Reconciliation on the tip of our tongues

On National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day we meet a teacher who understands the importance of language.

04 August 2020
Jasmine Seymour standing with her book Baby business
Image: Teacher and author Jasmine Seymour

Children’s author Jasmine Seymour was compelled to write by the people who were absent from the books of her childhood – Aboriginal Australians.

“When I grew up there was not a single mention of a Darug person in any school that I went to,” Jasmine said.

“When you’re talking about the history of Sydney: dead silence. And for kids out on the Hawkesbury, where there are so many families that are descendants of the Aboriginal people that lived there – the Darug people – that’s actually extremely disappointing.”

Now the author of two children’s books – Baby Business and Cooee Mittigar – Ms Seymour is also working as a library teacher at Riverstone Public School, learning her own Darug language and completing a Masters in Indigenous Languages Education.

Her passion for Aboriginal languages and culture is reflected in her books, shortlisted for the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Awards, which use Darug language interspersed with English.

A key feature of Ms Seymour’s approach to her work is to show Aboriginal people practising culture in contemporary settings.

“I really wanted to see Aboriginal people reflected in the present because so much of what is told about us is in the past – like Dreaming stories.” Ms Seymour said.

She points to her book, Baby Business, which tells the story of a Darug smoking ceremony for newborns, a ritual that welcomes baby to Country.

“With Baby Business I wanted to show contemporary people doing an ancient tradition, because that’s what Aboriginal people do all the time. We just never get to see it.

“We don’t look like we did 200 years ago. We won’t be doing the same rituals as we did 200 years ago, but we’re still practising connection to culture.

“We are still Aboriginal people and you can’t erase that.”

Ms Seymour is one of more than 1,800 Aboriginal-identified teachers and other school-based staff working in the NSW public system, and there are around 65,000 children (or 8%) who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander currently enrolled in NSW public schools.

Ms Seymour said the situation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in public education was “dramatically different” to how it was when she was a child.

“For a long time Aboriginal people weren’t allowed to speak their truth,” Ms Seymour said. “Now we have our amazing Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups that support Aboriginal education in schools and you have lots of Indigenous people come through and are able to talk to kids about the true history of what happened.”

The teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures is now a cross-curriculum priority incorporated in all NSW syllabuses, and, since the introduction of the NSW Aboriginal Languages Act in 2017 to preserve and reawaken Aboriginal languages, more school children are studying Australia’s first languages in NSW.

“Schools are incredible places for Indigenous kids,” Ms Seymour said. “I think kids today are just all over it. They have no problem with doing an Acknowledgement of Country. They grow up just accepting Indigenous history, Indigenous truth, and they don’t blink an eyelid at it.

“It makes me feel safe as an Aboriginal Australian, and I know it’s definitely a more inclusive place for everyone because of that.”

Ms Seymour said she wanted to see Indigenous education at the centre of all schools and is a strong advocate for the revival of Aboriginal language.

“We know that being bilingual is so good for your mind, so good for a learner. I imagine this context of education where we’re all learning Australian languages and we know the words of Country. What a powerful thing for the people of Australia. And that’s reconciliation, you know? When we’re together, because of language.”

  • The NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group has created a 45-minute video lesson for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day and Education Week, offering a playful introduction to four Australian Aboriginal languages for learners of all ages.
  • Happy National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day! Throughout the day, on our Facebook page, we’ll show you how schools around NSW conduct their Acknowledgements of Country to show their respect for the traditional owners.
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