Things I will miss about Gapuwiyak

It’s been a month since I was in Gapuwiyak and I miss so many things, so so much. I’ve found it hard to communicate about the complexities of some of the different issues in community – but what I can communicate about, is the many, many things I miss about this extraordinary place and its incredible people.

1. “Yappa” = sister. 

Every morning, “Yappa yappa! Soh-phie.”

Me and the girls

And my actual sister, Patrica.

My yappa patricia

2. “Ball” – Terrance 

There is a tiny little boy called Terrance. Terrance came up to about my waist. He is too small to play basketball with the older boys and too small to reclaim his ball when the older boys snatch it off him. He often played imaginary basketball (with an invisible ball, shooting invisible hoops and cheering and invisible slam dunks) but when he grew bored of that, several times a day I would hear “yappa, yappa, ball, ball”. Sometimes I would get him a ball, sometimes I would try to make the other kids share with him. One day he found a new little red ball (that was identical to the bigger, red balls that the kids normally practiced with) and started asking for the “baby ball, yappa, baby ball”. The same thing happened every single day.

3. Warm nights on the porch 

Gapawiak at night

My favourite time of day was after running program, having my ears blasted with One Direction or Justin Beiber and being roped into (badly) playing basketball – was to return home and sit on the porch and feel the steady heat and listen to the loud silence. Silence in the outback is extraordinary. At first it does seem so, so quiet – especially after the noise of eighty + children for hours – laughing, crying, screaming, dancing… but as you sit, flicking away the flies and watching the red sun disappear behind the unusual juxtrapositioning of gum trees and palm fronds; the sounds of the silence become increasingly clear, and they’re not silent at all.

4, Shaka 

I’ve never fallen in love with a dog before, but this one had me wrapped around his little finger from day one. Shaka is my friend Owen’s dog. He’s the sort of dog who you imagine would rescue drowning children stuck in rivers… or walk for weeks to find his owner. He has a girlfriend who is beautiful. It’s like Lady and the Tramp.

Shaka and my face

He’s cocky (a little like his dad? :)) and we ran into trouble a couple of times when he grossly overestimated his capacity to take on five or six camp dogs at a time. Our friendship was sealed in both of our blood – we’re like blood brothers now.

5. Dancing. 

Holy moly these kids can dance. And when I saw dance I don’t mean white fella foot shuffle; I mean pelvis swiveling, body popping, arm locking crazy style dance.  I mean kids dancing every night to ghetto blasters in the street, practicing for Friday night discos. I mean older boys forming dance troops and the little boys imitating them move for move on the sidelines of the basketball court.


So much dancing.

7. Bare feet 


Me and shoes never really get along. My green old faithfuls took me far but my relentless walking and after a camp dog gnawed a hunk out of one, doing like the kids and forgetting about footwear was awesome.

8. The way none of the boys wear T-shirts or basketball bibs properly


I don’t know WHAT was going on with the boys and their T-shirts but it was highly entertaining. Some of the boys just went shirtless. Some of the boys wore T-shirts. But a large portion of the boys preferred something in between. T-shirts worn with only one arm through the sleeve, leaving one shoulder and one half of the chest exposed; singlets worn as capes that only covered their backs…. infitnite variations.

9. Having discussions for hours because you hang out with kids all day so when you finally get off work you just want to talk about ANYTHING that requires entire sentences.

Owen and shaka

That’s a somewhat unrelated photo of Owen, who bore the brunt of most of my evening rants. We literally talked about everything fathomable – from life stories, to politics, to the science of climate change, to fiscal management, to gender … EVERYTHING. It was the best.

10. So much sign 

There was SO much sign language. Not just sign language because lots of the kids had hearing difficulties – also sign language if you wanted to talk about something and didn’t want other people to know, or wanted to play a trick or wanted to make a joke. So many times a little flick of the wrist would result in groups of children laughing hysterically at me. Hmph.

11. That time when I locked the keys in the office and the boys broke into the office with a piece of coke bottle. 


12. Jessiah telling the little kids not to touch me because they don’t wash and I might get sick. 

I didn’t like so much that he was telling them not to touch me, but that he cared was so touching.

13. Tough guys. Need I say more? 

tough guys

14. Those eyes and that smile 




And so, so many more things. Like Steven’s lisp and his favourite expression “WHAT IS THE EMERGENCY” which he would run around yelling for no apparently reason. The fact that the kids shared EVERYTHING – no questions asked, no possibility of anything else happening – what’s mine is yours. The way the little kids would ask me if I was “lost” if I looked tired or day dreamed for a second and tell me to “come back”. That it was THE hottest place I’ve ever been and it could be SO exhausting, and eating a nectarine could make you want to cry with happiness or laugh with happiness. Both of which happened, and that made total sense to me in Gapuwiyak.

The kids.


Best place I’ve ever been.

One response to “Things I will miss about Gapuwiyak

  1. Beautiful pictures. It’s great hearing about your time there! It’s a story that needs to be heard all around the country.


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