An amazing strength of character shines through the diminutive Daphne Puntjina. She has a strong love for God and for her Central Australian community.
This white-haired grandmother may be 73 years old, but age doesn’t appear to have wearied her spirited love and support for her 250-strong community at Areyonga, 200 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
Her devotion to her people knows no bounds, and her passion to support her community shines through her voice as she shares about her love of giving back. It shines through her parish worker role at her local Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, through leadership roles on community boards and councils, and even through her role as a published author.
I trust in God … He has created us from the sand and when we die we will go back to the sand. That’s why I trust only in God.
But it shines brightest as Daphne shares stories of how she is teaching the current crop of local school students all about bush tucker. It is an exciting time, now the wet season rains have brought an abundance of native food to the region.
She loves joining the school bus trips to teach the students to forage and hunt everything from goannas to honey ants, and even witchetty grubs, which taste like scrambled eggs, Daphne says.
‘We want to teach all the kids so when we pass away they can take over and teach the next generations’, Daphne says. ‘They love all the bush tucker which comes after the rain. This is a great time of the year, as all the native fruits have grown everywhere.’
Daphne’s favourite native food is honey ants, which are found in the flowering mulga trees, where ant trails up and down the trunks lead to motherlodes of sweet sap.
There is no such thing as retirement for this matriarch. Daphne shares her culture and love of God in so many ways across her community. ‘I trust in God and I know we are rich in the Bible, we know God gives us everything’, she says. ‘He has created us from the sand and when we die we will go back to the sand. That’s why I trust only in God.’
As a child growing up at Areyonga in the 1950s, then a government reserve managed by the Finke River Mission, her school house was the church building, and Christian songs and Bible stories were a major part of the school curriculum.
Her love of singing was fostered by her good friends and mentors Pastor Leo and Mrs Lydia Kalleske. Mrs Kalleske taught the children and adults to sing in harmonies in worship services where hymns were not accompanied by an organ or piano.
Encouraged by Pastor Kalleske, Daphne began helping teach Sunday school and religious instruction at the local school. In the 1960s Daphne also began helping other adults from Areyonga lead family and community devotions. Known as ‘eating house’, these devotions occurred during community meal times in the eating house building. For more than 30 years now, since the Kalleskes left Areyonga in 1986, Daphne has regularly led worship as a parish worker.
The spark ignited by Mrs Kalleske’s musical efforts in the early 1960s led to Daphne’s leadership of the Areyonga choir from 1966, and from 2012 with the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir. She recalls the choir’s travels to Germany in 2015, performing to audiences of up to 6000 people. ‘We were singing on the plane all the way to Dubai.’ For Daphne, the tour was an opportunity to give back. ‘They had brought Bibles to Australia, and we could then take all our hymns back to them.’
Singing in both Aranda and Pitjantjatjara languages, as well as English, Daphne’s favourite hymn is the Pitjantjatjara version of ‘Guide me, O thou great redeemer’.
However, her proudest moment has not been her roles on the community councils and boards, nor her NT citizen of the year award in 2004. It is sharing her love of God, her stories and knowledge with the next generation which she sees as her most important achievement.
‘Most important is everything that I have written down, our stories’, she says. This includes a book of bush medicines, and a traditional, bilingual story called Kupi-Kupi and the Girl: Tjukurpa Kungka Munu Kupi-Kupitjara. Published in 2000 by Magabala Books, the children’s book features the adventures of a young Areyonga girl.
Daphne has also contributed to the Pitjantjatjara hymnal Nyiri Inmatjara in 1995 and a new Pitjantjatjara Lutheran hymnal in 2010.
This septuagenarian is an amazing example of a GREYT volunteer, but for Daphne it’s simply a continuation of almost 50 years of community volunteering. ‘I look after all the people and they look after me too’, she says.
‘God is working with me and helping other people, and I always ask God to look after us, our community and other communities.’
Helen Beringen is a Townsville-based communications advisor who has been richly blessed through a career as a wordsmith. She is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and modestly in our community. She hopes by sharing stories of how God shines his light through them, others will be inspired to share his light in the world.
Pastor Rob Borgas is the Pastoral Support Worker for the Pitjantjatjara Area of the Finke River Mission.
This ‘Going GREYt!’ feature story comes from The Lutheran April 2017. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.