Sharing Culture through Story

By Uhlmann, Lyn | Practically Primary, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Sharing Culture through Story


Uhlmann, Lyn, Practically Primary


AUSTRALIA is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Whether migrants come for the lifestyle, the opportunities, for work, or for some other reason, the fact is, they have been coming since 1788, and the mix of cultures in contemporary Australia is reflected in almost every school across the nation as children from every walk of life learn and play together.

One culture has remained constant throughout this more than 200-year history, however, and for millennia before it. It is Australia's first culture that of the Indigenous people of the mainland and island communities. It is the oldest-known surviving culture on the planet and is rich with legend, song, story and deep understanding of the natural world and its ways.

It is also a culture in which the people have not always been treated well, and embedded in the darker halls of Australian history are recordings of atrocities such as the stolen generation. Thankfully, the pendulums of reason have swung towards reconciliation and moving forward as one nation, and the Indigenous Australian culture has become increasingly embraced and celebrated in a vast range of forums across Australia, including schools, where many teachers are employing culturally inclusive classroom practices to help build a school environment that values cultural diversity and the sharing of culture.

Such teachers, by encouraging their students to engage with Indigenous Australian books in authentic and respectful ways, are helping the children, irrespective of their culture, to learn about Indigenous Australia, which is important learning for all children in Australian schools. With education about this culture comes understanding, and understanding offers the potential for kinder, more tolerant communities for everyone.

A further benefit of using Indigenous Australian texts in the classroom is that it may help decrease the literacy performance gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students--a gap that, statistically, continues to widen as students progress through their years of schooling. Indigenous students may arguably relate better to books from and about their own culture, possibly making them more attractive to read. Using Indigenous Australian books in the classroom also actively demonstrates to all students the value of diversity and, in particular, the importance of Indigenous Australia and its people.

Incorporating relevant texts in classroom work need not be a complicated affair, and can begin with picture books for the very young. These vary in content and style but they all shed light on Indigenous Australian culture. Some titles to consider are:

* The Old Frangipani Tree by Trina Saffioti, a descendant of the Gugu Yulangi people of North Queensland and illustrated by Maggie Prewett, a descendant of the Ngarluma people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. This brightly illustrated, delightful story tells, in authentic voice, of an Indigenous Australian girl's plight when she has nothing to wear to her school's annual fancy dress carnival. When the family pitches in to help, a subtle message about the importance of family in Indigenous Australian culture is delivered.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

* Djomi Dream Child by Chris Fry of the Northern Territory his tribal group is Burarra and illustrated by Delphine Sarago-Kendrick, Queensland, a descendant of the Yidinji and Jirrbal people, offers a simple introduction to the Dreamtime. It tells about a dream child who floats downstream towards the coast of Maningrida in Arnhem Land. The story begins as the dream vision of an elderly man, then turns into the story of the girl in the dream realm, and then in the natural world after she is born.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

* Tjarany: The Dreaming of the Roughtail Lizard and Other Stories is ideal for teaching and learning about Dreaming stories, Indigenous Australian art, and also for introducing one of the many Indigenous tongues of Australia, as the stories are written in both English and Kukatja--the language of the Balgo people of Western Australia.

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