Transcript for Garlambirla
Uncle Mark Flanders:
I’m a Gumbaynggirr Jaanybarr an Aboriginal man from this country. I’d like to welcome you to my country. We, Gumbaynggirr people, we are land and sea people. We are saltwater, freshwater people. Our borders are very large on the east coast here of Australia, we range all the way up north to Grafton, the Clarence River. We cross into Bundjalung country. We go to the mouth of the river, you come to Yaegl Aboriginal country. You go down south of here, we cross over into Dunghutti Aboriginal country. You go west of here, we go into Anaiwain Aboriginal country. And we are all neighbours of the sea here together. I’d like to welcome you to my land here today. Thank you very much for coming to my country.
Garlambirla started in 2013 when we were celebrating our seventy fifth anniversary and the drama teacher, Madge Hair drops into my office often with big ideas. And she dropped in one day and said ‘You know seventy five years isn’t very much really, what about forty thousand years?’ She said ‘I think we should do the history of Coffs Harbour.’ And as a principal I learnt from a very experienced mentor principal, Lila Mularczyk, that our job is to say yes, not no. So, I took a deep breath and said ‘Go for it.’ Mindful of how big a job she was taking on and that she’s not Aboriginal and telling the Aboriginal history was something she was going to have to connect deeply with the community to do. But she went with it and she’s a very creative person and the result’s been amazing.
We had a dream to make a musical that would tell the shared history of Coffs Harbour and we wanted to make an original musical. I have written musicals before but we really wanted to engage with that Indigenous history and record the stories so that they could be passed down because so many Elders are passing daily. And we wanted to inform ourselves about the country on which we live, we live on Gumbaynggirr country and it’s really important to know what that means.
How we made the show was to interview Elders and community members and then we turned that into script and workshopped it. So, when the community come they can see the stories that they’ve told us on stage. And that’s been really powerful.
More or less just directed her to speak with certain community members in town, in the Coffs Harbour community. She had to let the Elders know. The Elders in Gumbaynggirr country covers the north, south and central Gumbaynggirr, just the protocols, respect, just permissions to tell certain stories, everything alongside with Mark Flanders and we took all the kids involved in the musical to all the significant sites in Gumbaynggirr country and taught the stories to the kids and just spoke about them in a way that they have to respect these stories, understanding you know just everything that’s involved with our culture.
The local AECG has been involved from the outset, we were given a look at what the idea was about a musical, Garlambirla, Madge Hair came along to the AECG meeting and put forward her proposal. We had a look over it and we supported it fully.
Garlambirla has been a benchmark that’s been set among schools in our local region here. It’s been a real inspiration for our students working together, both black and white and realising that it’s all their country also. It’s not just Aboriginal country, it’s a sharing country, it’s got Aboriginal people, Gumbaynggirr people.
What’s this big idea of yours, I’m tired from all this walking?
When we get to that good mangrove place at Moonee I’ll tell you. We’re going to cut some really strong ganay yamsticks from that ganayga never-break tree.
What’s wrong with our old yam sticks?
These ones have to be super strong to do a special job. Alright, now this one’s for you and this one’s for me. Now, do it like this: poke the yamstick into the ground and pull it out like this , saying ‘Ngaarruwa! Turn to water. Look at what I’m doing. Then, ‘Giduurra! Become sand!
YOUNGER SISTER: Ngaarruwa! Turn to water.
Then, ‘Giduurra! Become sand!
‘Giduurra! Become sand!
So, just keep doing what I’m showing you.
But, what for?
Think! That mob left us at the mercy of that young fella, he could have killed us! If we make all this water and that mob try to come back, they’ll have to swim.
I don’t know, that’s not very nice.
Listen Jinda, you have got to learn to stand up for yourself. Now, you go north into the gentle winds and I’ll go south into the strong winds. Just keep going until you get back here, okay? Ngaarruwa! Turn to water.
I learnt a lot about the Dreamtime stories of this area and we also went to the areas of where those Dreamtime stories are. And we also visited the Red Rock area for the massacre and that was a real eye opener for me especially knowing the stuff that happened in the area and being there you actually felt the emotion.
I never knew about the massacres or about the Dreamtime stories that they have. We learnt a lot of the main ones like ‘The Rainbow Serpent’. They are relevant to Australia and Aboriginal culture but they are not relevant to our local area and I wanted to learn more about our local area.
I just got so much more confident and now people who know me just know that I won’t be ashamed on stage, I’ll be willing to do whatever when needed.
The skills that you learn definitely in theatre because I never pictured myself doing this sort of stuff. So, doing it now it’s like, it’s something different and it’s something that I encourage people to get into because it builds your confidence.
It’s important to me because I didn’t know much about my culture. I probably knew one or two stories but not the whole story from my aunties and uncles and family. So, when I started this I started to get a better understanding of it, like we even went out to the places where it happened and that we got told the stories on the way and where it happened. It was really good. I learnt so much and it is just really important to know where you come from.
Our school as a whole has changed thanks to Garlambirla I think. After the first show you could see our school community, like I walked in one day like after the first show that we did and it was so different, like it just felt warmer because you could see all the Indigenous kids hanging with the other people from the musical. It felt good because like I’ve always wanted to see that and it being my last year at the school and it felt like my leadership role in the school was fulfilled and I think I could walk away a happy man. It was just so good to see how much the school changed just from the musical.
There’s no grudges against anybody. All that we ask is that people accept what we say and what did happen. But there’s no grudges. We know that even if there’s relatives here today belonging to them people we don’t hold them responsible for things they weren’t a part of, it’s just things that happened in those times. I think it’s just important that everyone should know.
I think what we need to do is open our hearts a bit, all of us.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
For the future we take heart, for the future we take heart.
Aboriginal culture and history is embedded two ways in the school plan. One through curriculum areas and the subject areas that most strongly focus on Aboriginal culture and history would be our history department, English is very strong and our CAPA department, so visual arts and music. In addition to that we’ve got several projects going through the school plan, in particular through the RAM funding that we’ve had to promote Aboriginal culture. And that would be partly the Garlambirla project that you’re here to talk about today. We’ve been involved in the local Saltwater Freshwater Festival this year with performances and we involve our students in the AIME Mentoring Program. So they’re three of the big, cultural, historical connections we make. Then you have those magic moments you can share with staff and I can remember one of those was one of our boys who we’d struggled enormously to get to put pen to paper and catching him one day in the library sitting there on the computer typing up the script of Garlambirla. To be able to share that with staff showed them the importance not just with the production but for the flow on to their basic skills I guess you can call it.
The kids basically run everything so they have opportunities to be leaders, they manage the whole backstage, they manage the sound and lighting. And they’re very professional and work with professionals so their skills are increasing with every show that we do.
It’s given them a real boost of sense of pride, a sense of identity, a sense of ownership on their own country in that sharing relationship amongst the black and white students in the school here. We don’t look at it as black and white, we look at it as one. It’s really brought all of them these students and they’re so proud to be a part of this play.
It’s transformed my whole way of looking at country. So, for instance usually when I come down to work in the morning I stop at the lookout which looks out up to the islands and up the coast and you can see the whales passing when it’s migration season and to look down at Giidany Miirlarl known as Muttonbird Island and to think of the Moon Man story or to look at the quarry and think ‘That’s Boonyoon Miirlarl.’ That’s the place where the women’s healing and birthing pool was. To look up at the islands and think ‘That’s the two sisters, that’s their digging sticks crossed.’ It’s just a completely different way of looking at the country. All of us in the first show, it was particularly life changing and the kids said, you know we were talking about the Creation Ancestors and the kids were saying ‘Yeah Miss, we waked them up, ay.’ So, that was something I never expected.
I would encourage all schools to establish some sort of cultural project to instil a sense of pride in their own school, in their students and I think it’s even educating the teachers about Aboriginal culture, not just for the students. And then you get the parents in, it’s for everyone. That’s what Aboriginal culture is about, this is a multicultural, multinational world, Australia and Aboriginal culture is for all of us.
We hereby reclaim the name of Mount Coramba by its correct and proper Gumbaynggirr name of Bellira Miirlarl.
We hereby reclaim the name of Coffs Creek by its correct and proper Gumbaynggirr name of Buluunggal.
End of transcript