NAIDOC Week celebrates and recognised the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It’s an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories. The Latch team is sharing stories to help educate, honour and guide in our continued to push for change, so be sure to find all our pieces here. Val Morgan Digital acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
When I went through primary school and high school, I was barely educated about First Nations peoples, cultures, or histories. These subjects were never a priority and weren’t discussed much. They were instead relegated to the dusty sections of libraries. I’m not sure if my teachers are to blame or if the NSW syllabus was at fault, but I was let down regardless. For the majority of my life, I went through it with a severely incomplete understanding of Australia’s history.
Since becoming an adult, I’ve tried to educate myself on these subjects. I’ve done this by picking up some A+ books, going to First Nations events, and listening to First Nations peoples. However, there are still some huge gaps in my knowledge. This meant that when I sat down with NAIDOC’s 2022 School Resource, I found this booklet super informative. Here’s some of the info that I learnt:
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Without knowing the numbers, it’s possible to get that First Nations peoples existed on this land before colonisation and were greatly impacted by this force. Nevertheless, attaching numbers to this reality can pull the situation into sharp focus. According to the author of this resource, Shelley Ware, “There were more than 250 Indigenous languages including 800 dialects in Australia prior to colonisation.” That’s a multitude of languages and attached cultures. This is around 226 more languages than the ones that are recognised by the EU across the whole of Europe.
These numbers also highlight how aggressively colonisation tried to wipe First Nations cultures from the map. “During and after colonisation there were laws which forbade First Nations peoples from speaking their languages,” wrote Ware. “As a result, the practice and continuation of many First Nations languages has been impacted.”
But there is hope for the present and the future. As NAIDOC’s 2022 School Resource declared, “First Nations peoples are standing up and reviving their languages and sharing them with their children and the wider community, so they live on in future generations.”
The Stories of Incredible Women
NAIDOC’s 2022 School Resource is filled to the brim with First Nations women who’ve done exceptional things. Take for instance the Darug woman, Patyegarang. Around the year 1788, she learnt English from the First Fleet’s Lieutenant William Dawes, before writing the first-ever books with him to include Aboriginal languages. In 1972, these books were discovered and were instrumental in bringing back the Darug language.
Another amazing woman is Elder Aunty Fay Carter. In 1939, she was a part of the famous Cummeragunja Walk Off, where the Aboriginal people who lived on a NSW mission called Cummeragunja Station protested their poor treatment and living conditions. They did this by evading the NSW Protection Boards and moving to Victoria.
The last First Nations individual that we’ll discuss in this section is Cathy Freeman. In 1994, this athlete got two gold medals for winning the 200m and 400m sprints during Canada’s Commonwealth Games. Freeman celebrated these triumphs by holding the Aboriginal and Australian flags during her victory laps. This caused an Australia-wide debate, as the Aboriginal flag wasn’t considered an official flag of this country yet. But this rule was soon to be rectified. As Ware put it, “Freeman’s courageous act is credited with the Australian Government recognising the Aboriginal flag as an official flag of Australia in 1995.”
Not only does NAIDOC’s 2022 School Resource links to some extra info about these First Nations women, it also platforms a number of other women that are more than worth your time and attention. As I previously mentioned, this whole booklet is mint.
Related: How to Be An Indigenous Ally
The Colonial Wars and Massacres Were Abominable
From the 1780s until the 1930s, Western forces killed tens of thousands of First Nations peoples during a series of events called the colonial wars and massacres. During this string of heinous actions, alternatively called the Frontier Wars, multitudes of First Nations warriors died defending their homeland from colonising forces. As Ware wrote, “Their deaths are not often remembered in history books or commemorated on days of observance, and many massacre sites have yet to be acknowledged and commemorated.”
One of the last battles in this series of brutal genocidal killings was called the Coniston Massacre in the Northern Territory. Ware noted, “It would be easy to think this event happened more than 200 years ago but tragically the Coniston Massacre occurred between August and October 1928.” It’s estimated that at least 30 Warlpiri lives were taken during the massacre.
The fact that I and many other folks were never taught about the colonial wars and massacres is an indictment of the education system. These truths shouldn’t be ignored in our cultural conversations. They should be front and centre. Hopefully, the fact that these wars and massacres are now being discussed in schools will give them more prominence.
There’s So Much Other Useful in This Booklet
During this piece, we’ve only scratched the surface of the useful info that’s in NAIDOC’s 2022 School Resource. For instance, Ware taught me, “Country is always spelled with a capital C, as the meaning of Country is more important than just ownership or connection to land.” Therefore, if you grew up learning basically no facts about First Nations peoples and cultures, then this free asset could definitely be worth your time, care, and attention.
If you want to learn some more info about First Nations peoples, cultures, and histories, after going through NAIDOC’s 2022 School Resource, then here’s a handy list of articles: