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.   

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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.