6 April 2022

Learning about Wiradjuri country reaches schools

| Edwina Mason
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Wiradjuri elder Aunty Enid Clarke

Wiradjuri elder Aunty Enid Clarke has used film to pass on her knowledge of her country to public school teachers and students in the Hilltops region. Photo: Dean Kinlyside.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this story contains names and images of deceased persons.

The knowledge and culture that runs deep through Wiradjuri country are ancient, but learning about the Indigenous culture has taken a painstakingly long detour on its journey to the classroom.

The Hilltops region has taken one giant step toward bridging the education gap by creating a 30-minute educational film about the Wiradjuri culture on Wiradjuri land.

The project was filmed in Monteagle, Murringo, Harden and Jugiong over two days around Easter 2021 and centres around Wiradjuri elder Aunty Enid Clarke sharing knowledge on country.

Almost a year later, the film titled Ngiyanhi Yalbilinya Ngurambang-gaa (Nee-yarn-ee Yal-bee-lin-ya Noor-am-bung-gaa) or We Learn on Country was quietly revealed to a select audience at Young’s Southern Cross Theatre in February.

READ ALSO National recognition for groundbreaking Wiradjuri language course in Wagga

In the film, Aunty Enid takes people deep into country up to Tout Park near Young, between Murringo Gap, out to Monteagle and down towards Harden and the hillier country in the south to explain tools, weapons and artefacts, how to read country, foraging skills and the significance of certain grasses, rocks, trees and bluffs.

Old photo of Indigenous man and woman

The stories of Aunty Enid Clarke and Aunty Norma Freeman’s great grandparents, W Frederick Freeman and Grannie Sarah Freeman, are highlighted in the film. Photo: Dean Kinlyside.

She said her knowledge was gained through stories, particularly those of her maternal great-grandfather W Fred Freeman, who was born near Muttama and was a tracker at Brungle. He was also Aboriginal Lands Council CEO Aunty Norma Freeman’s paternal great-grandfather.

“He was 104 when he died in 1964 in Young, and Norma wasn’t around but he used to come and visit the family and he’d tell stories,” she said.

She shares the story of Fred’s wife, Granny Sarah, a midwife who travelled through Wiradjuri country on a horse-drawn wagonette between the missions in Brungle, Yass and Cowra.

Though a young Aunty Enid would often have preferred to play outside with other children, she now understands that the stories she was told were a precious trove of knowledge.

“I was lucky to have elders around me when I was growing up; they’d just talk the basics; it wasn’t too much. They never spoke the language – never – but they’d tell us little things,” she said.

“We knew that the Yowie or the Bunyip was a message; a sign of danger and not to go near there because the water, for instance, was deep and children could drown. We knew not to swim in the Bunyip hole.”

Historically these teachings had been reserved primarily for local Indigenous public and high school students who would embark on an annual bus tour, but it now supplements the pioneering traditional Wiradjuri language program at Young High School.

The film came courtesy of Young Public School teacher Amanda Butt, who secured a National Indigenous Agency Australia grant in late 2020 on behalf of the Hilltops Organisation of Public Schools (HOOPS).

The aim was to support teachers to embed Indigenous perspectives into their daily programming but the project was a collaboration between the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), NSW Lands Council, Aboriginal education officer Ange Agnew and Aunty Enid and her family.

READ ALSO Eden High’s former principal Adrian Bell awarded for leadership in First Nations education

The project also involved local Young videographer Dean Kinlyside and teacher Kerrie Coulter, who said all teachers at Young Public School would view the film with term two programs in mind. Related resources will be developed to match each chapter of the film, and it will be made available to other public schools.

Aunty Enid said the process has helped her realise the value of the knowledge she has shared.

“This knowledge, it’s lovely that we’re sharing it – I love that we’re sharing it. It’s there all the time and I think it’s no big deal, but I need to stop thinking like that because it is important,” she said.

“So Mandaang Guwu – thank you in Wiradjuri – for getting this up and running because a few more people will learn about how wonderful Wiradjuri country is.

“There is still evidence of my ancestors walking this country – it’s still there.”

Discussions with all parties to plan a second film collaboration in the next year are now in the pipeline as is an application for an additional grant.

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