In June 2023, 14 storytellers came together on Western Kuku Yalanji Country for the annual Common Ground Creators Circle gathering. The 2023 gathering was graciously hosted by Johnny Murison and the team at Jarramali Rock Art Tours. The group spent six days learning, connecting, and handing over to the next generation of creators.
Darcy Hytt and Tyberius Larking met at the gathering. Due to their disabilities, the pair could not stay in cabins with the rest of the group. Each morning and evening, they would travel an hour between Jowalbinna and Laura Motel. During this time, Darcy and Tyberius nurtured a budding Black disabled kinship.
In this four-part series, Darcy and Tyberius reflect on meeting each other, connectedness, storytelling as healing, and Black disabled futurity. Inspired by campfire yarns, each part serves as an instructional guide on keeping the fire burning.
Darcy Hytt: Thank you so much for joining me, sib. I’m so excited to have this yarn with you! Let’s start at the beginning. What was joining the Creators Circle and preparing for the gathering like for you?
Tyberius Larking: I was one of the last people to join the Creators Circle. I missed a lot of the initiation and bonding. I was worried about how my disability would impact the trip. How could I nourish my body so I could cope with a lack of access to medical facilities?
DH: I had some similar thoughts. Before the trip, I’d participated in other projects where I tried to make my accessibility needs as small as possible. I quickly realised it wasn't sustainable for me to make sacrifices. So, going into the gathering, I was really upfront about accessibility needs.
I have a story to share with you about the start of the trip. On the first night, we had dinner at around 9:15PM. I have a condition that is triggered by certain foods, and causes things like acid reflux, indigestion, and mouth and throat ulcers. I remember saying, ‘I don't know what eating dinner at 9:00PM is gonna do to my body, but it's not gonna be good’.
That night, I woke up choking on acid reflux. The next day, out on Kuku Yalanji Country, I noticed a huge ulcer in the back of my throat. It was so painful, and it burdened me for the rest of the trip.
Mob understand that if we go out onto Country with bad intentions, or disrespect the Law of that Country, we can get sick. I didn't make the connection between the late dinner and my ulcer until after the trip. So, throughout the gathering, I had this fear that the ulcer was Country telling me that I didn't belong there.
I think this experience lends itself to the tensions that we sometimes experience between our Black and disabled identities. Do you have any reflections on those tensions?
TL: Yeah, definitely.
That makes me think of the photo of the valley from the tour on our second last day.
I remember the sun. I remember it punished us. And it spoiled us. It disabled and enabled us. I remember green ants crawling into my socks. I strayed a long way from my comfort zone that day. But overall, I left Laura with an upgraded comfort zone. A comfort zone with a greater circumference.
By the time we reached Magnificent Gallery, I was nauseous, limping. I laid down in total surrender.
I did wonder if I was sick because I'd been disrespectful or crossed a spiritual boundary. But dozing there at the mercy of Country… I felt like the Ancestors recognised me as a fellow Indigenous being, and as their responsibility, their patient. The gallery and my pain were inversely related. As this unbroken tsunami of rock of ageless art grew more and more magnificent, the pain became nano-pain, too small to detect.
While briefly undetectable. It didn’t disappear. That's worth acknowledging.
I think all disabled people have a strained relationship with spontaneity. I wish I could go with the flow of Country, I really do, but that’s not always possible.
DH: I love the idea of you lying down at Magnificent Gallery, while also, there were paintings on that wall, that were thousands of years old, of sick Mob lying down as well.
TL: Yeah, people were depicted in their sickness and death alongside deities and Ancestral Beings. To me, it seemed like disability was deified as well.
DH: Something that stuck with me was when Saf talked about how her intersecting identities complement each other, rather than opposing each other. It’s something that I personally understood on a somatic level, but I'd never heard expressed so clearly.
Did that resonate with you, too? If so, what ways do your disabled and Black identities complement each other?
TL: They definitely complement each other. But we’re expected to compartmentalise them. Society says, ‘This is too much information at once. I want you to separately explain your Aboriginality, then your disability, then put them into a hierarchy of how they impact your life.’
DH: I often think about how Mob are twice as likely to be disabled than non-Mob, and yet there is so little disabled Black representation.
We know there is a lack of acknowledgment of the intersection between disability and Indigeneity. But there's also a language difference. Blackfullas don't always articulate our experiences within western understandings of disability. And that's not an issue with us. It's an issue with the sorts of systems that we're expected to contextualise ourselves within.
I’ve heard people say that Blackfullas aren’t accepting of disability because there's ‘no word for it’ in our languages. Which irks me for many reasons. But the core of what bothers me is the assumption that disability needs to look the same within Blackfulla contexts, histories, and communities as it does within western understandings.
TL: In opposition to normality.
DH: Yeah, exactly. When you think about what disability is in a western context, it's a category. It's a separation. It’s a way to divide a group from, and position it in opposition to, the norm.
I’ve yarned with plenty Mob about the different ways they articulate disability in Language. And yeah, the words they use might not mean the same thing as ‘disability’. But to me, that’s indicative of community systems and structures that don't seek to use disability as a tool to divide and marginalise.
It's only within a western structure and society that we have to contextualise our experiences within a model of disability. Because it's those societies and structures that disable us, not our bodies.
TL: This conversation really lends itself to the yarns we had in the car when we travelled to and from camp.
The last night, the last journey, was unlike the others. All the screws fell out. The doors came off their hinges as though everything had been loosened up with butter. We were completely open. Open about disability, mental health, about grieving the past and future. That night, I was in the back seat. You and Travis started talking about self-love, non-linear healing and temporality. Let’s never leave this sanctuary, I thought.
It was like a space shuttle, with one hour’s worth of air. Just the three of us, no agenda. In that hour, we were our most vulnerable selves. There was nothing worth doing except yarning.
DH: Once we start understanding all our experiences and struggles as linked, we open ourselves up to a whole world of possibilities for solidarity and care.
The ways that we connected were so powerful. And I think our connections were enhanced by Mob Laws of relationality, reciprocity, and kinship care – existing structures in each of our lives. Our cultural knowledge and expectations made building connection, solidarity, and care feel so much easier and more natural.
TL: Yeah, and just how yarning works as a mode of conversation. Active, compassionate listening.
DH: Yarning is therapeutic. It builds connection and care. Which makes me think of the healing properties of storytelling. How does storytelling heal for you, as a disabled Blackfulla?
TL: I see my own pain and suffering allegorised in our Dreamtime stories, where death isn’t considered a failure of healing. There's a lot of transfiguration in Dreamtime stories, and that’s what I resonate with. Second chances.
Creatures begin in one form and end up as something else entirely. A rock or a pond or whatever. And that can happen when you have a sudden injury, for example. You have to reimagine your whole life, using mobility aids, finding new ways of existing.
DH: Yeah, and within a Mob context, those ways of being don't have to cancel each other out or challenge each other. One is no more or less right or good than another.
Within western contexts, there tends to be this desire for truth. A singular truth that can only exist on its own. But a core part of Mob Law is relationality. And the basis of relationality is that knowledge is localised within time and place. All times and places have their own knowledges. And those knowledges are all real. They don't cancel each other out in their existence. This understanding is deeply embedded in how we tell stories.
Our Dreamings are not static either. They change over time as the conditions that we live in change, and what they need to be and articulate changes. Different mobs can have similar Dreamings with minor differences between them, too. Which is not to say that one is correct and the other is not. They are the truths of those mobs, places, contexts, and times.
TL: The way we reclaim our stories is also healing. The Creators Circle is made up of storytellers and we have all taken inspiration in some way from our Dreamtime stories.
DH: And a lot of us are creating stories based on the gathering. And they're all going to be different. But that's the beauty of them.
I love what you said about how when someone becomes, or realises they’re disabled, they have to reimagine their entire life. Your story changes. And when you have these rich Black histories of dynamic storytelling, conceptualising disability is so much easier. Because it’s what you already know about storytelling, and existing. You already know that it's constantly changing and evolving.
TL: I’d like to talk about what Black disabled futurity is, and what it means to us.
I think Black disabled futurity is accommodation. We can't eradicate disability, and we shouldn’t entertain that at all. We can't progress beyond the need for accommodation. Accommodation is the future. And it is fundamentally Indigenous. Because we never saw caring for disabled people as extra work, or onerous. It’s just an innate part of our kinship structures and responsibilities.
DH: It’s an acceptance of natural human diversity.
TL: Right. When you accommodate, you only gain. You gain access to disabled magnificence. Disabled interpretation and invention. Our gallery of disabled lore, our dialects and systems of care.
I will clarify that it serves the system of exploitation to make disabled mob the scapegoat. To demonise is to disable.
Disabled mob are ravenous in our pursuit of justice. So what? Embrace those accusations of greed. More public specialists, more employment benefits, more life. Demand. Eat. Feed others. Feed others by eating. We’ll have them return our dignity. We’ll have it served on a silver platter.
I don't think that lateral violence has any origin in Indigenous values. It’s capitalism – pitting wider mob against disabled mob.
DH: It's individualism. Individualism tries to make us believe that we are the only ones who experience this specific thing and no one else could ever understand. So, we might as well just keep to ourselves.
In reality, humans are terribly unremarkable creatures. We are not unique at all. But also, people don't have to live every day in the same body as you to be compassionate. That's not a prerequisite for care and respect.
Those differences in our experiences are learning opportunities. They bolster our understandings of ourselves and the world around us.
TL: People exist as habits. Open the curtains, have some breakfast, walk the dogs. Make learning from disabled mob habitual. You are what you do. Include us. Do it again and again. Don’t harp on about it, don’t make ultimatums. You always leave us hanging. Respect and understanding are rooted in action. Neural routes become permanent through action.
DH: Yeah, yeah. To me, Black disabled futurity is a constant process of negotiation and learning and care that never ends. It is dynamic – always changing.
TL: I learned so much about what Black disabled futurity looks like from this trip. From meeting other Black disabled people. I wouldn't have had an answer to a lot of these questions otherwise. I am so grateful to have walked that Country with you mob.