In the Spotlight: Vattessa Colbung
Q. What does the story teach children? Q. Growing up, what did you learn about Indigenous culture at school? What do you wish teachers had done differently? Q. How can schools and teachers improve the way they approach Indigenous education? Q. Is there an
Q. What is William Wijity: The Life Cycle of The Witchetty Grub about, and what inspired you to write the book?
William Wijity is the narrator. He’s telling people about the life cycle of a witchetty grub, which is a ‘bardi’ or a worm.
I was inspired by my life, from having close influential connections with people like my family. And as a child growing up I had a very adventurous imagination.
The story comes from the times I would go out bush with my grandmother Daisy “Tjulki” Rundle, collecting bush foods in the Goldfields.
We would walk with her and she would show us how to find the witchetty grub in the trees.
You would know where the bardi was sitting because there would be a bulge on the tree, and she showed me how to chip around the bark so that we didn’t damage the bardi.
My mum was also an [inspiration]. She worked long hours and when she arrived home from work had to manage six children, including extended siblings.
While working as a health worker at Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service in 1998 she wrote her first book called Gwen Miller’s Aboriginal Health Course.
The book was based on a year of health education for Aboriginal students in two schools – Ceduna Area School and Koonibba Aboriginal School in South Australia.
Then there was my Grandmother on my father’s side, Olive Hart (nee Morrison).
She wrote a short story, which was a collection of nine Aboriginal women’s life experiences across Australia called Holding up the Sky – Olive Morrison Those Days.
My book was something I also wanted to share with others.
Stories bring connection, and connection brings people to a mutual understanding that strengthens the importance of aboriginal culture and heritage.
What does the story teach children?
It teaches Aboriginal children the importance of identity. It also makes non-aboriginal children aware of our language, traditional foods, and culture.
Some of our Aboriginal children have not experienced the bush, and some children that have grown up in the city miss these opportunities.
The best lesson here is telling the story in English and Ngaanyatjarra language.
Children love stories being told to them. It is one of the fundamental ways of connecting with children.
Aboriginal people have always been storytellers, and yarning is an important part of our culture.
It is our cultural and spiritual connection to who we are, and where we come from.
Growing up, what did you learn about Indigenous culture at school? What do you wish teachers had done differently?
I enjoyed school in the 1980s and 1990s but there was no Indigenous curriculum. Indigenous students only experienced Aboriginal health workers coming to school for health checks.
There were times when I and other Aboriginal students struggled with the mainstream curriculum and, as a young student, I like many others would usually end up sitting outside because the class was too large.
So the focus or support I needed was ignored.
Indigenous curriculum should have been a priority, it was sad growing up and recognising the literacy and numeracy barriers Indigenous people endured.
I recall while attending school in the 1980s and 1990s there was only one Aboriginal liaison officer who had to deal with high pressured mainstream literacy and numeracy issues affecting Indigenous students on a daily basis.
You would witness him rushing past classroom windows, as his name was called out over the school PA system.
How can schools and teachers improve the way they approach Indigenous education?
Indigenous children still struggle with literacy and numeracy; those barriers still exist. The education system needs to understand that the Aboriginal lifestyle is a day-to-day experience – we’ve never had to be in the situation where we’ve had to have a five or 10 year plan.
We’ve only known how to live for that day, and that day is our focus for our family and children.
There could be a lack of communication between principals or teachers. Teachers need to also understand how to cater for the Aboriginal Education officer roles.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Indigenous education is improving. The Department of Education have put in place an Aboriginal Cultural framework.
I see a lot of changes in schools where Indigenous culture and language are being taught in positive ways.
I would like to thank Tahlia Lynch, a Kalgoorlie artist and illustrator for her amazing artwork which highlights the book.
We all enjoyed every part of her sketching and graphics, and we admire the end result.
I would also like to acknowledge following sponsors for making the book launch possible during NAIDOC Week in Kalgoorlie:
Christine Boase (Anglogold Ashanti Australia); Hon. Kyle Mcginn (MLC Member for Mining and Pastoral); Kyran O’donnell (MLA Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs); Sharon Goddard (Gold Road Resources); Aunty Debbie Rundle, Wendy Ranger and Mladen Mrvelj; Susan Hanson (Goldfields Language Centre); and Ngaanyatjarra translators Karen Cooke, Lillian Turner, Angelica Mclean, and Valesska Frazer.