With the first leg (covering South Australia) of Orange Sky’s Remote Venture trip now complete, the team is making ground across the top end in our purpose-built van, ‘Rosco’. Orange Sky’s Program Manager Judith Meiklejohn, who is currently on location with Rosco, provides an update from their stopover in Wadeye NT, where 88 loads of washing were provided across the local community in just 12 hours.

It was dark by the time the Orange Sky Remote Venture team pulled into Wadeye after a slow, dusty, bumpy, yet beautiful drive from Katherine. Our first morning in Wadeye was met with lots of inquisitive, and almost confused looks from onlookers across the community. Many people were surprised to learn the big bright orange truck, ‘Rosco’, had washing machines on board. Better still, they were excited to learn that our team was there to provide free laundry services to anyone who needed it. What we learnt was that for many people, our arrival meant that they got a momentary reprieve from having to borrow someone else’s machine to wash. After an hour, each load would be handed back clean and warm.

It was clear that our services were in demand. There were so many requests to wash that we eventually ran out of time. In the three days we spent in Wadeye, the Orange Sky team provided 88 loads of washing, across four shifts, in three different locations. Each shift had a busy crowd from the community that gathered to organise themselves, sort washing, and yarn with each other as well as with the Orange Sky team. That is also such an important part of our service; to provide a platform to start conversations and positively connect communities in this way. It was a valuable opportunity to learn more about the Wadeye community from the residents themselves and we loved connecting and learning from them as they went about their everyday lives around us. There was such a positive vibe radiating across each shift; it left our team feeling elated at the end of each day.

There were several special moments for each of us, ranging from dancing along to Beyonce with the children and women, spontaneous games of ‘front yard’ AFL, and yarns about family, bush tucker, hunting and growing up in an ever-changing community. But one standout moment for all of us was the moment a little boy named Wilford, around 10 years old, arrived at our shift. On arrival he quickly grabbed a chair next to Richard, our Remote Venture Cultural Navigator, connecting with him instantly. While the other children got busy cleaning washing machines or playing footy, this little boy sat quietly, talking with Richard. 

Wilford asked politely if he could get some washing and brought back a white basket full of clothes. He sat close by the basket to protect his belongings, and although he was a fair way at the back of the line, he did not seem worried. He sat respectfully and graciously as he waited for his turn. At one point, he silently went away to have a shower and returned clean with combed hair and dress pants on. At another point, he left to change out of those dress pants and returned to pop them in the basket to be washed. 

As it neared Wilford’s turn, Nic (Orange Sky’s Co-Founder) asked about washing his shoes, noticing the white sneakers he had brought along to wash. Wilford told us that they were his funeral shoes.

It was one of those moments that stuck with us all; a realisation that this young boy clearly understood concepts that most children his age would be shielded from. We never got to see who his guardian or parent was, but to all of us, he seemed wise beyond his years. We all felt so grateful that we could help him to clean his clothing, bedding, and funeral outfit. We vowed to be a little bit more like him; wise and gracious. It was experiences like this that made it more difficult to leave Wadeye when it was time to pack up the truck to head for our next destination.

The Orange Sky Remote Venture has so far been an incredible experience for which I am personally very thankful to be a part of. We have driven across some of Australia’s toughest terrain, surrounded by stunning natural beauty to reach some truly remarkable remote communities. Along the way, we have met some extraordinarily committed service providers, talented artists and storytellers, inspirational leaders and strong people who are connected to land, community, and culture.

It is astounding to me that in 2021, there are still people in such a wealthy country like Australia who do not have their basic needs met – things like clean clothing and bedding. It is alarming to understand first hand that access to regular and reliable laundry services is out of reach for many people in remote Australia. 

Orange Sky has made a commitment to work alongside as many remote communities as possible to be part of the solution. We can’t wait to visit and check in with more communities to learn and understand how we can best help, now and in the future.

You can hear more about Wilford’s story in the video below, with footage shot by the team during their time in Wadeye.