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

The Australian Education Reporter - - CONTENTS - JES­SICA CUM­MINS

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.

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