I asked him what he thought, about being taught proper blackfella stuff. He’s nine, just recently turned, and while he has a turn of phrase to rival the greatest orator when excepting himself from homework or feeding the Kelpie, I was genuinely unsure what his response would be.
His face – muscles appearing where hair will come, eyes growing wiser by the day – split into a joyous grin, and the words tumbled out un-thought, a stream of pure consciousness that is as authentic as it gets.
“Mama, I love it! It’s all the stories about this land, stories about the creatures that live here and stories that sound like songs… and the games are great: they’re funny and clever and it’s not like school work at all but I’m still learning. Do you want to see too? I can show you?”
If you knew my child, you would know that this is solid endorsement indeed. His bright little mind whirs continually, a powerful engine of curious thought. But school? He’s not so keen. I have seen him adeptly tap out a the theme tune to M*A*S*H using four pencils and a Lego ninja while failing miserably to take in what is being said about multiplication algorithms beneath the beady eye of his teacher. Big blue eyes and a freckled smile get him a long way, and he skirts through much of the required syllabus with a wily shrug and insouciant attitude.
And yet, when we roam – swags belted, truck torqued, tarps often unravelling in a dirt-road scene akin to Priscilla – he is fascinated by the world around him, the culture and story and the application of this on Country. He was taught to make animal tracks by Uncle Kev Buzzacott on the edge of Lake Eyre. He learned to pick and cook wild rosella fruit, sticky hands dipping in and out of the pot on the fire on the banks of a lazy green river. And he will happily eat roo tail with his hands, fur and all.
This child has absorbed everything he has been taught about Indigenous Australia, because it is relates to the very heart of this land. Ask him and he will say, “it’s Australia’s story Mama, so that means it’s everybody’s story”. And while he is lucky enough to have experienced the broadest reaches of this country, this tenet remains at the core of why I celebrate the opportunity he has to receive an Aboriginal education.
I have always taught him that knowledge is power: to understand and engage critical thought to situations is powerful. The understanding that he gains from an Aboriginal curriculum is equally and notably so, as it engenders shared understanding. It encourages recognition and respect, an embracing of diversity for its strengths as opposed to restricted, closed-minded colonial mythologies that breed discrimination, prejudice and inequality.
As the oldest continuous living culture on earth, the knowledge and lore of the traditional owners of this land is of seminal importance to Australia and globally. It is something to be innately proud of, to celebrate and to embrace with every part of our national identity. That it isn’t remains a mystery to me, but I have to believe that will change.
And I know that the chance to broaden his understanding of the world with an ancient knowledge will help him navigate his future and that of those he loves in an equitable, diverse and caring capacity, a capacity that engenders reconciliation and ongoing understanding between the many, many people of the land on which he grows.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.