Les makes a difference with tucker, music, art
“You got that bullocky rib bone, boy?” The country men out Katherine way like a certain kind of tucker. And when one of them asks for ribs at our weekly barbecue at Rocky Ridge Nursing Home, ARRCS First Nations cultural advisor Les Huddleston provides.
“I went and got some and cooked them up – he said ‘you make me feel good now, I’m better now’,” Les says.
Rocky Ridge has a barbecue every Friday from 4pm-6pm, where residents have a bit of a feed, a yarn, and listen to music, often performed by Les, a renowned didgeridoo player who performed at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony on the Gold Coast in 2018.
Les, who travels around the Territory as part of his role, sees the power of his music every day, from the 90-year-old man with tears in his eyes who started dancing for the first time in 20 years; to the joy in our aged care residents’ faces when they play the clapsticks he makes for them.
“I make clapsticks because these old people, when you play music, they love clapping the sticks together,” Les says.
“We found that out at Alice Springs, and then introduced them to Katherine and in Darwin – it’s unbelievable. For one or two days I might go out in the bush and just cut wood and prep it all. Then I sit down and do carving in front of people. The old people comment ‘You’re really good, that’s really deadly’.”
It is not the only art he makes – a renowned artist, Les created our RAP artwork, and the stunning mural at Terrace Gardens in Palmerston.
“All the things on that mural are Aboriginal people in dreaming form, whether it be freshwater turtle, or barramundi or brolga, the big bird,” he says.
The mural tells people that Aboriginal people live in that place, that they are being cared for, and that it is a safe place for them and the people coming to visit them.
Also a talented sculptor, Les does wood carvings, and even represented Australia at the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan. “We did an Aboriginal fellow playing the didgeridoo out of a three-metre square block of ice – it didn’t look that good, it was the first time we’d done it!”
Les has been with ARRCS for nearly a year. “For the past 15 years I’ve been just travelling around doing art all around Australia. I’ve never had a job! Now I’m working full time and I’m loving it.”
He has a particular talent for connecting with the people who live in our homes, whether it’s speaking Kriol to an Uncle and showing him footage of the devil-devil dance from his home in Numbulwar – “before I went there, no one knew where he was from, and didn’t know his connection with dance groups”; to recognising and paying respect to “big traditional ceremony man bosses”; or becoming “nephew” to two ladies who insist on hugs and return visits with cries of “Oh, my boy!”.
He says it’s important to have good people caring for our Elders, particularly in light of the trauma experienced by many First Nations people of the Stolen Generations.
“When they move into our aged care homes, we have to respect them and treat them properly because some of them have had really bad lives,” he says.
“I like to think I make a difference. Just meeting up with them old people and making them happy, and making them feel like they’re somebody, like they’re worthy. I just like to make them happy.”
And so he does, one bullocky rib bone at a time.