the field, with quality thinking time spent on those long drives to field locations, this was a form of slow death. I was told by a management consultant (who, incidentally, has decided that the tiny little organisation for which I used to work should be structured like a lumbering, top-heavy, big government bureaucracy), that a lot of my time as a director should be spent thinking.


How was I supposed to do this when I was not doing one, but two jobs?

I was also the operational manager of the Darwin office for most of this time. I’d been doing this role since September 2010, in addition to my former manager position.  So I was Director/Manager -Darwin. Which means, of course, that the daily operations -the brushfires and emergencies- take precedence over the lumbering cogs of strategic planning and management.

One can only perform two full time jobs for so long – and then something has to give.

Which it did.

Long service leave* did the rest (*you get 3 months off in Australia, paid full time leave, if you’ve worked for the same organisation for over 10 years).

Burning Out


You know something is very, very wrong when you flip out – and I mean completely descend into a state of panicked depression and massive anxiety- after you’ve had six weeks off.

So much happened all at once. The issues look something like this:

  • I didn’t like the job I’m doing
  • I worked with an office bully. Three staff members had asked me how to deal with this bully, and began steps to report this person, only to ‘wait and see’ when they realised who serious these allegations are.  I did not wish to work with this person anymore. I simply did not have the energy any longer to manage their insecurity.
  • I disagreed with direction in which the agency was going
  • Google’s Penguin update
  • Having two lots of abdominal surgery
  • Coming home to my parents having rearranged my kitchen (minor, I know, but sooo stresful at the time)
  • Going back to work and feeling like I really wasn’t needed
  • Having a 3 monthly performance appraisal slapped in my face in the second week back (this was the straw that broke MY back)

Descent into Darkness

Stephen Fry’s clip (below) explains exactly what happened to me.

Eerily, so freakin close to what I did.

The morning I walked out, I had an email about the routine, 3 monthly performance review which all managers (apparently) had to undergo.

I disagreed with the content of the previous 3 monthly review, which I had not seen, nor had it been discussed with me. It had been filled in (I assume) by the HR Director and the CEO.

That was it.

I broke.

I told the office manager I was going home.

I then took as many sleeping pills as I could find.

I wanted to die.

Somewhere in before I passed out completely, the office manager texted me, concerned (the HR Director was really concerned, too). I replied that I wouldn’t be texting anyone anymore, or something to that effect.

My next memory is of the office manager in my bedroom, trying to wake me up, asking me if I knew where I was, my phone number, how many pills I’d taken.

(Note to self: apparently, you can take an entire bottle of 10mg Temazapam tablets and NOT die).

Obviously, I didn’t die.

But I was very, very sick.

Head Shrink

My workplace, bless their little hearts, sent me off on ‘sick leave’, and to one of those government-contract psychologists that you get 6 free consultations from. Until he deemed me fit, I would be unable to return to work.

Seriously, the guy was a complete douche. Let’s just say that he and I had a personality clash from the first day. Whenever I think of him now, that song I Whip My Hair (you know that REALLY inane, annoying song), comes into my head.

He had a classic mid-length bob haircut.

And he was balding.


Ok. Time to be serious.

His abrupt, confrontational style WAS NOT what someone as highly sensitive and in such a black pit of depression as myself needed. He would challenge me to try and not feel as I was feeling, AND MOCK ME by sarcastically repeating turns of phrase that I commonly used.

At the first appointment, he told me straight out that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work for a long time. This freaked me out.

Why did it freak me out?

Because some part of me just wanted to be normal and get back on with life and my job, as much as I hated it. I was ashamed that I had burnt out, cracked and just walked out of the office and then tried to kill myself (3rd time, actually).

The only good thing to come out of the four appointments I dragged myself to with this douche was that he picked up on the cyclic nature of my depression and the failure of antidepressants to have any effect.

He took a complete life history and asked did I ever getting feelings of invincibility or huge highs.

Yes, I replied, I did.

All my life, I’d had what I would dismiss as fads -where I was obsessed with a particular thing- and high achievement portals, where I seemed to have super-human focus and was able to achieve anything I set my mind to.

I thought this was normal.

I thought everyone was like that… they found something which gave them meaning and direction in their life, took it by the horns and ran with it until they’d brought it to fruition or they’d grown tired of it.

Once these phases of hyper-drive passed, I was usually left with a sad little hole -a loss of meaning- in my life and frequently, a few weeks or months of mild level depression.

Again, I thought this was normal. I thought EVERYONE was like this and that I was just really bad at dealing with life when I had no ‘passion’ driving me.


When you’re galloping along at a great speed, it is better than any drug you can ever take…” – Carrie Fisher on having a bipolar high.

None of this was ‘normal’ – it was classic bipolar symptoms. And the failure of antidepressants to ease my pain was further evidence.

I *might* be bipolar II was the message that I came away with.

Believe me when I say that I wasn’t just settling for one, douchy diagnosis.

Chapter 3, in Which I Get A Real Psychiatric Diagnosis

Things were moving fast.

The weeks were passing and the CEO and HR Manager wanted to have a meeting with me about my role. This made me very uneasy – even though, deep down, these were both very nice people and wouldn’t be doing anything awful to me.

I am telling you this because everything seemed to happen at once.

I was having two lots of abdominal surgery and having to recover from that.

I was freaking out everytime I had to see douche-psych.

So I called up our local government mental health department. They put me on suicide watch and got me in to see a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist was a cool, sensitive guy.

Fairly young, but with a gentle-wise demeanor. Although the first meeting was awkward and long, I felt that I could work with him.

He confirmed the bipolar II dignosis, and on my second visit, recommended that I try Quetiapine on a low dosage.

As usual, I Googled this drug and there’s every side effect known to humanity appearing before my eyes. The most common being WEIGHT GAIN and intense drowsiness.


In between my first and second visits with the psych, I had the dreaded meeting by phone with the CEO & HR.

It was not nice.

The message they sent me was a hard, cold slap in the face: there was no room for me to be ill or faff about getting used to a medication that would make me sleep half the day.

They wanted to remove me from the director’s position and wanted me back at work ASAP.

They were ‘in crisis’.

Oh really?

I was devastated and totally non-functional.

Worst thing of all, during the phone call, I couldn’t speak. I just could not make myself speak or say anything.

I felt like a stroke victim, robbed of muscular and neural control.

This meeting took place on a Wednesday afternoon, via phone.

I thought about suicide for the next 3 days.


If I’d had pills, I would have taken them.

Finally, on the Monday, I woke up ANGRY.

If they (my bosses) wished to be such arseholes after the two years in which I’d worked two jobs for them (incidentally, they saved around $90K per year by NOT employing a manager in the Darwin office and getting their pound of flesh and sanity from me), then I wasn’t going to be pushed around.

By the end of the day, I would either have a contract and start my own business OR I would find another job.

God Finds My Car Parking Spaces or The Power of A Correct Diagnosis

“…God is saving you parking spots, every song on the radio is playing for you, you’re enthusiastic about everyone and you want everyone to be enthusiastic about you.” – Carie Fisher (again) on the bipolar high.

I started to read books by bipolar sufferers. Some of them were full bipolar I, but many were bipolar II.

In so many of these accounts, I found myself.

The quote from Carrie Fisher is EXACTLY what it’s like to be in the middle of a superb bipolar high. I have my own terms for this, synchronicities, connections, creative links. It’s an amazing period when you can really do anything, you have so much energy, you can get by on 4 hours sleep, things magically organize around you and fall into place.

Yet, I always thought this was normal.

I truly, really thought that everyone experienced life like this.

It was, I’ll admit, disappointing to find out that others don’t have this experience. It’s the nice side of being bipolar in my opinion.

The downside is … well, the much longer, more insidious downs. The depressions that can go on for months, or in my case, years.

And it is these downs which often mask the diagnosis of bipolar, causing it to be treated as one of the suite of depressions in the DSM-IV.

This means that many people suffering from bipolar are never correctly diagnosed, and they carry on with failed anti-depressant treatment after treatment. Suffering miserably.

The problem is that no one ever presents for psychiatric treatment when they’re on a high – (unless they’re on a full-blown hypermania, doing drugs, pretending to be superman or convinced they can read people’s minds).

Most people are like me – convinced that the pleasant euphoric highs and ability to focus and achieve are just gifts we’ve been born with.

All of this adds up to either a mis-diagnosis or the usual 10 years of failed depression-based treatments, to arrive at a correct diagnosis of bipolar.

And correct diagnosis means correct treatment.

I am happy to say that I’ve been on the Quetiapine (100mg per day) for 7 months and it is the best medication I’ve ever had.

For me, correct diagnosis equated with correct treatment.

Part of the insidious nature of bipolar II is insomnia. I’ve suffered from insomnia for my entire adult life.

If I had ANY superpower, it would be the power to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.

That just doesn’t happen for me.

However, what I didn’t know was all of the links between insomnia and bipolar highs and lows. Yes, Carrie Fisher said she went 6 days without sleeping. Well, I wasn’t like that, but let’s just say that I functioned on 3 or 4 hours sleep for weeks at a time, due to racing thoughts, creativity, worry, anxiety or a mixture of all.

With the Quetiapine, the insomnia has been tamed.

It took about two weeks for me to get used to it – and even now, there’s times when I take it and I am knocked out within half an hour.

The highs and lows…

I still feel highs and lows. Mostly the lows, which the Quetiapine doesn’t seem to work on very well.

However the highs… I still get them but they’re at a level where they’re sustainable. If anything, whereas before I was like a sprinter with these highs and they consumed EVERYTHING, now I’m like a marathon runner – I’ve been able to enjoy the highs and harness them.

As for weight gain…


I’m convinced that people in internet depression forums blame their obesity on their drugs most of the time. If you’re eating a healthy diet and exercising, you’re just not going to stack on the weight.

Whilst I can understand that you might be made drowsy by your medication, this usually passes after a few weeks.

Someone will disagree with me on this point, I know. Before you do – I am a fitness freak and no bloody pill is going to make me fat.

But There’s This…

Unlike depression, which is widely accepted and now much more discussed in society, bipolar has the ‘crazy’ stigma attached to it.

I cannot tell people that I am bipolar.

Not unless I know and trust them. About 6 people outside of my partner and children know of my illness.

Even my parents do not know.

Which is part of the reason I wrote this blog post.

I am getting on with my life (more on that next post), but I have this huge freakin crazy-woman illness that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life.

My life isn’t perfect and it’s stupid to think that it will be, but then it doesn’t majorly suck, either.

However, having bipolar is like having an affair.

It’s a dirty little secret, best not spoken of. It’s shameful, immoral and nice, ordinary people don’t do it.

And I guess that’s how I’m going to end this post.

It’s not something I can yet speak publicly about – but write and blog about it…

I guess I can.

5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Doing Archaeology in Australia

As an anthropologist, I’m accustomed to answering people’s questions about what it is that I do:

Do you study spiders? No, I leave the arthropods (spiders) to the entomologists.

Have you dug up any interesting fossils lately? Well…. umm, no. That’s palaeontology, and whilst some of the people I work with might be unkindly described as ‘fossils’, they’re most certainly alive.

Anthropology is, of course, the study of human cultures. In my case, it’s working with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to help protect their sacred sites.

Of course, most people probably assume that anthropologists know what archaeologists do in the field, and vice versa, as the disciplines share a lot of similarities.

In reality, this isn’t quite the truth – which is exactly what I discovered at a recent Flinders University field school on archaeological field methods at Redbanks (near Mallala).

1. It’s Not About the Digging

I thought I’d be carefully excavating artefacts in neatly squared trenches with all manner of natty little trowels and brushes.

I was sadly mistaken.

Most archaeology in Australia involves field surveys, which means you’re looking for artefacts on the ground: lots of walking, surveying, measuring, flagging and recording artefacts in the database at night.

2.You Will Be Mistaken for a Surveyor

Theodolites. Dumpy levels. Red and white sticks.

Archaeologists use all of these – and more.

People driving past your field site WILL mistake you for a surveyor.

After several days of holding up a red and white stick and making sure it’s level, you will mistake yourself for a surveyor, too.

3. Archaeologists Love Gadgets

Studying archaeology gives me a whole new excuse to buy more gadgets!

There’s callipers, portable desks, prismatic compasses, weather-proof notebooks, brushes, scales…

…and at last a real excuse to buy an iPad for work!

4. No Snakes, But…

Indiana Jones always seems to find snakes. During 11 years of outback fieldwork, I’ve rarely encountered snakes.

Beetles, ants, flies and spiders, however, are everywhere:

Do NOT forget the Aeroguard!

5. Flagging, Tagging and Bagging

Despite the Hollywood stereotypes, archaeology has plenty of repetitive-but-necessary tasks.

Like flagging, collecting and recording more than a thousand glass fragments, broken pieces of ceramic and and clay bricks.

Whilst we didn’t uncover any buried treasures, I did walk away learning something that’s true for both archaeology and anthropologyalways expect the unexpected.

What to do with THIS blog

Given that I am so busy elsewhere….

It seems rather silly to maintain this blog at all.

As a medium for communicating my thoughts and feelings, Twitter and Facebook have replaced blogging for me.

I was going to write a parting post and delete the blog, but then I realised that the blog is a PR3 and in many ways, an asset to my business.

So I think I’ll leave it up for the time being, purely for my own evil purposes. (Insert evil laugh).

Updating Life

2011 was a pretty crap year for me. In late 2010, I was promoted to a director’s position in the agency I work for. This means I’m in senior management, doing strategic management rather than operational management. I do very, very little anthropological fieldwork anymore.

I do get on planes a lot, though.

I suffered months of depression, struggled to act simultaneously in 3 positions at work, and did not enjoy managing certain individuals at all. Afterall, I am an anthropologist. I have no quals in management, and have no FREAKIN’ desire to obtain an MBA.

Steep learning curve, indeed!

However, on a positive note, I completed a course in forensic anthropology and became involved in the identification of human remains found near Alice Springs in late November. This side of anthropology has always been a passion, and I’ve decided to pursue this by undertaking a Masters in Archaeology this year.

(not insane, I’m just no ordinary girl)

On the business side, my partner and I started an online business (Travel Outback Australia is part of that). I’m pleased to say that in the last 6 months of 2011, we made $4000 online.

This is where I’m heading in 2012. Thus, this blog still has a purpose.

The River House

In late 2010, Gary and I bought a second home.

This is a complete retreat, on 24 beautiful bush acres, right on the Murray River in South Australia. The river is 50 metres from our front steps.

There’s no streetlights, you can’t see any neighbours and there are NO FREAKIN hoons in cars roaring past.

At night, it’s quiet and dark.

This might sound scary to city folks, but for those of us who are healed by nature and time away from people, it’s a blessing.

We’ve spent quite a lot of time going back and forth this year, spending most of our holidays here. There’s gardens, sheds, chicken yards, horse stables, and lots and lots of natural bush.

Our plan is to move here in a couple of years.


…Next question.

I’m quite disgusted at one section of the yoga community.

Not here in Australia, but those Stateside.

I mean, most people know that before you open your mouth, it’s a good idea to check your facts.

Unfortunately, some folks don’t share this philosophy.

Even stranger, they unfriend you when you point out their mistake.

The uncritical acceptance of things that simply aren’t real/true is something I can no longer abide.

I haven’t been practicing yoga regularly. At least, not the yoga that most in the yoga community would recognise.

Perhaps being a real yoga rebel is part of the shift I’m ready for this year.

My inspiration: no one you’d ever imagine or associate with yoga.

Let’s just say, from now on most of my yoga will be very, very private.


Over the past 2 years, I’ve learned more than I ever would have imagined about things like HTML, SEO, writing copy and more.

All things which have re-ignited by creative fires and given me passion where I had none.

This was a journey that began with Desert Book Chick (my book blog which I’ve killed off) and continued with Travel Outback Australia.

I’m sure you’re not wondering what I’ll be focussing on right now, but in the off chance that you are:

  • freedom
  • simplicity
  • owning/doing less

Sampai jumpa lagi