Monday, July 16, 2012

Teaching Kids Aboriginal History - Telling Our Own Stories to honour theirs

Upon her arrival in Australia as an immigrant 60 years ago my grandma's husband and other new migrants worked together to build a series of homes for their families. This beautiful, large home with elaborate features was designed and constructed by a community of people helping one another.

The best part was the backyard overflowing with fruit trees and patches of flowers and exotic plants that sprawled across half an acre. I used to spend hours exploring and picking fruits and vegetables with my grandma, playing hide and seek and watching goldfish in the pond. There was also a sun room that overlooked the garden and I spent hours as a child and teenager reflecting, daydreaming and being inspired by God's creation.

It was one of my favourite places in the world. 

It was a place I felt safe, valued, loved and cherished. I never believed that this home, this garden, this important piece of my childhood and my family would ever disappear. I imagined one day that I would live there with my own family and that they would feel the same safety, security, connection and belonging that I felt as a little girl.

10 years ago my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and needed to go into a nursing home. In order to pay the exorbitant fees my mum had to consider selling the house. At the time I was newly married, studying and living interstate and in no position financially to purchase even a small piece of the land. With great sadness, it was sold. Six townhouses were built in its place. It's still painful when I consider what we lost. To some it was just a house and land but to me it represented my family, their history and their story. It wasn't the place in itself - it was what it represented and how I felt when I was there. I feel sad that my children won't get to experience the joy of running through the same garden I did as a child or the fact that I can't physically show them how hard their great-grandfather worked to build a new life for his family.

Our family history....

I was reminded of my own family history when re-watching SBS the first Australians series. I tried to imagine how unsettling, painful, confusing and scary it would be to have someone disrespect my family, my culture and my story. My grandma's house sprung to mind and I found myself with tears in my eyes as I continued to watch. One story described how a white pastoralist flattened land to create a farm and destroyed trees that aboriginal people used as memorials to honour family members who had died. It was like railroading a cemetery but to the pastoralists it was just a bunch of trees. At times, these were merely acts of ignorance but many times these were calculated attempts to disempower the aboriginal people.

I'm sure we all have similar stories to the one of my grandmothers house and stories of our ancestors who may have fallen victim to racial intolerance as immigrants. In order to understand and teach our children about aboriginal people and and land we must share our own stories with our children - of times when something was taken away from us or we were treated unfairly.

In doing so, we don't just teach our children a bunch of historical facts but the values of empathy and compassion. See my previous blog about teaching small children about Australian Aboriginal history.

In teaching my kids about Australian history I am discovering information that I was never taught. I'm seeking out more balanced information so that I have a better knowledge to impart to my kids. This is proving a fascinating but painful process as I use my own stories to create a better understanding for my children and to honour Aboriginal Australians. 

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