During my recent three month locum at Mutitjulu Health Centre in Central Australia, I had the incredibly fortunate opportunity to meet His Holiness, The Dalai Lama during his Ocean of Wisdom Tour. We were told that it had been The Dalai Lama's dream to visit Uluru and meet the Traditional Owners after sighting Uluru from the air some years ago.
The morning of his visit, his dream was fulfilled. He met some of the Traditional Owners at Mutitjulu water hole at the base of Uluru and His Holiness came to Mutitjulu to meet community members, to whom he gave his valuable time and words of wisdom.
I was struck by how easily he moved from his heavily chaperoned vehicle to the tin shed in which we were to meet. He seemed to be very genuine in his desire to mingle with the crowd. Even though it was evident that they were on a time limit and already running well behind schedule, His Holiness was not deterred and seemed determined to spend some quality time with us.
Eventually he took his place in the community hall, which in reality was just a tin shed. He sat with the Traditional Owners on either side and looked out into a packed audience. Some were in awe and excited, others a little bewildered. The usual contingent of camp dogs roamed freely amongst our legs. He was generous with his time and despite running late, he was happy to answer questions, pose for photos and accept gifts from the community. He wasn't too keen to try the witchetty grub he was offered saying it reminded him of caterpillars which he was always afraid of as a child. This had us all in gales of laughter.
Though he addressed the crowd in English, everything he said was translated to Pitjantjatjara so that everyone there could understand what he was saying. One of his strongest messages for the community members was the importance of learning and embracing the English language. This was as important as their own dialect in the strength and survival of their culture. He explained that English is the universal language of the world and is a vital part in the preservation of the incredible culture and identity of Indigenous Australians. He went on to explain this is the same for indigenous cultures worldwide. Speaking English will enable future leaders to have a strong voice not only within Australia but all over the world.
The truth of this message, although conveyed in a simple yet humble manner, resonated with me for days afterwards. As a non-indigenous Australian I am keen to learn more about the different cultures, languages and heritage of our indigenous Australians. I hope Australia's cultural heritage can be preserved and enjoyed by my children and their children in the future.
As he left the shed and began to make his way back to his vehicle, I had the incredible opportunity to share a few moments of laughter and a hand shake with him. He spotted me wearing a ‘Free Tibet’ t-shirt and approached me in the crowd. I had missed an opportunity of seeing him in India during a recent visit and to be able to meet him under the great shadow of Uluru with my wife by side and my daughter in my arms, brought tears to my eyes.
There were two things that struck me in meeting His Holiness. Firstly, his kind gentle touch and infectious giggle that he is so renowned for. Secondly, he had eyes that were warm and friendly he was totally engaged with you when he spoke.
The remarkable opportunities nursing, and in particular remote area nursing, has afforded me throughout my career are immeasurable. However this day will be held as one of my most memorable.