Gnibi Elders Council
Our Elders have played and continue to play a pivotal role in our families and our communities. They are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and our loved ones.
Across the generations they have guided us to learn and draw strength from their knowledge and experience - from land management, cultural knowledge to social justice and human rights. They have set the path for us to follow across the many sectors such as education, health, the arts, politics and defence forces to name a few.
It is through their activism, advocacy, influence and learnings that we must ensure their legacy prevails for future generations. We acknowledge and pay our deep respect to the Elders we’ve lost and to those who continue fighting for us across all our Nations. We pay homage to them.
Southern Cross University is proud to present a series of short videos of Elders from the Gnibi Elders Council sharing stories about their life’s journey, values and education.
- Indigenous Knowledge is relevant, ethical, intelligent, effective and a useful way of knowing.
- Indigenous peoples are active, able and worthy peoples.
- The truth about our histories and value of Indigenous ways are determined by us, we carry this knowledge.
- Elders hold our Aboriginal spirituality and our culture close. We choose what is open and shared and what will be closed. Aboriginal spirituality is the basis for life, Indigenous education and cultural competency, it infuses everything.
- Our knowledge is relational. Our principles are the basis for Southern Cross University to establish and sustain an active, informed and respectful relationship with Indigenous Elders who will give considered collective input. The continuance of this relationship through the Elders group is essential.
- Culture is sacred to us. We are and own this living culture. We do not need a ‘book’. We share with you so that you can learn how to listen and hear what we say.
- Identity is based upon things [inside] beneath the surface. Empowered, individual, affirmed identity is the basis of positive, productive, healthy and non-destructive lives – opportunities to engage and build knowledge builds strong mob through [inside] learning.*
- Learning everyday with each other has to be informed and sustained by a politic of open, positive and ethical interactions.
- We as Elders have presented these things all our lives without being heard – we are often listened to but our message is not heard nor heeded. We take this opportunity to speak in the understanding that you will listen in the right way, hear us and learn.
* […] denotes culturally significant understandings in English words.
Uncle Allan Phillips: Giinagay my name's Uncle Alan Phillips I'm a Gumbaynggirr, Guringai, Worimi fella but I also throw in that I am also of Irish Heritage and descendants. And the reason why I say all of that together is because my elders who are no longer with us, taught me that, that it's good to look at the whole picture of who you are, where you, where everything comes from in the past to make you who you are here today.
So yeah, I currently, for the last three years are living back on Dorrigo Mountain, which is on the, the western edges of the Gumbaynggirr Nation.
Stuart Barlo: Thanks for that. And it, really important that we position ourselves in country and where we're sitting here down at Valla Beach, this is an important place for you.
Would you like to tell us a little bit about why it's important for you?
Uncle Allan Phillips: Yeah. This particular place has a lot of significance for my learning. Yeah. Two of my senior elders who were part of Gnibi and introduced me to Gnibi even before I knew I was going to be part of the Elders group at Gnibi.
We did a lot of talking and yarning and they shared a lot of stories here. And also too, I also shared with them and sought guidance with the, the very traumatic things that I'd been carrying most of my life and how I was seeking how to, to heal them and move forwards in a, in a better way, in a proper way.
So, yeah. And the tree behind us has, has been a very, very dear friend for a long time, providing shade, but also comfort, because I truly believe that she's listening to us as we’re even talking now. So, yeah.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah. Thanks for that. And, as we, as we start this conversation where, you know, we’re, we are thinking about education and, and you, you talked a little bit about then you, you mentioned the, the, the knowledge sharing from some of your elders and the, the teaching and learning that you did with them.
Can you talk to us a little bit about the types of education that you've had over your life? You know, we think of education from a Western perspective, but there's so much more than that for us.
Uncle Allan Phillips: Yeah. Well. Wow. I suppose I've had the full circle of education. How would I say I've you know, enjoyed, well, not always cause it was hard to get me to school, the, the Western education, but I was more about sports and more, not so much about mathematics and what have you. History was another topic that I liked, but. I knew more about ancient Rome, the Phoenicians, the Vikings and European history than I did about the, the history of my own people.
Mm-hmm. Within the educational system as it was then. Mm-hmm. Went through to high school at in year 10. My career advisor advised me that the army would be a good occupation for me, and not to go onto Year 12. So I left at Year 10 and joined the Army Reserves which I later, four years later for being in with them, I had left because I realised that if I was going to go to war, I was gonna go to war to fight a politician or a rich person's battle, and to me that that didn't sit right. So with that, I have been to university TAFE College, to reeducate myself myself through some injuries that I've suffered over the years.
Because I always told that no matter how you get knocked down, you get back up again. And yeah, those put me in pretty good stead. But in regards to cultural learning or the learning that that country can bring us and our elders can bring us. Well, that's been part of my life since a child when I was small, I could get out of any backyard or front yard, either through the gate, over the gate, or under the gate.
And this was, you know, four or five years old. And I would just go bush and there would be parts in the bush. This is in the Coffs Harbour area where I'd feel so comfortable, so loved and so supported. But then there are other times where I, I would look around and. I wouldn't stop running until I got home.
Even if it was four or five miles away. I wouldn't stop running until I got home because I, I, I knew now as an adult that was country or, and the old people saying, I shouldn't be in this spot, or there's danger there. And it's really, really funny about education and the Westminster way of, of what education is, you know, the, the different sciences, the sitting in a class, the, the, the, the monkey repeating the, the ABC or the 123 and that style of learning, while it fitted for a while, it didn't fit properly, and it was the, the more I returned into my culture that a lot of my healing started to happen. So, for that to happen was through the education of the past. Cause, you know, not pulling any punches and being totally honest.
I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but then I was taught as a child, these by those around me, you know, the environment that we grew, grew up in, the trauma of the people around us. Especially within my family. And what was taught wasn't proper way, but it was still stuff that's, that's stuck in a young child's mind.
And as you grew up, so you start enacting these things, you start being these things, even though deep down inside, you know, you're somebody different and you feel different, but that then only compounds what you're carrying. And it took a, took a fair while until these two senior men came, came into my life.
And it was not long after I suffered post-traumatic stress disorder working as a Indigenous youth worker. And this was the first time in my life that I couldn't put the pieces back together again. There was nothing to put back. So I was how would you say, good ground to relearn. What I, what I should have been taught and what I wasn't taught.
And so the story comes and the story still unfolds. And the, the, the, the, the education, the. Is also too, it's, it's not just from our elders, but it's from every single person that we encounter in our life. In our, even if we go down in the morning to, to a coffee shop or a walk on the beach, we're being educated all the time, and that's part of what we were taught in the old days.
That education wasn't just called education. It was a way of life. It was a way of connecting to our environment and, and living within that environment, not taking too much, just enough for that day. And yeah, so I believe that education is everywhere. We even educate ourselves with our thoughts. And you know, even right now I'm being educated, you know by going back over my story, by the, the good people around me.
And yeah. Education just never stops. I remember one story that one of my senior elders so many stories he said to me one day, I want to take you and meet the whole heap of elders. And I went, okay Unc. And he goes, but alls I want you to do is to sit there. And listen and look and if you talk to be respectful like you always are and we'll go from there.
And anyway, coming back from that big yarn up with all these elders, he said, well, my boy, what did you learn today? And I looked at him and I smiled and I said how to be and how not to be. And with that, he just smiled and he said, good. You learnt what I was hoping you would learn. He said, because even people who seem to be doing what you believe is the wrong thing, or acting the wrong way or being with lateral violence or whatever, they're still teaching you something. And I looked at him and he said, they're teaching you how not to be.
So we're always learning, you know, and as I know and as I've been taught that we learn right up until that last little flicker of light in our earthly bodies before we return home. We learn that well, for me, we learned that it was all, all, all worth it, and that we did good.
No matter what, we did good. So yeah, it's a very interesting topic Stuart. Mm. You know education.
Stuart Barlo: And, and it, it's one of those topics that has so many different layers to it. Mm-hmm. And, you know, I'm, you know, really enjoying your conversation around when you talk, when you think about education, you think about the cultural, the life education that, that, that, that everybody has. And, and how, how we apply that and when we have elders who are mentors and, and, and, you know, fathers to us in that space it makes those lessons so much more valued and, and we go away and learn, learn that sort of thing. When you think about, you know, your engagement now for the last, you know, couple of years or more four years with, with Gnibi and the elders there, how the two types of education are coming together in some senses, and how, how do you marry those two together?
Uncle Allan Phillips: I wouldn't call it a marriage because I think there would've been a divorce long ago.
Stuart Barlo: Potentially. Yes.
Uncle Allan Phillips: What I call it is probably two styles that are coming together and learning how to be in relationship with each other. Mm-hmm. Because other than a, a, a nuclear disaster that hits the whole world we won't really turn back to the old ways.
But that doesn't mean to say we can't bring those old ways through into today as new, new ways, old ways for new days. And that's the, the, you know, the old ways that were taught of respect, of love, of compassion, of understanding, and also being able to listen.
Listen to another person's story, no matter whether they're black, white, or brindle or from Pleiades, you know that everyone's story is important. Mm. And, and again with, with my teachings were designed for me specifically by my, my senior elders by the men and the women who had walked with me and still walk with me now, but in spirit.
And the, elders that walk with me now in this earthly plain, is that every single one of us is like a jigsaw puzzle, like a part in a jigsaw puzzle, and that we're all trying to work out where we fit in, where we belong and, and it's made harder by not being able to take time, to listen to other people's stories, because when you sit down and actually sit with a person, and as I was taught the best way to listen is with your mouth shut, is to, you hear their story, you gain a deeper understanding of where they're coming from, and why they're coming from that place and, and it's with that better understanding through listening to that other person's story, being educated of that other person's story, that you gain that, that understanding. And, and I think understanding of each other and each other's story is something that we've lost. Not on a whole, but on a majority that we've lost, but I would like to see our stories listened to that people could take time out of their busy days just to stop and listen to someone's story or, to share their own story. Mm. You know, so yeah.
Stuart Barlo: That's really an important aspect of, of what we do is trying to understand each other's story. Mm. And I think when you think about Indigenous Knowledges in a university setting, you know, people automatically think, about that it's a history lesson.
Mm. But it's not. Mm. All of our knowledge is contemporary.
Uncle Allan Phillips: Yeah.
Stuart Barlo: And it's, and it's about people understanding how that fits today. Mm. And the importance of it today, as you say, we, we learn about the history that, so that helps us to move forward. So knowing what happened, last, you know, years and years and years ago is important for us to move forward.
Uncle Allan Phillips: Yeah, most definitely. You know, because the, the stories of how things were pre-colonisation. And how, and the story of what it is right up to now due to colonisation and, and its effects not only, not only on us blackfellas, but, but also everybody. Mm-hmm.
Everybody is suffering from that. And these are the lessons that, and the lessons of the past, say, 230 odd years. If we look at those in a, in a honest and deep way, well, that's our guidebook for the future.
Stuart Barlo: Absolutely. Yes.
Uncle Allan Phillips: That's, that's, that's where we find our roadmap on how to move forwards by learning, by that education and, and the, the future belongs to us all.
But at the same time in saying that right here we’re on Gumbaynggirr country always will, always will be. And, and to, to have our the Indigenous people sit at the table of decision making all over Australia, and especially locally from wherever that mob's from is very, very important because that inequality is what's thrown us all out of balance. Mm.
And if we look around us, even our beautiful Mother who provides so much for us, you know, our pharmacist, she used to be our pharmacy, our IGA, you know, our classroom, you know, she's hurting, you know, she's hurting real bad.
But I had a, a vision about eight years ago, nine years ago, where I was sitting around a fire and there were two other people there.
One was the Creator and the other one was Mother Earth. And I was crying uncontrollably, you know, right to the sobbing. And the Creator said to me, son, son, why, why are you so upset? And I looked at the Creator, but then I turned straight to the Mother and I said, Mother, Mother, I'm so sorry for what I and my brothers and sisters have done to you.
Please, please tell me how we can help you heal. But all she could do was just look at me just like a grandmother looks in you. You feel that wave of unconditional love flow over you and through you. And then the Creator said, son, what the, the Mother and I want would like for our children is that you heal yourselves.
Because the Mother has been healing herself since her conception. Mm. What is required is for our children to heal themselves, and that was a very, very big learning and education moment on my journey, you know, and has been part of the main building blocks of, of who I am and where I'm going and, and how to be, you know.
But, getting back to your question about the university, while the only perfect thing in this world is our, is our Mother, then the Creator and the old people. Everything else, especially humans, we're not perfect. So we're, but with the right education and that willingness of education, we can start walking towards perfection. We will never obtain it while we're human because we were designed to be imperfect.
Because otherwise how would we learn? And, and in, in saying that with the university, there's always better ways that we can engage. There's always better ways that we can share the story that the lecturers are giving us, or the people who run the university, approach us. But that's, that's a human thing, and, that's just for me, an important part. Especially as being part of the, the Gnibi Elders Council, which is quite funny. This one's for Aunty Sue, cause she told me the, the day that we had the meeting when the rest of the Elders Council accepted me as one of their own, she was very quick to point out that, I was 58 at the time so it's a few years ago, that I was still the pup of the group, and that I was still wet behind the ears. And I laughed and Aunty said, what's funny? I said, oh, not you Aunty, it's just that I've been told that since I was three years old. You know, one day they might dry out. And we all laughed together.
But again, that is the learning of my place within the group, you know, and for me to be part of the Gnibi elders, was definitely not something that I thought would ever happen, but country, the old people and my elders created that pathway to, I suppose, walk in the space that they created when they left.
And, and it's important to me as my own man, but it is also important to the legacy of my elders who went before me to, to maintain their teachings and to keep that going forward, and to be able to, to learn, learn, learn. And that's one of the biggest things I've got out of Gnibi, is that it’s the learning from the elders who sit in that Council and hearing their stories and understanding their, where they're coming from with things and, and it's all very, very important.
Once again, like I said before, you know, to, to, to learn from those around us. Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Stuart Barlo: The, the, the depth of understanding and knowledge that sits in circle with our elders, that the Gnibi Council is huge, which you are a part of, and you bring a depth and, and an understanding that, that, that would be missing or lacking if you weren't there.
Yeah. And I think that's, you know, that's really important that we all need to understand the importance of each one of our stories. The importance of each one of our participation in that space is, is really critical to the survival of our people at the university. And I think in some ways the university in itself.
Uncle Allan Phillips: Yeah. Yeah. No, no. True. True. So true. And thank you for your words. You know but that goes back to why do we sit in a circle? Because each part of the circle is equal to the other part.
Stuart Barlo: That's right.
Uncle Allan Phillips: But that doesn't mean to say we don't sit with respect, you know. Because I'm, I'm still an elder with my L plates on.
One day I might get to my P’s, my green P’s and red P’s. Yeah, but, you know and that's that thing, even though I'm sitting with the elders, and I am an equal within that circle, there is still that humble respect.
Stuart Barlo: Absolutely.
Uncle Allan Phillips: That that is, and that's another thing that, that we’re missing in it. I see in a lot of our lives, is that humbleness, you know.
And yeah, there's so many old ways that we could relearn, you know. Again, that education, it's constant, it's learning and relearning. You know, what I, what I know right now, was completely different to what I knew before we sat down to talk. Because of that relearning, and I, I believe in some ways, that's where the, the Westminster way of learning puts people in places where they believe that there's nothing left to learn. And, and it would be really, really good if we could provide some way of educating people that education is, you know, yes, you've passed this and you've got this degree and very well done, but when you leave this door, and go out, enter through into another room, well, your education continues.
Stuart Barlo: Absolutely.
Uncle Allan Phillips: You know, and that there's so much more to learn. And again, it depends on that person in their journey and why they're here.
You know, because, not everybody here is here for the same thing.
Stuart Barlo: That's true.
Uncle Allan Phillips: And, and learning that allows us to better deal with people and, and understand them. But for myself, as I understand them, I understand me a little bit more.
Stuart Barlo: And, and I, I think that's a key. You know, the more we understand people, the more we start to understand ourselves.
Uncle Allan Phillips: Yeah, exactly.
Stuart Barlo: And you know, when I did my first degree in, in social work, I went out in 1980, I finished my degree and went out to work. It took me four years to unlearn what I was taught, because what I was taught didn't actually prepare, prepare me to work in community. And I think it's really important that we understand what you're saying is that a degree doesn't actually, all it does is open a door. It doesn't necessarily, you haven't been prepared for what's on the other side of that door.
Uncle Allan Phillips: Yeah, yeah. No, exactly right. Exactly right. And I suppose that's the, the best thing about life is, I suppose it's like going on a camping trip. You, prepare yourself for, for every possible occurrence. And, and it's still not enough, you know, so there's, there's always more to learn, you know. And I suppose with our students coming through, especially our Indigenous students, I suppose I would also like to offer and give to them that yes, it may be scary. Yes, you may be the first one in your family to be doing this, but know you'll be supported. We have a great student support service, Indigenous support service in at, at Southern Cross.
Great people who are there to support our students, you know, and also too, the lecturers. And the elders are also there to, to support. So with our current and hopefully our new intake, I'm starting to learn some big words being at university, is that, doing something new and challenging is always scary at first. Mm. But have faith and have belief that this is where you're meant to be and that the old people and country walk with you. Mm. Always. It's just how you build your relationship with country and the old people. Just like with anybody else.
Because that's one thing, as I said, I would like to offer, because during my, my dark times, it wasn't just my elders or the, the, the people around me. It was country. It was the ancestors, the old people, they, they supported me through that, through my learning and relearning. Through my dark times until I got to a point where I suppose I could take the training wheels off the bike and keep pedalling myself.
Mm. And but yeah, for our new students coming through, you can do this and, and it's important. It's important for our mob, it's important for our future. And most of all, it's important for, for those students who are stepping up to take that challenge on, and I, I applaud them. I, I think that, any young Indigenous student, or any student, who can take that plunge, even though they're as scared as hell, and still continue on through it, that's resilience. Yeah, that's, that's true bravery, you know, and courage. So yeah. Yeah. Education's important not just in a classroom, but out here, out here amongst country, on country with the Mother, all the animals, everything else.
That's important and who we come across each day is important. But what's more than important is, is how we act, react, and respond. Even that is learning and education. Even this old fella’s still learning that. Yeah. But yeah, I, I don't really know what more I can say other than education isn't a place.
Education is all around us. Education is within us, and it's there, if you want to learn.
Uncle Allan Phillips
Uncle Allan Phillips is a proud Elder of Gumbaynggirr, Guringai, Worimi and Irish descent. He is passionate about ongoing learning through self-development. He believes connection to culture can facilitate healing. From a young age, he learnt from and about Country, including how to connect with and live within the environment. He says education is everywhere and never stops. He believes there is a need to introduce ‘old ways for new days’ including teaching respect, love, compassion, understanding and listening. He is a member of the Gnibi Council of Elders at Southern Cross University.
Aunty Chris Kelly: I'm Aunty Chris Kelly. I live at Valla Beach. My family all come from the Wiradjuri area. And that's where my Dad was born and raised.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah. Excellent. As I say, we, we are here to hear your story. So can you tell us a little bit about you growing up and your, your journey with education as you were growing up?
Aunty Chris Kelly: I'll probably start with the fact that my great-grandmother, she was born at Sutton Forest. My grandmother was born at Gundagai. And my Dad was born at Cootamundra, spread out. So they, you know, all in the area, you know, not go right into details, but Dad met Mum, Dad loved Mum. They moved to Sydney and had us kids.
So our life was probably a little bit different for five years from when I was about four. We lived in a house with my mother's family, and there was five of us in the one bedroom. I thought that was completely normal growing up. And then when we finally did get a place, a permanent place to live I was pretty shocked that I couldn't sleep in the same room as my Mum and Dad anymore.
Stuart Barlo: You, you just mentioned to us that you know a little bit about your little, your family tree, starting from your great grandmother and that was that, that was awesome. But you want to continue telling us a little bit about your family and, and how, how that, how?
Aunty Chris Kelly: Yep. Well, my dad was one of 13.
There's now only one of that family left. And I, I just wanted to put in here that my Dad passed away at 46 and I looked at my husband, uncle Larry. He had a triple bypass and lived another 25 years. And it often makes me wonder, you know, if Dad had have had that, would he still have lived another 25 years?
So, yeah. I've, I've got two brothers and one sister.
Stuart Barlo: So when you think about, you know, you growing up and and out in Wiradjuri country was what, what was education like for you back then?
Aunty Chris Kelly: Well, the thing was we were brought up in Sydney.
Yeah. Well, Mum was off Country because Mum didn't wanna live at Cootamundra. Fair enough. Like we've always been, not made, but we were always encouraged to go to school. And actually I liked school. It was a real social thing for me, so, you know, and when I finished high school, which was in 1963.
I only went to intermediate stage because Mum and Dad just couldn't afford for me to go on anymore, but I would've liked to have gone to higher education. Yeah. But you know, if I wanted to talk about what I've done over the years, I mean, it's just been in my younger years when I, my children were smaller, I worked at a community centre.
I used to do playgroup and that for Aboriginal kids and whatever. When they went to school, I went more into office work. Right. And then when I moved up here 34 years ago, I started working at the Land Council at Nambucca Heads. Yep. And then Larry and I got married and we moved to Sydney and we worked at State Land Council.
We both did training of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act around New South Wales. We did that for a few years, and then Uncle Larry wanted to come home. So we came home and I got a job back with the Land Council again. Yeah. And but when I was working at State Land Council, I used to manage the Aboriginal Funeral Fund, so that was quite a intense job to have. Mm-hmm. And then as I said, when I come home, I went back to the land council and I stayed there virtually till I retired. Yeah.
Stuart Barlo: While, while you engaged in those managerial type positions, did you get any training in that?
Aunty Chris Kelly: All the time. Yep. All the time. We had training. Like I actually Trained as a property manager. Which was really good. And I, as I said earlier, I cannot remember the name of the uni. Down in Victoria. I graduated from Swinburne with that. Yep. And so when I went back to the land council, then I actually took over their property management.
And but all through the years, whatever training came up, that would make me clearer in my role in the community I've done. Things like stress management. I think we all need that. And I'm not quite getting what I'm trying to think of, but when people are arguing and that how you can manage that.
You know what I'm saying?
Stuart Barlo: I, I do. Dispute resolution.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Dispute resolution. Well, that came in very handy because a land council is a very savage place to work for. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it's a good job. You do a good thing with the people, but it's a savage job. Mm-hmm. Yep. But yeah, like, but recently, in recent years, I'm now on the board of Ngambaga Bindarry Girrwaa Aboriginal Corporation, which is an Aboriginal corporation.
And so there, we've, we, we are getting training, like whether it's with ORIC, about management, about our roles and responsibilities. So there's something all the time. That you're needing to learn. Absolutely. Well, another thing too, I guess I'm gonna be working at the elections this Saturday.
Oh right. And one of the things you had to do was do an exam. So you had a book and you had to read it and then answer questions. The first time I only got eight and I thought, better do that again. And then the next time I thought, no, let's read it again and take it in and understand what I'm reading, which I did.
And I've got 9.3, so I've passed. So there's always something we are learning.
Stuart Barlo: Absolutely. And, and I think for all, for all of our mobs education has been a different journey for everybody. Yep. So at Southern Cross, you're also engaged with the elders there? I am.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Yeah. And I thoroughly enjoy that.
Uncle Larry was on that board. And when he passed away, they asked me would I take his place, and I was very honoured to do that. So, yep. I've, I, I like it. I like, I, I think the direction we are going right now is good. We just have to keep plugging along.
Stuart Barlo: Mm-hmm. So why, can you talk to us a little bit about you, you said, told me off camera that you, you know, you education is an important thing mm-hmm.
In you, you want your kids to be educated and all of that sort of stuff. Can you talk to me a little bit about why education is important?
Aunty Chris Kelly: I think if I go back a step to my Dad, he only went to third class, so he wasn't illiterate, but he wasn't a real, you know, educated person. Mm-hmm. But so he, he encouraged us to finish school.
Then when I had my kids, I could see the value of them getting education that they could get a good job. Two, my two boys have got excellent jobs. They're, you know. So I think without education, they would never have been able to get there. Right. Yep.
Stuart Barlo: I think, yeah, that's, that, that's really important that, you know, we, when we start to link the importance of education with being able to work and get good jobs.
One of the things that, when you talk to, to Elders around the place, particularly where I'm from in your Country, we talked to the Elders down there who were never given the opportunity for education. Mm-hmm. In fact, they were denied that. Yep. And they were only ever seen as manual laborers or doing menial type tasks.
Education puts you in a different space.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Yep. Doesn't it?
Stuart Barlo: Would, is there anything that you would like to say to the young people who might be watching this about education?
Aunty Chris Kelly: You know, like, I think we're all the same when it comes to school. We don't really wanna be there, but I mean, as I said before, I enjoyed the social aspect of it.
I had friends at school and I just think it's important that this, these days, especially with work being as hard it is to get that and education is absolutely essential. Mm. Not to be able to read and write must be horrific. I can't imagine not being able to read. That's one of the things that mum instilled in us all.
We love reading. So, you know my, my dad, even as not as educated, he wasn't as educated, but even he used to read those paper Western books, you know? Oh, he read them all the time and I thought, good on your dad. You know? At least he was reading.
I don't think you're ever, ever too old to learn. There's always something, you know, like I've had to learn to do a, a lot of different things since Larry passed away that I never thought I'd have to do.
I know how to hammer a this and I know how to do that, and I know how to use a drill and, but I mean, I had to read up on that. How do you do this? I haven't mastered everything, but I will one day. I will master everything you know.
Stuart Barlo: Well, there's that, that old adage, when you, if you stop learning, you're dead.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Oh, yep. Yeah. Well, yeah, I totally agree with
Stuart Barlo: that. Yep. Yeah, so it's, it's really important that Yep. That, that we do. And as part of your role with the university eldership and, and that, that governance side of things, is to see that our knowledge is integrated properly. Yep. Into the university systems.
Yep. Yeah. That's really good.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Well, now that I've got grandchildren, I can see like the value of them having an education. Mm-hmm. They've you know, like they're all doing okay. But only because I believe that they've been educated. Hmm.
Stuart Barlo: And yeah. And young people today have access to education. Yep. That, you know, people of your era are.
No, didn't, didn't generally have No. Particularly in our mob Yep. Education was available. Was denied.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Yep. And yeah. Yeah. I think, yeah, like as I said, you know, like I finished at school at 15 and I, but I would've liked to have gone on, but I just know mum and dad could not afford it. They couldn't do it.
There was four of us, you know, so, I mean, I love to look at my youngest granddaughter now, she's only seven, and I'd love to see her sitting there with a book reading. I mean, it just makes your heart get really happy that, you know, she's loving to read. Mm-hmm. And why does she love to read? Because she goes to school and they let her learn how to read.
Yeah. So, yeah.
Stuart Barlo: And when you get that skill, young you enjoy it.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Yeah. Would you know, they started a program in Nambucca Valley many years ago, probably over 25 years ago was to introduce books into Aboriginal families. Okay. Homes, right? Yeah. And the outcome of that was, was absolutely amazing. That was probably the smallest percent even had a book in their home, you know?
And I thought, well, you know, that just shows that if the parents aren't educated, They're not gonna be reading to their kids. No. And the kids are not gonna read. No, but things have changed. I mean, now a lot of kids do read and go to school more often and, but yeah. But there wasn't a book in the h in the house, and that's sad.
Stuart Barlo: And you know, as you say, that's a, that's a sign of what people, how people grew up back in the day without that type of education. Yep. They're not, they've got nothing. They haven't got that skill to pass on, to pass on. Yeah. They have many other skills, but they don't have that skill. And yeah, it's, and it's really important, like, you know, my, my father couldn't read, but he could do sums.
He could do maths. Yeah, yeah. You know? Yeah. And, you know, so he, you know, he was a, a, a, he was a labourer his whole, whole, his whole life. But he could, you know, yeah. Add and subtract and multiply and do all that sort of stuff in his head. Yeah. Yeah. Which he needed to be able to do for his job, but Yeah. Yeah.
So it's really important that, you know, the skills that we have Yep. Need to be rounded. Mm. And education is the way that happens. Mm-hmm. Yeah. So, anything else that you would like to say?
Aunty Chris Kelly: No, I'm just would like to say that I'm a proud Wiradjuri woman. And I love living on Gumbaynggirr land. I'm married a Gumbaynggirr man, and I have been accepted in this community.
And I ain't going nowhere. I like it very much. I love being here. Excellent.
Stuart Barlo: And we love, I as a guest here as well. Mm-hmm. It's great. We love you as part of our Gnibi elders and we hope that that association continues to grow.
Aunty Chris Kelly: Thank you very much.
Aunty Chris Kelly
Aunty Chris Kelly is a proud Wiradjuri woman living on Gumbaynggir land. She is a lifelong learner and a staunch supporter of education and reading. She worked for most of her professional life at Land Councils both in Nambucca Heads and at the State Land Council, conducting training on the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and managing an Aboriginal Funeral Fund. She currently sits on both the Gnibi Elders Council and is also a board member on the Ngambaga Bindarry Girrwaa Aboriginal Corporation.
Stuart Barlo: Well, we're, we're continuing our series with the elders and this time we've got Uncle Des Williams, who's a Bundjalung elder. Uncle Des, can you introduce yourself?
Uncle Des Williams: My, my father was Bundjalung. He come from around Tabulam and my grandfather and great-grandfather, all from around that area, Wooli and Tabulam itself. And my mother comes from the Nambucca River. I, I grew up most of my life on the Nambucca River. I was born at Mullumbimby, and we lived up near Billynudgel for a while and then moved down to Nambucca. She was a, a member of the Wadi family down at Nambucca, and I finished my high school at Lismore, at a boarding college at Lismore. And from there I went to Sydney and became an aircraft maintenance engineer.
And the rest is history, as I say.
Stuart Barlo: Absolutely. And some of that history is what we're gonna talk about as we go through what we're talking about today, is your connection as an elder with education. So can you tell us a little bit about your journey with education? You mentioned you went to boarding school.
Uncle Des Williams: I finished off my high school in town at Lismore, as I said at St. John's College, Woodlawn a Catholic boarding college. And I, after my last three years there, I went to Sydney and went to Sydney TAFE. Oh, Sydney Technical College. It was in those days. TAFE wasn't around then, and I studied aircraft engineering with POAs at Mascot Airport.
Later on, in the years after I, after I moved away from Sydney and gave up the aircraft mechanics work. I joined a community college in Lismore and I did a business course with them. And after I finished that, I, I got onto the the board. I became a, a board member of the North Coast Institute for Aboriginal Community Education.
It was there before the Southern Cross Uni came to town.
And we were supposed to have a well we did have a a presence at the, at the uni and then our institute folded and what was it? Back in those days Jungal Jindabah, took over from us and they be, they became a part of the uni and then Gnibi came after that. That was my education standpoint, I suppose.
Stuart Barlo: One of the things that we talk about is our formal education, which you've just given us the highlights of. You're also recognized as a cultural leader in this community and this area. What, where did you get your cultural education from? Where did, where did that come from?
Uncle Des Williams: From, from my mother's side. Right. I didn't, I didn't know a whole lot about my father's side. He wasn't really a cultural man. His brother, Gwen's father Clive Williams, he was a cultural man and I got, I've got some of the Bundjalung side from him, but I got, I really grew up in my mother's culture, the river people in the Nambucca River, my grandfather or my grandmother's brother was the last fully initiated clever man from the Nambucca River.
And he, he taught me some, although he, he wasn't so giving as far as everything was very hush hush with him because there was a lot of secrets around the bush. Probably to, to keep us safe, keep us from getting into trouble. But my grandmother and my mother were, were pretty forthcoming with Bush education.
And my uncles down there at Nambucca , they taught me a lot about the bush. There was an old man, Les Nixon, he'd come from round Coffs Harbour, but he used stay with us at Nambucca and he taught me a lot. We had a, an old man from Grafton used to come down. Uncle Harold Taylor and stayed with us, and he was a clever man, but he, he did a few bad things in his day.
He killed some people in the old traditional way and wherever he went, people were scared of him. And but he was great with us. He, and he'd tell us stories really tricky stories. By ghost yarns and that sort of thing. Mm-hmm. But he was good. And that's really the Nambucca River is where my cultural upbringing, if you like, came from.
Mum wouldn't let me loose up around the Bundjalung area because I love walking around the bush and finding things. Mm-hmm. And she was always frightened that I'd, I'd walk on the wrong place in the bush and that'd be the end of me. Cause those old people were pretty savage in the old days. If you walked in a place where you shouldn't have walked, you'd either get very, very sick or you'd die.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And so my cultural upbringing came from the Nambucca River.
My brother and I, Gary, each, each part of Gnibi. We waited for our turn to be initiated into the, the, the Nambucca tribe get our initiation. But before we could do that grandfather Lambert Wadi said, well, they all met, all the old people met at a place called Willow Warren, west of Kempsey, and they all burnt all of their spears and boomerangs and said, from this time onward, there'll be no more initiation on the North Coast because, because the farmers had barbed wire fences and, and they had guns and they'd threaten the old, the old blokes threatened to shoot them or get the coppers onto them if they tried to walk across their, their paddocks to get to the initiation spots. So they, they closed it all down and we didn't get to do it.
Stuart Barlo: So that would be about somewhere in the mid fifties, would it?
Uncle Des Williams: Yes. In the probably around about 50.
Stuart Barlo: So that, that, that put a little bit of a slowing down on, on cultural education.
Uncle Des Williams: Yeah. That point on because as I said, we were ready to, to do it all churned up. We, we were scared, but we were ready to go through with it and nothing happened for us. The last one in the mucker was up one of the creeks called Waral Creek. And they all had to row up there. All the, the old man and the, and the young pillar had to row up the, across the Nambucca River and then up Waral Creek. And there was a, a young white boy there. He lived in town and he used to knock around with all the blacks and he asked the oaths could he come and get done too?
And they told him to get lost. So he swam the river and he swam up the creek and they, they pulled the boats over to the side and told him to get in the boat. Otherwise, he was gonna drown himself and they put him through the first stage initiation because he wanted to do it.
He's one of the very few if not the only one white man. On the Nambucca River to get done. He beat us, me and Gary.
Stuart Barlo: Oh dear. Yeah. So the, now, now you spend time teaching young people you know, cultural stuff.
Uncle Des Williams: One of the main things that I do apart from taking people out to sacred sites is to get rid of the spirits. Mm. From people's homes. They can be either very nasty or just, just a torn end, and it's best to get rid of them.
Clear them outta their house so those families can enjoy living in their home. And I don't mind doing that. I don't charge people for doing that unless they've got a lemon tree in the backyard. Cost them a lemon. Yeah. Yeah. But no, it's, it's something that I do and I believe I'm meant to do that because people.
It's hard enough raising a family in today's world without that sort of stuff happening. Mm. When you come home, you want to come home, enjoy your home, not have to struggle with bad spirits in your house. Absolutely. But I do that and I do that free of charge. When we, when I find sacred sites out in the bush, I take our our land council rangers or sites, officers out there, and we, we we look after, say, burial places out in the bush.
Stop people from desecrating them and stone arrangements. If we find them intact we protect them. Or if, if they're, even if they're partially destroyed, we'll, we'll make sure that what's left there stays in that condition. There's a lot of people that they pick up stone axes and. Stuff like that out in the bush.
And the spirits follow those axes back home. And, and then we have to go and pacify those spirits and, and take the, the axes or whatever, whatever they implement, we take them back and bury them there. We had a stone axe at the museum at, at the land council one time, and I found this burial place back at Mullumbimby, and as soon as I found burial place, he started visiting the Well Land Council office.
Mm-hmm. Because we had a stone axe there that belonged to him. My daughter, who's the CEO there, her and the other girls working there, they asked me to come in and see what I could do, and I, I had a yarn with that old man and he died before Captain Cook come along. So he just, he was a, a really old bloke and he I had a yarn with him and he said, I want my stone axe back.
So I said, oh, fair enough. And well, I asked him why he was tormenting the girls there, and he said, I want my stone axe pack. So I, I took it back to up on the Kon range, behind Mullumbimby, the high ground, and they all buried. In burials about as big as that all the bones had to be gathered together after the, all the flesh had gone, gone away, and they'd wrap the bones up in bark mm-hmm.
And bury them in the ground. Sorry, I, I shouldn't be talking about that. But the burial places were small. Mm-hmm. And there were hundreds of them buried and they, they were shoulder to shoulder and I had to find this, this old man's bones in amongst all of that cluster. I eventually found it and I dug a hole just off to the side of him.
I didn't want to dig down the middle. I might have hit him on the head with the shovel. And he might have hit me on the head then. That's right. That's right. I buried that stone axe. There no more trouble at the land council. That's all he wanted. He was very happy after that.
Stuart Barlo: And that's, you know, that, that, that's really important that there's a recognition of what's going on in the present. And how it relates to the past. And I think from our, our cultural perspective, it's not linear, it's circular. Everything goes around and everything's connected and I think that's really important.
Uncle Des Williams: Yeah. We've got a couple of young blokes around close here, here who are seriously interested in. In the old cultural ways. My son, I've, I've taught him since he was a young baby, and he's very comfortable with, with cultural ways. There's also young bloke Kyle Slab here on the Tweed. He's, he's very knowledgeable.
And I've got another nephew down at Cabba, his name's Marcus Ferguson. Oh, yes. He comes from Cabbage Island. He's like my sister's son. He's a, he's very knowledgeable. Good. He's an excellent researcher. Marcus.
Stuart Barlo: is going to be doing some work for us and we're going out to his property Oh, right. For caring for country.
Uncle Des Williams: Yep. Mm-hmm. He can't go wrong there with Marcus.
Stuart Barlo: No, that's, that's really important. It's really important that knowledge is being continues to, to grow and to to be understood. Yeah. And to be passed on.
Uncle Des Williams: He found a couple of old photos of. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother in the records that he, he brought up. Mm. And he, he sent, sent them up to me on the phone, which is great.
I'd, until that time, I'd never had a, a photo of my great grandparents. Mm-hmm. My. My grandfather, Walter Williams, he worked with the, the police as a tracker over in Casino. So he wasn't part of the, the black police, thank goodness, or the native police. They were, they were murderers. They killed, killed their own kind.
The white police had had dragged them into it. We want you to kill all these people down here and they'd go and do it, which was terrible.
Stuart Barlo: So, as we move through, you've had a fairly long connection with the, the land council. Up here in the tweed. Yeah. And you've done, you educate the council on, in, on site so that you can you talk about how they've been receptive to being educated?
Uncle Des Williams: Yeah. We had a long period of time when we fought with the local chi council. They'd block us in everywhere, every way they could. When we put in land claim, they'd block it by saying, and it was the same all over New South Wales. Mm-hmm. They'd say it was a it was there for a, an essential purpose.
And they needed, they needed that particular piece of ground. But up until the time we put the claim in for it, it was a forgotten piece of ground. Mm-hmm. But we didn't mind we, we just fought them in the land and environment caught, and we got a few wins. They got a few wins but we fought with a lo, a local shire council for years.
They just didn't want to Help us along. And then oh, this, this bloke, max Graham, I think that was his name deck. I don't know. Maxie Graham, the mayor of the local Chi council. Anyway, he, he decided to work with us and he. Convinced the rest of the counselors to work with us and, and things started to settle down for us.
Mm-hmm. And we've had a, a really great run with the Shire Council here for a long time now, which is great. You know, we, we got sick of fighting them. They got sick of fighting us and the parliamentarians like Jeff Provost. They, they seem to come on side when, when it's not against the party line.
Mm. There's never been a an independent up here who, if, if we had independents independence, yes. They wouldn't have to worry about the party line. They, they could help us in. In any way they, they wanted to. But, but yeah, we've for a number of years now, we've, we've been, been in a good place with the Shire Council and we did a, a big planning exercise.
We went out into the countryside and searched for as many. Sacred sites or sites of significance that we could find. And we put them all down on a map for the Shire Council and we, and we put in a document that showed you how to work the map. Mm-hmm. The map itself wasn't any good here unless you, you had a A how to piece of document that that'd show you how to use it.
And it turned out we weren't planning it that way, but we, it turned out that we were the only Aboriginal land council in New South Wales that had this map in conjunction with the local child accounts. And whenever we had state-wide land council meetings, everyone wanted that for their, for their own land, land council.
Mm-hmm. And so we, we said we'd help 'em set it up as long as the their shire counsel would come to the party and Ballina. Shire Council came to the party Coffs Harbour, Kyogle, I think that's all that we helped. Those areas, those areas are fairly well populated, so a lot of their sites are in danger of being destroyed by developers.
Mm-hmm. But They came on board and the Shire Councils tried to come on board as much as they could. Well, the Byron Shire came on board as well. They, they really didn't have an option because the Tweed Shire Council had already done it. Yeah. And we'd already mapped there. Their particular shire council boundaries.
So they we didn't, we didn't drag them in kicking and crying. They, they pretty much came on board of their own volition. So the two, two Shire councils that our land council joins up, both of them were fairly happy to work with us. Thank goodness we tried to make it as painless as possible for them.
Yeah. Well, I, I came into this land council right at the beginning, my wife and I, and we'd been a part of it all, all the way along. My eldest daughter was, A chairman of the land council at one stage, Ebony Williams, and my second daughter, she came into the land council straight out of high school.
Oh, okay. She'd never had any, any other job, Leweena, and she went from secretary up to CEO and the land council, and she does tremendous work. With the Land Council in meeting and greeting other people from outside the Land council and, and introducing school kids to the work that the Land Council does and, and all of that sort of thing she's a tremendous worker.
Leweena is her name. Leweena Williams.
Stuart Barlo: She, she's also done work for us at Caring for Country. With the Land Council and stuff.
Uncle Des Williams: She's, yeah. I know she's been down to a couple of our Elders meetings. Yes.
Stuart Barlo: yes. Yeah, that's, well, speaking of our, our Elders council, you are a very important part of.
Can you talk to us a little bit about why that's an important thing for you?
Uncle Des Williams: It's really important to me because our elders tend to get forgotten and when people die, old people die. You often hear people say, oh, that person, he or she's taken a lot of knowledge to the grave. Mm-hmm. And that, that's one of the, one of the big, big reasons why I like being a part of the GenY elders because I don't want all of that. Old knowledge to be gone lost when people die.
I went and want what they had to say to be recorded and their knowledge to live on into the future so that young people can, they can get that knowledge as they grow older and become Elders themselves, they They need to have a step up. They, it's, it's very hard to, almost impossible to become an elder without any grounding.
If you haven't got that grounding and you, you're lost people. And we've had people, they, they go around telling people, oh, I'm the custodian for this. I'm the custodian for that. I'm a storyteller in the old way. I'm a song man and unfortunately, they know nothing. Mm. And their take on. Their own importance.
Change is the real history of the country. And the unfortunate thing is if you don't have an Elders group like Gnibi has, you don't know who to go to and ask questions, and nine times outta 10 you'll go to these. Gamon people that that don't really know. Mm-hmm. And, and if you're an institution like the uni, you'll write their slant on history down.
That's right. And it'll stay, it'll stay in the books and until someone, or forever. But if someone spots it and, and says, no, you, you're wrong there. That's wrong. Then if you haven't got someone keeping an eye on that, it goes down as, as history and our cultural history has forever changed. Absolutely.
Stuart Barlo: And that, that, that's really important and that's an important aspect of, of what the council does.
And yeah. Unfortunately, when it's written down, And recorded the wrong information's, written down and recorded. Unfortunately, it does stay even if someone corrects it. Yeah.
Uncle Des Williams: That other person that wrote that stuff will argue black and blue. You know, he's, he's wrong. My stuff is right. People get full of their own importance. That's true. And, and they want to be re remembered or regarded as in that fashion. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not. They, it's, it's their slant on history and they don't care whether it's true or not, as long as it paints them in a good picture. Well, and anyone who wants to do that with history, They're, they're not real.
No, I agree. They're troublemakers,
Stuart Barlo: and we get the odd one of those too.
Uncle Des Williams: Yes. We know a couple up here.
Stuart Barlo: Yes. Is there anything else that you would like to add in, in closing?
Uncle Des Williams: Only that Well, one of the things I'd like to say is that I'm, I feel really privileged to be a member of the elders from that Southern Cross Uni. We've got a, a really great group of people that we work with mm-hmm. Speak to and communicate with, and,
I feel extremely privileged to be a part of that group of elders.
Stuart Barlo: As I, as I say, you're a very valued member of that group. And so yeah, we thank you for your contributions.
Uncle Des Williams: Thank you, Stuart.
Uncle Des William
Uncle Des Williams is a Bundjalung Elder who grew up around the Nambucca River. Uncle Des Williams is a long-time Chairperson of the Tweed Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council and former ATSIC Commissioner for two terms. He has been involved in many cultural, heritage, planning and strong social initiatives and projects, winning many state and national awards, and continues to be a representative for Aboriginal Health and community issues. He is a member of Gnibi Elders Council.
Uncle Gary Williams: Well, my name's Gary Williams. I'm... my mother's Gumbaynggirr, so, and I'm staying on, on country there. My father's Bundjalung so I say, I say Gumbaynggirr, my mother's country.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah, I agree. I'm, I'm the same way. I say I'm from Yuin country, which is my grandmother's country.
As we're here to talk about education and your journey with that. So whatever that looks like for you everybody has a different journey and an understanding of what education is, and you know, your life. And the way that your life has journeyed has taken you into certain areas of education, and I was just wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about what that means to you.
Uncle Gary Williams: Well I, I how I approach it is that I always say that I went to kindergarten, In Bird Bridge in Kempsey. Because a lot of, a lot of those older ones kind of remember me from that. And then I, we came to home to Nambucca Heads and lived on the reserve here. And the, the primary school was on, on the reserve.
And we have a preschool now in the same spot. So I did my up till about fifth class, I think. Then I went to conduit school my, I followed my cousin who got a bursary to go to Woodlawn College, and so I, I went the year after him. So 60, 61 and 62. So I did my leaving certificate there and, and got a scholarship to go to university doing arts in 63.
The outside world I think got in the way of scholarship, so I did it. Couple of years there. I was the same year as Charlie Perkins.
Stuart Barlo: Oh, okay.
Uncle Gary Williams: Yes. And I actually stayed at his place the second year and so, but that didn't work out, so just went out into the wider world. And so basically I tried my hand at few other things education wise, but That, that was my main education.
Then I got involved with other political things and and, and met a whole lot of other people. And you know there are people around Trinity, people around you know the. Referendum days. So, and foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, it was it was all a part of a widened education political and you know, that led into Red Fern in the late sixties and then, into the setting up of the legal services.
And just doing little things, you know, but nothing, nothing specific really educational wise, but out of those days and those times, that opened a door for so many of our people to actually get into. Well, education, well that's, that's certainly tends to be the case. And I, I do, I, you know, Being part of the, the, the conversation I suppose around with some of those people who, who, who never had the chance themselves.
I'm talking about those pioneers and maybe back in the early days, I'd say they, but they had the knowledge, but it wasn't wasn't there on, on a piece of paper. And so in that sense you had to listen to them and but, and go to meetings and things like that. Going to Aboriginal, progressive Aboriginal Progressive Association meetings with my uncle. Clive Williams, you know, and so he, he introduced me to that wider Aboriginal political movement as well.
Stuart Barlo: At, at, I know that you've done a lot of different things through throughout your life. But one of the things that you're doing and have been doing for the last few years is about educating people in area of language. Yeah. And trying to re revitalize language. Where did that passion come from?
Uncle Gary Williams: Well, it found its final form in, in the setting up of the language centre. But I was actually telling somebody this morning about, I was working in the Territory, and and of course you're, there are all kinds of languages are spoken there and and but it, it, it never really hit me to say, I, I should go back and, and do it. It's one of those things I, I've felt was always going to be there, and I, and suddenly it, it wasn't. And so it sadly when things really looking a bit dire that you've gotta step up and do something. Yeah. And, and and of course other people were doing something then, and I, I.
I was happily quite happy to give a helping hand.
Stuart Barlo: So how long has it taken you to establish what you've got here? What's, what's now here in Gumbaynggirr country?
Uncle Gary Williams: Well, this building, which was the old church was sold off and and became a, a residence. And then it was up for sale and actually ATSIC, bought it for us in 96.
Stuart Barlo: Oh, wow.
Uncle Gary Williams: So they opened the doors for classes on 97. So, and I, I, and well, as a few others, were part of the first class, so that's 97, 98. And then we went into, into the classrooms and started teaching and things like that. So, yes. And that, that was part of a journey for others that went back to 1990.
I'm talking about Ken Walker and family. They did the first classes over there in, in Kempsey. Just outside Kempsey and and they came back and did the first class as tea as teachers. So which probably made it quite a bit easier for us so that we can, knowing that some of our mob are doing the teaching straight away.
And, and then it. Before that, the, the, the old people who had the vision, it was about 1985, about that. So it was, it was quite easy. You know, you are really not. Not talking about language or how it fits in or all that kind of thing. You are fulfilling the, the vision of those original people who had that vision.
Stuart Barlo: Has the revitalization of language here in, in, in this nation. Has that done anything for. The understanding of the culture here in why, in, you know, for the wider community?
Uncle Gary Williams: I think it has. I think it has we, we really, they, they're quite happy for us to do signage and all that type of thing, and it's carried on all the way up and down because we're we serve the.
From the Queensland border down to the Hawkesbury, there's seven languages and mm-hmm. And that we're trying to help. And and everybody now is wanting signage and translations. And so I think in that way it is both the language and the wider community together. We, of course, with the culture, well, the Civic Center and the new Civic Center in is going to be full of language.
But, but you know, all all organizations, like hospitals and everything have their own little statements and such. So yeah, we're happy to help.
Stuart Barlo: So there, there's, you know, While you haven't had the Westminster formal type education, there's been a, a very solid education from a cultural perspective or a language perspective that it's happened throughout your life.
Uncle Gary Williams: Yes, yes. It's I class myself as lucky. I suppose that's also showing my age, but then because we're, a lot of, a lot of those older people were still around then, and and, and you, you got a bit of their wisdom and and so in that sense, you, you really you're learning on the spot.
Stuart Barlo: So back in the earlier days or, or back in, in the nineties when you were learning language, the main teachers were people who had, you know, the pockets of language that were, were still available.
Uncle Gary Williams: Yes. Yes. It, it kind of, It's strange when you look at it. We, when I was young, there were lots of language speakers around and of course education and other things.
Course took you away from home and, and suddenly you come back and they're not there anymore. Things like that. So and it. Even then sometimes it, it just didn't, didn't hit you. I don't, now, now once you start learning in, in, in a, in a way that you. Especially if you're seeing how language is put together you suddenly realize there's a lot more here than you, you think.
And and, and and, and of course when you're learning a second language, of course would be the second language. You have to learn every little bit about it. Mm. It's, you know, it's not like growing up with it at the first language where you didn't need to, need to do all that. Mm. So it's so that's, that's my kind of later education.
And then to be able to pass it on to the younger ones. So that, and, and I'm quite happy to see them do go to university and get, get their certificates and whatever. And it's I'm quite happy to talk with him. Yes. Mm-hmm.
Stuart Barlo: So, so do you think. Okay, anybody can learn. As an educator, do you think anybody can learn to speak language?
Uncle Gary Williams: Yes. Yes. And you know I did, I did French for my leaving certificate. I passed it admittedly, a week later. If somebody asked me something in French, I wouldn't have a clue. However, I, I picked up enough to do it. So and and you, you know, you pick up other bits of other languages and all those kind of things, but it, it can be done.
And, and in fact, you know, if people are working in Yono country and, and the homelands, they, they're learning, you know, non-aboriginal. And, and can speak it quite, quite fluently.
Stuart Barlo: You, you are part of the Southern Cross Elders Council.
Uncle Gary Williams: Yes.
Stuart Barlo: Is that an important part of, of, of your journey at the moment? If so, why?
Uncle Gary Williams: I think it is because it gives me a, with all the people there, it gives me an overview of what other people are thinking. And, and and how it, how they're they're viewing their, their involvement. My I, I, I think it, without our meetings online, that it would just be impossible to, you know, I don't, my brother lives in Tweed Heads.
We don't speak as often as we should, I suppose, but but and, but some of the others I don't see that often, and so that is good to, good to hear what they're thinking. So especially the Bundajlung side because I don't. My mind’s here in the Gumbaynggirr side.
Stuart Barlo: And I, I think it's important that because Southern Cross has a, you know, a foot, a a foot in every camp, basically online, down the coast, that yes, we need input from all of those places.
Yes. And, and it's significant that we do that.
Is there anything that you would say to a young person thinking about education is there anything, any advice that you could give to a young person?
Uncle Gary Williams: I dunno whether I'm as a non finisher of certain, certain things education wise, but I would, I would say that young people these days seem, seem to know, seem to know what, what track they're on at a much easier or earlier right. Then, you know than then say, I, I was, when I went to Sydney, I mean my older cousin knew what he was on the boat and he went on to become a teacher and things like that.
Which is, which is great. But if you, if you are you, they, they're not as I suppose, fearful of the wider society these days, you know? I went to Sydney. It's still gum loose something, but but just don't, don't don't be too over careful about what you want to do. That you know, you can, you can. Most of 'em know what they want to do and, and and just relax about it, you know, and don't, don't overthink. A lot of people may try to overthink it, you know, it's there. You can do it. And and just, just get in and do it and then talk about it later once you through.
Stuart Barlo: I think that's good advice. And is there anything else that you would like to say?
Uncle Gary Williams: It's, it's kind of exciting times, but times have I've changed since I was young and, and yet some things stay the same. And and you are, don't think you are going to discover something, something new actually, but, but you know as. As you know, there, there is just things swirling around out there.
Just, just pick and choose what you want to do and keep your mind focused.
Uncle Gary Williams
Uncle Gary Williams is a Gumbaynggirr Elder from Nambucca Heads. He has had a lifelong journey with education, from being a student to becoming a teacher of language. He attended school at Woodlawn College at Lismore and received a scholarship to study Arts at university. In Sydney, he was involved in political movements such as the 1967 referendum. Upon returning home, he worked at Muurrbay Language Centre and dedicated many years to the teaching and revitalisation of language, including creating signage in language for areas across North-East New South Wales. He is a member of the Gnibi Council of Elders at Southern Cross University.
Stuart Barlo: We are here today to talk to, to Uncle Herb. So can I get you to introduce yourself for us?
Uncle Herb Roberts: Yeah, absolutely. As Stuart said, Uncle Herb Roberts. I'm a Widjabul Wiyabul man from of the Bundjalung Nation and also from Baryugil and I can't think of the tribe from, but part of that as well.
I've actually, this September coming, which will be 2023, not September, sorry, July, 2023 will be 61 years I've lived in Evans Head. Mm-hmm. So I've actually become a local, they always said, yeah, it'll be 50 years before you can be local. Well, I'm 61 years.
Stuart Barlo: Well that, that's always interesting. You know, we sort of say that to the. To the non-indigenous lot, because we're always local wherever we go. No, absolutely. But yeah, it's, it's really interesting that that's, that's the case. And one and 61 years in the, in the one space. Mm. Is, is really now we'll add to the conversation that we're about to have in the sense that we're here to take today to talk, continue to a series that we've been doing on talking with our elders.
About your journey with education. Yep. So can you tell us a little bit about what the education was like for you?
Uncle Herb Roberts: In the early days, and I, when I, when I, I went through kindy to grade six at Evansdale Public School I really enjoyed those years, however, The racism was really, really horrendous and horrible.
And for most of that schooling, I was basically the only Aboriginal student at that school. Mm. So my education, I dropped out of school basically the start of me second year in high school. Okay. Cause the racism, I'd done homeschooling, which got me to where I am today. And the knowledge I know.
Stuart Barlo: Can you talk to us a little bit about what homeschooling was for you?
Uncle Herb Roberts:</strong What does that mean for you? Homeschooling back then, and I, I've, I've got a really good memory of my, my early years homeschooling was great because you didn't have to get up and go to school. However, I was pushed not, not pushed, pushed by, well yeah, pushed by parents to. Continuing education and that, but I did find it frustrating and hard and the stuff that I was doing at a, where you didn't have that on-call teacher, because we didn't have phones back then, like mobile phones.
We didn't have a landline on. And so it was it was great in a sense, but it was also bad in a sense because there wasn't that interaction with other students. I had a great network of friends from school who I still have that great connection with this very day. We always stay in contact with each other. Mm. And just fantastic. It is, it is.
But yeah, homeschooling was, it was totally different. You never had that one-on-one support when you wanted it, but, It got me through to where I am when I left school and into the workforce. I held some pretty high positions in my, in my working career. Mm-hmm. And, and I think it was all because of the morals that I was brought up with because I, my life started on a aboriginal community, which back in them days were called missions and there were never a, a.
A lifestyle choice. We were forced there. We weren't allowed to leave there without permission. And my, the community, we, we now call 'em communities, it was called Cubawee. And for those who know the area, if you're going from South Lismore to Kyogle just out of Elizabeth, before you cross the railway line right beside the railway line on your right-hand side, north side is a gate, and that was the gate into our community.
Mm-hmm. But directly on the left side, there was a school specifically for the local area and for the Aboriginal students because I, I had some paperwork. I was the one back in the bicentenary. Done a lot of cultural awareness with a lot of government officers in Lismore. And I was given, I was working for the Department of Social Security, what it was called then for many years.
And I was given all this information booklets and everything to hand out. And they were the best, fa, most fantastic books I've ever, ever come across for local knowledge and schooling. And, People doing aboriginal cultural awareness, but sadly, like a lot of my stuff, they were taken and they've ever recovered.
And I dunno what happened to 'em, but I'd loved, and I often think about it, I did have some in my lawn locker at home, but they were taken out of there as well, so, and it talked about the education policy back in the early days. The segregation of schools. One side was for aboriginal people. The other side were for non-Aboriginal people.
Talking of education. My son, who is now in his thirties, 35, he started high school in 2000. When they built the new K to 12 high school in Evans at top of the States art, top of the Art, everything School in New South Wales. However, he dropped out of school and we, he attended Lismore or, but the same thing happened to him in Woodburn.
He actually, my son's mother is non-aboriginal. And my son back then was blonde, aired freckled and everything. And, but his soul was so, he was such a proud young aboriginal boy. He was, held his pride so well. However, he said to me one day, and it was, it was only nearly in tears that I need to talk to you about something.
I said, yeah, and he said, I said, what? And he said, the kids at school don't know I'm Aboriginal. I went and he said, I've never seen so much racism in my life. School was primary school. I enjoyed even though the racism was there, I fought it with perseverance. I, like I said, I got upset quite a few times and thinking why?
And I questioned my parents, why do I, why was I born black? And that just made me so, so annoying. And, and that's why I wanted to drop out of school cause of the, the, the racism that was there with the new opening of the Evans z k to 12 school. There was a lot of problems there cause my son ended up attending there as well.
But, and my daughter and I actually, and me both been, my three kids all attended the K to 12. They dropped out of school and I had to get him into Lismore. However, in saying that, so did every other Aboriginal parent who had kids at that school, Coraki, I'm talking about Coraki, Woodburn, Evans Head, every Aboriginal kid was pulled from that school because of the racism.
Stuart Barlo: We were talking about, your, your sons having, you know, to deal with racism. At the same sort of level that you had to deal with. So how did that make you feel when you, when you realized that the racism hadn't changed at all in the education space?
Uncle Herb Roberts: It, it made me feel really angry, to be honest. I thought, A lot of that in schooling was dealt with and over and done with.
I, I know to today. There's, I mean, there's, there's racism all around the world no matter where you go, but what really shocked me, as I said with, with pulling my son, my children out of school. Was that every other Aboriginal parent pulled their kids out cause they were copying the same thing. Mm-hmm.
However, it's got a really good group because when that school opening, we as the Roberts family and our connection to Evans Head. We actually done my brother, oral Roberts done a massive, and my brother Sheldon Arrington actually done a massive cutout of a goanna and a snake, and it's, they put it on a, on a piece of board and lamina, not laminated it and cut out and it's.
We as a goodwill gesture, we actually donated that to this girl because of the dream time story of how Goanna Headland came to be. Mm-hmm. And I actually done the story and framed it, put underneath the, so it ends in the main office. And when that was presented, it was just that absolutely blown. The principal didn't know about it.
We snuck it into the opening where the gymnasium is, and so much dedication was put into that school and the news opening and that, and our, our, like I said, the early days of that new school was just filled with so much racism. And it took him a very long time to change that. And what surprised me, as I said, just a minute ago was that every parent pull their child out of that school. Yep. And that, you know, top of the state art education. Everything was just, it was a big writeup about it, and it is a brilliant school, the layout and everything.
It was just so sad back then that all this happened. So regardless of where we go today or, and tomorrow in the future, racism will never, ever be wiped out.
Stuart Barlo: No. And that's true. But the, the beauty of that story is that we are seeing Evan's Head High this school up here is one of the you know, it has a, a very strong cultural connection now.
Oh, that yes. Yeah. So they've come from one of the, a very heavily racist environment to one that's very Yeah, very strong in support of indigenous people in the, in this area, and they, they have a very solid education, indigenous education program, and they have a, a bush tucker garden and all of that sort of stuff, which it,
Uncle Herb Roberts: it is, it is really good to see where it is today.
Prior to, prior to moving here, we used to walk from Cubawee to Evans Head. Wow. And I said, how'd you get the tents and everything? Because we actually lived in a, a tent and back in them days, it was the old marquee tents. None of the, the heavy ones. And where we were situated was the whole community of Kawi, cabinetry Island. Would all camp along there just north of the surf club at Evans Head.
Because they had the caravan park, but we were never allowed in there because of our colour. Mm-hmm. And I do have memories of that and I've got family members who was in their eighties and I said, how far can you go back of us camping there? And they said, when, when I was a child, a young, very young child, so I'm talking about 90 to probably a hundred years ago now, of of us doing that.
It was situated between the sand dunes. And the swamp, which is still there to this day. So you had to be very careful of snakes and that. I remember our tents, and I've got photos of it at home. We had carpet on the ground. We had normal beds in the tent and that, and I said, how do we get 'em down there?
There was a, a farmer, an Italian farmer, and he used to, the family members from Cubawee would pay him. To take all the stuff down and drop it off there. Then once the tents were erected and everything come the cold months, we'd move back to Cubawee. However, we'd leave the tent standing because there was no vandalism back in them days and people didn't want to touch 'em because they were black fells, and they might get Black on them basically is what we were told. So that's go, because Evan said is the, is the birthplace of the Bundjalung nation. Mm. By three brothers of their wives and their grandmother. And so Evans Head, holds great significance and history to me.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah, you were talking about Evan's head being the birthplace of the, the Bundjalung nation and the significance, of this place for Aboriginal, for the Bundjalung nation, the Aboriginal people of the Bundjalung nation. As we continue to think about your education and, and that sort of stuff, who was your cultural educator in that space? So where did you find out what you know about country and place?
Uncle Herb Roberts: And My cultural education was through the elders, right?
And I'm talking about elders who have long gone many, many, many years ago. Mm-hmm. So I'm talking as a young kid brought up spiritually. I've experienced so much stuff that, that
people would think I'm mad if I told some of the stories that I've experienced, that I've been through. It's a spiritual thing I knew about. Knowing things before things happened, knowing loved ones were gonna pass over. Not knowing exactly who it was, but I experienced so much they'd, they'd always come and visit me in the house.
And I remember probably getting a bit off the line at what we were actually talking about, but that's all right. In particular, there was two incidents. There was. I was sitting down at home one night watching telly and I had this sense, strong sense, someone was in the room with me and I'm sitting there and I'm actually looking around on the lounge room like that, and it was so, so powerful and I ended up getting up and saying, who are you?
And I went right through the house. I mean, dear old mum was alive then. And she says, what are you doing? I said, someone's in the house. I said, I dunno, who. I said it and I know it wasn't a live person and she said, we're gonna get bad news tomorrow. And sure enough we did. The late uncle Frank Roberts who knew Rhoda Roberts's father here, it was actually read by people who read me and he had an heart attack about three o'clock that morning.
So he basically come to say goodbye. His brother, uncle Fletcher Roberts, who I had a very close connection with, a man I deeply cared about. He was a very cultural, spiritual man. So learnings went on until all these elders have gone. And I'm talking about me, thirties. Mm-hmm. Thirties. I'm still, and even today, I mean, we, we still, as humans, we, we learn every day's a learning day, regardless of how old we are.
That's right. Uncle Fletcher came to me the night after his funeral, the night of his funeral. One of our oldest elders, we got sober, auntie Arian Harrington St. I was living in Liz because my son was attending this school and he wanted me to move up there. And I remember Auntie Aaron coming in, waking me, said, get up, someone's, can you go outside and check?
Someone's knocking on the windows. And I just you know, from a dead sleepers said, son Fletcher, come and say goodbye and thank you because I actually done everything organized. The best funeral going involved. Gnibi was what was the name of Jibar back then, days Jibar and got them involved to do the pamphlets and everything and gave him the best send off and he actually came, it was him that came to say goodbye and thank you.
Cool. I walked outside and just said, thanks uncle. You know I love you. Safe trip. And I've come back in and laid in the bed I was in and there was a tap, tap tap on my window. And I said like, close it on. You are. And I, you and I are at the moment and I just put me end up in the wave and said, travel save aunt, you know, I love you.
And so I've got that. Spiritual connection with the land. With the country. And, and after years of my daughter talking about this and wanting to know it, I, I realized what she's talking me. I said, well, I said, I don't know if it's a good thing. Because back then I, I actually took it as a curse because why was I being talking, why was I seeing people that no one else could see?
Mm-hmm. But it was all through. My education, when I say education, listening to the elders, we always told not to inter interrupt kids today, you, you talking about something, they'll butt in and ask you this and ask you that, which is good, but not while an elder's talking and my education was sitting down listening to the elders and I'm thinking, Same thing if I told you things.
A lot of things I've been through to the younger generation who will see, hopefully see these recordings, I learned more through our culture than what the school actually taught me. Yep. When I, one of the things I found really frustrating when I realized through was a teenager. Then I went through school, taught that Captain Cook discovered Australia.
I met all the Aboriginal people and we all lived happily ever after. What a load of crap that was when I found out the truth. And what is still happening today? You know, there's so much media coverage about the youth crime that's happening when the Sunshine Coast, Darwin, Alice Springs everywhere.
Mm-hmm. So where were we? I've no idea either. Something I wanna tell you
Stuart Barlo: about. You were talking about your daughter wanting to know the knowledge and understanding.
Uncle Herb Roberts: Like I was saying, I've got a great memory of Cubawee now. I left Cubawee when I was about four years old, four and a half years old, and we moved to Evans Head.
We had the option of moving to. I dunno. People who know the community, Aboriginal community of Gundarimba in mm-hmm. Lismore. They're the original inhabitants who were moved from Cubawee to be, not being rude, but you had to piddle in the river out there of the flood. Many a times as a young kid, they'll remember standing on Norton's Gap.
And all you could see of the community with the roofs of the houses, that's how bad it was. Mm-hmm. And like I said, it wasn't a lifestyle choice. We were forced there because of them back in the mission days, and we weren't allowed to leave that community unless we had got prevention off the caretaker to go into town.
And we'd walk from there into Lismore, and I remember walking that road many a times. So we had the option of moving to Gundarimba, or. Evans Head but because of our lifestyle at Evans Head, we decided to move here to Evans Head and but my spiritual side of it, and it's all a part of education and learning. Mm, that's right.
And I remember, and its funny thing, I was only thinking about it this morning before you arrived of where our house was. We had a big willow tree. We had a big, they had a big chook pen and they had white pebbles in inside the chook pen, and right by was the boundary fence and there was a big drain.
And I remembered on one occasion, I, I climbed through the fence, which was probably only from here to the trees over there. Sitting in there playing and someone was watching me and it was so powerful. But I'm playing. And as you know, as you think, you're inquisitive and you're looking around and thinking, and I got so bad that I, that I can't be someone.
And I knew it wasn't something good, it was something bad that was watching me, and I just knew within yourself, I've gotta move from here. And I think you talk about education. Learning my culture, my background, my ancestry history and everything. I actually found that more interesting than what I was learning at school.
Mm-hmm. I know that education, schooling, education is very important to a lot of, to all of us to learn to read, write history of the world and that and, but culturally is more. To me it was more ex, more experience, more something I really enjoyed learning. And I said, especially listening to the old people talk of their experience that and the journeys as a young child to the other communities and involvement with family in other things.
It was all part of my cultural education. Mm-hmm. So that was something I still hold very dear today and it's still something that we learn every day, regardless of how old we are. We learn and we still pick it up and I'll learn something new today. I'll learn something new tomorrow. Absolutely.
Stuart Barlo: And I think, I think you know, One of my elders once said to me, said, if you stop learning, you're dead.
So yeah. While we're alive, there's still an opportunity to learn something. Yeah. Yeah. One of the things that I really enjoy at the moment is when you elders the Guinea be elders group, get together for our meetings, and you're sitting around talking with one another. Just being in the room, not actually engaging in the conversation, but listening to what's happening.
Mm. Around the place. You learn so much stuff by just sitting and absorbing Yeah. What the, the elders are saying. And that sounds like what you were doing when you were younger as you were growing up. You were just absolutely engaging with the elders and sitting with them.
How long have you been connected with university? You, you know, you obviously haven't had any sort of formal. Education past
Uncle Herb Roberts: your high school? No, I haven't. However, with the university involvement I had to give up my working career at an early age. I was actually in my forties when I'd done it due to a back problem, which is still ongoing today.
But I got invited by an elder. And because I'm Wiyabal and as we all know, the university's on Wiyabal land of the Bundjalung Nation. Mm-hmm. And I got invited and actually onto the, we didn't have such a, I'm gonna call it a group or gathering that what we have today. Mm-hmm. I think there's only just a handful of us, when I say handful of us, probably about four, four or five of us that were involved back there.
So I'm talking about probably, I think it was 2000 and 2015, 14, 2014, 2015. Anyway, my involvement with the uni, and it's something that I really, really enjoy doing, especially when we have that caring for country classes and that having, especially when we have overseas students that are involved with it. Mm-hmm. Yeah. And what we go through teaching, telling, telling them and trying to teach them the history we, what we had to fight and how we got to where we are.
Mm-hmm. Surprising because a lot of these students didn't, don't know anything about Aboriginal culture. No. And for us to be there and I'm very proud to be a part of Guinea. I love it and I love teaching in our And caring for Cattery and working within communities. Cause all my working jobs were involved working out in communities.
Mm-hmm. I had one particular job that I really enjoyed was so interesting. It was the court officer at the Lismore Courthouse, but I was stuck in the building all day, every day. I knew I was getting out in the community and I, I was fortunate enough to get a phone call from juvenile justice. To say, would I backfill this woman's position for 12 months while she's on leave?
And I tried to get leave without pay from the the court. And they said, no, we, we can't. You've only just started here. I said, well, I'll resign then, which I did. Cause I knew I'd picked work up again, which after that 12 months, which I did. So the important side of it is, is as I said, teaching the knowledge what I know to the students, but.
The elders group that we have now is also very important because it's a great get together. Just in the background of where we are across the river here was a camping ground for the nation. And when I talk about the nation, it was covering from country up in Queensland, the Gold Coast. Down to the Clarence sorry, Kaaba, Ang land.
They'd all media a certain time of the year, but when whatever food was plentiful, they'd all bring and share and the history, and that's,
I'll put this in there. That's where they, they wanna do that development of that new community on this place. Now, that was all actually sand mined many, many years ago from Chinaman's Beach. Right through to the end of the Evans head Strait. All across there was mined and there was a lot of desecration of sights there.
I, I was told by a couple of elders of two warriors that were elders that were, that are buried over there with that development. There was a, a circle of trees that were growing there. Yeah. And in the centre of that circle, it was two big old trees. And what I was told and what I was taught about that those tree I had, I did see 'em, they got desecrated with that new housing development.
But the two trees in the middle, the bigger one, represented the hierarchy of the Bundjalung nation, which we didn't have kings and queens as such as what we have today. And when he died, he was buried. And then the next tree is the next carrier of knowledge. Mm. The hierarchy of that tribe and the 13 trees represented the 13 nations within the Bundjalung tribes, sorry, 13 tribes within the Bundjalung Nation.
So it's very spiritual, it's very cultural there. It's a Evans said is, as I said, it was the birthplace of the Bundjalung nation and directly behind me up the river. We have the midden. There's also a, the, the local campground of the local tribes in the local area that mm-hmm. Used to camp there. There's an initiation spot which I found out about a few years ago.
There's fresh water wells up there. So food, food was plentiful back in them days. And the history, I've experienced cultural things. There's an old quarry on the other side of the river called Blue Pool. Mm-hmm. It's a very popular swimming place. It was back in my teenage and early twenties, early thirties. Oh. Partying out there and swimming. And I experienced things that I can't explain that I saw a couple of times out there and I thought, oh, we shouldn't be here.
And finding out, like I said, every day is a learning day. And it was, you know, years after that I found out about these graves and about the history. Of the tribes gathering here today back in them days. Just something also important is that every Boxing Day Evans said, is so full of the local communities.
Lismore, just Casino and even Kyogle all come and said, and what we say within our own respect and our own culture, we're having a blackout. There was so many black people in never said. And like I said, we, the reason we lived in those tents when I was young was because we weren't allowed in the caravan park.
Mm-hmm. There was, when we moved here, There was a petition taken up by a local woman who was used to own a, just around the corner from where I live, a small caravan park, ma, mainly made up of permanent residence, and she ran a local paper called a triangle. It was all the local news of the lower Richmond River, but she took up a petition because there was these black people moving in and they didn't want aboriginal people living here. We ignored that. We copped a lot of racism back then, but we had people driving out cause mum was a mad gardener or flowers. The whole front yard was just f garden beds, flower beds. I remember winning the garden competition many times. The whole backyard was the veggie garden and we were self-sufficient.
And right at the very back of the, our yard was a bit massive big chook pen. So we had well, we wanted chicken. Dad would go and chop it, settle off gut it, the feather it and everything. And then we'd have, you know, hot roast chicken for dinner over the night, veggies from our own garden. So we were all self-sufficient.
But yeah, it's just, you know, it was sad that. What we had to fight through. Mm-hmm. To be in end. And people forget about the, the cultural side of it, of it being the birthplace of the Bundjalung nation. And it's a very important Mm. The two students who are listening don't take particular notice of what you read.
It's not fully accurate. A lot of stuff. Not always, no. And I've, I've found that so often, the stuff I've read about local history, Aboriginal history, that, and I think that's not right. But yeah, it is just, that's all part of the learning as well is the cultural side.
Stuart Barlo: The, the, I think the cultural side is really important and it's the, one of the things that the eldest council brings to Gnibi is A cultural perspective.
Mm-hmm. But it's also helps keep Gnibi on track around its its, its mandate for supporting our young people and, and come to university. Mm-hmm. Yep. And, and that sort of stuff. So just as a final thing, what, you know, we are thinking about Gnibi and, and the oldest council at Southern Cross University.
What is one of the most important things that you can say about your support and what it does for you?
Uncle Herb Roberts: My support, I, and I've been given it a lot of thought lately is teaching the students that come through especially with our Caring for country and our working within communities. The, the history, our history.
We do have overseas students, isn't it? And it's interesting, the feedback that I get from students and I've met some great students over the years. It's great students who I'm still in contact with, but it's teaching them and giving them an understanding and it, and it's something I'm so passionate about.
Because the more we educate people, the more under, better understanding they're, they're going to to have. Mm. With Aboriginal culture, because just another thing on that with our own gen, with our, the generation today, the younger generation, is that when you talk about the dream time, they associate it with the dream time dreaming.
That happened many, many years ago, and as an elder. Of the Bundjalung Nation, the dream time to me, and I've actually had this conversation with many elders. The dream time's becoming more stronger and stronger than what it was many years ago. Mm-hmm. And which is something great because, and it's important what we're doing because in time to come, the generations that lived through what I lived through, would've not experienced what I've experienced.
So to see our group, what we have with elders group, with the Gnibi is so important. It's a great group we have, and it's a great time we have together. And it's interesting that even when we sit with each other in meetings and before the meeting starts or during a break, that the conversations we have Hmm.
I'm learning from them what they went through and they're learning from me what I went through it. That's right. So it's important that we get all this information we've got, and I do wanna see this implemented within Gnibi. I'm, I'm very proud of Gnibi and where the direction Gnibi’s going. I know there's a lot of recordings of the elders have been happening, which is very important.
There's been a odd suggestions, and I actually brought that up with you earlier about that when I'm gone, after I pass away, that I still want my recordings to be. It continued. Mm-hmm. My voice, I'm a bit hesitant at the moment about my face. And it is, and it's, it's a cultural thing too, but mm-hmm.
It's important that as elders, we get all the knowledge we can. Out, get it all recorded and in the safe place of Gnibi. Mm-hmm. And like overall, we, we discussed it this morning before we came here about how the group we've got is the, the eldest group we've got is so strong and I think it's, as you mentioned, probably the strongest we've done in Australia.
Stuart Barlo: Well it's the only governance group of its type at a university in Australia.
Uncle Herb Roberts: That makes me so proud. Makes me so proud that we, I'm a part of that. Mm-hmm. And it's on Wiyabal land and fantastic.
Uncle Herb Roberts
Uncle Herb Roberts is a Widjabul Wiyabal Elder. He was born in Lismore and started life at Cubawee Mission. In 1962 Uncle Herb moved to Evans Head and has resided there ever since. He has been an active member of community organisations most of his life. Uncle Herb is passionate about sharing his knowledge of culturally significant sites and stories at Evans Head. He teaches into the Bachelor of Indigenous Knowledge especially the unit Caring for Country. Uncle Herb is an Elder in residence at Gnibi, Lismore Campus and Co-Chair of the Southern Cross University Gnibi Elders Council.
Uncle Rob Bryant: Uh, good afternoon everybody. My name is Uncle Rob Bryant. I'm a Gumbaynggirr warrior of the Nambucca Valley, and my mother was a Gumbaynggirr woman born on Stewart Island in the Nambucca Valley. As such, I am a Gumbaynggirr warrior. I was born at Belligen. My first school was Belwood Aboriginal Reserve primary school at Bellwood, and my first school teacher was Ms. Jean Phillips, who taught me a lot and encouraged me in my learning back in the fifties. But North Coast of New South Wales was lacking money. It was like it was in a depression and. First Nations and nine First Nations. People migrated to Brisbane to earn cash, which was not readily available on the north coast of New South Wales.
I had nine siblings, so I was the youngest and no, dad was spoiled, but we didn't live on the Aboriginal mission. We lived on what we call a flat that was off the. The mission, but still subject to the Aboriginal Protection Board. And as such, this would rub into me. And so I attend the school all the time because then I knew that whilst I was at school, the welfare would come around and pick me up and take me over to Bula.
My eldest sisters and that who was in Brisbane, they then went to Sydney and one of my eldest sisters, she was continually asked mum to, to join them in Sydney so that myself and my younger sister Sue. Had get better education opportunities and better employment opportunities. Mum made sure we had to go to school, otherwise the welfare would've picked us up and took us wherever.
Stuart Barlo: What was school like in Sydney?
Uncle Rob Bryant: I did first year at Christian Brothers School in Newtown. Mm. But it was a technical school, so I did woodwork and metalwork. MM. And tech drawing. Eventually, in 63, I did the intermediate certificate, but previous to this, whilst we were on the flat at Belwood, my elder brother Michael, he was attending, uh, Catholic school up in Maxwell.
It was then suggested by mom and my elder brother that I apply for a education scholarly from the AB welfare board, the one that was frightened of, and lo and behold, I was given a, uh, I was granted a scholarship to attend Woodlawn College. I didn't have any uniform. My only uniform I had was a starch white shirt.
White is white. I just, all these other students in white shirts, I said they must be. Because I didn't have any uniform on, didn't even have a tie, Woodlawn tie. And we all, cause I just worked with all the,
I was in uniform, just one of them. They, they, they said, we get off here. I said, oh, yeah. So I just got off with her. Then we had to walk up to the, to the college. Mm-hmm. And so was my introduction to w uh, St. John's College of Woodlawn. When my brother Michael was there, he was a gun footballer, so we having the same name I, they envision me having the same proudness as my brother.
If there was races I didn't cause to me, mum always said to me, says Sunrise above it. And I knew that when I was a member of the first 13, whatever races was gone because they'd be on the sideline, I'd be on the field.
And they'd be cheering for me to score a tries and that. So I said, oh, yeah. So in my, I really trained hard to stay in the first 13. I could fly down the wing, I could do anything.
I could step inside. And, uh, but it's true what those, uh, professional footballers say, you gotta get in there, you gotta train, you don't gotta fall on your, in your lap. You gotta do your yardage, as I say. So that's what I did. I did my yardage, I did more sit ups that was required. So I could build up my abdominal muscles.
We also had cadets, so it was, it wasn't compulsory, but you know, I joined the cadets and that, and we went on exercise up to Kanara it. All your mates were part of it, right? So you, so I joined with all their, go with them, but boy, school was good for me cause I knew I could wake up and I'd have breakfast there.
I knew I'd have three meals a day and a bed. Mm-hmm. And security during the night time came back to Sydney's 65, and of course it was always in our family, we and everybody paid rent. There was no freebies. You had to pay rent. So 66, I had to go and look for an income. Mm. And that's when I went in Alexandria went down to spur ways. Mm. Still remember their name, spurs, and became a process worker. First job was to go and take lunch orders, to go up to the shop and get the lunches. Yeah, and it was during this time that, uh, one of my eldest sisters were being courted by a person from the Royal Australian Air Force.
So anyway, decided to, decided I'd join the Royal Australian Air Force, and I went and, uh, I was then selected, approved as a candidate for the Royal Australia Air Force, and it was, anyway, so we were there and then that I changed my name to Joe. So when I walked out, that's after my dad. Dad died when I was seven years old.
So I said, I'll take his name. So when I went out and met the other recruits, I said, what's your name? I said, Joe Bryant. So to a lot of them then it was Joe Bryant and on completion of my air freight mechanics, I was posted to five Squadron at Raft Base, Fairburn Canberra, and I was going there and I was to, as a airframe fitter mechanic.
As a mechanic, I had to, to work on Iroquois of five Squadron, so my education was continual from the yeah. Leave certificate to within the airport. Training as an aircraft maintenance engineer in air freight to RAAF base Fairburn. I was there for about six months. I was then posted to Vietnam. Mm-hmm. The Service Nine Squadrant Iroquois throughout my education. Oh, I look back, it was about teamwork. You had we, whether they were primary school, you were part of a team.
And I look back. With my nine siblings, it was a team. Mm-hmm.
Cause we all had little jobs to do. Mine was to make sure there was sticks to make a fire at the morning. Because we didn't have any electricity or running water.
And so, so when I was at Woodlawn, I just saw myself as part of a team. Hmm. And I was in the first third, I was part of a team and when I was in the Air Force, I was just, I was part of a team that was there. There was engine fitters, electrical fitters. But we were all part of a, of a maintenance team. We came back from Vietnam.
I was in Vietnam, 70, 71. My sister said, you changed Rob. I said, no, I'm right. No. They said, you, you're not the right, you're not the same person went over whatever. Anyway, with my elder brother I had, he worked in a factory. He finished work at four o'clock and I had to come back and I'd meet him at the pub,
but he was the only one I could talk to. Mm-hmm. I remember my first job there on his, in his, uh, where he was working. It was unloading a big container. She'd started better along as Haven and Rehabilitation Center for Aboriginal alcoholics. Mm-hmm. And she came over and she said, she mentioned, says, you've probably got a drinking problem.
I said, well, me, no. I said, I'm right. But eventually I went over in 74 and I got sober and I stayed sober and I still sober today. Mm. But it was, I was one. I look back and I was one of the lucky ones who got into a rehabilitation. Yeah. And it was run by, it run for Aboriginal alcoholics. It wasn't run by Veteran Affairs or anything like that.
It was run by community organizations. I came on, I was a board member to make up to five Aboriginal directors. So my first job was a course I was literate and numerate. A lot of the other members who came in, they come in from out west and that they could read or write. So I then was my job to fill in their application for social security. When I was lucky, I, I got educated, I was literate, I was numerous. Mm. You know, the other fellow Aboriginal alcoholics, I was just the same as them.
One drink, I was drunk. But they couldn't read or write, and so I was there. I was able to assist filling out their application forms and going down and talking with public service members of the CES as it was then.
Stuart Barlo: Back in those days, some probably weren't even registered as being born.
Uncle Rob Bryant: Yeah, that's right.
I saw a course was over at college Advance Education, bachelor business. So I, I went over, uh, enrolled and I was accepted in. As an elderly student, I suppose they also accepted that I was a Vietnam veteran. Mm-hmm. I don't know. But anyway, I got in and eventually I did my bachelor business and Corin got college then was taken over by uts. Mm-hmm. So I graduated with a Bachelor of Business from uts. I held a fashion parade at Kuringai once I was a uh, student, and that was in response to 88.
But there was lots of negativity about my culture and people. Mm-hmm. So I said I'd hold a, uh, fashion parade.
At college on the north, on the leaf in North Shore. So I held a fashion parade.
And so anyway, it was, was a great hit here. They saw all these glamorous Aboriginal youth. In Aboriginal clothing, design clothing. Anyway, the student association said, Rob, can you have something you can get next year?
So anyhow, by that time I was dealing with, uh, Bronwyn Bancroft. Mm-hmm. And she was operating a designer aboriginal shop in Rosell. And I knew her. So I went back, cause I did get some, some of her clothing for the flash parade. So I went, saw her. She said, why don't you ring? Why don't you take a dance company over there?
I said, oh. I said, you take this one ring. This. A lady called Cheryl Stone, I ran Cheryl Stone and Cheryl Stone told me about promoting the dance company that she was with in into, uh, a professional dance company to reflect the cut of Australia.
So I said, that sounds good. So I went back and everything like, because I had already had the Flash parade and the Vice Chancellor said to me, he said, whatever you pick for the next year, he said, I'll have the money for you. Mm-hmm. So I was good. So when Cheryl started, gave me a price, And I got back to says, you got the money? I said, yes, I got the money. So she was over, over the moon that, you know, they came to, uh, then came to college and they fill the 1000 auditorium that were packed.
And here those again, they was introduced to first Australian culture. Mm.
Again, the Vice Chance said if you bring him again, we'll have, we'll have funds for, so they came. So they came twice whilst I was there, which was good for them cause they had to earn money. Mm-hmm.
Now, what better place to have funds than performing at a university? So Arthur Anderson was one of the, uh, initial sponsors along with AAP and a Commonwealth Bank.
Well, I'll tell you now is people don't know the history of Bangarra. Mm-hmm. And of course I was on the, uh, as the directors, that's what I knew that, uh, I took to the board then, right.
That we had to have a general manager. And that was, uh, 1990. I came on as the founding general manager. The founding general manager was a Gumbaynggirr man from the Nambucca Valley.
Hmm. Because I had my right hand person was Sheryl Stone. She knew the, uh, She was very afraid with the performing arts, and she said to me, she said, Rob, she said, you look after the finance. And she said, I'll look after the dancers. In other words, she'd look after the performing arts side, and so that's, she also knew that I was adept at Black politics, which was very rife at that time in certainly was safety with the establishment of a dance company.
So, so I did all the Black politics and that was, uh, promoting the dance company to people in Redfern. Because I, they all knew me in Redfern from, uh, 285 Rose Street Darlington and from our house at Garden Street, Alexandria. So we were part of the bro fan who were part of the Sydney inner city C V D, Aboriginal community leading up to 1990.
I was able to secure Steven pages out. First artistic director. So I went back to being a public servant myself, and I got a job with disabilities and aging, and I worked with Robin Ek, who is now ASIS Productivity in Canberra. Mm-hmm. And as far as I know, he is the only first nature person I know who is s e s level, that's not in our Aboriginal affairs.
Hmm. It's pretty impressive, isn't it? Yeah. So, After that, then I came home 2000, I came back home to Nambucca Heads, I got back there. I did native title with my elder brother and sisters on where our house was located and it was there cause we used to drive around the place. Anyway, there. I saw this property where our, that was part of our, where the house was, so I purchased it. Mm. And it was in the Pacific Highway, old Pacific Highway, down bunking heads. Mm-hmm. 2002, I had my house. Which was to be a saviour for me.
I had security after coming back from Vietnam, but our native tried to claim it, passed the registration test, we had it. Okay.
I am now on a, uh, course to find out from New South Wales. No title services as to why they didn't fund us. I, no damn well why, but I want them to put it in writing for me. Do you think they will? No, but it'll just remind them that, uh, they're not gonna get away with it. Cause I'll write to Dr if that's the necessary. So I have many buckets things to do yet before I pass on.
And this was one of the, uh, So, of course I'm on about education. I have created Uncle Rob Bryant Wadi Education Scholarship. Mm. And I'm working in partnership with Ari by a LARI.
And it is a so with Ari that I'm in partnership. And we do have the first one we had here from South Grafton. Okay. Yep. And he's, he's at, uh, the Southport School year seven.
Stuart Barlo: So they have to go to, with, under this boarding, they have to go to a boarding school?
Uncle Rob Bryant: Right. They have to make their application to the gallery. So I don't look after the applications. No. Which is good. Mm. They do all of that. They have access to the schools because we had, so all I gotta do is, uh, do what I did before was to lobby for money.
Right. And, uh, soon as I get my, uh, marketing flyer together, that's what I'll be doing. Mm-hmm.
Stuart Barlo: We had a, a young fellow from Bundjalung nation ask us if we can sponsor him to go to, uh, NDA High School.
Uncle Rob Bryant: Yeah. Yes. Just advised him to go to Ari by ALARI. Yep. Fill the form in. I'll do that, right? Mm-hmm. In regards to Gnibi, then in about 2000 after I bought my house, I knew I was secure in accommodation, which assisted me very much after coming back from Vietnam. Mm-hmm. Cause I knew when I went to Sydney, I came back on the train. I knew I had my house there, my accommodation, I could go there, so it was security for me. Yeah, and that's really important.
Yeah. In regards to Gnibi, anyway, it was about elders there, right? Where Uncle Gary Williams, Uncle Martin Langar, and that. Mm-hmm. Anyway, they asked me, they said, come to a long to a meeting, and I said, yeah, all right. I didn't know what the meeting was as far as I was concerned. Probably making up numbers again for board of directors.
So I went and I put my name down and I nominated my brother, my icon. Mm,
So we both then became members of, well that was a long time ago. That was a long time ago. 2018. Everything was just, you could say, I'm walking around doing this, doing that. 2018, I fell over. Mm-hmm Like a brick. I was so lucky it was raining that year, that time the ground was soft, so I hit the soft thing and I had a stroke. Didn't see it coming. Yeah.
I seen the doctors and they said, oh yeah, everything. Cause I right it, but it just hit me like that. And there was a clot in my right side of my brain. Mm-hmm. So I lost use of my left limbs but, I'm sure that my ancestors negotiated with the, the creator so that I could keep my speech and that my brain was still intact. Mm. My brain is sharp as attacked. Yes. And my speech is still able to, to talk. Yes. So, so in that way, I, I look at myself after being in a nursing home. I, I look at the other residents and I say, and I look at, I said, I'm a very lucky, and that's what all, all the nurses they say. Uncle Rob, you are very lucky that you got your speech and you got your faculties intact. Mm-hmm.
You know what's going on.
Stuart Barlo: So that's about my story. You've had a, a very, um, long. Engagement with education at various levels. Yeah. Which is, which is at various levels. Yeah. Which is, uh, is fantastic and amazing. As a Gnibi elder, what would you say to students who are thinking about a university course or any type of education at all?
Uncle Rob Bryant: You know, university's not for everybody. You know what course you look at? I looked at, I did. I was a bachelor of business grad. I got in and it was a B Bus I had after my name. Mm-hmm. And to me, that opened many doors. Cause I remember, talked to him myself. I said, if I'm gonna be talking with, uh, CEOs and who probably never spoke to Aboriginal people before. I said I'm gonna have a, after my name, initials after my name. Mm-hmm. And so I said, I'm gonna do a B Bus. When I attempted, so when I enrolled in, I knew what I wanted at the end. I wanted B Biz at the end of my, mm-hmm. And you know, we don't know in life what's going to happen, what, what, what's ahead of us.
True. I didn't know Bangarra was ahead of us, but I was the right person at the right time. Mm-hmm. Otherwise it wouldn't have started. And I looked back and I said, oh, I wish I'd had done 12 years in the Air Force till my sister pointed out. And she said, Rob, she said, you look back, she said, if you'd have got out two years before she said Bangarra wouldn't have started.
You had to be there. You were in the right place at the right time. And that is very true. Mm, so to, to the students who were out there, there are many opportunities you must have initials after your name. Otherwise, while you have this opportunity, To complete tertiary. Complete tertiary. Get the names after your name. Mm. Because they opened many doors.
I say this to you. We talk about economic development. If you look at business boards, a lot of directors of these business boards had never spoken to a first, first Australian.
So you must be articulate when that time comes and you are in - who knows, you could be in the lift and the big managing director of one of the big banks is in there. You got three minutes to let them know who you are and what you stand for.
That's what you gotta have. Okay?
You gotta have your card. With your initials after your name, so that they look at you, they, they say, oh, this person is, uh, because you gotta think what they see on TV is then what they don't wanna put on there. Right. They'll put on negative about First Nation, especially with the referendum coming up.
It's another step forward. Oh, absolutely. A step forward. Since 1788, we'd never been put down as citizens. My dad, he's a member of the Aboriginal progressive association, he said, he said, the people getting off the ships in Sydney has more rights than me or my family. And he was right on the button. Then that's absolutely true. I joined the Air Force in April 67 before the referendum.
So by rights, I was a non citizen.
So we talk about citizenship. Just imagine all of those are Aboriginal conscripts and they all signed it up. They all put down their names there for the uh, ballot. They were all non-citizens of their own country.
It's, it's, they would like to paint it from Northern Territory. Mm-hmm. Albert, Albert Namatjira not a citizen who couldn't buy alcohol and share with these fellow countryman. Mm-hmm. Which is part of protocol.
Stuart Barlo: Yes. He, he actually had to renounce his Aboriginality. Yeah.
Uncle Rob Bryant: Officially,
Stuart Barlo: um, just so they could charge him tax and sell his paintings.
Otherwise, the they couldn't sell his paintings.
Uncle Rob Bryant: Yeah. So anyway, that's what I look at. I, I'm a, anyway, I'll tell you now, I'm a yes person cause I'm gonna have, I'm preparing a T-shirt, which says, my company's called just too deadly. Mm. And I'm having a thing called Our elders are just too deadly. They are too.
After Obama's, yes, we can. And that'll be on my white T-shirt. Mm-hmm. So I'm not playing. Oh, ya. Don't worry me. I'll say yes. I'm a yes ma'am. Yes, we can.
Uncle Rob Bryant
Uncle Rob Bryant is a proud Gumbaynggir warrior from Nambucca Heads. He was the youngest of nine siblings and a believer in the importance of lifelong learning and education. Uncle Rob secured a scholarship to Woodlawn in Lismore. After school he became an aircraft maintenance officer in the RAAF, also serving in Vietnam before going on to complete a business degree. He was the founding General Manager of the Bangarra Dance Company and was instrumental in setting up the company for long-term success. He is a member of the Gnibi Elders Council.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: Jingiwhalla and Giinagay, which means, hello, how are you? Hey, nice to meet you. My name is Babani Robyne Bancroft. I am of Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Dunghutti descent and I'm speaking to you from the traditional country of my grandmother’s people here in the Washpool. The Washpool runs into the Clarence River and it's in Northern New South Wales, North Eastern New South Wales.
Stuart Barlo: Can you talk to us a little bit about your early education experience from, you know, you, you're just saying that you grew up here?
Babani Robyne Bancroft: Not far from where we're sitting is our old house and from that old house we went to school at Baryulgil. My grandfather, old Pa Bancroft, he would do a mail run for the school kids. There was myself, there was Carol Wilson. There was Rex Marshall, my brother Sonny. Greg Harrington, Richard Harrington, and a couple of other people. My grandfather would pick us up in his little old car and take us into school at Baryulgil. He'd drop us off in the morning and then he'd come and pick us up after school. This was our weekly daily routine.
Stuart Barlo: What was school like for you in those days?
Babani Robyne Bancroft: School in the early days was okay. My mother's sister, Carol Wilson, she would always come first in the class always, and I'd, I'd be five points behind her coming second used to frustrate me. I could never beat her. She always came first. Doesn't matter what grade we were in.
And it's only by five points she'd beat me. But school was interesting and at school we had pretty important Goori people, Aboriginal people, first Nations people going there. And Rex Marshall, my mother's brother, he went on to get an Order of Australia medal working with the community. Carol Marshall, my mother's sister, she went on to get an Order of Australia medal fo r teaching at Baryulgil for 33 years.
I'm still here, attached to Southern Cross. So, I think positively, very positively about Southern Cross. Yes. So that's the school at Baryulgil and we've had some very important Aboriginal people, Goori people go through Baryulgil School. It's only a little place that you've hardly ever heard of, and it's in the back of whoop whoop, you know, 62 miles from Grafton. So you're in the middle of Casino and Grafton, practically, and it was all a dirt road in those days. And you'd have one teacher who taught from first class to sixth class, and from then you had to go on to high school.
Yes. So that's where the informative years came from there.
But then we all had to go wherever our parents, where our father found work. He always worked, like all the men of his time, they always worked. When places closed down, like cattle stations, they ran out of work to do. The men would look for work elsewhere. And so mum would pack up us kids, her little tribe, and we'd follow wherever father my father was working.
And so that meant another school. But we finally turned around and went back to Baryulgil, also known as Barnooks. And from there we went to school, caught the bus from there to Grafton, 62 miles into town and 62 miles home.
So that's what, 104 miles a day. That's just travelling to get to school, because my parents firmly believed in education. That the only way forward for their children was an education. Now we went without a lot. I mean, my mother used to make little patty cakes and we'd sell them for 5 cents or something and scones so that we could pay for them and myself to go to school at a place called St. Mary's. And that was run by the Catholic nuns. And the dear Catholic nuns would like you to contribute six, six pence, a month or something for the starving kids in Africa. I used to get so frustrated and angry. I was only a first-year student that we'd have to turn up with this money for the starving kids when we were starving ourselves.
You know, just having fried scones and travelling all the way that we did.
Stuart Barlo: So from, from Grafton, where did you, how did your education develop after high school from Grafton?
Babani Robyne Bancroft: There was nothing left for people around my age at that time in the sixties. Only to be domestics you know, and I didn't want to be a domestic, so I went nursing on Wickham Terrace.
In Brisbane, and while I was on Wickham Terrace in Brisbane, I met my husband who had just done his agriculture degree and I ended up going to Papua New Guinea and lived up there for many years. I've got three children and my children went to primary school and secondary school in Papua New Guinea before we returned to Australia and took up where my family is and my extended, doing all the heritage and cultural heritage and contacts within the communities.
Everything that's important to be an Aboriginal person in your community. I came back thinking that because I'd lived through Papua New Guinea becoming independent, I thought that things in Australia would be good for the Aboriginal people.
I was sadly mistaken because they weren't. So that was a very big disappointment and we've still got a long way to go for Goori people in Australia. I decided that I wanted to do some studies, some more studies. Because I was always whinging and moaning to my family here about treatment of Aboriginal people.
And they got tired of me whinging and moaning, and they said, well get in there and do something and make a difference. So I worked for government, working on Aboriginal projects and programs for many years. Did some wonderful things. Which people, communities around Australia benefited from. It wasn't just my community here on the northeast coast.
It was for every state and territory projects that I did the Aboriginal communities benefited from. When I came back from PNG, I went to Canberra and got into policy and projects and programs, so, I worked hard to make some of these effective, and you don't do that overnight. It takes you five to seven years to do something to make successful.
And I'm very pleased to say that I got childcare centres around Australia, 40 multifunctional Aboriginal children's centres called MACS. And I had the good support of a team, but I had the specially good support of a lady called Flora McDonald. She was Scottish and being Scottish and in government and an accountant, she knew where government hid all its money.
So that's what we used to establish, Aboriginal childcare centres in Australia. I'm very proud of that. And there's still, maybe I haven't checked, but at least 30, 35 are still going in every state and territory. Couldn't have done it without Flora McDonald. The reason that we put in Aboriginal kids is that childcare centres other centres were supposed to keep one spot for an Aboriginal kid in their childcare centres.
Which they didn't do, so we had to form our own. And it was actually recognized by government at Parliament House where the PM called us up to say what a wonderful job you did and everything. We involved parents, aunties, and uncles to come into the MACS to talk to the little kids.
And tell them yarns about when they were kids and these people, these Goori people, the grandparents, the uncles and aunties, once a month would take the little kids out for a walk around the place and show them a site and talk about an Aboriginal site. Oh, we were, well I was so happy about it. It was a way forward, you know, and it involved the community. And they were pleased to be involved. And in those days, I was a different person to what I am now. I was spot on, you know, little suit, briefcase, black stockings and everything.
And you know, it's a bit of a buzz when you get acknowledged by the Prime Minister for what you've achieved.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: And so after that I thought I can't stay home and do nothing. What's my next step? So I decided to go to ANU.
Stuart Barlo: What did you do at ANU?
Babani Robyne Bancroft: At ANU I applied to do archaeology and physical anthropology.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: And because I wasn't getting any scholarships or support and had a little family, I found a part time job at the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies, in the Aboriginal studies press section and my job there was as a research person and we were doing the Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia and we also were doing the map of Aboriginal Australia, which you may have seen.
I hope that most schools and universities and libraries have seen it. A lot of hard work went into that.
The person who was the head of Aboriginal studies press was a person called David Horton, with a staff of about 10. I was the only Aboriginal person there that worked part time from two or three days a week. But when you say that, of course you do more, a lot more. And I was also studying at the time.
It was hard times, but it was enjoyable. It was lovely.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: And I went on a couple of digs of course, and it was all involved in heritage and the Australian government had a big conference in Washington, DC. On tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: So they (UNESCO) got 40 people from 40 indigenous meaning local people from 40 different countries around the world who were involved in cultural heritage.
And somehow UNESCO picked me because they'd heard that I'd been doing all of that and I thought, wow, a trip to Washington DC to the Smithsonian. I'm way outta my depth there, way out of my depth. But because I was nominated by the communities, the Aboriginal communities nominated me. So they picked me to go. God, what a shock.
And what an honour, you know, to go all the way over there with one indigenous representative from each country from around the world. That had, like Navajos, Hopis and Inuits, All the people around the world. Mm-hmm. Indigenous people.
Stuart Barlo: The map we utilize a lot with units, it's part of, most of our, most of our units utilize the map.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: Excellent. That's good to hear. I love hearing that because that's what, what the map was all about and the Encyclopedia to get into the schools, into the universities, into the libraries. We, the group of 10 under Dr Horton, we wanted to do a rerun because we sold out completely. And there was still things to put in in a rerun. Kathy Freeman's winnings, you know, hundred things that happened since the launch of the EAA.
And so myself and Flora (of MACS fame), we became an Australians for reconciliation coordinators for the ACT.
I tell you, I was practically clawing my way outta Canberra. I was there a long time, many years. However I was doing Australians for Reconciliation, our job was to go into each state and territory and we had communities nominate what they'd like in their state for a symbol of reconciliation.
An example is Myall Creek. That was done. And so while I'm over in Western Australia looking well, what their symbol could be with the communities over there, I got a call from home here, Northeast New South Wales saying, Hey, hey Robyne, there's a job here for you. And I said, what? And they said, you've gotta apply because it closes next week. I said, but, but I've gotta go to Queensland and Northern Territory. Yep. On my contract, you know, and they said, give them a ring. It was the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Officer for State Forests, New South Wales.
So while I was in Perth, I rang them, stayed for us up, and I said this job that you've got in my northern, Northeastern New South Wales, I said, when does the close the application? And they said, this week. And I said, but I wanna apply for it. And they said, well, when? And I told them my circumstances, you know, still travelling.
And they said, when you come back, apply for it. And a few of us applied for it. But when we came back and I applied for it, I was fortunate enough to get it and I enjoyed it immensely. I worked from Macksville to Tweed to Tenterfield and all in between along the
So there's a lot of Aboriginal communities in this, this area, and that's a lot of negotiation and liaison that had to be done. And once you can do that, you're halfway there.
Richard Kelly, he was the cultural heritage Goori officer in forest for our heritage and excellent mentor he was taught me all of everything I got to know in Forests.
I loved working in State Forest. And while I was in State Forest, I would state forests they were very supportive of me, and they would let me have one day or month to take out school kids to show them sites in state forests, show them scar trees, show them rock shelters, showing them this and that takes a bit of organizing and arranging.
You don't just barge into someone's private property, so it'll take me a while to arrange that. And then take the school teachers out and it was playing it forward. School teachers could then tell their students and the students could go home and tell their grandmothers or their aunties and uncles or family members who didn't know about where sites were and stuff.
So I played, played that forward.
During, during the time of working for State Forests and my mother was pretty sick and she was doing this religious course theology course, and of course after the nuns, I, never wanted to do anything with the church, but I had to drive my mother to these meetings with all these churchy things that she was going to Desi Williams' mom, auntie Jessie.
Yeah. And so when Mum died they said, oh, we need you here. I'm a sucker. Yeah. So anyway, I ended up joining the Catholic Elders Group and we had to do a theology course at Nyungalynya in Darwin, it's an Aboriginal community college and theology was one part of it. Nyungalynya broke down. It was only blocks, you know how you go on block work.
So I would take holidays off from State Forest to do my block work, and then Nyungalynya were having government resource problems and so they sent it all over to Wontalp College in Cairns and that's where I finished off what I did there also. And then I thought, oh, what's what next?
So when I finished with State Forest the next step was, must have been a couple of weeks. And I'm sitting there thinking what's going on in the way of education in Northern New South Wales. I had an uncle Rex Marshall who was involved with Southern Cross a lot, and he, he spoke so highly of it and I was still in government when he was speaking about Southern Cross and the potential of for Aboriginal students.
So I came back up home. and I thought education, well, maybe this might be the way to go. So then I said, yes, keep the brain active while I still can, before anything else develops. And so I thought, oh, I want to do something. And I thought, I think I can contribute.
And where I'd like to contribute is getting cultural heritage back to the students and to the adult communities. And the thing that's been missing in all of this are the massacres in the Northeast area. People have heard about Myall Creek, they've heard about Coniston, but have they heard about the biggest massacre in Australia on the Orara River?
Just down on where Orara River runs into the Clarence. Yes. 300 people. Aboriginal minimum. Were Pot shotted by the Native Police and the Crown Lands Commissioner, and all of those Vigilantes. And this is recorded, so if anyone doesn't believe me, they can go and look, do their own research and look it up, I'm sure. Others will do it in the future, and that's good for them.
They can do it, long overdue for doing that. But we've got about 10-15 massacres in the northeast Clarence River region of New South Wales. Yes. And it's all been hush, hush. All been very quiet. And why do you think it's been very quiet?
Stuart Barlo: I have no idea.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: It's because those involved were the squatters and the colonizers, the bad colonizers. There were some good ones, I must say. But the squatters, they were out to grab our land by any means possible shooting, poisoning, anything. Same happened here where we are sitting. And we've got a squatter who came and built his own castle. Would you believe it after he was involved in massacres?
So what I'm doing thanks to Southern Cross who has supported me on this and backed me, is I'm doing research into this now into the massacres of the Northeast region. Now, there have been some people who have done some stuff. That's good. Every little bit helps. Every bit that everyone's done, it all contributes, but there hasn't been someone doing it from a Goori, from an Aboriginal perspective, and I knew that the only way that I could do that would to be to go through Southern Cross that had a Southern Cross Aboriginal Elders group at Gnibi.
Thank you, Stuart. Very important to me to be in that environment, to do what I'm trying to do now. And that's where I'm at this moment.
Stuart Barlo: So part, part of that though is that you're actually doing your Masters degree?
Babani Robyne Bancroft: Yes.
Stuart Barlo: By research. So that, and this, this research into the Northern Rivers massacres is part of that research project?
Babani Robyne Bancroft: Yes. So I've gone back to school and that's only because of Southern Cross. I'm very happy to be involved with Southern Cross. I was very happy to hear that there was an Elders group there. I was very happy to hear that people were involved with Aboriginal students and I thought, oh, this is maybe a place to look into further.
And then, I went over to Gnibi Centre and I bugged Stuart Barlo. And I kept bugging him and bugging him and bugging him. And here I am today, still trying to do research for my masters on massacres in North eastern New South Wales. Mainly the Clarence River because that is my area.
So, and besides that, I'd be dead before I could do all the massacres in the whole of Northeast. New South Wales. And there've been that I know of two or three or four mentions of the massacres in books of this area.
And the kids at school say, but we've got nothing. Nannies, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunties, uncles say, we know it's happened.
And they the kids said there's nothing written down for them to read in the libraries. So I've spent a lot of time in the libraries and the historical societies and talking to the older, older white people who are receptive, asking, do you have any stories to tell me about your grandparents? You know, how they got on with Goori people?
Well, for a while there they wouldn't say anything, but I'd keep going back to them because I knew that they had grandparent stories. They were older people there. Yes. So eventually I've got a few stories. Yeah.
People won't like it and they certainly won't like it when I start writing about the murdering squatters who kept everything because they were all related.
They are not responsible for the atrocities committed by their ancestors but it is part of our history.
The murdering squatters who poisoned and shot all our mob. Well, most of our mob, many tribes. Even here where I'm sitting on my traditional country, my grandmother’s. Tribe was massacred here. So…
Stuart Barlo: okay. Take a breath.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: Yes. By squatter and his men and the Native police and the Crown Lands commissioners, they formed their own vigilante squad. And they just went on shooting and poisoning and murdering campaigns, vigilantes, they were, but a few of us survived and thank God we did. And how did we survive? We hid out in the mountains my grandmother's people.
We hid out here in the mountains. That's how we survived and that's why we are here today. My grandmother, who was born over a 100 years ago, my grandmother, when people talk about their grandmother, they're talking about the 1920s or the 1930s or the 1940s. I'm talking about the late 1800s, 1890s, you know, when all, all of this was, and my great grandmother was aware of this stuff.
So it's still very raw. And until we get it out there so that the kids coming through, not only my kin, but all the kids coming through will have something there and they then can do their own research. They can go to university and do their own research.
The support at universities for the kids today is amazing. Yes, I wish I would've had this support. You know, elsewhere, but Southern Cross has got a huge support team for any Aboriginal kid coming through today. And they'll come through and they'll look at the work that's been done and maybe at my research and they'll have different stories. That's okay.
Fine. Any story's okay. Yeah. But this is a story that I've spent 25 years researching. It's just, just getting started.
Stuart Barlo: And, I think the research that you're doing is extremely important and obviously quite personal as well. So thanks for sharing that. One of the things that has come as we step forward from there, You mentioned the Gnibi Elders and we're excited that you are now part of that. How did you become a part of the Gnibi Elders and what does that mean for you?
Babani Robyne Bancroft: Well, that's an honour to be a part the Gnibi elders I knew before I even went over there and they were always talking about their elders and. Yeah, you should join and you should join. And with new Auntie Bertha and Uncle Greg and Aunty Irene you know, the elders there who were saying, you should join up because you can tell stories about your area and contribute to it.
And I thought, okay, so I put, threw my hat in the ring. I don't know how it went from there, but it must have gone through the elders. Now they're a fantastic lot of elders and they contribute. They've all got something to say and this is the beauty of working with elders. And the elders who are southern cross Gnibi elders.
They all think that they're very important and they, the big thing is they are, they are all treated with respect.
Now that's made the difference, the respect that's been shown to the elders. Otherwise, there'd be no elders there if there was no respect shown to them. And the respect has been there, and I'm glad to be a part of the elders.
See, it's not just research material found in libraries or on trove or in historical societies. It is oral history, that's very important. Aboriginal oral history. And what I try to do a lot of the time is join that up with the written’ Your history was a oral history once before you wrote it all down.
Our oral history is just as important to us and we want to further that for a good reason. Of course, there'll be a lot of flack coming out of it, especially if I take on old squatters. Squatters descendants. But the thing is, what the squatter descendants have to understand, it's not having a go at them.
It's letting them know what their grandfathers and great grandfathers did. But it won't be me finishing this story. It will be my kids or my grandkids doing it, or the kids or the grandkids that are coming through universities now. And at Southern Cross we have a couple of hundred students there .
Stuart Barlo: 700.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: 700. How fantastic is that?
That does the heart good really to know that our kids are coming through and they're questioning things. They're not sitting back like people my age, we'd sit back and we'd listen to non-indigenous people say the most stupid and ridiculous things. Absolutely ridiculous and hurtful.
And then they'd praise their ancestors, who we knew from our oral history were nothing but murderers with their shotguns and their poisoned flour. And even just like down the road here, well, not so far away, there's a bit in one of the books about poison flour. That's why I am really looking forward to this truth telling Stuart, that I know Southern Cross is going to be very involved in, you know, it's, just another way of looking at things and what can you do.
You've got all this wonderful oral history from the elders, the Gnibi elders, Southern Cross elders. They've all got a story to tell. All of them.
Stuart Barlo: Absolutely.
Babani Robyne Bancroft: But I've gotta thank you, Stuart, for what you're doing for Southern Cross. It's really appreciated.
You mightn't think so, and we mightn't be what do you call it if, if ever isn't a bubbly about it. but we, our Elders really appreciate what you're doing and we really appreciate the respect that's shown to us as the elders. That's important. I can't stress it enough because if you've got no respect, we may as well not be there.
Babani Robyne Bancroft
Babani Robyne Bancroft is of Bundjalung and Gumbaynggirr descent, a current Master of Indigenous Philosophies (Research) student at Southern Cross University and member of the Gnibi Elders Council. Babani Robyne studied Archaeology and Anthropology at ANU. She worked for many years for State Forests as a Cultural Heritage Officer and was part of a team that developed the Aboriginal Map of Australia. She is passionate about education and truth-telling. Her current field of research encompasses massacres of the north coast of NSW.
Aunty Ruth Green: My name is Ruth Green. I'm a mother of 12. I have 28 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, and one great, great-grandchild. I was born in Coolangatta, grew up in Fingal. All my children grew up in Fingal and we all went to school at Fingal.
Stuart Barlo: There's a lot of education there with that number of kids. Yeah. So how, talking about education, how would, um, how would you describe your journey with, with education?
Aunty Ruth Green: So, well, I had to leave school at the age of 13. 13 being the oldest in our family mm-hmm. To help my mom and dad and, um, Before I left school, I did go to first and second year. They had in Tweed Heads in the high school, but there was no high school at South Tweed back then. So we had a row across the river, walk all the way here through the bush, catch the bus, and go to school down in Tweed and do the round trip of afternoon.
Stuart Barlo: So how long was that taken you?
Aunty Ruth Green: It took us over an hour and a half. Wow. Each way. Each way. Yeah. Yeah. Not only myself, a few of the others locals done the same.
Stuart Barlo: So when you, when you left school, what happened then? Where did you
Aunty Ruth Green: I went to work and the only thing I could do was kitchen work and house m, which I've done for quite a number of years.
I worked for a Greek family for 27 years. Wow. They used to own a restaurant in Coolangatta and when I finished working for them, they were brothers, Larry and Nikki, they sent me on a holiday, and the holiday was an 18 day tour through Tuscany, Italy, Rome, Venice, uh, overnight cruise from Athens to Rodos, where they came from in the Greek islands.
Then back to Athens. Then I flew back to the Greek islands the next day and stayed another 20 days with them and then from there to London for two weeks. Wow. That they shouted me that holiday.
Stuart Barlo: They must have really liked your work.
Aunty Ruth Green: They did. Used to cook for 'em.
Stuart Barlo: No, that's great.
Aunty Ruth Green: That was a, that was a great, and we're still here today. The boys one works here at Victor Victory Ford, and Larry has a big farm at the back of. I still keep in touch with them.
Stuart Barlo: So during that time you were raising, how many kids did you say? 10 children.
Aunty Ruth Green: 10 children. Wow. So I lost a couple.
Um, we had no electricity, we had no running water. We had to carry it and, uh, it was pretty tough. It was either Rosa Boat down the river to the, where the Tweed Heads Hospital is today. Walk across. There was no buildings of that back then, and that used to be all the town dump and walk over to Tweed, get our groceries, wait for the tide to come running in and raise the boat back up river.
Stuart Barlo: So obviously going, going to the shop was a Jo. It was a chore. It was. Everything was an all day event by the
Aunty Ruth Green: sound of it. Yes. Well, all the families who didn't have a car had to do that. Mm-hmm. It was really hard, but we done it.
Stuart Barlo: Yep. So your kids went to school in Fingal.
Aunty Ruth Green: as well? Yes. All of them went to school there.
Then when they left, uh, high School of South Tweed and Kingscliff. Oh,
Stuart Barlo: okay. So they went through the high school and Yes. Yeah.
Aunty Ruth Green: So, and a whole lot of them work except one.
Stuart Barlo: So you do, what do you do with yourself now?
Aunty Ruth Green: I'm involved with Gnibi, which I'm very lucky to be through Darlene, and I just love being involved with them.
I go to Canna, Windbrook Craft every Tuesday. Then over a Friday we have craft here at the museum. I, um, I love knitting. I do a lot of knitting and, uh, we used to knit for the different, uh, daycare centers around Kingscliff and Tweed and donate whatever they wanted for the little ones. Mm-hmm. And, uh, but now I do for the community what they want.
Some of our elders are mad rabbit age fans, and I'll make the rabbit age rabbits for them. Oh, good. I also put in an order. Yeah. And the rabbit, oak colors. Yeah. I'll put in an order. Okay.
Stuart Barlo: No worries. Yeah. The, um, so your comm, as you're connecting with your community, um, what do you see, you know, how do you see yourself in that role?
Are you, uh, a leader in the community or are you just someone
Aunty Ruth Green: who No, I don't class myself as a leader. But I, uh, anybody wants anything done, I do it for, for them.
Stuart Barlo: Can you talk to me a little bit about some of the things that you do, uh, as part of the Elders Council? So what, what, what, what's a typical elders council look like for you?
With the Gnibi?
Aunty Ruth Green: With Gnibi? Yeah. Well, since I've been with Gnibi, I've sort of learned more. Mm-hmm. From them. And, uh, it's just like, it's a pro a privilege to be on the board with them and to listen to what goes on. Mm-hmm.
Stuart Barlo:</strong I think, I, I think it's the part of our, the beauty of the Elders Council at Gnibi is the diversity of elders that we have.
Yes. And, um, It brings such a strength and a power to the, to the elders as a whole, um, that you're a part of.
Aunty Ruth Green: Yes. Well, outside of our meetings, I talk to a lot of young people around. Mm-hmm. Even my great-grandchildren. And grandchildren and try to get 'em to go to uni. Mm-hmm. Well, once just about ready to enroll.
Oh, great. Yes. So, and he used to play up. He used to be naughty. He lived in Taree. He was only six or eight. He'd go to school every day. He'd swear at the teachers, throw pencils at him, and my daughter and I decided to go down and bring him up here. Since he came up here, he went to Benoa school and Sue's sister was teaching out there.
Then he never missed a day and he went from there to Kingscliff High and he hardly missed a day. Now he wants to go to uni.
Stuart Barlo: Education in the right, in the right space. In the right environment.
Aunty Ruth Green: Yeah. He done really, really well and he's, he's been diagnosed with autism. He's lists a bit when he speaks, but other than that, he is a damn good kid and he rings me up at least three times a week to see how I am. Mm-hmm.
Stuart Barlo: Good. So that, that the influence is, is there, which is great.
Yeah. And I think that's, that, that's part of what this series is about, is about the influence that our elders have and has it been able to show people the journey that we've had so that, um, people can see, oh, that's sort of what I've been through, or. You know, I'm struggling to, you know, I don't think I'm very good at learning.
Um, I know I wasn't, um, very good at learning, but, um, yeah, Brian, so that's really good. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Aunty Ruth Green: I'd just like to add that I'm proud to be a part of Gnibi. Darling asked me three, four times before I accepted and she got me to do it finally. And I'm glad I did. And to meet the different elders from different areas.
Just to get to know different ones and find out that I had relations along the line.
Aunty Ruth Green
Aunty Ruth Green was born in Yugambeh land at Coolangatta and grew up in Fingal Head. She is a mother of 12, with 28 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. To attend school, she had to row across the river, walk through the bush and catch the bus to South Tweed. She left school at the age of 13 to assist her family, working in kitchens. She has encouraged her children and their children’s education journeys and says the right teacher and environment can make a difference. She is a member of the Gnibi Council of Elders and volunteers to knit items for day care centres and the larger community.
Stuart Barlo: Here we are again continuing the, the series of yarns with our elders on education and their journeys with education. And I'm here this afternoon with Auntie Sue. Auntie, can I get ask you to introduce yourself please?
Aunty Sue Follent: My official name or?
Stuart Barlo: however you want to introduce yourself.
Aunty Sue Follent:. Sue Follent. Yeah, I don't belong, I don't belong to Bundjalung.
My dad's people came from Waka Waka. And my great grandmother was a tribal woman, and her name was Yagon Yagon. Yeah. And she came from what you believe, Black Butt Mountains. Mm. Up near Toowoomba, that way. Yeah. So I never do welcomes.
Stuart Barlo: That's, that's, that's really good. Where's Waka Waka? Where's, where are they up?
Aunty Sue Follent: Toowoomba Darling Downs.
Stuart Barlo: Oh, okay.
Aunty Sue Follent: Up on the tableland and it comes back over almost to the coast, but not, not quite.
Stuart Barlo: Oh good. Well, that's good. So like me, you're off country.
Aunty Sue Follent: even though I was born here. Yes.
Stuart Barlo: We are here today. We we're talking about education and your journey with education.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of your experiences with education?
Aunty Sue Follent: Can I start by saying that Mum and dad, we lived here at Tweed? Yep. And then they took us down to Mullumbimby because they wanted us to have a good education and we were told we weren't gonna leave school unless we passed the leaving certificate.
Oh. And there was nine of us. Mm-hmm. And but the only way we could get out of it was get a proper job. And that didn't mean labour.
Stuart Barlo: No, I was gonna say, what does it mean a proper job?
Aunty Sue Follent: Anything that. You've gotta have an education behind. And at the time, lucky for me nursing was only you could go in at up three years at high school.
And I've, okay, so you did, I didn't like school.
Stuart Barlo: So you didn't get your leaving, but you went into a nursing job? Yeah, went into nursing, yeah. So you continued your education though. Oh yeah.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yes. In, in, in medicine or that health area. Yeah. Four years as a nurse back in those days. Yeah. And you'd, you'd go and do blocks, two week blocks every three months.
Oh, okay. But the whole family, you know sister was the first aboriginal woman to, to work on the. Melbourne telephone exchange. My brother Bobby was a, a he was in the, in the Navy for nine years. Then he got out and he seen the Redfern mess. So he become a a lawyer and ended up a judge. Then it was myself.
I just stayed in health. Mm-hmm. And then the next one was a brick layer. Sister, her main frame to claim to fame was that she was a mother of triplets, first one's born here in the twe. Oh, wow. But she also was a nurse. Mm-hmm. And then another sister was a radiographer. Well, what would you call Soy? No, he skipped, skipped school. And went to Sydney and become a activist and helped set up the AMS and the Redfern legal service. Oh, okay. But he was an activist first went over to America with the back Panthers for a while. Four Panthers. Yeah. Yeah. And then the next brother, he was a fitter and turner, but also an activist.
And then my sister, younger sister, she's the CEO of the Redfern AMS. So I think mother and father achieved their, I'd say they much very much achieved their goal.
Stuart Barlo: Yes. Yeah. No, that's good. So you went into health and have been in health nearly all your life. Yes. Yes. Retired. What's Journey? What's that journey been like?
What was that journey like for you?
Aunty Sue Follent: For me It was good. There was only one person that I could say was a little bit up your nose. Oh, sorry. But she was a, an old matron. Mm-hmm. And didn't want anything to do with me. And I just said to the sister in charge, no, let me go there. Either she'll break me or I'll break her.
Guess who won?
Yeah. So, you know, I, I'd go in to give her a medication and turn away and then she'd complain if I had to give her a bed Bath. But you know, you get over those things. Oh, well I did. Some people don't, but I love nursing. Yes.
Stuart Barlo: My my family's all nurses except me.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yeah. Well, in our family we've got law.
Cause of the grandkids. The grandkids, and the nieces. Into law now. I think we've got two that are doing law, and then we've got five in health. Wow. So, and we've got three in education, so they're following in the footsteps.
Stuart Barlo: That's that. And, and that's really an important story to tell in that many of our young people that are coming to university at Southern Cross are first in family, and so they, you know, none of their family have had the opportunity of coming to university. So it, it's really exciting to hear a story where, you know, we've got people who are older generation who have been to university and then their kids have gone in.
Yeah. And probably grandkids as well.
Aunty Sue Follent: Well, they are. I've got two that are just. Starting their nursing careers now. Wow. Only back in April they started.
Stuart Barlo: So where are they studying their nursing?
Aunty Sue Follent: Here at Oh, well they're doing it tafe. Oh, okay. And they're doing it, going to do it through finish up doing it through the hospital.
Stuart Barlo: Mm. These, these days, nursing education be very different to a, to when you went through.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yes. And I've got a daughter who's a registered nurse.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah. It'd be very different to the way she went through as well.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yes. Well, she's coming around to my way of thinking that it's better to do your nurses' training.
Yes. On site, yes. On in the hospitals. Yes. Rather than sitting in a, sorry, Stuart, but sitting in a classroom.
Stuart Barlo: I agree with you. I think, I think there are some, there are some forms of education that are best hands on. Mm-hmm. And, you know, you can't, you know, you can read about how to stop someone's bleeding, but when it's happening in front of me, you gotta figure it out pretty quick.
Yes. You know, and indigenous knowledge is very, is is a very experiential learning as well, the way we do it. Yeah. So I actually agree. I don't think that, That particularly those types of practical, practical skills can actually be learnt in a book or in a classroom on dummies.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yes, that's right. I totally agree.
Stuart Barlo: So, yeah, so that's okay. Yeah. Education will go back to the way it should be eventually. I think.
Aunty Sue Follent: I don't think I'll see it in my lifetime. I don't know.
Stuart Barlo: I'm not sure about that, but We'll, we'll, I, I think it's going that way quicker than we think. I hope so.
Aunty Sue Follent: But anyway, it is what it is. Yeah. And in education and I got a sister who's in, in as a teacher. Yeah. But I think it's all different.
Again, it's different to our, and it, I suppose it's just gotta change, you know, like from where, how. Teachers were when I went through. Mm-hmm. That's nearly 60
Stuart Barlo: years ago. Well, everything's changed in 60 years. Yeah. And not all for the good. It's just changed. Yeah. But so with the, the, the change in, in education because you've been able to.
To see what it was like for you when you went through and then comparing it to your children and, and grandchildren and how they're learning. Education's changing a lot. Yes. How do you, how do you see that as
Aunty Sue Follent: well, I, I guess nowadays there's more technical stuff that goes on within the hospitals. I'm talking about nursing.
Yes. There's a lot of technical stuff that goes on that we didn't have. No. So there's, there's a good and bad in, in the new stuff and, and the old, but I suppose I'm still too stuck in my ways to say no.
Stuart Barlo: So, so have you always been in a hospital situation or have you worked in
Aunty Sue Follent: No, no. I did 30 years at community Health. Okay. And I did three years in the Army. Wow. As a nurse? Yes, yes. No. Well, I finished off my training in the, in the Army. Oh, okay. Only, only because Narin and I had a fight and I said, well, I won't say on camera, but I,
we had an argument and I said, no, I'll, I'll be leaving. Yeah. So then I went and worked in a nursing home for a while and until my papers come through to go into the Army, so I finished off nursing in there. Mm.
Stuart Barlo: So where were you? Where were you based?
Aunty Sue Follent: Ingleburn in Sydney. Oh, down in Sydney. Yeah. But it's closed down.
Stuart Barlo: Ingleburn's all houses now.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, like things change and I guess you've gotta change with the times.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah. Yeah. Was was culture talked about much
Aunty Sue Follent: in your family? Not a great lot. Just only the things that, you know, like if we did anything wrong, then Mother would put her, cause she was Southie Island. Mm-hmm. So I had the two.
Yeah. Mother would come with her views on how we should be acting. Mm-hmm. And father said, no, this is the way that it's done. And told mother, you know, she's living in Australia, not overseas anyway. Yep. Even though she was born here. Mm.
But yeah, not a great lot of the culture. Mm-hmm. We learned that later on.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah. So there's none in the school? None in the school. No. No. So, no,
Aunty Sue Follent: no.
Stuart Barlo: When you say you learned that later on, where, where, where did you learn the cultural aspects of things?
Aunty Sue Follent: When I, when I started working in community health.
Okay. Yeah. And I started off in the community health as a Health worker, so we would go away. Mm-hmm. On courses. And part of the course was Aboriginal Health. Oh, okay. Yeah. So the culture come out there. But up until then there wasn't, we didn't have that much culture. No. But we knew who we were, where we were from.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah, my my sister who's a a nurse and she's always been in the hospital system, still is now, she's she runs the hospital in in Bathurst. But she was saying the same thing that in the hospital system, there's very little,
Aunty Sue Follent: very little, and I can recall going up to accident and emergency one day.
And there was this New Zealander nurse, and he said to me, he said, is there anything cultural I should be aware of? And I just looked at him. You're the first one to ever ask me that question. But I did in, in part, part of the, you know, like men's business, women's business, and. That he was to be very careful of how he treated a woman.
And he said, he said, that surprises me. He said, in, in, in New Zealand, he said, we, we practice it all the time. Mm. But that was the first time he'd heard anything about the culture.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah, it, it, it's, it's really interesting when you look at the health system in, in New Zealand and when we talk about cultural competency and all of those sorts of things that, that, that came from New Zealand.
So, you know, they sort of started to design that whole cultural competency process. And particularly in, in the health area, in the area of health and how we deal with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our health system.
Aunty Sue Follent: But yeah. But, but learning the culture, it was not a, it came through the, well, like I said before, all the courses that we'd go away at conferences.
Stuart Barlo: And, you know, they, that's perfectly fine and valid. And that, those, that's where a lot of us did do learn stuff. Yeah. Particularly here on the East Coast, it’s been hit pretty hard with through the colonization process.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yeah. But having said that to me, except for that one lady, when I was doing the nurses training, I did I feel that I was I don't know what you'd say, felt that you were.
It was something different. I was treated the same as everyone else. Except for when I was in the army. Someone, one of the girls asked me, how come you got so black? And I said, oh, when was the baby mum stripped me off and threw me out the beach. And that seemed to have broken down a lot of barriers.
Yeah. Being able to laugh at myself.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah. It, it, it, and that's important. My sister says the same thing that she was treated the same as everybody else,
Aunty Sue Follent: but then I was, I've never moved away from the country. Got to Sydney where the brothers and sister lived, but they, they were right in the mix of it and, yeah.
Because brother brother Bob, who was the judge, he could see that a lot of the, the Aboriginal people down there were how they were being treated. Mm-hmm. A little bit different. Yep. To what it was up here. Mm. I'm not saying that it wasn't up here. No, no,
Stuart Barlo: no. It was, yeah. And, and, I, I would suggest that it was different in different industries.
Yeah. And, and different, different places would have different different ways of, you know, dealing with each other. Yes. Yeah. So you have gone into community nursing and you've been, you were doing that for a long time before you retired.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yes. Well I ended up managing given it gave up the hands on stuff.
Yep. But doing but, but the managerial stuff. Mm-hmm. And I think that's where I seen a lot of differences that work. Cuz I had a staff of 15 Aboriginal people under me. And. Yes. You, you, you pick up a lot of differences between the different cultures. I mean, Aboriginal cultures.
Stuart Barlo: Yes. You, there's some, you know, everybody tries to treat us like a the same, but we're all very different.
Aunty Sue Follent: Oh, yes, yes. Very different. Yes. But, you know, you've gotta learn that To acknowledge the differences and work with them.
Stuart Barlo: There, there, there's, yeah, there's lots of strength in those differences. Yes.
Aunty Sue Follent: And what you bring to the table. That's right.
Stuart Barlo: Okay, so in, in, as your, in your role as a manager in that space was, were you able to do some training or impartation of what you had learnt over the years for some
Aunty Sue Follent: of these younger ones?
Every six months we do cultural awareness programs for both the staff and also for community. Mm. And one of the ladies that you had on here this morning, auntie Ruth, she'd been with us all the way through with it. Okay. She'd come in and, you know, and share stories. And I think, you know, there's no big cultural thing cuz we don't live in a cultural world.
No. That's true. And but people just tell them their stories about how they were brought up, how they lived, where they were from. Mm-hmm.
And I think, you know, like that just, it gels with everyone. Mm-hmm. Cause everyone, like you said earlier, has a different story.
Stuart Barlo: Mm-hmm. And, and it's those different stories. They're important for people to
Aunty Sue Follent: hear. Yeah. Well, I think if you want to provide a service to a community group, then you've got to know what you're dealing with, how to deal with it.
Mm-hmm. And respect where they're coming from. Mm-hmm. Whether it you agree with it or not, you gotta, you know, there, there's things you can't. Can't accept, but the cultural side of things here, you've gotta accept their views.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah, agreed.
It's and that's really important that we, we look and that we, we understand and we accept. Cuz one of the things that we need, we're trying to teach our young people is about the Respecting people. Yes. And yeah, it's really important as we yeah. You've been involved with the Gnibi Elders now for a little while.
Yes. Can you talk to us a little bit about your involvement and what got you involved and why you think it's your involvement's important?
Aunty Sue Follent: Why do I think it's important? I think that. I won't get political. I was just going to do that, but I won't. I, I like the way that Gnibi has been given the elders the opportunity to voice their opinions, what they like about what's going on at Gnibi be or what we don't like about Kennedy.
Yep. But at least we've been given a voice. And that's as far as I go with the political bit, because that's the same as with culture. You've gotta respect people's views on everything, including politics. Yes. Especially when you come from a political family, bunch of activists.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah.
Well, you know, I think the role that Gnibi elders play, not only for Gnibi, but for the university as a whole is extremely important. It is as part of our governance process and when, when the elders, you guys tell us that you don't like something, we do everything we possibly can to change it.
Aunty Sue Follent: And we don't do that very often.
Stuart Barlo: But but when you do, it's really important. Yeah. And it's important that we hear that
Aunty Sue Follent: and it's also a place where a group of elders can get together to try and help people that are coming through the university. Mm-hmm. That they know that there's a group there that will keep an eye out for 'em.
Stuart Barlo: I love just sitting in the room when you guys get together. Just listening to your stories and listening, listening to the way you communicate with each other and and, and that sort of stuff. It's,
Aunty Sue Follent: And there and there's been a lot of friendships developed. Absolutely. Some people you've,
but you've still gotta respect them. You might respect, might like what they say, but that's fine.
Stuart Barlo: Yeah, well, you know, we don't get along with everybody all the time,
Aunty Sue Follent: that's for sure. Like me and my brothers didn't.
Stuart Barlo: Families
Aunty Sue Follent: especially. Yes. Yeah.
Stuart Barlo: So is there anything else that you would like to say or add to your conversation?
Aunty Sue Follent:
No, but this place over here, museum we've used that, used to use that a lot. In our cultural awareness programs. Oh, okay. And we used to do that to the, all the community health staff. Mm-hmm. Bring them over here and listen to elders stories and, and ask questions like, what can we do better from a community health point of view?
But I do believe that there's not enough culture. Taught to the nursing staff or hospital staff.
Stuart Barlo: My sister would agree with you. And, but it's changing, you know, as the As the government starts to realize the, the areas that are lacking, we're starting to see changes in those educational processes.
It's slow, slowly, they don't wanna rush anything.
Aunty Sue Follent: But I think for me, I noticed that parents have gotta take more responsibility of.
Encouraging them to be school.
Stuart Barlo: Well, part part of these conversations that we're having with all the elders is, is about trying to help encourage people to stay with education as much as we can.
Aunty Sue Follent: And that's important if we want keep growing as an as a nation, but also as a culture, we've gotta be educated.
Stuart Barlo: Well, my parents and grandparents used to say education was power.
Aunty Sue Follent: I think my parents would agree with you. And,
Stuart Barlo: Although I'd initially balked it at education, but it was later in life that I went back. But yeah they would, yeah.
Aunty Sue Follent: Well, the the other thing when I was at school, the other thing that I really enjoyed was a sport.
Mm-hmm. I think that's all I went, stayed at school for that long for, cuz I used to be good at sports. Oh, okay. Yeah. Mm-hmm. And a mad rugby league floor supporter.
Stuart Barlo: Think we all are.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yay. Go the blues. Oh, well don't tell me you're a flamin’ Marrone?
Stuart Barlo: I'm Blue Supporter. Oh, it's New South Wales. Through and through I, I believe Blue Blood .
Aunty Sue Follent: and I, but if you look at the, the number of Aboriginal people that are in, in the sports today,
Stuart Barlo: well it, it's, it's been interesting just watching the, the dream round, the dream time round in AFL and we've just had Indigenous round NRL.
Mm-hmm. And they've highlighted just in those two sports the indigenous players over the last few weeks and they've been, that's been fairly, even though they don't highlight it, but there's a lot in netball.
Aunty Sue Follent: Oh, absolutely.
Stuart Barlo: Rugby union. Yes. Yeah. All of the sports we play, we play just about everything I think.
I don't think there's many sports that we're not involved in and you know, we had, we had young Barty as the Oh, Ash. Ash as the, and Yvonne and Avon. Yeah. Yeah.
Aunty Sue Follent: In tennis and Yeah. But it's also a way to get, keep kids at school and get them education and further education. Yes. A lot of, you know, a lot of those boys that are playing rugby league, they'll come out of there with a, some kind of education or
Stuart Barlo: That's true.
And, you know, you've got a number of foundations that promote sport and education. So, you know, they, they take the cream players from Inland Australia and Northern Territory and Western, Northern Western Australia and bring them down to the. To the, to the cities where they give them education and they promote their, their sporting pro ass so that they, they end up with things.
And you know, the Yellow boys are a classic example of that, of how that works. Yeah, there's some tremendous opportunities available. Exactly.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yes.
Stuart Barlo: And, you know, the, the new scholarship programs that, that we've started at the university here help with that as well. So help to promote education and provide opportunities for our people, our young people to come and, and study and to, to, to practice some sport.
We've got partnerships developing with The local football club and the, and the and the university through our sports science labs and that sort of stuff are really helping our local teams build and promote and, yeah.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yep. And I was just thinking, just thinking then that when, when we was growing up, we lived at new Brighton and Billynudgel, you know where that is?
Just down there? Yeah. Yeah. And the, the track that the, the Richmond people, the Lismore area? Yeah. They used to come through and they used to always call in home. And I, and I suppose that's why one way of, of culture, you know, passing on culture. Yeah. They used to come up, call in home, mom would have a feed ready for them and then they'd come on up here to Tweed.
Stuart Barlo: Used to happen down home as well, where people dropped through as they were going north.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yeah, because you whenever someone called to your house, It was always either a cup of tea or as usual roundabout meal times they'd drop in. So they'd mother would have to, you know, add more to the pot or,
Stuart Barlo: yeah.
So used to have a talent for dropping in at meal times,
Aunty Sue Follent: but yeah, growing up with, with eight other siblings wasn't a problem for mother. No,
Stuart Barlo: no. People that had big families could always find room for one more. Yes. I don't, I dunno how, but they always could. Yeah,
Aunty Sue Follent: yeah. But it was always work, father, you know, until he retired, he, he were never out of a job. No, that's right.
Yeah. And mum didn't, mum didn't She didn't go out and get a a job. Cause she had a job at home with nine kids, didn't she?
Stuart Barlo: I was gonna say she already had a job.
Aunty Sue Follent: Yeah. But no, it was, it was good. I had a good life.
Stuart Barlo: Excellent. Well, thank you.
Aunty Sue Follent: That's all right.
Aunty Sue Follent
Aunty Sue Follent is from a large family of the Waka Waka nation. She began a nursing career at an early age, progressing to community nursing where she began to learn more about her Aboriginal culture. She joined the army and finished her nursing career in the armed forces. She ran cultural awareness programs for many years in the health sector, encouraging education and story-telling as a way of bringing people together and understanding and respecting the differences between communities and cultures. She is a member of the Gnibi Council of Elders at Southern Cross University.
Gnibi Elders Principles by Sheldon Harrington
The entirety of this artwork is a visual translation showcasing how the Gnibi Elders Principles are integral to the development of humane and compassionate education at Gnibi, establishing relationships that are beneficial to everyone without disregarding others and their knowledge. These set of principles were developed with Knowledge that grown over a lifetime and continues to grow as Indigenous Knowledge is alive, living and moving within the environment that it belongs to.
Breakdown of the artwork:
‘Blue background’ - This is the rich pool of knowledge (hand prints, dots, circles) that has grown and maintained over through the millennia and handed down by our ancestors. The Knowledge is represented by the water as it is key to the survival of our culture, and not confined to certain shapes or constructs, its fluid as it moves and molds to its surroundings but is still connected.
'Binggings (Turtles)' - These Binggings hold a dual purpose in this artwork, firstly being that they signify all the Elders past and present as it shows they have grown, lived and moved through different parts of the rich pool of knowledge and the shells show the protection of all the knowledge. Secondly, the direct correlation to the Gnibi Elders Principles in static form, nine binggings to the nine principles.
‘Relationships - Outer sections’ - These outer sections are symbolic to the different relationships that Gnibi has established over its lifetime, but are still informed by the same “connective tissue” of the Gnibi Elders Principles.
- The two distinct set of lines on the outer edges show the strong protective foundations these relationships are formed.
- The Elders are represented and embedded within these sections, as the protectors and knowledge holders.
By Sheldon ‘SJ’ Harrington - SJH Kreations 2019