Mona Tur Teaching from the heart PDF Print E-mail

Mona Tur - taking the best from life's experiences.
Mona Tur - taking the best from life's experiences.
MONA TUR is an Antikirinya woman, a storyteller, with a rich collection of stories from an often challenging past. As she talks to people now, the message Mona spreads isn't one of bitterness and anger, nor of limiting opportunities because she missed out somewhere along the track.

Mona Tur shares her own history and asks people, especially the young ones, to remember that with pride and a positive attitude, people can turn their own lives around. With love and determination she says, we can make things happen.

Of all the stories that Mona Tur recalls from her past, there's one that still lives with her as clearly as if it happened only yesterday. She was six years old and living with her mother, at Hamilton Station, 100 km northwest of Oodnadatta.

On this particular day, Mona and her mother were in their Ngura (home) when Mona remembers something went horribly wrong.

Neither the bush telegraph nor her father, (who usually knew of such danger) had found out that the policeman and aboriginal tracker were coming to the area.

"All of a sudden I heard people screaming 'walkatjara' — police! The picture that stuck in my mind was of the uniform, the dark pants with the stripe down the side. My mother said to me `Ngitji ngitji (Mona's traditional name means cicada), the police have come and if they find you, they'll take you away like the other children and I'll never see you again. I'm going to hide you, but you can't let out a sound or they'll take you away."

Mona's mother had begun to dig frantically into the soft dirt floor of the shelter. She made Mona climb into the hole she scraped out, and then covered the little girl over till only her head was showing. Around the shelter were more than a dozen dogs, some of them pets and some used for hunting food. With the child almost hidden, her mother called the dogs around and made them sit over her head so she was completely covered." The heat was incredible, it was around 120 degrees in the shade and I was terrified. I could hear the voices of the police coming closer to our shelter, but I never let out a sound. At last a policeman came to our ngura, one of the Aboriginal police, and he asked in language -"Have you got any half castes in here?" My mother answered "no". The Aboriginal tracker was her brother. He knew jolly well I was there!"

Mona's father was an Irishman whose own story would probably have made a great read. A good man, who cared well for Mona and her mother, he worked as a ganger at Peridirka, not far from Oodnadatta, which was a railway crossing town. With marriage between the races barred, Mona's Dad was imprisoned at one stage for 'consorting' with an Aboriginal woman. But when the law was repealed to allow marriage between Aboriginal and whites, her father refused, as he had been married already in a tribal ceremony.

When rations came to Oodnadatta in 1943, the family moved down there from Hamilton Station and Mona was sent to school. As a seven year old, she couldn't speak any English, but was lucky to be with two other half caste children who acted as her interpreters. The learning wasn't easy, and Mona spent two years covering each of the first grades of primary school.

The United Aborigines Mission came to Oodnadatta in 1948, after the outbreak of a measles epidemic. Sadly for Mona, her parents had separated by this time and her mother and second husband left to work on isolated stations. Mona was sent to the mission.

She remembers the missionaries there as kindly and compassionate, encouraging the youngsters in their care to use their own languages and keep the culture alive. And so when in 1950, at age 14, she was sent down to Adelaide for employment, Mona remembers she cried every day for three months.

"I know in the long term the decision to send me away was for the best, but it was very hard to take at the time. I wouldn't have had the same opportunities in my life if I had stayed at Oodnadatta. New people came in to run the mission that year, and they weren't kind. Speaking in language was forbidden. Moving south meant that I was able to have an education and go to University. Also I became a Christian."

Mona still lives in Adelaide and has been teaching languages at the Underdale Campus of the University of South Australia since 1984. She is a fluent speaker of Antikirinya, Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara and was a founding member of Yaitya Warra Wodli the South Australian Language Corporation. She says that many southern Aboriginal people have been made to think their culture is lost.

"But you haven't lost it even if there is just a root there. Once people get together and start talking you hear it come out. A word here, a saying there - there are things you don't even remember being taught. You just know them."

Part of her motivation to continue supporting languages, is to see that children are taught the ways of kinship, the stories, the songs and traditions. "It's important for the children to have their language. It gives them strength and pride. I don't like to hear those people who say that life hasn't been fair and everyone owes us things. It's up to our young people especially to get on and do things for themselves." It' s a message that Mona has passed on to her children and grandchildren.

"None of us can choose our birthright. I know it's sometimes been hard to look at life in a positive way, but that's the choice I've made. People question my attitude, but I tell them I have looked for a love beyond myself, so I could rise above the criticism and love other people. With God's help, you can be whatever you want to be."