A wonderfully engaging and heartening account of a successful Aboriginal community based at a beautiful beach site in Arnhem Land
Laklak Burarrwanga is a Datiwuy Elder, Caretaker for Gumatj, and eldest sister. As a teacher at Bawaka in north-east Arnhem Land, she has spent decades sharing her knowledge with the children of her community. Tourists and government staff and visitors from all walks of life have also learnt much from Laklak and her family.
Laklak's co-authors in Welcome to My Country are her sisters and daughter (Ritjilili Ganambarr, Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr, Banbapuy Ganambarr, Djawundil Maymuru), and academics Sarah Wright, Sandie Suchet-Pearson and Kate Lloyd, who have been adopted into the family. They have worked together since 2006, and completed two books and several articles.
In a collaborative account of the north-east Arnhem Land community, the Yolnu people, Laklak Burarrwanga and her family offer an important and colourful insight into Indigenous culture and customs that certainly has a place in today’s high school classroom.
Welcome to My Country has a real variety of themes, and a large part of the beauty of the book is in its always-changing format. Never a straightforward or singularly-voiced memoir – impossible regardless, as there are over nine contributors in total - it is instead a mixture of didactic stories, broader historical accounts and bright images of the daily life of the community. From an in-depth description of a turtle hunt to a retelling of the story of the Seven Sisters, the text emphasises that for the Yolnu people, everything is connected.
The book will be of particular interest to teachers and those involved in education; in one poignant section, Burarrwanga straightforwardly describes her own often challenging educational experiences as both student and teacher, and her attempts to ‘bring Yolnu learning into the classroom’ (p. 119) to somehow achieve a balance between ancestral and traditional knowledge and the formal, Western style so necessary in order to achieve recognised qualifications.
It would be a highly useful text for the classroom as educators could select sections or snippets as appropriate to various age groups or tasks to explore diversity and difference. Burarrwanga uses an inclusive voice: ‘So come and spend some time with us at Bakawa,’ she invites readers early, providing throughout a first-hand model of the tradition of story and language inherent in Indigenous culture. Because of this, some students might find the story at once both welcoming and exclusive, while the sheer amount of names and terms in the Yolnu language will perhaps deter younger readers from becoming fully connected to the text. These minor reservations – a glossary is provided in any case – are easily outweighed by the joy and relish with which Laklak and her family tell their story.
Anna Ridgway-Faye, Essendon Keilor College, Victoria
With the need to embed indigenous perspectives in the curriculum, one is always ready to read more stories like this. So sit down and join the yarning circle to listen to some of these stories. This book is about stories - those of a successful Arnhem Land community. It’s the lives, heritage and insights into futures – as told by Laklak Burrawanga and her family and with the collaboration of academics in a research collective. The knowledges and connections work within the book and extend out to other “knowns”: it’s a work of non-fiction to “hear” slowly and thoughtfully.
Although it is recommended for ages 14 to 16, one might consider whether it could link in with “identity” projects and memoir in year 8.
Andrea Deborde, QLD
There is one word I would use to describe Welcome to my Country; rich. The deep connections to the land and environment that are described through stories, images and songs are what undergird the Yolŋu people from north-east Arnhem land. There are so many stories throughout the book that speak of relationship with the animals and earth, and each can be taken out and examined on its own making it a useful book to delve into multiple times. One of my favourite stories is of Nike, the crocodile (bäru), which has become part of the family, and who have been for thousands of years. There is a strong respect for the role that bäru play with Country and language, and the connection they have with women. My sense is that if we read the stories of this book, we only have the beginning of understanding of this boundless indigenous culture. The final story, “Computer and spear: Mixing knowledges’, speaks of Laklak’s hope for the future where Bawaka people share the richness of their culture with visitors to the region, the apaki, and where there is an exchange of cultures. She sees this as taking her culture forward, even though there are still challenges to face, such as having Yolŋu culture and language recognized in the schooling system. When Yolŋu culture is shared in context and to the ‘right’ audience, it must result in a deeper appreciation of what has gone before for thousands of years, and the caretakers of this land. Students can only be enriched by exploring what it is for this indigenous culture to be so profoundly connected to the land.
Elaine Reber, Edvance School
It is wonderful to see new publications centred on acknowledging the cultural heritage of specific groups of Aborigine peoples. This pleasingly presented book seeks to draw the reader into the lives of the Yolnu. Laklak Burrawanga weaves stories of how the life of the land and its inhabitants are interwoven and reliant upon each other. The relationships are described in the manner of storytelling. The language of the people is interwoven with the telling with an explanation of meaning. While reading one can hear the voice of the people and the relationship with all around them. The cross curriculum emphasis on creating an understanding of the indigenous people of Australia will be greatly aided with such publications.
Peta Harrison, Albany SHS