Ii – is for Indigenous Australians

The Traditional Owners of the land on which I live are the Kaurna people (pronounced “Gar-nu”). With the letter “Ii” for the Gould’s “Family History Through the Alphabet” falling “smack bang” in the middle of NAIDOC week, it’s a perfect time for me to share a little of my experiences and constantly growing knowledge of our Indigenous Australians, their family life and culture.

Please be aware that this post is likely to include references, and photos, of Aboriginal people who may now be deceased. If unsure of what this means just click HERE for an explanation.

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In 1978 CH and RM Berndt wrote:

“Children are still taught Australian history almost as though human life here started with the coming of the Europeans. Even when people acknowledge that ‘there were Aborigines here’, that they were the First Australians, they sometimes seem to feel that they have done their duty by saying so.” 

Born and bred in South Australia, and growing up in the 1940′s, 50′s & 60′s, this was certainly my experience. Thirty years later I was lucky enough to work with some amazing people to help bring about educational change. My school was one of the first to trial the first South Australian “Aboriginal Education Curriculum” in which all aspects of traditional Aboriginal life were included, and embedded, in our daily classroom activities.  

1992 was a year of Training & Development for teachers, school support officers and interested parents. Many Aboriginal people patiently taught us about their culture. We learnt how their “skills for living” and “law” were passed on orally, in dance, music, song and all artwork. They shared how their strong spiritual attachment to the land was conveyed in their stories of “the dreaming”. We learnt about their innovative technology, gathering and hunting techniques and much more.

By 1993 we were all very exciting, “rip roaring and ready to go” with every teacher, school support officer, student and many many parents involved in indivual classroom activites as well as whole school initiatives. What a joy to have hundreds coming together to learn, celebrate and begin to understand the world of “The First Australians”. We: 

*  included stories of “the dreaming”, written and illustrated by Aboriginal people, in our reading/ writing programmes.

* taught ourselves the words to the song “Terra Nullius” so we could sing along, with gusto, to the “audio tape”.

* took a day visit to Camp Coorong where Mr Trevorrow told us all about “bush tucker”, “bush medicine”, how to weave baskets in the traditional way and much much more.

* painted our “stories” on bark as the aboriginal people did but with our own symbols and telling our own stories. 

* loved that Damien taught us his dances of “the dreaming”. Although it was not real easy to dance like a kangaroo it got much easier with practice.

* camped in the “Adelaide Hills” and went for a night walk, and day walks, at “Warrawong Sanctuary” to see “endangered” native animals in their natural environment. These beautiful creatures are protected from introduced European predators, like cats and foxes, by a “fox proof” fence.

  * were so happy that our teachers let us paint that boring looking, but fun to play in, “pipe” in our school playground in Aboriginal colours and chose our own symbols in respect.

* had great fun when teachers, parents and children from the Kaurna Kindergarten” came visiting. They told exciting stories and how to sing “head, shoulders, knees and toes” in their language.   

  ~~~~~~~~~

These are just a few examples of an amazing and unforgettable year in my teaching career. It was topped off, in1994, when our School won the South Australian section of an national competition “to promote Aboriginal and Islander culture”. What a surprise that was! We weren’t out to win any competition and I had no idea that one of our School Support Officers had gathered up a lot of the children’s work, photographs and entered us in this competition.

Although delighted with this recognition, my greatest pleasure is the ways in which our work has helped make a difference. e.g, Young Samantha Snow, in the photo above, is now a adult woman and along with her mum, Raylene Snow, were foundation members for  “Marra Dreaming” in Salisbury, South Australia, created in 1999. It seems my heart will burst with happiness everytime I drive past.

Raylene was one of our “school mums” always available to support struggling students in any way possible. What a HUGE help she was with one of my “little tackers” who was finding school life very difficult.  I still treasure a number of her original Aboriginal Artworks like the delicatedly painted ear-rings that look like “clapping sticks”, beautifully painted cards and one especially gorgeous hair clasp, not that I especially like “goannas”.  :-)

In the Kaurnu language, “Marra Murrangga Kumangka” means “hands work together”. To find out more about “Marra Dreaming” just click HERE.

Much change has occurred in the last 20 years, and especially since 1979 when CH and RM Berndt wrote of our abysmal ignorance of “The First Australians” and we still have far to go to heal our Nation, but what a joy to have been a part of helping with that process. I thank everyone involved.  

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FURTHER RESOURCES/REFERENCES: 
CH and RM Berndt. Pioneers & Settlers: The Aboriginal Australians. Pitman, Victoria, Australia, 1978. ISBN: 0 85896 5720

RM & CH Berndt. The World of the First Australians. Ure Smith, Sydney, Australia, 1964, 1977. ISBN: 0 7254 0272 5

Department for Education and Children’s Services South Australia. Aboriginal Art and the Dreaming. 1994. ISBN: 0 7308 2092 0

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, ACT, Australia, No 6 November 1993, Walking Together.  ISSN: 1038-9881

The Coorong Wetlands, http://www.thecoorong.com 

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Copyright © 2012. Catherine Crout-Habel. “Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family.

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12 thoughts on “Ii – is for Indigenous Australians

    • Thanks Kerryn. Love that I still live in the area where I taught and only a couple of weeks ago bumped into Raylene in the local shopping centre. Hugs and smiles all around :-)

    • Thanks for your never ending encouragement Mandy. Sorry… will reply to your emails real soon and thanks for your WONDERFUL photos from the land of my Ancestors. Can’t begin to tell you how much they’re appreciated. This was a tough “post” to publish for a whole heap of reasons. Suffice to say my mum always shook her finger at me warning: “Just too clever for your own good, Catherine”. HA HA HA … how right she was :-)

  1. What a fabulous post Catherine! Thank you for sharing this story with all its nuances. You and your colleagues made a wonderful difference and that’s evident from the successes you’ve seen in your relationship with Raylene and her daughter….strong women! I’d say your mother wasn’t right this time -you were smart enough to know what could be done, and do it. Courageous and strong. Thank you.

    • Thanks Pauline… glad you enjoyed it. Hardest story I’ve had to write so far but one which needed “telling” and SO proud of what we achieved. Sadly mum was correct… The following year I went on a 12month Teaching Exchange to the USA. On my return the school dynamics had changed, many colleagues had been “moved on”, under the “10yr rule”, and a HUGE number of my “hand made” teaching resources, books/charts etc. had “disappeared”, even the “big book stand” in the photos was gone. Amongst them were the precious “Ab.Education resources” and personal children’s books, etc, etc. I was “targeted” by a bullying Principal, many staff joined in…others “turned a blind eye”, glad it wasn’t them and within 2 years I was bullied out of my health and beloved career. Never able to return to the classroom and 16yrs later, still having “flashbacks”, health probs etc. So, it’s a “bittersweet” story, from my point of view, but hugely successful in progressing matters of Social Justice for our Indigenous Australians and no bully can take that away from me, eh? :-)

      • Absolutely, it was a great achievement, but what a price you paid! I was going to say it’s incredible but having had similar experiences I know it’s all too possible. It seems that not everyone was on the same page as you and your former colleagues in breaking down the barriers. People don’t like change is my experience no matter the need. What a terrible shame that it cost you your beloved career.

  2. Catherine, your post brought back memories of Social Studies lessons at Primary School, where we learnt about Aboriginal culture. Particularly the bark painting, and the clapping sticks, oh and the playground pipe too …

    In my recent post on Gumeracha, I mentioned that my Randell family were the “first white people” in the area, that’s because there Aborigines living in the area at the time. And in fact Gumeracha in a derivation of the Aboriginal word “Umeracha” which means waterhole.

    • Wonderful to hear Alona! :-) … Oh Yes, I loved your post re: Gumeracha and, as I commented, it’s a place which holds a lot of memories for me. So fascinating that your Randell’s were “the first white people” etc.
      Some of mine were “blockers” just outside of Laura, in the Mid-North, and as the “new settlers” pushed the frontier back they sure came into contact with the Aboriginal peoples of the area. Lots of stories e.g. My Great Grandmother alone with the children at night, sitting on the porch, and terrified by the “corroborees” down in the nearby creek etc.
      The Kaurna People were from the Adelaide Plains… I wonder what kin group it was in your part of the Adelaide Hills?… Enjoyed your comment. Thanks.

      • How wonderful that you both have these stories. I found a book story about a huge corroboree near Murphys Creek around the time the railway was being built and my ancestors were there, but I’ve never been able to find any confirmation directly from the time.

      • Happens that my Great Grandfather was also working on building a new railway, through Laura & beyond, at that time Pauline … s-n-a-p :-)

  3. Pingback: Reconciling Black & White Australia | Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family

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