Cecelia Cmielewski.

Alpha Mike Sierra.

“Calling AMS (Alpha Mike Sierra); come in Alpha Mike Sierra, this is Alice Springs base. over.”

The button on the side of the radio mike handset is pressed and the response “Roger, Alice Springs this is Alpha Mike Sierra, go ahead…over” returns loud and clear.

For part of 1981, this was daily routine (true story). I operated the one radio in ‘town’ whose echo would resound around the small caravan which we shared with the radio equipment, medical supplies and our three children in remote Warakurna. The caravan was prime hotel accommodation in this part of the desert. There was only one other – for the chairman of the settlement, who may well have been an Alpha cowboy, I can’t remember, as I mainly spent time with the younger and older women.

Tangoing with Toyotas was par for the course on any given day.  Our children were constantly adopting any number of the local camp-dog puppies (‘Papa’ in Nganyatjarra) who would all die or disappear if fat enough. They also had pet thorny desert lizards whose skin reflects the browns, reds and tans of the desert. Warakurna is in the Rawlinson Ranges, near the Gun-Barrel highway, and as well as vast Spinifex plains, there are ranges with rock-pools and cliffs which raise the fanciful possibility of a very ancient delta carving this landscape.

Thankfully it was not November, as escaping the heat would have meant going to the Giles Weather Station, which was not ‘dry’ because it was not on Indigenous land and where the whiskey was washed down with beer. It was the closest thing to a hotel in these parts with Yankees, Aussies, Brits and Russkis working at the station. Oscar and Charlie would be the ones to let the weather balloons up into the sky with their tiny pressure measuring devices.

We let them go too sometimes, it was fun. Sometimes the balloons would go due West and we would imagine it made it across the desert and the ocean, all the way to India. But probably not Quebec. The station must have radioed in the data collected by the balloons to the Bureau of Meteorology, I wonder what their call sign was, or maybe they had a radio telephone, very flash for those days! Believe it or not, there was a golf course near Giles’ radio tower – used for recreation, it was the most regularly tended piece of well graded flat land around.

This could have been tricky territory – a white family living in the only manufactured shelter in a community of Indigenous Australians. But we were made welcome and only really got into a little trouble when we ordered a kilo of easter eggs to be flown out on the mail plane.

The radio sounds drifted across the desert air, my job to answer clearly and record the responses correctly felt important, as this was the main communication between Alice and Warakurna. Was Nurse Juliette, of African descent, but not a Zulu, on schedule for her visit in the coming weeks to open the clinic? What time would the Royal Flying Doctor Service land to airlift Victor for his X-ray at the hospital in Alice? What was the order for the stores needed and was the truck running on schedule? Were the Lima beans we had ordered going to be on the truck this time?

This was the first place where I heard women ‘sing’ their men, the particular Romeo that they wanted, and sing so that their charms would be irresistible, raising cries similar to a supportive ‘Bravo’ from the other women. It is a sophisticated as well as explicit performance and definitely no foxtrot. The dancing in Warakurna also honours the foods that can be gathered from trees and shrubs. We were painted up, we danced, we sang, and made those sounds that have filled the desert air long before radios were ever thought of.

Bio ~ Cecelia Cmielewski.

Cecelia Cmielewski is a researcher and creative producer.. She has made significant contributions to the strategic development and capacity building of the Australian creative sector, particularly through policy research, analysis and development for the Australia Council. These include the Arts in a Multicultural Australia 2000 and 2006-09, Council’s Cultural Engagement Framework and the Arts and Health Strategy. Cecelia is interested in the intersections between social, technological, creative and cultural engagements.

Cecelia presents on a regular basis at local, national and international forums including the inaugural World Forum for Environmental Sciences, Venice, on the relationship between culture and the environment. She has worked closely with the academic community to further an informed and engaged arts sector including Globalisation + Art + Cultural Difference (2002); Empires Ruins + Networks (2004); Making Creative Cities: The Value of Cultural Diversity in the Arts (2008). She lived with her family in Warakurna and Pukatja in the early 1980’s.

Cecelia holds a Bachelor of Design (University of South Australia), Bachelor of Arts (Flinders University) and a Master of Business Administration (University of Adelaide) and is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University.