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Chalarimeri, Ambrose Mungala (1938–?)

PUBLICATION: Ambrose Mungala Chalarimeri, The Man from the Sunrise Side, Broome: Magabala Books, 2009

NAME: Ambrose Mungala Chalarimeri

SEX: Male

BIRTH DATE: 1938

BIRTH PLACE: By a spring on King George River (Oomarri)

FIRST LANGUAGE: Gunin/ Kwini

SIGNIFICANT LOCALITIES:

  • King George River (Oomarri): Chalarimeri’s tribal country, between Kalumburu and the Forrest River Mission (Oombulgurri) in North Kimberleys, Western Australia.
  • Kalumburu Mission (formerly Drysdale River Mission): The Benedictine mission where Chalarimeri was brought by his father at the age of six, and where he lived during his childhood and adolescence. (pp.12-39)
  • Forrest River Mission: An Anglican mission, established in 1913, located near his country.  He often travelled there when he was very young and stayed with his family members who camped outside of the mission. (p.7)
  • Wyndam: The closest town to the Kalumburu mission, which residents began to frequent following the liberalization of mission governance. (p.103-107)

OTHER LOCALITIES:

  • Canberra: Where Chalarimeri travelled with his partner Traudl Tan to attend an Aboriginal oral history workshop in Canberra. (p.142)
  • Kununurra: A town 100 km South-East of Wyndham, where Chalarimeri worked for the Department of Agriculture.

EXPERIENCES OF EDUCATION:

  • Chalarimeri was educated at the Kalumburu mission school until he was twelve years old, and Father Basil decided he was ready for work. (p.16) Chalarimeri enjoyed going to school, largely due to the opportunity to socialize with other children and for the assured supply of food; however he recognises that he was deprived of a traditional ‘bush’ education (p.152).

EXPERIENCES OF EMPLOYMENT:

  • Labourer, Kulumburu Mission: Chalarimeri worked harvesting peanuts and sowing sorghum.
  • Bottle collector, Wyndham: Chalarimeri’s first paid job was collecting bottles in the early sixties. (p.176)
  • Labourer, Shell Depot Wyndham: Cleaned fuel drums (p.177)
  • Station hand, Argyle Station
  • Horticulturalist, Port Hedland
  • Chemical sprayer, Agriculture Protection Board, Kununurra, Chalarimeri was content with his conditions during the period of his employment. However, in retrospect he became aware of the unfair wages and occupational health and safety risks of the job. (pp.188-194)

EXPERIENCES OF RELIGION:

  • Chalarimeri was baptised, became an altar boy (p.17) and considered becoming an ordained Priest (p.138). Later in life, his devotion wavered, and he portrayed church attendance as largely an enjoyable community activity. (p.22)

IMPORTANT INSTITUTIONS:

  • Australia Council: Provided financial assistance for Chalarimeri’s autobiography. Referred to as ‘Australian Council for the Arts’
  • Lotteries Commission: provided the residents of the Kalumburu mission with money to build new houses, following Mr Tilbrook ‘from Welfare’ who decided that children should live in family homes rather than dormitories. (p.27)
  • The Royal Flying Doctor: Took Chalarimeri to the Native Hospital in Wyndham when he had an infected foot. (p.39-43)
  • Welfare Office (WA): Provided Chalarimeri with free accommodation in Wyndham in the 1960s (p.177)
  • Kimberley Land Council: Pursued the Balangarra Native Title claim, which included Chalarimeri’s traditional country on the King George River. Chalarimeri expressed skepticism about their mediating role (p.121-128) Later, they didn’t inform him when the company Strikers Resources began exploring for diamonds on his country (p.195) The KLC also didn’t respond to his complaints about tourism on the King George River (p.199)
  • Legal Aid Office: helped Chalarimeri when he struggled to pay off the car that be bought on credit. (p.187)
  • Aboriginal Legal Service: conducted an investigation into side effects of the chemical spraying that Chalarimeri did for the Agriculture Protection Board. The investigation was incomplete when the funds from the Western Australian Government ran out (p.191).
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission: Chalarimeri shares a negative view of this institution, which he associates with non-Aboriginal bureaucrats. (p.171) He also complains about the length of time it took their Business Enterprise Centre to process his brother-in-law’s tourist business grant (p.142). He believes that Aboriginal people need more training than they receive.
  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: provided funding for Chalarimeri and his partner to attend an Aboriginal oral history workshop in Canberra. (p.142)
  • WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs: Chalarimeri unsuccessfully appealed to them when he wanted to visit the remains that had been discovered by tourists near the King George Falls in 1998 (pp.205-207). He also applied to become the warden of the land from Kalumburu to the King George River. Chalarimeri felt frustrated by the length of time taken to process his application and provide him training (p.203).

SALIENT LAWS AND POLICIES:

  • After Chalarimeri’s father brought him to the mission, he became a ‘ward of the state’, and was prevented from leaving. (p.27) He claims that many parents were ignorant of these conditions because they were illiterate. (p.27) When he did eventually leave the mission for work, he had to apply to the authorities every time he wanted to return. (p. 171)
  • Legislation also prevented ‘part Aborigines’ (p.129) and non-Aboriginal people from entering the mission without permission from the Welfare Office (p.99). Chalarimeri claims that the overturning of this legislation left naive residents vulnerable to the corrupting influences of ‘bad white men’ (p.99).
  • Due to complaints by non-Aboriginal residents in Wyndham, Chalarimeri and other Aboriginals were admitted to the segregated ‘Native Hospital’. (p.40)

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Chalarimeri got a badly infected foot as a child, and had to be transported to the Native Hospital in Wyndham by the Royal Flying Doctor. (p.39-43)
  • Chalarimeri’s job chemical spraying often affected his health.

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS:

  • Chalarimeri’s mother, Tandoalo, died when his younger sister Magdalene was born. (p.3)
  • Chalarimeri last saw his father when he was ten. (p.8)Kalumburu War Diary, Fr Eugene Perez (p. xiii)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARTNERS:

  • Traudl Tan: Chalarimeri met Tan at Port Hedland in 1994, while he was doing a horticulture course. (p. vii) The book does not describe their relationship.

IMPORTANT/ INFLUENTIAL FIGURES:

  • Eugene (Yogin): Chalarimeri’s uncle, whom he referred to as his father. Yogin lived in the bush because the mission forbad polygamy, but didn’t have his own children. Yogin had never been to any town, and taught Chalarimeri about his birth and his traditional land. (pp.6-11)
  • Francis Waina: a fellow resident of the Kalumburu mission, who used to work alongside him as a mission laborer.
  • Father Basil, Father Carl, Father Boniface, Father Sanz: the Benedictine missionaries at the Kalumburu mission. (pp.13-64)
  • Traudl Tan: his partner, who encouraged him to write and helped him to record The Man from the Sunrise Side.

PREOCCUPATIONS:

  • Dispossession and maltreatment: Chalarimeri details the historical mistreatment of Aboriginal people in the Kimberleys. He draws particular attention to police brutality, referencing the Forrest River massacre, and narrating incidents in which women were forcibly checked for venereal disease; people were chained, or had their dogs killed (pp.79-85). He also laments the losses that Aboriginal people incurred during colonization.
  • Mission life: Chalarimeri described the harsh conditions of life in the missions that he was familiar with. However, he claims that in the minds of most Aboriginal people at the time, these negative factors were outweighed by the benefits of a stable food and tobacco supply.
  • Cultural heritage and loss: Chalarimeri was the last of the Kwini tribe to be born outside of the mission, and he talks with pride of their language, laws and belief, hunting and ceremonial practices. He expresses concern about the future of Kwini knowledge and practices; of which the younger generation are largely ignorant, and his own understanding incomplete.
  • Aboriginal artistic property: Chalarimeri challenges the authority of amateur archaeologist Grahame Walsh, particularly his theory on the origins of the “The Bradshaw paintings” (Guyon Guyon), which are located on his tribal homelands. Chalarimeri explains the paintings’ composition, expresses pride in his ancestral connection with the artists, and claims that Walsh did not receive adequate information about the paintings (which he purports are pre-Indigenous). He also complains that Walsh and other rock art enthusiasts took and distributed photographs of the paintings without permission of the traditional owners of the land. (pp. 72-78)
  • Environmental degradation: Chalarimeri expresses concern about the environmental impact of feral animals, cattle damage (p.166), bush fires (pp.110-112), the damming of the Fitzroy River (p.132) and tourism (pp. 116-121). He talks of the replenishing effects of connecting with one’s traditional land, and worries that many Aboriginal people have come to see land merely as a commodity.
  • Contemporary community issues:  Chalarimeri details and diagnoses the social problems effecting Aboriginal ex-mission communities in the Kimberleys. He highlights gambling (p.121-122) alcoholism, (p.100-6) theft (p. 136) and illegitimate births (p. 101) as key issues.
  • The transition to self-government in 1982 is presented as a catalyst for social decline. Chalarimeri claims that the mission rule had infantilised Aboriginal people (p.138). In contrast to work for wages on stations, Chalarimeri claims that the mission did not cultivate a work ethic (p.172) or teach financial literacy.(p.144)
  • He also claims that when governance was liberalised, Aboriginal people lacked strong leadership to warn them of the effect of drugs (p.103) and the ‘‘bad’ white men’ who preyed on Aboriginal women. (p.99) Their poverty also meant that jail did not act as a disincentive (p.103).
  • Chalarimeri also claims that the governmental infrastructure that replaced the mission was inadequately funded (p.134), and that there was a mutual ignorance of Indigenous and non-Indigenous modes of governance (p.134)
  • Personal responsibility and sacrifice: Chalarimeri’s accounts of the problems of the communities he is familiar with are interwoven with examples of his own caution and will power, which enabled him to resist the social pressures to engage in destructive practices. He also tells of his attempts to persuade others to follow his example.

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION: 

  • The Man From Sunrise Side is based on recorded conversations between Chalarimeri's and his partner. At times, Chalarimeri addresses Tan directly. (p.10)

USEFUL LINKS:

Jewel Topsfield, ‘Tourism ad “tramples all over our culture”, The Age, November 19, 2008
http://www.theage.com.au/travel/tourism-ad-tramples-all-over-our-culture-20081118-6adr.html#ixzz1gT6LHZS7

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Citation details

'Chalarimeri, Ambrose Mungala (1938–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/chalarimeri-ambrose-mungala-17785/text29361, accessed 24 September 2017.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012