As Zohl pointed out in her email, she couldn’t write about herself without writing about the Women Elders of the community of Balgo/Wirrimanu. We are deeply honoured to be associated via Zohl with these very special Women Elders.
“When the fullest breath of a Peoples’ cultural voice is allowed to flourish, this engenders a cultural energy so potent that it touches the hearts of its members and stirs in them a conviction of their own completeness which, unconquerable and impregnable, can heal soul wounds and refashion worlds.” Holding Yawulyu: White Culture and Black Women’s Law, 2005
Nobel Peace Prize Nominee (2005) Dr Zohl dé Ishtar is the Executive Director of the Kapululangu Aboriginal Women’s Law and Culture Centre. Kapululangu is the local-indigenous initiative of the Women Elders of the very remote Great Sandy Desert community of Balgo/Wirrimanu in Luurnpa/Kingfisher Dreaming Country of the Kutjungka-Tjurabalan region of the south-eastern Kimberley of Western Australia.
Located on the Balgo Women’s Law (Ceremonial) Grounds, Kapululangu is the only Aboriginal Women’s Law and Culture Centre in Australia and one of Australia’s most remote women’s centres.
It is run by Aboriginal Women Elders who are among the last few remaining Australian Aboriginal people who grew up in the desert before their first contact with Kartiya (Stranger) society in their ancestral homelands (as recently as 1967), and who were thus trained in the Kururralkatjanu Turlku (Old Ceremonies). They are keen to teach their cultural knowledge so that it is not lost and forgotten.
Responding to a request for her assistance from the Women Elders, Zohl was the founding coordinator of the Kapululangu Aboriginal Women’s Law and Culture Centre, and has lived with the Elders on the Women’s Law (Ceremonial) Ground since 1999.
In the fifteen years she has lived with the Elders, Zohl has been trained by them through intimate participation in their Law-filled day-to-day lives, and has assisted them to uphold their sacred duties as healers, teachers, protectors and ceremonial Law Women of their Peoples. This has included facilitating cultural activities and camps wherein the Elders may pass their cultural knowledge onto their Younger Generations (including forming apprenticeships for their own Stolen Generations), and also to non-local Indigenous women and Non-Indigenous women from across the Kimberley, throughout Australia, and around the world.
In the spirit of the traditional practice of apprenticeship in their Law (philosophy/cosmology) and their Culture (everyday-lifeways), the Elders “grew up” Zohl as a Cultural Translator between their world and the Kartiya (Stranger) Society.
In 2004, Zohl assisted the Elders to design and implement their Circles of Cultural Learning Pathways. The CCLPathways is a whole-of-community, whole-of-life therapeutic model which re-centralised the Elders (women and men) as Law (ceremony/philosophy) and Culture (custom) teachers passing heritage-knowledge onto all sectors of their community.
CCLPathways continues an ancient life-learning methodology involving ceremonies, day-to-day living, and cultural learning environments and opportunities which aim to heal cultural trauma, build cultural resilience, and foster active citizenship. It achieves this through forging the individual and collective connection with Ngayu/Self, Walytja/Kin, Ngurra/Country, and Tjukurrpa/Cosmos.
Some of the activities and events created under this program have included Women’s Law Camps, Dreaming Track Treks, and Communal Law Time Ceremonies (aka (Making) Men’s Law). These main events are coupled with the daily activities of Family Relationships, Sorry (Mourning) Business, and Hunting/Bush trips.
Irish-Australian by heritage, Zohl’s work with Indigenous Peoples is informed by her own Peoples’ history of colonisation, resilience and creative life-sustaining resistance. Zohl is recognised internationally for her collaboration with Indigenous women and their communities in Australia and the Pacific region since 1979, particularly on the issues of decolonisation/sovereignty, White Culture and Dominant-Subjugated Socio-Cultural Interaction, and Collaborative Community Cultural Development.
Zohl has worked in collaboration with Indigenous Australian and Pacific Peoples since 1979. Living at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (US nuclear base) in England during the height of the Cold War (1983-1988), she was the founding-coordinator of Britain’s national network Women for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Zohl conducted international speaking tours to 27 countries and organised tours for 33 Indigenous women and men to Britain, Europe and the North Americas.
As the International Peace Bureau’s Oceanic Representative (Female) (1997-99), she organised the Pacific and Indigenous streams of the Second United Nations’ Citizen Centennial Conference (1999) involving representatives from East Timor, West Papua, Bougainville, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Palau, Hawaii, Tahiti, Marshall Islands, Tibet, Sami, and many other Indigenous Peoples.
Over 20 years (1979-1999) hundreds of Indigenous socio-cultural activists were mentors, teachers and family to Zohl, and this experience prepared her for her work in the desert with the Kapululangu Women Elders (1992-2014).
Zohl began her academic “career” late in life with a BA in Social Sciences - starting on the day that she was diagnosed with invasive cancer (1991). She went on to achieve a Master of Applied Social Research (Macquarie University, 1992), a Master of Philosophy Sociology (Sydney University, 1997), and a PhD in Women’s Studies (Deakin University, 2007).
Her PhD thesis, “Holding Yawulyu: White Culture and Black Women’s Law” about her life with the Kapululangu Women Elders (1999-2001), gained her the prestigious Isi Liebler Prize 2003 awarded by Deakin University “for advancing knowledge of racism, religious or ethnic prejudice” and furthering “multiculturalism and community relations in Australia”. She was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland (2005-2007) and later became an Honorary Research Fellow there (2008-2010).
Her research interests are White culture and its relationship with Indigenous Culture, the impact of Dominant Societies upon Colonised Societies, cross-cultural collaborative community development, Indigenous cultural revitalisation, social change and sustainable development, eco-cultural tourism, and cross-cultural methodologies.
She is the author of two books. The first was Daughters of the Pacific (1994, Spinifex Press, Melbourne), which was the seminal book about Indigenous Pacific women across the Pacific Ocean region. It remains the only book of its kind to have ever been written.
Her second book Holding Yawulyu: White Culture and Black Women’s Law (2005, Spinifex Press, Melbourne) documented the first two years of Zohl’s work with the Kapululangu Women Elders when she lived with them in a tin shed setting up the organisation. She is also the editor of Pacific Women Speak Out for Independence and Demilitarisation (1998, Raven, Christchurch).
In 2005, Zohl was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize Project – representing 150 countries. Although the project did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize that year, it succeeded in creating a campaign to help make women’s peacebuilding efforts around the world more visible. (www.1000peacewomen.org)
The Kapululangu Aboriginal Women’s Law and Culture Centre has long been the residence of the Senior Law Women of the Kutjungka-Tjurabalan Region. These magnificent women are now increasingly frail. Zohl dé Ishtar continues to live with the Elders so that they may stay in their homelands and grow old together, continuing to hold their ceremonies, connect with their ancestral Country, pass their cultural knowledge onto their Younger Generations, maintain relations with their walytja/families, and (should they so choose) die in their homelands.
Kapululangu upholds the Elders’ Right to Live in Country, and to Die in Country – rather than be forced into a mainstream aged-care facility. Kapululangu runs a flourishing Marlpa (Companion/Carer) volunteer program which enables non-local Indigenous (including Stolen Generation) and Non-Indigenous women to live with, care for, and learn from the Elders in their community – this as a contribution towards bridging worlds.
More information about the Kapululangu Aboriginal Women’s Law and Culture Centre can be found at:
Website: www.kapululangu.org or www.kapululanguculturecamps.com