Teaching Dharawal (Tharawal) Indigenous perspectives in primary?

Last week we submitted our final assessment for ‘Human Society and Its Environments’ – a group-compiled resource for teaching Indigenous studies in a primary school in southern Sydney, part of the land of the Gweagal (Gwiyagal) mob. While I am not usually a fan of group assignments, this one was surprisingly painless; Vanessa, Heather and Nathalie seemed to do most of the work, so I can’t really complain.

A key part of the assignment was understanding how important local material is in providing Indigenous perspectives – and not always something that easy to find. I wanted to put the finished resource up here because itlists a range of resources that will be useful to anyone developing Indigenous studies material in the southern areas of Sydney and beyond (Dharawal (Tharawal) is the language spoken in the area South of Botany Bay and the Georges river, west to Appin, down as far as Goulburn and to Wreck Bay near Nowra).

You can download the Dharawal Indigenous Teaching Resource here.

On a more person note, we were asked as part of the assignment to reflect on how we understood the importance of ‘localisation’ in teaching Indigenous perspectives. Thinking about this made me realise that despite the culturally progressive attitudes that prevailed in the primary school I attended, my appreciation of Indigenous Australian culture and heritage was very much a product of the period in which I grew up. True ‘Aboriginies’ were an ancient and mysterious race that existed in a far away land – separated strangely by either time or distance. Their presence in the alien red heart of the country somehow pushed that land into a distant past, dislocated from the world I lived in. Utterly separate to this spiritual, tribal culture were the marginalised ‘black folk’ that existed in the liminal spaces of my own world – all but invisible in country New South Wales (a place where the only Asians in town did, in fact, run the Chinese restaurant).

The Aboriginal culture I learned about was both ‘other’ and homogenous. While we appreciated that there were many different tribes, any differences between tribes was glossed over. The ‘Aboriginies’ of my early years became a stylised tapestry of loin-cloths, woomera, corroborees and boomerangs. It was only many years later when I was exposed to terms like ‘Koori’ and ‘Murri’ that I became aware of both the diversity within Indigenous culture, and the real link between past and present.

These two tensions – between identity and stereotype; between past and present – are a challenge for those teachers introducing students to Indigenous ideas today. Providing a local context to Indigenous perspectives is an important way of reconciling these tensions. Specific local context can act as a means to link past and present, and to make abstract generalisations concrete and meaningful. Combined with an interdisciplinary approach, localisation is a step towards a more meaningful integration of Indigenous perspectives into education.

The dichotomy between Indigenous past and present is seen in the ‘historical’ and ‘contemporary culture’ aspects that are grouped together under ‘Indigenous studies’. The past is seen through a lens of tribal anthropology, while the present through a lens of cultural relationships and social justice. In many ways this tension is one that is playing itself out within Indigenous communities across Australia, as many different models of integration, segregation and co-existence are attempted.

By focusing on the local Indigenous community (past and present), connections can be drawn that collapse this dichotomy. Perhaps the continuing presence of the local community’s totem animal in the area may provide a concrete link to the spiritual past. Local place names drawn from Indigenous origins speak to a living language that continues to connect with the land. Local places of significance take the abstract and ‘otherly’ idea of the sacred site and make it both meaningful and politically resonant.

By using localisation to draw the culture of Indigenous Australia from a distant tribal past into a living present, connections can then be made with the members of that culture today – a culture that in many parts of the country is enjoying tentative but powerful renewal. Introducing children to Indigenousness in a way that allows them to relate to it as another perspective on their world is an important part of our nation’s journey toward a positive shared future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *