A journey into the bush deepens awareness of indigenous culture
The children were quiet and pensive: we had just had a remarkable experience. As we wound along the once-familiar Mt Keira Road back to school, we looked at the bush through different eyes. This was Dharawal country and we had just experienced it with Jade Kennedy, a "cultural knowledge holder" of the Dharawal people.
When we arrived at Mount Keira, in a suburb of the same name in New South Wales, Jade asked us to gaze out from the lookout point and tell him what we saw. The children mentioned the ocean, the famous Five Islands that sit off the coast, houses, roads and the steel works.
We were then asked to close our eyes and imagine this place as Jade's ancestors would have seen it, before Europeans arrived. This time, students' answers included trees, bushes, animals and birds.
This was a powerful exercise and one that led Jade to the question: how did his ancestors survive without everything the students could see now? Many answers were given, but the consensus was that the Dharawal people used the resources around them and were careful with what they had.
Jade used this to link to the central focus of our programme of study: that indigenous people have connections to nature that have sustained them over time.
He told us about the Dharawal concept of "country" and how it connects them to all elements of the natural world, including the earth, the sea and the sky. He explained that his people had cared for the land as if it were their mother - it was this aspect of "country" that helped to sustain the Dharawal people for many thousands of years.
We left the lookout along a bush track, with Jade in the lead. Our first stop was at a clump of lomandra grass. Here, Jade told us how, in traditional Dharawal culture, people chewed the end of a lomandra leaf for hydration, wove leaves into baskets and ground seeds into flour. We kept moving, all chewing on the end of a lomandra leaf.
The class stopped many more times along the track, learning about how Dharawal people used what was around them. This was a hands-on experience: we sucked a special wattle that kept our mouths moist and ate sarsaparilla leaves that could be boiled with water and made into tea.
We also listened to Jade's many "dream time" stories (Aboriginal myths), including one about how the Five Islands were created by the West Wind, who threw his five naughty daughters into the sea.
It was a fascinating afternoon and one which will remain in the children's minds for a very long time. The experience also provoked the most spontaneous action I have ever seen in a student. On our way back to the bus, a child approached Jade and apologised, on behalf of all those responsible for spoiling his country.
Suzanne Wynn-Jones is a junior school teacher at the Illawarra Grammar School in New South Wales, Australia
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