Connecting to culture
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
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.