Have you ever wondered about the amount of planning that goes into transporting 32 people from the Central Coast of New South Wales to Nyinyikay, a remote coastal homeland in North East Arnhem land, at the tip of the Northern Territory?
NAISDA’s Chief Operating Officer, Debra Schleger has participated in a number of residencies, generally as ‘Head of Natha’ (food) preparation – and admits that each year’s trip is the result of months of careful planning by a small team led by Jasmine Gulash, NAISDA’s Artistic Producer and Cultural Unit Manager.
“We spend a lot of time planning and preparing. We take absolutely everything with us – from tents and toilet paper to food, cooking equipment and of course, the essential satellite phone,” said Debra.
“It’s both a challenge and fine art to be in a remote environment, cooking for so many people on a barbeque and a couple of gas burners and with very little refrigeration.
“We consider it our privilege to cook for the community while we are on Country. This means a minimum of 70 meals, three times a day for the seven days we are there. That’s 1470 meals over the week. A lot of prep goes into those seven days – and of course, you need a great team!
“We’ve been very fortunate to have developed close relationships with so many of the communities in the NT who have welcomed NAISDA Developing Artists and staff into their families,” she continued.
Of the Cultural Residency experience, Debra says, “It’s one of my happy places. A place where I am grounded and connected. I look forward to being able to sit and talk and weave with my yapas. It’s a soul-enriching place, not only because of the natural beauty of the land and its stories, but because of the people. They are our Yolgnu family.
“No two residencies are ever the same. You head into the week with a loose framework of learning possibilities. You need to make time to be quiet, to listen deeply and to learn. One time you might participate in a women’s healing ceremony and another you might be collecting honey or digging for special roots to dye pandanus.
“The community we visit has an unbroken line of cultural practice and it is an important process for our Developing Artists to learn their songs, dances, language and history. The immersive experience allows NAISDA young people to reflect on their own culture and grow individually as a result.
“It is incredibly enriching to follow their journeys – to see and appreciate how they process the Cultural Residency experience, developing their own sense of self and creative practice,” concluded Debra.