’Are you really Aboriginal?’ That’s what they’d ask me. In Los Angeles, Washington, New York, Philadelphia; the questions were always the same.
Aurukun can be a mysterious place. The Aboriginal culture that defines the township is ancient and noteworthy but can be overlooked for the hacky headlines declaring dysfunction and destitution.
Too many have missed the forest for the trees.
Peering through the pandanus palms, however, one finds peaceful characters possessing intriguing stories in abundance. Jock Eundatumweakin is a shining example. His eagerness to share tales of yesteryear is the only thing that outmatches his effortless cheer.
“’Are you really Aboriginal?’ That’s what they’d ask me. In Los Angeles, Washington, New York, Philadelphia; the questions were always the same.” Jock gives a croaky chuckle, the first of many for the afternoon.
“I performed the dance of my clan, the Apalech clan, in those places. Around Australia too, from Groote Eylandt to Arnhem Land and Western Australia.” Jock fixes his expression to the shimmering, silent horizon, answering the questions as if addressing a gathered audience. His memories seem to overlap by the way he fluidly begins a story before finishing the last.
Born in Aurukun during the MacKenzie mission days, a protectorate period from 1923 until 1965, Jock has seen his homeland change hands from the now defunct Aboriginal Protectorate Board to local authority. He watched as his countrymen, the Wik peoples, secured Native Title. He has felt the rumbles and groans of the local economy, and he participated in nearly every job that Aurukun ever offered to Aboriginal men.
“I built houses at the outstations, and so many of the fences around here. I worked as a stockman, a timber cutter, a net mender, a bricklayer, and I used to drive the bin truck too. Then I went to TAFE and worked in fisheries,” he says.
Today, Jock lives a more restful life. His eyesight has degenerated to legal blindness; adventure now means short journeys to the veranda where he can hear the ambience of the street and the surrounding bush. If he travels outside of Aurukun, it is mostly for medical reasons.
“I went to see doctors in Cairns and even Brisbane, but my eyesight just broke down. In the end, the eye doctor told me that there was nothing that could be done,” he says.
Still, life does not stop for people like Jock, and while the makeup of Aurukun township has not changed much, financial processes have modernised and become less familiar to him.
“I’ve been working around here since I was young, when I could trust my eyes, but I still know where the shop and everything is,” he says.
“But now I have to use my key card for payments. I remember when I just used a bank book.”
Jock’s bank does not have a branch in Aurukun. English is also not his first language. This means he needs help to speak with the bank over the phone. The staff at the local O-Hub provide this support, which facilitates balance enquiries, bill payments and fund transfers.
Jock points at each eye. “This is my disability. The O-Hub makes it a lot easier for me,” he says.
If the O-Hub was not there, Jock would be potentially disconnected from banking services and his accounts would go unmanaged. He may need to switch services to the only bank in Aurukun that has a representative, but even that has been affected by prolonged closures forced by staff shortages.
An incident that barely skims the surface of annoyance for others, such as the loss of a key card, would be deeply troubling for Jock, given his medical condition. The presence of the O-Hub keeps his mind at ease, allowing space for pleasant reminiscence, instead of undue stress, in his advancing years.