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Learning about country

Tuesday, 2nd July, 2013

Justin Files, Debbie Evans, Tegan Hinchey with Uncle Bill Riley, who features on the DVD, at the launch in Broken Hill. Justin Files, Debbie Evans, Tegan Hinchey with Uncle Bill Riley, who features on the DVD, at the launch in Broken Hill.

Traditional Aboriginal knowledge came alive on the big screen in Broken Hill last month with the launch of the Through our Eyes - Baarkindji DVD.

Some 430 Aboriginal people, local residents and tourists filled the Silver City Cinema to watch a series of short documentaries featuring Baarkindji and Malyankapa people at Mutawintji National Park and in Wilcannia.

The 25 documentaries complement the first series released in 2010 and feature Ngemba, Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people filmed in the Brewarrina, Walgett and Lighting Ridge areas.

Aboriginal Communities Coordinator for the Western Catchment Management Authority (CMA), Blackie Gordon, said the cinema was at capacity and audience members said they appreciated seeing local people and the magnificent landscapes of outback NSW on the large screen.

“The project enables Aboriginal people to pass on cultural knowledge to future generations,” Mr Gordon said.

“They share information that enables both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to learn about traditional practices, symbols, rituals, land management techniques and places of significance in their local area,” he said.

Students and teachers from BH High School, BH Community College, St Therese’s Community School and Wilcannia Central School also viewed the films along with a contingent of students from Sydney’s Methodist Ladies College who were on a school excursion.

The teachers said the DVDs were a valuable teaching resource that will be used in future lessons.

A further 50 people comprising Aboriginal people, non-Aboriginal people, business owners, teachers and children attended a community screening in Wilcannia the following day.

The DVD is part of an ongoing project by the Western CMA and Western Catchment Aboriginal Reference Advisory Group to capture the land management practices and social, spiritual and cultural knowledge held by Aboriginal Elders and knowledge-holders in western NSW.

Badger Bates, William Riley and Mark Sutton from Broken Hill, as well as Wilcannia residents Colin Clark and Slim and Shirley Evans appear on the DVD, while children from St Therese’s Community School and Wilcannia Central School also speak and sing in Baarkindji language.

Copies of the two educational DVDs containing 44 short films will be sent to all schools, libraries and tourist information centres in the Western Catchment.  The documentaries will also be shown on National Indigenous TV from August 2013. People who are interested in receiving a copy of the Through our Eyes DVDs should contact the Western CMA on 1800 032 101.

Malyankapa man, Mark Sutton, was keen to be involved in the project and features in a number of the documentaries filmed at Mutawintji National Park, where he worked as a tour guide for 20 years.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to engage in culture and these things are important,” Mr Sutton said.

“If we can get Australian kids interested in Aboriginal languages, then they inadvertently become interested in the natural environment because our languages are all about describing the natural environment.

“The responsibility rests with me and my generation - it is our turn to pass on that knowledge to ensure our culture is maintained,” he said.

In scenes that were filmed at Mutawintji National Park, Mark shares his wealth of knowledge throughout the DVD, including some of what he knows about the history of Mutawintji, the importance and meaning of Aboriginal moiety and totem systems, as well as rock art and places of significance for Aboriginal people.

Mark speaks of the role models in his life, including his mother, Alma Bates-Hannah, whose family was the first to live on Wilcannia mission.

“My mother is one of the most wonderful role models anyone could hope for. She has a definite view about how successful Aboriginal people should evolve through a
combination of formal education, being respectful of Elders and asking questions about everything.

“I tried to constantly draw knowledge out of her by asking questions wherever we went. I was initially an urban teen, but felt that need to go back and learn about country.

“When my mother’s generation goes, that will be the last generation that was in touch with those old people who lived in the traditional Aboriginal way so we need to learn from them while we can,” Mr Sutton said.

While Wilcannia Central School teacher, Craig Ashby, doesn’t appear on screen, he was instrumental to involving local students in the project.

Children from St Therese’s Community School sing two songs in Baarkindji language, while Catta and Trey from Wilcannia Central School speak in language about living in Wilcannia and the birds, fish and animals you might see in the local area.

“All the children at this school have some kind of connection with this area,” he said. “But we need to fire things up with increased knowledge.

“Now the students are thinking about why it is that they call themselves Baarkindji - it is about where they come from and the connection with country and that is what they need to know.”

In Craig’s experience, sometimes children are challenged about their Aboriginality by people who judge them by the colour of their skin.

“Being Aboriginal is in your heart and in the way you identify and connect - it is not in your skin,” he said.

He describes the DVD as an essential resource in his teaching life and will use it to complement his teaching in Aboriginal languages from pre-schoolers to high school students and for everything from history and culture lessons to geography and poetry.

“This DVD has opened the door and will help us develop even more resources,” he said.

“It has been a real collaboration of knowledge that people didn’t know before and now they not only have access to the information, but that are starting to ask more questions. 

“People didn’t have the confidence to ask questions and talk to the Elders, but now they have some knowledge and they have a real thirst for more.”

Craig has found that high school students who are starting to form relationships are particularly keen to learn more about kinship. 

“They are not simply asking who they are related to now, but also what relationship they have to animals and to country,” Mr Ashby said.

The Through our Eyes project is funded by the NSW Government, the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

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