This blog is written by Alex Andrews. Alex is a Spring 2018 student from Wheaton College.
Several weekends ago, the ASC team boarded a ferry and headed over to Stradbroke Island. We spent two days learning first hand what being apart of Aboriginal culture looks like—our first “in-Country” experience. We were met by Matty Burns, an Aboriginal man, who kindly welcomed us onto his land. Matty showed us the cultural dress, ritual face painting, and depicted a story by expressively playing the didgeridoo, a long woodwind instrumental. We learned dances, which was a fun and also incredibly significant experience. Aboriginal dances carry meaning and tell a story, a primary way of telling and passing down information from generation to generation.
Lea (our First Nations lecturer), who accompanied us for the weekend, spoke about Aboriginal values and practices. Aboriginal life is complex and places emphasis on community as well as balance, specifically between humans and the earth. By each individual taking responsibility for the earth and one another, Aboriginal culture maintains a beautiful dynamic of care. Furthermore, this society intricately allocates these responsibilities, ensuring that everyone and everything is taken care of.
Later that day we had the privilege of meeting Uncle Norm, who showed us around the bush. He explained the names and importance of the wildlife surrounding us as we huddled for shelter between the rainstorms. Of course, we weren’t finished until we’d all had a go at some spear throwing!
While on Stradbroke Island, or “Straddy”, we also had the opportunity to do sand art on the beach with a man named Craig Tapp or “Tappy”. His excitement for us to join him in this community art project was contagious. None of us knew what to expect, and the majority of us had guessed that we would mostly be observing. However, in less than ten minutes, our hands were stained by coloured sand and we were absorbed in drawing animals, from sea turtles to kangaroos, and filling them with different shades. A group of us ran down to the shore to gather shells. We placed the shells in the body of a dove, completing the artwork.
Our weekend on Straddy was one of experiential learning and community building. Aboriginal culture is beautiful and complex, yet it has been disregarded, misunderstood, and neglected ever since the Europeans first invaded their land. Since then, Aboriginals have fought for their rights to what was theirs in the first place. Today, Aboriginal men and women navigate what it looks to live in modern society while holding fast to their culture with strength and grace. As a member of Western culture, and the citizen of a country that has also robbed its First Nations peoples of what was once theirs, I have a newfound desire to seek out reconciliation between the two communities.