Interview with ambassador Natalie Ahmat
“I’d already seen the end results in the beautiful books produced by ILF, but now I’ve seen the classrooms where they start…And I now have a whole new appreciation of life in remote communities.” — Natalie Ahmat, ILF ambassador
In mid June, four ILF ambassadors – Natalie Ahmat, Gregg Dreise, Alison Lester and Jessica Mauboy – and our newest Board member Marnie O’Bryan made the long journey to the Tiwi Islands for our annual Ambassador Trip. This trip is unlike any other trip we take. What makes it so distinctive is the incredibly rich two-way exchange of learning and experience. For Tiwi students, working with our ambassador authors and illustrators that they aspire to, as well as for our team learning a little bit more about Tiwi people, culture and language. Over the last seven years of visiting Melville Island, the relationships with Milikapiti School and community, and Tiwi College have continued to grow.
The trip kicked off with an induction into Tiwi culture, led by elder Nina Black and educator Bianca Daniels. The session included sampling some island food, such as ‘long bum’ (a local shellfish), mud mussels, several varieties of freshly caught fish and damper.
The next day we put on a day of festival style activities including story time sessions, illustrating workshops, song writing workshops, a bookshop and more. The community celebrated the launch of two books, both written by Tiwi students and published by our Foundation. Teeny Weeny Yikiyikini, a picture book written and illustrated by students from Milikapiti School with Gregg Dreise, and Japarrika Rises, a chapter book written and illustrated by students from Tiwi College with David Lawrence and Shelley Ware. Copies of both books were given out to the students and community members present at the launches.
The day finished with a performance and pretty well everyone on the island turned out for the event, explains Natalie Ahmat who emceed the launch.
“The whole community shut down for it!”
“Even the shop closed!” adds Tina Raye, ILF Program Director.
And Jessica Mauboy sang a few songs, with hyper-excited kids calling out requests and milling around afterwards so she could sign their ILF posters.
For Natalie, even though she visits many Indigenous communities in the course of her work as a presenter on NTIV and has emceed several Indigenous Literacy Day events at Sydney Opera House in the past few years, it was the first time she’d been on a field trip in her capacity as an ILF ambassador, a chance to witness in person what our Foundation does.
Natalie says she left with an enhanced understanding of the importance to the Tiwi people of ILF’s work at Milikapiti School and Tiwi College.
“It really struck me how very remote the island is. There’s no going to a library or bookshop.”
During the ambassadors’ visit, books from our Book Supply program were gifted to students.
“To actually see a child choose a book or two, and the delight on their faces, it was very special being there.”
For Natalie, Alison Lester’s illustrating workshops with the kids and the songwriting ones led by Jessica and Gregg Dreise were also illuminating.
“I’d already seen the end results in the beautiful books produced [by ILF], but now I’ve seen the classrooms where they start.”
Natalie had lots of informal chats with community members as well, mostly about their culture.
“Talking to parents and grandparents was a real privilege. I learnt what the ILF programs mean to them. And incorporating their Tiwi language into the books is very important to the elders.”
Just how important it is Natalie saw for herself when she assisted Jessica one day in a songwriting workshop. The lyrics the students came up with were primarily in English, but a group of elders who’d sat in made a few suggestions along the way for the inclusion of some Tiwi words too.
“It was a great way for the kids to engage with language. And wonderful for me to see first-hand the impacts ILF’s programs are having.”