Can you tell us about yourself and where you live?
My name is Phyllis Batumbil. I was born in Elcho Island and I grew up at Mata Mata which is an isolated area on the coast. It is the place I’ve always lived with my family, so Mata Mata is my home. Mata Mata itself is the land of Warramiri people. It is the land of my father’s great grandmother and my father established Mata Mata for us to live there. And he told us to look after the land. Later, we set up our organisation, named Marthakal, that’s an Indigenous Yolngu organisation. Changes are happening little by little because we don’t want to see something that is coming to us in a rush, so we’re going slowly, processing slowly and we have been living there for many many years.

What did you do for power before the Bushlight solar power system was installed?
We used to be living with the fire. We used to set up a fire, for cooking and that’s the only lights we have, the fire and sometimes the moon. Then half way through the 1980s we started the fuel supply for the generator power. We used to get diesel from Elcho Island. So with that diesel, we have been struggling through hardship to try to bring that diesel across to Mata Mata. It costs a lot of money, it’s too much, too expensive to buy the fuel, and to book the plane to make the charter to bring all that fuel across.
It was a bit risky for us then, because of the old people and having snakes around. Also when there’s sick people, especially the old people, they need some fans running. That’s why we needed those lights to be on with the generator. Then all of a sudden there comes a change for us. The people from Bushlight they came to visit us in 2004, they ran a workshop for us and introduced their business, how the solar power will work for us and we just couldn’t wait. We couldn’t wait because this was something new to us and we’re talking among ourselves and we agree to have that solar power. We’re so lucky with Bushlight solar power.

What changes have happened for Mata Mata since getting that solar power system?
It’s given us a big change at Mata Mata. We’re so happy, we’re sitting more relaxed, sitting back, because we’ve got our power that can run and help us through the night and during the day. It runs everything for us. So we’re just using diesel, just to back up the power. So everything works with Bushlight — washing machine, fan, power to watch the television, if you want to play the DVD, anything, you can use that power — solar power. But for the other heavy duty (appliances) like a welder or a grinder you can only use the generator. We’re looking after our solar power. Each person is volunteering, like who’s doing that and who’s doing this. So what Bushlight taught us is that the responsibility is for us. People living at Mata Mata, we are the people that are looking after everything that Bushlight has done. We’ve got the solar power working for us out in the bush so we can concentrate, we’re not thinking about travelling back to central communities. Central communities are just too much — too big, too crowded, too much noise and too much rubbish. Our kids don’t want to get a model from them. Out in the bush, on homelands, kids are being healthy and strong. People are strong, both adults and children because we’re eating fresh, we’re not eating frozen stuff.

Can you tell us about the community enterprise you’re establishing? 
Working with my yapa (sister) Nina Brown (from Bushlight), we sat down and talked about what sort of business we want to have and the first priority for me is to do my artwork, that’s why I want to run an artwork business. So we set up a plan last year to open an arts and crafts centre at Mata Mata. That’s why I need the support from Bushlight, they are my supportive team. So we’re working together, me and Bushlight and we run with that action plan for two years. My vision is setting up my business at Mata Mata, because the business I want to run belongs to Mata Mata. That’s how I see it. We can use computers on the solar power for the internet. So as soon as my arts and crafts are finished I have to put everything onto a website to sell it online. I have the voice and the confidence to empower myself and my people to do our own business, to stand on our own feet. After opening the arts and crafts business at Mata Mata, I can show those big people that I’m a black woman who can do this and that. Identify that I can do this job by myself. So that’s my vision, so every Yolngu has a job to run.

So a Bushlight solar system is being commissioned at Mapuru today, can you tell us how you’re involved? 
Today I’m at Mapuru, I’m with my team, with Bushlight because they needed me out here to help them to do their job — visiting different homelands to sit down with the Yolngu people to get all that information across. Talking with the Yolngu people here, training them, talking about the history, talking about my experience and how I’ve been looking after my Bushlight there at Mata Mata.

Thanks for telling us your story
Maynmuk, good! Because some of the people they don’t know about the bush. Lot of people living in the big cities don’t know about the bush, about Bushlight and how the Yolngu people survive in the bush. Maynmuk!

This is an edited transcript of a video interview. Phyllis Batumbil was employed by CAT as interpreter and trainer.