What led you to become involved with the WRN?
Elaine was born in New Zealand and had attended small country schools where she had not experienced the domination of the Pakeha history over Maori history, even though that was the minority culture in these schools. So she was shocked at her first introduction to teaching in Australia when, at her first school the Principal clearly informed me in his introduction to Footscray Public School, Melbourne, 1962 – making it clear that “nothing had happened in Australia before 1778”. This she wanted to work on. (more of Elaine’s journey below)
What are the biggest challenges you believe Australia is still facing?
First Nations People still not included in the Australian constitution
Respect of and with First Nation Peoples
The place of First Nation Peoples within the Australian context.
Shifting old strongly held patterns of colonial attitudes and behavior.
What are your aspirations for Australia’s future?
It is hopeful to me to hear younger Aboriginal leaders share their views and becoming the future leaders
Ensuring that there is an inclusive statement embedded in the Constitution which recognises the true history of this nation, which honours the birthplace of the oldest living culture on this earth.
Elaine’s life journey has been very much a partnership with John in the movement of Those Who Care.
Elaine would like to share some aspects from phases of her life as they relate to Reconciliation.
Initially her experience and foundations in human development were as a volunteer with a global organisation called the Institute of Cultural Affairs. This organisation pioneered participative processes for people in communities and organisations globally to develop new stories and programs towards creating and managing change.
Early 1978 a Community Training Program was held in the Oombulgurri community in the east Kimberlies. Several Murrin Bridge community members participated in this program as well as other First Nation people from similar rural Aboriginal communities.
Subsequently Murrin Bridge community invited a team of ICA people to come and work alongside them. John and Elaine arrived in MB December 1978 and stayed until Sept 1981.
Murrin Bridge community was created when the government policy forced the relocation of First Nations’ people from geographically isolated but familiar places to designated and unfamiliar areas of land which became known as Reserves or Missions during the1940’s.
Three keys of community development practices include the use of story, song and symbol. Elaine explained that if as a person she is constantly being reminded that she’s lazy, a drunken bum and a good for nothing person then this becomes her belief and everyone’s expectation.
One’s self story can be a strong tool for developing pride, confidence and self-esteem when there is the opportunity to experience being in the role of the story teller with a role model example for others to follow.
This shift in perception in the person who feels disempowered can also begin to influence the often strongly held preconceived myths and stereotypical images held by the dominating culture.
At an isolated school in the eastern Kimberley where Elaine spent a short time living with the Oombulgurri community as the teacher (1978) she assessed the resources and with the Council of Elders permission replaced the departmental readers for primary children and using her Polaroid camera took photos involving individual children or something of their interest for writing their own stories which together they made into individual story books.
The Oombulgurri children were very creative and could make their own toys.
One nine year old boy whose name was Stuart Nine Toes (he’d had an accident) often created toys using an empty Baked Bean tin attaching a long wooden handle from a branch attached with wire, which they rolled along the dusty tracks, under the Boab Trees.
This experience at Oombulgurri was good preparation for their next assignment to Murrin Bridge, western NSW.
In Murrin Bridge, regarding the value of storytelling, and with the cooperation of two local small primary schools in the area (one was a one teacher rural school and the other a small private school in the nearby town) the team supported and encouraged the confidence of a couple of Elders to tell their stories in the schools every couple of weeks.
Following the Oombulgurri experience, high on Elaine’s list was the urgency to have official reading materials be related to the First Nation’s life and experience.
One memory which is very strong in Elaine’s mind was to have readers created for the local Lake Cargelligo Area School, where the Murrin Bridge and other First Nation kids attended.
One day while Elaine was hitching a ride from Lake Cargelligo town back to MB a vehicle pulled up and the driver happened to be Peter Dargin, the Publisher of specific readers for the Aboriginal students in the Western Region, NSW A couple of years later the following set of 5 readers were published by Western Readers: ‘Place of the Future’, ‘Caring for our Community’, ‘Keeping our Heritage Alive’, ‘History of Murrin Bridge’, and ‘Jobs for our People’. Every book had photos of Murrin Bridge people. e.g. At this time many of the community men at Murrin Bridge were involved in upgrading the houses rather than some department providing the manpower and skills “to come and do this for them”. Elaine learned later that these were the MB kids’ favourite books where they learned to read.
Development of a community newspaper called the Murrin Bridge Voice – was produced weekly by the Health Worker team. This was part of the Murrin Bridge preventive health strategy. Stories, songs, drawings and poetry were part of the content.
The experience of living and working in local communities and facilitating community workshops in several towns and organisations stood Elaine and John in good stead for the application they submitted to be the NSW Australians for Reconciliation team (AFR’s). They were over the moon when they heard the news that they were successful!
The AFR’s role was to work primarily with the non-Indigenous sectors while our other team member was a younger Murri woman, Shelley Reys. Together they worked strategically as a team. Some of the specific events where story telling played a significant part were the following:
“Going Walkabout Together – Sharing Approaches that Work” events which were held in twin towns of Bathurst and Orange over two days.
Six pre-Convention Workshops across NSW in 1997
attended by 200+ at each meeting– Bateman’s Bay, Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Tamworth, Armidale, Port Macquarie, Parramatta and Fairfield.