Con­nect­ing to cul­ture

South Western Times - - Faces & Places - Emily Ace

WITH four chil­dren, three fos­ter chil­dren, two dogs, chick­ens, a rab­bit and visi­tors al­most ev­ery week­end, Mar­lie Burg­er­mis­ter’s house is as full as her heart.

Mar­lie’s mother Bev Hor­ton had al­ways wanted to fos­ter chil­dren. Af­ter she died, Mar­lie was in­spired to adopt her dream just over four years ago.

“My mum al­ways wanted to fos­ter, but she never got the chance,” she said.

“We al­ways said we would love to help her with it, so we de­cided to fin­ish off what she wanted to start.”

The fam­ily has had three place­ments in their time as car­ers in what Mar­lie de­scribed as “one of the most re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ences we have ever had”.

Mar­lie and her hus­band of 25 years Craig, have three Abo­rig­i­nal fos­ter chil­dren in their care, aged 2, 5, and 7.

“We want to show them there is an­other side to life, and not just by our­selves, but with their fam­ily as well,” she said.

“We are cre­at­ing strong, healthy con­nec­tions with their fam­i­lies be­cause fam­ily comes first when it comes to cul­ture and con­nec­tion.”

Mar­lie was shocked when her el­dest fos­ter child pointed out “bad Abo­rig­i­nals” while shop­ping for school uni­forms soon af­ter com­ing into care.

“I thought, ‘how does she get to the point where she thinks Abo­rig­i­nals are bad?’ so we de­cided then and there that we needed to make a change in the way that she thinks,” she said.

“We de­cided first of all we needed to in­clude it in our house and we also try to put a cul­tural lens over ev­ery­thing we do in our daily liv­ing – whether it’s at the beach and draw­ing sym­bols or at the park con­nect­ing with na­ture.

“I want to make them proud of where they come from.”

Af­ter an ac­tiv­ity where the fam­ily cov­ered a chair in Abo­rig­i­nal print sparked many con­ver­sa­tions about Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture in the house­hold, Mar­lie re­alised she needed to do some­thing more pro­nounced.

This led to the cre­ation of the “cul­ture cor­ner”, which is full of books, mu­sic, tra­di­tional mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, dolls, au­dio books and cush­ions cov­ered in Abo­rig­i­nal print.

The fam­ily is also cre­at­ing a tra­di­tional Noon­gar gar­den at the front of the home, full of ed­i­ble and medic­i­nal plants.

Mar­lie’s fo­cus on keep­ing chil­dren con­nected to their cul­ture led her to speak at the Na­tional Fos­ter and Kin­ship Care Con­fer­ence in Mel­bourne last month.

“It is ex­tremely im­por­tant to keep chil­dren con­nected with their cul­ture,” she said.

“Chil­dren need to de­velop a strong sense of self to help build their re­silience. They need to know where they have come from, who their fam­ily is, their fam­ily sto­ries and their lan­guage to de­velop a sense of who they are.

“We have built close con­nec­tions with lo­cal Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity mem­bers who have contributed greatly to our learn­ing and have given us ideas and in­for­ma­tion on how we can in­cor­po­rate the cul­ture into our daily lives.

“We all wear some­thing of cul­ture each day whether it’s a bracelet or a hair tie.”

Since first com­ing into care, the el­dest has come leaps and bounds in tak­ing pride in her cul­ture.

“One of the chil­dren pointed out to or­gan­is­ers at a re­cent wel­come din­ner in front of a crowd of about 60 peo­ple that they had ne­glected to put up her flag – the Abo­rig­i­nal flag,” she said.

“It was a proud mo­ment for me to see how proud she is of her cul­ture and also how much her con­fi­dence has im­proved since com­ing into our care.”

Mar­lie said there was a big need for car­ers and en­cour­aged any­one to con­sider tak­ing the life-chang­ing leap.

We all wear some­thing of cul­ture each day whether it’s a bracelet or a hair tie.

- Mar­lie Burg­er­mis­ter

Pic­ture: Jon Gell­weiler

With four chil­dren of her own and a fos­ter carer of three, Mar­lie Burgemis­ter and her hus­band Craig, run a full house where they strive to keep each child con­nected to cul­ture.

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