Making Space as White Music Educators for Indigenous Australian Holders of Song, Dance and Performance Knowledge: The Centrality of Relationship as Pedagogy

Article excerpt

A narrative to begin

We sat underneath the shade of a mango tree at the Sandridge, an outstation located on Yanyuwa traditional country approximately 30km west of the remote town of Borroloola in the south west Gulf country of the Northern Territory. The sun was no longer high in the sky but the afternoon shadows had not yet lengthened to usher in the dark night. I sat and listened to my husband's maternal grandmother's Nancy McDinny and Linda McDinny talk in and around the stories of their lives as selves, sisters, singers and strong women in their community. I have been working with Nancy, Linda and other Aboriginal women from Borroloola since 1994 and my relationship with them interweaves my love of music with my family and my academic life. Together with my close friend and colleague Alieta Grimes (Earth Base Production), I was interviewing Nancy and Linda as part of an Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies project called "Big Women from Borroloola" in association with the Papulu Apparr-Kari Language Centre at Borroloola. "Big Women" is a community owned and driven project which aims to portray the status, knowledge and authority that many Aboriginal women in this community hold and the value of their lived experiences, memories and stories. During the filming process, many women we worked with chose to tell aspects of their life stories, experiences and knowledges through song. In our interview with them, Nancy and Linda asserted very strongly that one of their main concerns as Yanyuwa/Garrwa women was to teach their young children about song, dance and culture. Nancy proudly told us how all of her children and those who had grown up at her father's outstation nearby, had "proper mingkin (good) legs", they were not "shame" to paint up and dance, and knew how to sing and dance for their country and culture.

Nancy and Linda spoke passionately about the centrality of song and dance to their lives as Aboriginal women, Aboriginal people and as an Indigenous Australian community, but also told of their desperate struggle to teach their children and keep culture strong amidst the many obstacles which face people in their community. Without wanting to paint too bleak a picture but also not wanting to "white wash" how things are, Borroloola is not unlike many remote Indigenous communities where a family of ten live in a tin shed of two rooms; where it is cheaper to buy a bucket of hot chips than to purchase one apple; where health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and turberculosis effect everyone in some way. In a place like Borroloola, alcohol and substance abuse dramatically effect the quality of life for young and old people; domestic violence against women, men and children has become a normal fact of life; and, a community of approximately 1000 Indigenous people attend a funeral at best three times a month. It is this complex set of issues, which then negatively influence the attendance of children at school, but it is also more than that. For some time now in Borroloola, the Aboriginal community has experienced increasing cultural dislocation from the school. [1] Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Mara and Kudanji languages are not currently taught at the school, the inclusion of senior women and men as people with authority and knowledge of value has ceased, and the school is not seen as an educational space which is culturally inclusive.

In an educational, social, political and cultural environment like the one I have described, where does music education sit? The performative song, dance and music education women like Nancy and Linda give to their children does not take place in "whitefella" school but in their own Indigenous cultural spaces--on the ceremony ground, at festivals or funerals, and/or at outstations with senior Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Mara and Kudanji women and men as teachers. Outside the walls of Western classrooms, Aboriginal women at Borroloola have the freedom to undertake a music education which enacts embodied Indigenous pedagogies on country, in local languages with family, and in the context of life narratives which connect people to the past, to the here and now, and to a future which is yet to be. …


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