Travel News

Rhoda Roberts: how I travel

The Indigenous arts leader on a work-life spent travelling and downtime connecting with her Widjabul homeland.
Rhoda Roberts

Rhoda Roberts

Daniel Boud

We didn’t have that many family holidays because we were pretty broke. But because we lived in one of the most beautiful areas of the country (in northern NSW), we’d have these incredible holidays every week. Christmas time was a big time for family. I always remember we’d head up to Fingal, one of our missions on the north coast. That was where, in 1963, my father had gone to the local shire council, along with Aunty Gladys, and fought to get Fingal handed back as freehold title. So they did a deal – 200 pounds a year until the ’70s – and it was paid off. They got their land back – freehold title.

I travel all the time for work. I live at home at Jacky Bulbin Flat in northern NSW and it’s very difficult for anyone to get work in that region. I’m very fortunate that with the work I do, and all my freelance work, I tend to do quite a bit of travel to various places around the world.

I have packing down pat. I made a choice when I was 18 that I would only ever wear black. I’ve got a couple of white shirts and maybe grey but mainly black. So everything goes with everything. If I’m on the road for six weeks and I’m going from Arnhem Land where it’s 31°C to Sydney where it’s 9°C at night, I take a wool wrap – in Arnhem Land I can sit on it, in Sydney I can wear it as a top. Always take a ski jacket because it will become virtually nothing in a suitcase if you’ve got the folding right. Always have three long-sleeve tops, three pairs of tights, two shorts, sandals and boots, and always carry a sarong. That’s about it – and undies. The undies in my suitcase actually take up more room than anything else!

I get to work in north-east Arnhem Land and I go to the Kimberley quite often. So I’m going to places where most people would be lucky if they got a trip in a lifetime. Every now and then I have to pinch myself. It’s pretty amazing when you’re doing your job in the Central Desert and you look up and there’s the MacDonnell Ranges and you go, “Wow!”

One of the things you notice when you are travelling a lot is the food. It’s quite extraordinary. There are restaurants everywhere now, really good restaurants. We have an incredible group of people who run a restaurant at home, and they do this thing called Wild Harvest on a certain night. They get all the local food so people can have tasters and learn how the food was prepared before.

Home for me is both a physical place and an emotional connection. When I was young, I thought: “I can’t wait to get out of this country town, I’m never coming back.” But of course you don’t really know the intangible connections that you have. I was very fortunate that I grew up in a community that talked a lot about what the country meant and we learnt the stories. I hope I’ve given that to my kids.

I’m 3000th-generation Widjabul. My mother is third-generation Australian. It’s pretty amazing when you walk at home on the farm and you know that your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, forever-great grandma would have sat there and weaved beside that billabong.

Rhoda Roberts is the head of First Nations programming for the Sydney Opera House.

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