"NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s theme, ‘Because of her, we can’, celebrates the essential role that women have played – and continue to play – as active and significant role models." - NAIDOC 2018. Last week, at the State Library of New South Wales, our Program Manager Tina Raye shared the work of some remarkable women from remote communities that we work with, who are striving to preserve their language and culture.
BECAUSE OF HER, WE CAN
By Tina Raye, ILF Program Manager
For us, we would specifically like to recognise the Indigenous women who have had significant roles in their communities as well as supporting us to achieve our vision, equity of opportunity. Women who are knowledge holders, language speakers, leaders, as well as mothers and grandmothers, and despite the many challenges of living remote, including language and cultural barriers and often rigid education systems and other government policies, many of these amazing women have dedicated their lives to education and the preservation of their language and culture. It’s because of them, we can…
As the Program Manager at the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, my role has provided me opportunities to visit remote communities across the country; meet with and form relationships with elders, children and families from these communities; and work alongside and support our ambassadors, like Anita Heiss and Alison Lester, to engage kids in writing, illustrating and creative workshops. It's provided with me the opportunity to read, share and gift many books, sometimes to children that have never owned a book before; as well as observe story time between parents and their young children in their home language. I have witnessed words and pieces of art being turned into books, books that represent Indigenous people, culture and often remote life; and I've witnessed first languages be celebrated and revived, whether its through translating books or publishing community stories.
Our Foundation aims to provide access to and encourage engagement in books through our Book Supply Program, we support and empower families to read and share books with their babies and toddlers in the home language through our Book Buzz program. We also facilitate writing and illustrating workshops, before publishing these stories through our Community Literacy Projects. The books we publish recognise the importance of Indigenous stories and storytellers, and acknowledges the role stories play and continue to play in our culture.
Since becoming a Foundation in 2011, we have worked with, supported and formed relationships with many incredible Indigenous women. We honour them all but I’d like to shine the spotlight on a few of these women, to highlight how they are role models and leaders in their communities.
Mary Vanbee and Jessie Moora
Mary Vanbee and Jessie Moora, are a dynamic duo, both grandmothers, mothers, and women who have dedicated their lives to education. They are Walmajirri women from Yakanarra Community in the Kimberley. Amazingly talented, and knowledgeable, as they read, write and speak Walmajirri and English. It’s because of them, their community, and surrounding communities, now have three published books in their language Yakanarra Song Book, Yakanarra Day and Yakanarra Dogs (as part of our Community Literacy Project). Yakanarra Song Book is the most recent publication and includes a collection of songs, the majority of which were written some 30 years ago when bilingual education in the region was considered important. After many visits to the community, Mary and Jessie both voiced the need to have a song book. And after two years of production, they now have one (as part of our Community Literacy Project).
We first met Beryl Jennings in 2009 in Warburton Community in WA. Quietly spoken, Beryl has been influential in the Early Years space and helped set up the first playgroup in her community. She also co-authored, Playgroups – Playing to get ready for school in the 90s. When first shown the Book Buzz program, it was Beryl’s idea to translate the books in Ngaanyatjarra and since then, there have been well over 20 books translated. These are available to mothers, grandmothers and aunties and are incorporated into the Playgroup’s Book Buzz Story time. These books are read and shared daily. One of the books Beryl translated is Where’s Spot? By Eric Hill. Made possible by Peason Australia and Penguin Random House UK, we made this into a interactive eBook with Beryl as the narrator. Beryl also contributed to a series of new Board Books in Ngaanyatjarra we launched last month. She provided all the Ngaanyatjarra text and assisted with some illustrations. Because of her, families can enjoy stories in the language they are most confident and comfortable speaking.
Nina Black, is a Tiwi elder. I’ve known Nina for eight years and have worked with her on and off over this time. She recently retired after about 30 years service at Milikapiti School. Although retired, you will still find Nina at the school doing what she’s passionate about - teaching. Being able to read, write, speak (and sing) in Tiwi and English, Nina has created many resources over the years. She is always giving to others and will offer her support and knowledge whenever she can. Nina was involved in the development of the one of our most popular books, No Way Yirrikipayi! and recently provided audio recordings for this. She is also assisting on a new publishing project Tiny Weeny Yikiyikinni and Tiwi Song Book. Because of her, all children can enjoy stories that reflect Tiwi life and language.
Dianne Moore, more commonly known as Tictac, is an assistant teacher at Tiwi College. A young Tiwi woman, Tictac has encouraged and empowered her students to write and illustrate five books as part of the our create initiative. Tictac is warm, caring, an enthusiastic teacher and role model for her students. It’s because of her, we can grow our relationship with Tiwi College Senior Young Women, and continue to build on the create initiative each year. These young women are the future.
Barbara Moore and Melissa King
We recently met Barbara and Melissa when we travelled to Amata Community in the APY Lands with Alison Lester. The aim of the trip was to support the women (mothers, grandmothers and aunties) of the playgroup to write and illustrate two board books in Pitjantjatjara. These two women were the leaders and driving force for this project. Barbara, a well known Australian artist was key to the illustrations and supported the women. She is a famous artist after all. Melissa worked on illustrations and helped with the Pitjantjatjara text. She even took me to see Muna, the Pitjantjatjara language teacher. Muna was influential in the theme of the books and provided the Pitjantjatjara text. Barbara and Melissa often read to their children and grandchildren and they really wanted to make these books special for their community. Because of them, families in the APY Lands will have two Pitjantjatjara board books that can be read, enjoyed and shared.
Veronica and Kathy Arbon
Ngawilyi (aunty) Vonny and ngawilyi (aunty) Kathy have played important roles in our latest book that we launched last week - Wamparla Apira – Possums and Tall Trees, an Arabana children’s book. It was a special launch not only because of the important story it shares, but because I am Arabana. My ngawilyi (aunty) Vonny has spent many years on Arabana language revitalisation projects and worked in the background to support it’s publication and she spoke passionately at the launch about the importance of book for Arabana people. My ngawilyi (aunty) Kathy, without hesitation put her hand up to illustrate the story. Although an amazing artist, she had no experience illustrating a book. Her illustrations are beautiful and bring the story to life. Ngawilyi Kathy has since illustrated a second book, Can you dance?, written by Sally Morgan which we'll launch later this year. Because of them, Arabana people now have their very first children’s book published in language.
Olga Miller, Butchulla woman, illustrated The Legends of Moonie Jarl. Olga was the first Indigenous illustrator to be published in Australia. This was back in 1964, when Indigenous people were not recognised as citizens of Australia. She has since past away but her legacy lives on. The Legends of Moonie Jarl was the first Indigenous children’s book published in Australia, and later in the UK, and was written and illustrated by Indigenous people. In 2014, on its 50th year anniversary, we republished this book and it’s once again available to the Australian public. Because of her, we can enjoy many books illustrated by Indigenous illustrators.
Binjari Buk Mob
In Binjari community, just outside of Katherine, there are a group of women that felt it was important to read books to their children in the language they speak at home. With no books available, they decided to write and illustrate some. Maureen, Karen, Amelia, Bernadine, Stella and Marilyn wrote nine books (three board books, three picture books, and three chapter books) in Kriol and English. These books have had many great responses from Kriol speakers. It’s because of them, Kriol books are now in schools, libraries, health centres, services and playgroups and homes, in the Kriol region across WA, NT and QLD. We have recently worked on an animation of Karen’s story, Moli det Bigibigi (Molly the Pig), which we'll be launching on Indigenous Literacy Day at the Sydney Opera House (5 September).
This is a time that we also recognise our amassing Indigenous female ambassadors, former and current, including Anita Heiss, Sally Morgan, Jessica Mauboy, Ursula Yovich, Natalie Ahmat, Deborah Cheetham, Shelley Ware and Deb Dank. From running marathons to raise funds; to facilitating singing, writing and illustrating workshops; to MCing our Indigenous Literacy Day event at the Sydney Opera House; our ambassadors play an important role in our work, and we are thankful for their support.
I would also like to acknowledge our Indigenous female Board members, Sharon Galleguillos and Leitha Assan. You both have a wealth of knowledge and experiences, and passion for positive change and I’m truly in you’re your support and import have been crucial to our work. Because of you, we can.
Last but not least, I would also like to acknowledge the incredible women in my family. My mum, grandmothers and great grandmothers and those before them. It’s because of you, I can.