Rona Glynn-McDonald, Mparntwe (Alice Springs), NT
Images by Dylan River
Interview by Matt Lennon
In this very special feature we meet Rona Glynn-McDonald the founder of First Nations-led not-for-profit Common Ground and a proud Kaytetye woman. We first started working on this feature with Rona in June of last year with the view to photograph it at her Melbourne home in West Footscray. As Covid-19 restrictions continued to tighten and the state of Victoria moved into a second lockdown our plans shifted further afield to Rona’s hometown of Mparntwe (Alice Springs), on Arrernte Country. Having become more familiar with Rona over this time and understanding her deep connection with family and the land, it seems only fitting that this story is photographed by her brother Dylan River and unfolds fire-side, on red earth at last light.
“Mparntwe is an incredibly special place for me. It’s where I grew up, 400kms south of my Grandmother’s Kaytetye Country. We grew up on a bush block out of town, in the middle of a valley - a special part of the Yeperenye (Caterpillar) Dreaming for Arrernte people. It was at this home that I learnt the importance of community, family and Country. I love being back on the block to remember the joys of slowness. When I’m here I make space to sit with Country and feel the balance of Country, where everything is intertwined together as one. I’m sitting here now, listening to cicadas echoing in the background in the height of summer, watching as storm clouds roll in from Western Aranda Country.”
“The shift I feel when I come back here is massive. When I’m in the city I yearn for Country, for the familiar desert scents, for the feeling I have when I feel connected to place. Melbourne is fast-paced, exciting, full of music, energy and vibrant people, it’s such a stark contrast to home. In Mparntwe life is slower, steadier and full of spiritual moments and adventure. Somehow, everything feels connected when I’m here.”
“I spent a lot of my childhood tearing through town on a BMX bike, or riding horses through the bush. It was a beautiful place to grow up, with a sense of freedom that I feel very privileged to have experienced as a young person. Each road, tree, shrub or hill holds memories and stories that I’ve forged with my cousins, siblings or friends. There’s a special women’s place near my family home that fills with water once or twice a year, and dries back to a clay pan for the remaining months. It’s a place I always come home to, to feel the expanse of the sky, looking up with an unobstructed view of the mountains and blue sky above.”
I spent a lot of my childhood tearing through town on a BMX bike, or riding horses through the bush.
“I feel privileged to have grown up in the circumstances I have. Mparntwe is a melting pot of cultures, with First Nations communities from all across the Central Australian region, a mix of First Nations languages and cultures. Alongside this sits a thriving arts community, multicultural community and those who have been here since the early pastoral movements. It really feels like the frontier of Australia, and the many culture wars we face as a nation. In Mparntwe you see people experience overt racism everyday and constant injustice experienced by communities forced to live within discriminatory colonial systems. As a white passing Kaytetye woman I have held and continue to hold a lot of privilege, and seeing the impacts of colonial violence has pushed me to work with my community to change systems around us.”
“As a young person growing up in Alice Springs, I was inspired to learn about economic systems and understand why western economic systems aren’t working for First Nations communities. This led me to study Economics in Melbourne and begin to think about the role cultural capital plays in sustainable development for our communities. While at Uni, I began to realise how powerful storytelling was in shaping our understanding of the past and present as well as drive change towards a future that centres First Nations people, knowledges and cultures. This led me to begin discussions with my old people, and community around starting Common Ground. Common Ground is a First Nations-led not-for-profit working to centre First Nations people and knowledge. We use digital platforms and cultural storytelling projects to amplify First Nations voices and experiences, and educate wider Australia.”
As a young person growing up in Alice Springs, I was inspired to learn about economic systems and understand why western economic systems aren’t working for First Nations communities.
“I’m really excited to announce some new partnerships and collaborative Common Ground projects in the coming months. We are currently working on a project with two Aboriginal filmmakers that will share the human stories behind the statistics of First Nations disadvantage within the Australian criminal justice system. That’s something I’m really excited about, to use the medium of film to share the current realities of people from across different nations, and amplify existing campaigns for reform within the system.”
“I make electronic music in my spare time. I’ve always been into music, and over the past few years I’ve started producing my own music. I love creating and expressing myself through music. I’ll be releasing my debut EP this year, it’s been a long time coming and I’m really excited to see how it resonates with audiences from Mparntwe and across Australia.”
“In 2021 I’m focusing on spending more time being present and consolidating and growing the work I have been doing with community over the past couple of years. 2020 taught me that my life was heading in an unsustainable direction - I was working full time and managing Common Ground in my spare time, as well as trying to keep friendships, relationships and family obligations in balance. In 2021 I’m working to be realistic about what’s achievable and making sure I have the right people in our team to bring our shared vision to life.”